I’m currently reading David Wallace-Wells’s “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming.” To say it’s terrifying is a profound understatement. It’s hard to overstate how much we’ve damaged the planet and how much human suffering and death we’re in for in the near future. (Of course, if you’re paying attention, climate change has already started to cause much suffering, destruction, and death).
But to turn to specifics: here are 15 current facts and projections for the future from Wallace-Wells’s book that I found particularly terrifying. I share them to illuminate, edifying and provoke those who read it.
400 parts per million in carbon was widely seen as the point of no return to avoid earth-wide devastation. We as a species blew past that in 2013 and recently hit 415 parts per a million for the first time in human history.
Climate Change is helping cause the extinction of untold animal species. For example, according to the World Wildlife Fund, in the last 40 years more than half of the world’s vertebrate animals have died.
Since 1980, the planet has experienced a dangerous increase in the number of heat waves. For example, the five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002.
By 2100, the World Bank estimates the coolest months in the tropics will be warmer than the warmest months of the year 2000.
If we do not dramatically reduce emissions, by 2080 Southern Europe, the Middle East, and large portions of Australia, Africa, and South America are estimated to be in a state of extreme, permanent drought, which will cause untold deaths.
Because of climate change, our food is becoming less nutritious. “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Mathematician Irakli Loladze said in the article. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”
If we do not halt emissions by the turn of the century, much of the coastal area of the world will probably be under water. This includes all of Miami Beach; the entire nations of the Maldives and the Marshall Islands; most of Bangladesh; Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, which has stood for a 1000 years; Venice Beach and Santa Monica; and the White House.
The city of Jakarta, home to ten million people, is sinking rapidly. By 2050, some estimate that it will be completely underwater.
American’s are particularly guilty of carbon emissions. Every year, Americans emit enough carbon to melt 10,000 tons of ice in the Antarctic ice sheets, which in turn adds 10,000 cubic meters of water to the ocean. That is 5 gallons a minute for each of us.
Rising temperatures have led to an increase in wildfires, as hot, dry conditions are conducive to keeping fires going. For example, globally since 1979, wildfire season has grown by 20 percent, and American wildfires burn twice the amount of land as they did in 1970. As one person says in the book, “We don’t even call it fire season anymore. Take the ‘season’ out-- it’s year round.”
Trees are similar to coal in that when they are burned, they release all the carbon they’ve captured for as long as centuries. This can lead to dramatic results. A single wildfire can eliminate any gains made in emissions in an area. In Brazil, new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has promised deforestation of the Amazon rain forest. Some Brazilian scientists estimate that between 2021 and 2030, the deforestation program would release 13.12 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere, which would be a planet-wide catastrophe.
Because of climate change, rainstorms are already 40 percent more intense than the middle of the last century; in the northeast, that figure is 71 percent.
Globally, there has been a 25-30 percent increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes for just one degree Celsius of global warming.
The acidification of the oceans is happening right now. In the past 50 years, the oceans have absorbed 90 percent of global warming’s excess heat. Ocean acidification threatens much of the world’s coral reef, which supplies food for half a billion people.
Disaster is still preventable. But it requires all of us to change right now. We are on the brink of catastrophe. We need to act.