consequences of global warming

5 Drastic Consequences of Global Warming—and 10 Ways to Stop It

A government report drives home the consequences of global warming, and shows it’s not too late to act.

By Emily Main

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Yesterday, a team of 28 climate scientists from U.S. government agencies, universities, and independent research institutions released a comprehensive report detailing how climate change will affect, and has already begun to affect, the health and economic and social well-being of the United States.

THE DETAILS: This report was published by the government’s U.S. Global Change Research Program, and is a compilation of the most up-to-date research available on global warming. The report confirms previous findings that rising temperatures are a result of human activity, and it highlights some of the problems associated with global warming that we’re already beginning to see in many parts of the country: prolonged droughts, more intense heat waves, and more severe weather events like floods.

Here are a few of the report’s other findings:

• Extreme heat waves will not only affect human health, but also transportation and energy systems, as well as crop and livestock production.

• Increased heavy downpours will lead to increased flooding, and they’ll speed up snow melt, which impacts levels and availability of drinking water in the western and southwestern U.S.

• Rising water temperatures and ocean acidification threaten coral reefs and the rich ecosystems they support, adversely affecting the tourism and seafood industries.

• Insect infestations and wildfires are already increasing and are projected to increase further in a warming climate.

• Local sea-level rise of more than three feet, on top of storm surges, will increasingly threaten homes and other coastal infrastructure. Coastal flooding will become more frequent and severe, and coastal land will increasingly be lost to the rising seas.

The scientists also used computer modeling to compare the long-term effects of climate change if we take immediate action to curb our nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions versus if we continue with business as usual. They found that we could significantly moderate rising temperatures and increasing precipitation if we take steps now to cut down on pollution and greenhouse gases.

“Implementing sizable and sustained reductions in carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible would significantly reduce the pace and the overall amount of climate change,” the authors write, “and would be more effective than reductions of the same size initiated later.”

In a press conference announcing the report, Donald Wuebbles, PhD, one the report’s authors, said, “I remain optimistic that we can do something about this. We do need to act sooner rather than later because we want to avoid the worst changes, looking at these projections. We can do something about it, but we do need to act soon.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Preoccupied with their shrinking wallets and the bad economy, Americans are understandably growing less concerned over global warming, recent surveys show. But “this report provides concrete scientific information that climate change is happening now and in our own backyards,” said Jane Lubchenco, PhD,s undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at the press conference. In other words, we need to keep our eyes on the climate change ball, even if we’re juggling other challenges as well.

To start, here are 10 things you can do in your own life to mitigate climate change’s long-term effects:

1. Buy organic food. The Rodale Institute estimates that if all tillable farmland in the U.S. were converted to organic methods, 25 percent of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide emitted in this country would be sequestered in soil.

2. Drive a more fuel-efficient car, or at least drive more fuel-efficiently.

3. Conserve your energy use. You’ll not only limit your greenhouse-gas emissions, you’ll also save water, which is lost through evaporation by hydroelectric power plants and is used as a coolant in coal-fired plants. You’ll also spend less on utility bills and gasoline.

4. Avoid burning leaves, trash, and other materials. Burning them releases particulate pollution and greenhouse gases like nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide into the air.

5. Swap out your gas-guzzling lawn mower for a reel or electric model.

6. Fuel up your car after dark, when you’re less likely to lose gasoline to evaporation (and waste fuel).

7. Install a rain garden in your yard, and reduce runoff that can flood roads and other transportation systems. Rain gardens use native, water-tolerant plants to absorb and filter water, and help improve the water quality in your local streams by reducing stormwater pollution.

8. Take advantage of government funding for energy improvements in your home.

9. Purchasing responsibly harvested fish; marine ecosystems are under enough stress from global warming already. Also clean up beach trash whenever you can.

10. Remember that the threat of global warming is still pressing. A bad economy and a weak job market may feel like more immediate concerns, but remember that mitigating climate change problems now will in many cases also save you money now—and will certainly cost less in the long run, when you factor in the healthcare costs associated with climate-change-induced diseases like asthma and strokes.