by Kaelin Ferland '23
The past nine years have been the hottest on record, and 2022 has proved to be no exception to this trend. According to NASA, 2022 was the fifth hottest year on record, tying with 2015 at 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average. NASA adds that 2022 was two degrees Fahrenheit hotter than average pre-industrial levels. When converted to Celsius, this equates to 1.1 degrees. This number is particularly striking, as climate scientists have constantly warned about the dangers and devastating potential consequences of the planet warming an additional two degrees Celsius. With 2022’s temperature averages already more than halfway there and experts predicting 2023 to be even hotter, it is more crucial than ever to take climate action.
This doesn’t just mean we’ll see increases in the frequency of heat waves. A warming planet leads to a variety of other environmental issues that are often overlooked including sea level rise, food and water scarcity, severe weather events, and species extinction.
Sea level rise is one of the most detrimental consequences of global warming. As our planet warms, massive glaciers in the polar regions begin to melt, adding more water to our oceans. Scientists have been talking about the threat of glacial melt for years; however, recent reports detail that the glacier that will have arguably the greatest impact on the planet has already begun to break apart. The Thwaites Glacier, otherwise known as the Doomsday Glacier, could break off completely within the next few years. This glacier, which stands at 74,000 square miles, would cause the global sea level to increase by two feet. The breaking of this glacier would be devastating to coastal communities.
Increasing global temperatures also have a significant effect on our planet’s food and water systems. Not only do they cause our food supply to decrease, but they also lead to spikes in food prices. A report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that every ten years, food production decreases by two percent as our planet continues to warm. They explain that this is equal to approximately 4.4 million metric tons of food loss with each passing decade. As long as natural disasters like drought, flooding, hurricanes, and extreme heat become more severe, we will continue to see a devastating toll on our planet’s food supply as crops and cropland are destroyed. The WMO estimates that flooding frequency has increased by 134 percent since 2000, and that drought frequency has similarly increased by about 29 percent since the same year. This causes catastrophic damage to not only crops and cropland but also communities and the surrounding environment. In terms of water availability, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), by 2050 over five billion people will have insufficient access to water. Currently, about 3.6 billion people are already experiencing this problem.
Many scientists agree that we are currently in the sixth mass extinction. According to several sources, 99 percent of species have already gone extinct, with some researchers estimating that we could be losing over 100 species every day. As our world changes, it becomes more and more difficult for species to adapt to these hostile conditions or find important resources they need to survive like food, water, and shelter. Also, if we see natural disasters begin to worsen due to temperature rise and climate change, this will make habitat loss and species extinction even more prevalent.
Our 2023 new year’s resolution is to make changes that mitigate the effects of climate change in order to prevent this trend from continuing. 2023 can and must be a year for overdue environmental action.