As we humans continue to burn fossil fuels and pump 40 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, and as our planet continues its present warming trend, changes are taking place that will affect where we live and how we feel, according to two recently published studies.
The first study published on March 30, 2016, in the journal Nature, states that the massive Antarctic ice sheet could start melting and breaking up much sooner than projected by the UN Panel on Climate Change, potentially producing a 6 ft. (2m) sea level rise by 2100. The study by research scientists at University of Massachusetts and Penn State University compares today’s sea levels with those of two earlier warming periods in earth’s geologic history when temperatures and CO2 levels were about the same as present conditions. In those earlier episodes, one 150,000 years ago and the other about 3 million years ago, sea levels rose 20 to 30 ft. (6 to 9m) higher than they are now. Given that conditions are comparable, why are we not getting the same dramatic sea level rise now as the earth did then? That’s what the research sought to determine.
At the present time, the Antarctic ice sheet is melting slowly as the ocean water around it warms up and causes melting from below. What the study shows is that the big change will come from above, when the atmosphere warms enough to melt the floating ice that supports the edges of the ice sheet. When the floating ice melts, it will expose towering ice cliffs that will start collapsing under their own weight, triggering massive calving and the beginning of the rapid disintegration of the ice sheet. The researchers believe that because of the continued burning of fossil fuels, the air temperature tipping point is close at hand. Under this scenario, Miami, New Orleans, and other low-lying coastal cities would be submerged by the end of the century.
In a second study, scientists from eight federal agencies of the US government worked together to produce a 300-page report on the toll that global warming will take on human health and well being, if the pace of fossil fuel emissions is not severely curtailed. The study, released on April 4, 2016, projects increased death and disease totals from bigger and more prolonged extreme events such as floods, freezes, heat waves, dust storms, tornadoes, forest fires, and tropical storms.
Air quality will continue to worsen, causing increased fatalities and illness from lung and heart diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.7 million people die prematurely each year from breathing bad air. As the planet warms, the number of hot days will increase. Hot weather increases the amount of ground level ozone and small particulates in the air, both of which can obstruct lung function. Insect-borne diseases such as malaria will also increase as the climate warms and breeds more mosquitoes. Climate change will cause an uptick in number of people with mental health problems. More violent heat waves, floods, fires, and storms will put large populations under added stress.
The US study makes many of the same points as those contained in two 2015 studies by scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and The Lancet in the UK. All 3 studies emphasize that the death and disease projections will be greatly reduced when we clean the air by replacing carbon-based energy with renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and thermal. The sooner the better, for everyone.