We are close to reaching an unwanted milestone. So many greenhouse gases now blanket the globe, holding Earth’s heat close to the surface like a blanket holds in our body heat on a chilly night, that the entire planet’s habitability is being affected. This past week I heard climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramathan say that in just four years his children and grandchildren, like all of us and our offspring, will be experiencing Earth as 1.5°C warmer than before the Industrial Age UNLESS we rapidly create the alliances necessary to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Dr. “Ram” is the director of the Center for the Study of Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. He spoke at an interfaith event hosted by First Methodist Church’s Apostolo Academy. Responders to his presentation came from a panel comprised of a Muslim, Jew, and Catholic priest. All joined Dr. Ram’s plea for creating alliances in multiple efforts to reign in the heating up of our planetary home.
Just 4 years? That’s 2021. Furthermore, we have just 18 years to avert the next and more ominous marker, 2°C. Eighteen years? That’s 2034! We’re no longer talking 2050, but well inside the first half of this century! In 18 years, if the temperatures don’t actually average those 2°, the conditions will still be in place for the temps to rise to that level later in the century. But there is also, he warned, significant probability (not possibility) that temperatures will rise to 4°C or 6°C within the 21st century. The probability is too high to take any chances. Without immediate efforts to reduce emissions, one-third of Earth’s systems can collapse by 2100. His projections are given in more detail in the important report of the University of California which promises the University will be carbon-neutral by 2025. The report is entitled, Bending the Curve. It’s 40 pages are in lay person’s language and spell out why the University of California is so dedicated to being a model for reducing greenhouse gases.
To the question, “What can we do?” Dr. Ram repeated, “Individual actions alone now lack the size impacts we need to make. We must rapidly form alliances and multiply our impacts.”
A June 2016 post to the NASA Global Climage Change website by Bob Silberg described differences between 1.5° and 2°, just that .5° that raises temps one-third higher than 1.5°.
The European Geosciences Union published a study in April 2016 that examined the impact of a 1.5 degree Celsius vs. a 2.0 C temperature increase by the end of the century, given what we know so far about how climate works. It found that the jump from 1.5 to 2 degrees—a third more of an increase—raises the impact by about that same fraction, very roughly, on most of the phenomena the study covered. Heat waves would last around a third longer, rain storms would be about a third more intense, the increase in sea level would be approximately that much higher and the percentage of tropical coral reefs at risk of severe degradation would be roughly that much greater.
But in some cases, that extra increase in temperature makes things much more dire. At 1.5 C, the study found that tropical coral reefs stand a chance of adapting and reversing a portion of their die-off in the last half of the century. But at 2 C, the chance of recovery vanishes. Tropical corals are virtually wiped out by the year 2100.
With a 1.5 C rise in temperature, the Mediterranean area is forecast to have about 9 percent less fresh water available. At 2 C, that water deficit nearly doubles. So does the decrease in wheat and maize harvest in the tropics.
On a global scale, production of wheat and soy is forecast to increase with a 1.5 C temperature rise, partly because warming is favorable for farming in higher latitudes and partly because the added carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is largely responsible for the temperature increase, is thought to have a fertilization effect. But at 2 C, that advantage plummets by 700 percent for soy and disappears entirely for wheat.