It’s the beginning of the semester! Between back-to-school shopping, catching up with friends, and making plans for spring break—not to mention the impending doom of finals—other news may be the last thing on your mind.
But the beginning of the year doesn’t only bring new goals and plans. On November 23rd, 2018, the 4th National Climate Assessment was released, which describes the current effects of global climate change and what we can expect to see in the future. It’s over 1,000 pages of some depressing news. Here’s an overview of what’s in the report.
- What We’re Seeing
We’ve got all the climate change staples here. The world’s getting hotter, the seas are rising, and our ice is melting. Extreme weather events like heavy rain, wildfires and flooding have been occurring more frequently, and they’re only going to happen more going forward. There are more specific impacts, too. More acidic seas threaten coral reefs, our seasons are changing and marine species are moving north in an attempt to reach cooler waters. No matter what we do, the U.S. is going to get hotter; a worst-case scenario puts us at a possible 11-degree increase by the end of this century. Look on the bright side—you won’t need to pay for heating as a broke college student in the winter months!
- How This Affects Us
Besides the obvious fact that we may have to buckle down on prepping for disasters, the weather exercises plenty more control on our lives. Our infrastructure and property is going to be at risk and the economy is going to take a dip. Besides the costs of mitigating all our climate-related disasters, lots of industries are dependent on natural resources and good weather; you can expect agriculture, tourism and fisheries to all take a hit. If you like travel, say goodbye to that too; rain, flooding and heat can shut down airports and highways.
This still might not sound like it’ll affect us personally, but climate change is going to impact every part of our lives. We all need food and water, but parts of the U.S. are already facing threatened water supplies from rising temperatures, flooding and algal blooms. Extreme heat, beyond its direct health effects, can cause power outages, meaning our water may not be safe to drink for long. All the things that come with climate change also affects our food—heat stress hurts animals, and crops are going to worsen in both amount and quality. Rising carbon dioxide means less important nutrients like iron, zinc, and protein in our food.
If that wasn’t enough, our health is being threatened, too. No amount of green smoothies or daily mindfulness is going to stop the expanding range of certain disease-carrying pests, increasing our risks of West Nile, Lyme disease and dengue fever, among other illnesses. More people are going to die from heat and cold, allergies are going to become more common and severe, decreasing food and water safety means more disease… Not to mention air quality and ozone pollution. Hard to ignore climate change when you’re wheezing for breath. We’re already seeing early deaths from extreme temperature and air pollution.
This will hit some demographics harder than others: elderly citizens, children, low-income communities, and minority communities.
- What We Can Do
According to the report, we’ll really start seeing the consequences of our actions today around 2050. If we manage to get our greenhouse gas emissions down and keep them very low—as in 85% lower than how we’ve been doing so far—we can maybe limit warming to 3.6°F (2°C). If we roll along like we always have, or don’t do enough to lower our emissions, we could reach 9°F or more by the end of the century. We’ve already locked in things like sea level rise for the long term, but if we do something now, we can still avoid the worst-case scenario (which, remember, is if we continue business as usual). I don’t know about you, but I’d like the Earth to continue being inhabitable as long as I’m on it.
Right now, we have to focus on two things: reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and adapting for the future. Replacing coal with natural gas, wind, and solar energy can help. Besides reducing emissions, it’ll make our air cleaner, reduce crop damage, and make countries more energy-independent. Scientists are looking into carbon dioxide removal—taking CO2 out of the atmosphere—but it’s expensive and takes a long time to implement.
There’s not much in the report about individual action, and that’s for good reason. Climate change is too big for one person; experts say we have to work collectively to manage the mess we’re in. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t help. Try to fly less, eat more plants and less meat, and consider switching to sustainable energy sources if you have the chance. Carpool home for winter break or try to convince your family that meat doesn’t have to be the centerpiece for holiday dinner. Stay aware—make sure your representatives have a climate change plan, demand clean energy from the companies you support and discuss the issue with the people around you.
Climate change is scary—it’s complicated, affects everything and it seems out of our control. But we need to stay informed and stay active.