2.5 Trillion Tons. That’s how much CO2 we have dumped into the atmosphere in past 170 years. (A trillion is one thousand billion.)
Need-to-Know: A trillion seconds adds up to nearly 32,000 years.
We’re set to add as much as a 50 billion tons this year. Pretty soon the total will reach that wondrously incomprehensible number of Three Trillion Tons. And at least 1.5 degrees C of warming. (For every trillion tons of CO2 the global temperature average of the planet increases 0.5 degrees C.)
Need-to-Know: The carbon budget for 1.5C likely used up by 2030-32
I doubt there will be a big global party when we get to Three Trillion Tons. (Likely to happen between 2030 and 2032 at our current pace of burning fossil fuels.) Things will look more or less the same, just hotter and with more of that extreme weather we’ve been getting the last few months.
About that, consider how climate change has impacted Europe in past few weeks:
The July/August heat wave is widely considered historic. (It’s more like four heat waves in a row.) Weeks of record-breaking heat impacted a large portion of the continent where air conditioning is rare. More than 10,000 people have died according to preliminary estimates. The final number will be much higher.
Heat waves are happening in Europe far more often because of a climate-change driven alteration of the jet stream.
Half of Europe is enduring it’s worst drought in 500 years. That will cut harvests as much as 30%, worsening the global food crisis.
Wine production is expected to fall more than 25% due to wildfire smoke and high temperatures.
Wildfires are the worst Europe has ever experienced.
Severe water shortages have led to restrictions on water use by hydro and nuclear power plants (increasing already high electricity prices), agriculture, and industry, particularly the petrochemical, automotive manufacturing, among other water-intensive industries.
Major rivers like the Po in Italy, the Loire in France and even the mighty Rhine have nearly run dry. People in hundreds of communities face water rationing.
And so on.
Europe isn’t alone, it’s the same story in the US and China: deadly heat waves, widespread drought and record wildfires. Most of Mexico is in a severe drought and has reduced beer production. (Mexico is the world’s largest exporter of beer.)
A few months back it was Pakistan’s and India’s turn. And then there is the Middle East and East Africa facing months of extreme heat and years-long drought.
Need-to-Know: There was a heat wave in the coldest place on Earth
There was even heat wave in Antarctica. Temperatures soared in the coldest place on Earth, the Antarctic Plateau, to minus 11.5 degrees C in March. That is a record-breaking 38 degrees C above the normal high temperature of minus 49 degrees C.
Every region in the world is experiencing extreme weather events. This may seem like quite a lot from a relatively small increase of 1.2 degrees C in the global average temperature. The reason for this isn’t complicated. The sharp rise in the number of extreme heat events is because of a shift in temperature distribution. Let me explain:
Imagine a graph of temperatures plotted on a bell curve. Most temperatures fall near the middle of the curve and extreme temperatures fall on the edges of the curve. Since the median temperature today is 1.2 degrees C higher compared to 70 years ago, the bell curve (distribution of temperatures) has shifted right, towards warmer values. This means extremely hot days occur more often.
As we get closer to Three Trillion Tons, the curve keeps shifting to the right which means more hot, more often. Simple, but relentless.
It is pretty serious, however. At least the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) thinks so:
Mega-drought, extreme rainfall, and glacier melt across the Latin America and the Caribbean have ended progress on reducing poverty, food insecurity and income inequality, according to a new report by the WMO. Since the 1980s, glaciers in the tropical Andes have lost 30% or more of their area increasing water scarcity for millions.
Here’s another thing that happens during heat waves: climate deniers come out of the woodwork. Some of it is political, paid propaganda. Most, I think, comes from fear. Fear of what climate change means, and fear of change generally. To quote a UK meteorologist who faced a deluge of denier attacks during their heat wave:
"It’s not scaremongering – the truth scares people but the reality is scary.”
Need-to-Know: Fear of change drives most climate denial
The vast majority of people are worried about climate change, but rarely talk about it. We can change that by talking to each other about our worries and fears. It really helps. I’m recommending climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe’s 15 minute TED talk again on how to get the conversation started — even with someone who doesn’t want to hear about it.
Until next time, be well.