Climate change is already beginning to transform life on Earth. Around the globe, seasons are shifting, temperatures are climbing and sea levels are rising. And meanwhile, our planet must still supply us – and all living things – with air, water, food and safe places to live. If we don’t act now, climate change will rapidly alter the lands and waters we all depend upon for survival, leaving our children and grandchildren with a very different world.
Some of the most dangerous consequences of climate change are listed here. Which one will have the most impact on your life, or on the places you care about?
- Higher temperatures – Heat-trapping gases emitted by power plants, automobiles, deforestation and other sources are warming up the planet.
- Changing landscapes – Rising temperatures and changing patterns of rain and snow are forcing trees and plants around the world to move toward polar regions and up mountain slopes.
- Wildlife at risk – Rising temperatures are changing weather and vegetation patterns across the globe, forcing animal species to migrate to new, cooler areas in order to survive.
- Rising seas – Rising seas threaten to inundate low-lying areas and islands, threaten dense coastal populations, erode shorelines, damage property and destroy ecosystems such as mangroves and wetlands that protect coasts against storms.
- Increased drought, fire and floods – Higher temperatures increase the amount of moisture that evaporates from land and water, leading to drought in many areas. Lands affected by drought are more vulnerable to flooding once rain falls.
- More and stronger storms – Scientists point to higher ocean temperatures as the main culprit, since hurricanes and tropical storms get their energy from warm water. As sea surface temperatures rise, developing storms will contain more energy.
- More heat-related illnesses and diseases – In 2003, for example, extreme heat waves caused more than 20,000 deaths in Europe and more than 1,500 deaths in India. Scientists have linked the deadly heat waves to climate change and warn of more to come.
- Economic losses – Climate change is affecting businesses and economies at home and around the world. If action is not taken to curb global carbon emissions, climate change could cost between 5 and 20 percent of the annual global gross domestic product, according to a British government report. In comparison, it would take 1 percent of GDP to lessen the most damaging effects of climate change, the report says.
- Mass immigration – People mass-immigrate to other areas in the world to escape drought.