Researchers in Greenland have made an alarming discovery–using ice core samples, scientists have deduced that arctic temperatures are the warmest they’ve been in 1,000 years. That’s not to say that it was this warm in the 11th century; 1000-year-old samples are simply the oldest scientists can effectively research. Climate scientists drill deep into glaciers for ice core samples. These samples are ancient and comparing them with ice temperatures on the surface details drastic changes within our global climate. Ice core data can take years to analyze. The same researchers who released this new data have a more recent sample from 2019, which is sure to denote rising temperatures. Aside from the samples from 2019, the most recent analysis (ice cores taken in 2011) shows a global temperature increase of nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1995, 2.7 degrees to be precise.
With global warming having caused massive changes in climate long before humanity’s presence on the planet, what’s to say that this temperature shift is man-made? Historically speaking, Earth’s past climate events show us that a 9-14.4 degree Fahrenheit increase causes mass extinction, especially among marine life. In this particular event 55 million years ago, temperatures rose to such a height over the course of 100,000 years, speculatively due to a volcanic eruption that caused marine sediments to release greenhouse gasses. In 16 years—and with no relative natural climate event—we’ve warmed the planet by roughly a quarter of a temperature rise that had previously taken 100,000 years. Temperatures are now rising roughly 2,000 times faster than they were during this past significant climatic shift.
While fossil fuel/carbon emissions have actually stopped rising at an increasing rate, they’ve leveled off at a record level; emissions are now relatively constant, albeit at the highest they’ve ever been. Before the industrial revolution, these emissions were comparatively non-existent and had little effect on global climate. Since 1900, annual emissions have steadily increased from 600 million to 10,000 million metric tons—correlating precisely to the global industrial movement and the subsequent mass-production-oriented international economy.
Millions of years ago, rising temperatures contributed to a mass extinction of many species of marine life. What does this mean for us? These species died due to water temperatures rising; many had acclimated to colder temperatures and could not survive in this changed environment. Not only do we face this same issue, but water levels are rising as well due to major ice melt caused by the warming climate. Rising water levels were not as disastrous 55 million years ago as they will become in today’s age; 40 percent of Americans, approximately 130 million people, live on the country’s coast. This is reflected on an international level, with 37 percent of the world’s population living in coastal areas. If ocean levels rise even a few feet, flooding would cause billions of people to be forced from their homes. This would spell an immigratory disaster, an issue few countries readily accept with open arms.
Plant life is also incredibly sensitive to temperature, including much of our agriculture. Such a large shift in temperature would leave many of our crops unable to grow, left unable to acclimate to the change in heat.
Realistically, there is little we, as everyday people, can do. Corporations unsurprisingly contribute the largest carbon footprint upon our atmosphere and environment, and with production and quarterly profits taking precedence over our global and individual health, the notion of irreparable climate disaster seems to mean little to them. If we prevent this imminent shift it will not be because climate change never existed as some speculate. Instead, it will be due to countless conservation organizations working to keep our planet clean and to force companies to keep their emissions low. Supporting local environmentalist organizations and voting for climate policy may be the most effective way for individuals to combat this issue.