Environment

A Warming World

A new report warns that climate change may push our planet over the edge

March 31, 2014
PAUL SOUDERS—GETTY IMAGES

Polar bears, who depend on sea ice as a home base for hunting, breeding, and sleeping, are already being impacted by climate change.

There have been thousands of studies published on climate change. The basic message of all those studies is: climate change is real, it is happening, and unless we’re very lucky, we’re not doing anywhere near enough to adapt to it.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a large-scale study that focuses on the impacts of climate change, ranging from the effects on endangered species to changes in agriculture. The new report demonstrates just how wide-ranging the effects of a warming world will be. “We have assessed impacts as they are happening in natural and human systems on all continents and oceans,” said Rajendra Pachauri of the IPCC. “No one on this planet will be untouched by climate change.

Sounding the Alarm

The report predicts with high confidence that the negative impacts of warming will be widespread. According to the study, glaciers will continue to shrink as the climate warms. Species on land and in the sea are shifting their range in response to warming, and some will face an increased risk of extinction. Health impacts will be felt from heat waves and from floods in low-lying areas. The seas will continue to become more acidic, destroying coral reefs.

But the report does not try to predict the exact extent of those effects. The world’s scientists are learning just how difficult it is to predict precisely how the planet will respond to rising carbon emissions and rising temperatures.  The report makes clear what can and cannot be known about a changing climate. And it puts climate change in the context of the countless other risks humans face.

A planet that is home to some 7 billion people is already a place that’s on the edge — and unchecked warming could help push us over.


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