Without actions to significantly curb greenhouse gas emissions, air temperatures could increase as much as 11.5 percent by 2100, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
While the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change pledged in 2009 to keep warming from increasing more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, more recent reports by the World Bank and other institutions warn that the goal may be unrealistic.
Continued global warming could cause widespread drought, flooding and other changes, with disastrous consequences. Here are some of the ways climate change has already impacted our lives.
Temperatures: The average global temperature for 2012—about 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit—was the ninth-warmest year since record keeping began in 1880. It was also the 36th consecutive year that the global temperature surpassed the 20th-century average, according to the National Climate Data Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The problem comes alive in a video at Tinyurl.com/ NASAEarthTemps. The EPA reports that the number of days that temperatures will exceed 90 degrees Farenheit is expected to increase throughout the U.S., especially in areas that already experience heat waves.
Drought: Drought struck two thirds of America’s lower 48 states last year, and continued into 2013 in many parts of the country, costing billions of dollars in crop failures and damage from resulting wildfires.
Extreme storms: East Coast weather has become wilder, with storms such as Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy wreaking unprecedented losses in human life and property.
Freshwater supplies: As melting shrinks glaciers’ historic footprints, reducing the amount of springtime snowmelt, and we continue to deplete groundwater faster than it can be replenished, conflicts between agriculture, industry and municipalities over water are expected to increase. Meanwhile, rising sea levels near some seashore cities have already led to incursions of saltwater, contaminating underground freshwater systems.
Rising sea levels: Since 1870, the global sea level has risen by about eight inches, according to the EPA. By the end of this century, it estimates that New York City could see a rise of 2.3 feet and Galveston, Texas, 3.5 feet. Other studies say those estimates are conservative. Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in July concluded that a rise of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit could result in a corresponding rise in sea levels exceeding 13 feet.