Much of the attention around the recent United Nations climate summit focused on what was said by politicians and activists, especially by young climate crusader Greta Thunberg. Not enough attention was paid to new scientific findings that the consequences of climate change are already worse than expected, and that the change is occurring faster than predicted.
For example, global sea levels rose more than twice as fast between 2006 and 2015 than they did during the previous 90 years. This rate of global sea level change is “unprecedented over the last century,” according to a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was released last week. The report focused on the world’s oceans and ice.
This rise is also faster than the U.N. panel had previously predicted would occur by 2100.
The panel also found that mountain glaciers are melting at rapid rates, threatening the safety of nearby communities, as well as the water supplies for agriculture and hydropower and tens of millions of people.
In addition to rising, the world’s oceans are warming and becoming more acidic. Already the distribution of marine species is changing with dwindling supplies of food sources in some parts of the world and increases in others.
Ocean changes are also causes more extreme and intense coastal weather events, such as hurricanes and cyclones that are already affecting coastal communities, the report said.
“The open sea, the Arctic, the Antarctic and the high mountains may seem far away to many people,” Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC, said in a press release that accompanied the report. “But we depend on them and are influenced by them directly and indirectly in many ways — for weather and climate, for food and water, for energy, trade, transport, recreation and tourism, for health and well-being, for culture and identity.”
It may be easy for some to dismiss such findings as hyperbolic chicken little-type warnings, but the consequences are real and accelerating.
Already, residents of the Marshall Island are considering building new islands or trying to elevate the existing ones as rising sea water, cyclones and drought threaten the Pacific island chain. Some people are talking about relocating entirely. The World Bank has warned that the Maldives could be entirely submerged by 2100.
In Italy, officials have closed roads and evacuated alpine huts because a glacier on Mont Blanc appears close to collapsing. The glacier is sliding down the mountain about twice as fast as it had in previous summers.
In Maine, long-term trends show rising temperatures and increased precipitation. The benefits of a longer growing season in coastal areas are partially offset by the northward migration of pests and erosion caused by increased rainfall. Tick-borne illnesses are on the rise. Rising overnight temperatures, especially in the summer, contribute to more cases of heatstroke and other illnesses.
“The weather and climate is the greatest security issue we currently face,” Paul Mayewski, head of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine, said during a Bangor Daily News editorial board event on Tuesday.
He pointed out that climate changes contributed to piracy off the coast of Somalia as the pirates sought other means to make money when they could no longer farm. It contributed to the 2010 Middle East protests known as the Arab Spring when food prices soared because of a scarcity of commodity crops caused by droughts in many countries, including China and Russia, and torrential rains in others, such as Canada and Brazil.
The simple, but sometimes lost message is that climate change is already impacting our lives, in mostly negative ways. The logical next step it to make significant changes — such as burning less fossil fuel — in pursuit of minimizing the very real and mounting consequences of climate change.