Your immediate environment might seem in great condition, yet there's no doubt we should be concerned about rising global temperatures. You may look around you and wonder, "Is the climate really changing? How do we know it is? Can we stop it?" Below, we look at a curated selection of climate change facts that help to answer those questions.
#1 - The last ice age was about 11,700 years ago4
#2 - there have been seven cycles of glacial growth and shrinking in the past 650,000 years4
Climate change is not new. Glaciers have shrunk and increased seven times over the last 650,000 years. The earth sometimes experiences a slight shift in its orbital path, causing the amount of solar energy reaching the earth to change. Changes in the planet's climate have been regular, so why is the current global temperature change causing so much concern?
Compared to the changes that used to occur, evidence reveals that current global warming is happening ten times faster than it used to. This is problematic because the earth's warming rate is higher than the average rate it takes to cool down.
#3 - The warming trend the earth is presently undergoing is over 95% likely to have been caused by human activities2
With the industrial revolution, human activities were no longer as labor-intensive and time-consuming as they used to be. Mechanization, large-scale manufacturing, and the rise of factories serving a global consumer demand all demanded energy.
The industrial revolution has resulted in human activities that release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Drilling, mining, and burning fossil fuels primarily generated the energy and raw materials required to fuel our progress. Scientists have since gathered evidence that carbon emissions, released as a function of industrialization, have increased and contributed to global warming.
#4 - Carbon dioxide resulting from human activities is increasing over 250 times faster than carbon dioxide resulting from natural resources since the last ice age3
Carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant greenhouse gas, amounts to more than half of the gas in the atmosphere. A large part of atmospheric carbon dioxide results from burning fossil fuels, solid waste, trees, and other biological materials. Plants absorb carbon dioxide, removing them from the atmosphere.
Other greenhouse gases are methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and fluorinated gases. The production and transportation of natural gas, oil, and coal release methane. Livestock and organic waste in landfills also contribute to greenhouse gases produced in the form of methane. Wastewater treatment and some industrial and agricultural activities release nitrous oxide. And fluorinated gases are potent human-made gases emitted from some industrial processes.
Simply put, the more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere, the worse the effects of climate change and the impact of a warming climate will become.
#5 - The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.05 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century[ref]
#6 - For the most part, global warming took place in the past 40 years[ref]
The global climate is changing due to human influence, and not for the better. Plants are flowering sooner, glaciers are melting, and ice on rivers are breaking. This is happening because excessive greenhouse gas emissions result in an adverse greenhouse effect.
Greenhouse gases trap heat in the earth's atmosphere. This keeps the planet comfortably warm at a global average of 15 degrees Celsius; we call this the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect keeps the earth habitable. However, greenhouse gas emissions have skyrocketed in recent times, and now, the world is becoming hotter.
#7 - Global average temperature has increased by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2016[ref]
#8- Researchers predict climate change to cause an approximate additional 250,000 deaths yearly by 2030-20505
As air temperatures heat up, it adversely affects people suffering from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Weather-related natural disasters have become more frequent and stronger since 1960. Extreme weather, widely attributed to the climate crisis, has caused about 60,000 deaths in developing countries.
#9 - In the heatwave of summer 2003 in Europe, there were over 70,000 additional deaths6
Heavy rainfall, sea-level rise, and heat waves threaten our planet and we who live on it. Our health, environment, and livelihoods are in grave danger from climate change. This is because the changes in climate impact many of the social and environmental determinants of our well-being negatively.
#10 - The warmest years on record took place since 2014, with 2016 being the warmest year on record[ref]
#11 - The world has warmed by an approximate amount of 0.85 degrees Celsius in the past 130 years[ref]
Climate change has had visible effects on the environment; it has affected plants and animals. Animals living in the ice regions face possible habitat loss as sea ice continues to melt. In Greenland and Antarctica, the ice sheets are shrinking rapidly, contributing to sea-level rise. In warmer parts of the planet, climate change has increased the frequency of wildfires and intense heat waves.
#12 - The top 100 meters of the ocean have warmed more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit due to global warming since 19694
#13 - Experiments show that Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 20197
#14 - Experiments show Antarctica lost an average of 148 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 20197
#15 - The sea levels worldwide rose about 8 inches in the last decade8
#16 - 95% of cities facing extreme risks from climate change are in Africa and Asia[ref]
#17 - The number of reported natural disasters due to weather has tripled since the 1960s[ref]
#18 - The acidity of surface ocean waters has risen 30% since the start of the industrial age[ref]
Industrial activities are often powered by fossil fuels or involve other processes that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The ocean stores the earth's excess energy, and the more Co2 released, the more the ocean absorbs. This has led to the ocean becoming more acidic.
The ocean also absorbs much of the heat that results from climate change. The first 382 feet of the ocean show a warming of 0.33 degrees Celsius. Increased ocean temperatures have led to vast swathes of coral reefs dying from the increased temperatures due to a phenomenon called coral bleaching.
The UN, alongside the majority of climate scientists, warns that we need to limit climate change to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level.
#19 - The ocean has absorbed between 20% to 30% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in recent decades9
#20 - The ocean absorbs 7.2 to 10.8 billion metric tonnes of anthropogenic carbon dioxide per year9
#21 - Aeroallergens such as pollen and others have higher levels during extreme heat, which can trigger asthma, affecting around 300 million people worldwide[ref]
#22 - Over 40% of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast and are at risk due to rising sea levels globally10
As temperatures keep rising, sea levels will continue to rise, ice sheets will keep melting, and precipitation patterns will change. A warming world endangers our lives. Extreme weather events that cause deaths are becoming more intense and frequent.
Sea level rises, and extreme weather events will destroy homes and infrastructure, forcing people to move to "safer" places. Such movements will eventually result in overpopulation of those areas, which puts health and well-being in danger.
#23 - Variable rainfall patterns affect the supply of clean water; this results in unsafe water supplies, which increase the risk of diarrhoeal disease that kills over 500,000 children under the age of 5 yearly[ref]
Unsafe water compromises hygiene, exposing people to water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, and diarrhea. Climate change causes more frequent rainfall and flooding in some places; this contaminates the clean water supply. Contaminated water breeds diseases and mosquitoes. Climate strongly influences the Anopheles mosquito, which transmits malaria. Floods also cause the loss of lives and property.
#24 - Malnutrition and undernutrition cause some 3.1 million deaths every year. Rising temperatures and inconsistent rainfall due to climate change look set to increase that number as staple foods production decreases[ref]
In other parts of the world, they are experiencing water scarcity because of climate change. The world's food production is decreasing, and as food becomes increasingly scarce more people are dying of hunger. In some areas, drought affects the planting season, leading to famine.
Scientists predict that by the late 21st century, droughts will become more common and more intense. In other places, extreme rain or snowfall causes farms to become waterlogged and unproductive. This affects developing countries the most because they lack the technology to manage such events as flooding remotely.
#25 - Climate change influences some diseases, for example, malaria, which kills over 400,000 people yearly[ref]
#26 - 38,000 additional annual deaths due to heat exposure in older adults[ref]
#27 - 48,000 additional annual deaths due to diarrhea[ref]
#28 - 95,000 additional annual deaths due to childhood undernutrition[ref]
#29 - 60,000 additional annual deaths due to malaria[ref]
People worldwide will feel the effects of climate change, as shown by these climate change facts, but some more than others. People who live in developing countries, coastal regions, megacities, and mountain areas face a higher risk.
Those who live on islands or coastal areas are in danger of being displaced by rising sea levels. About 84 fast-growing cities around the world are under threat from rising temperatures and extreme weather events. In Africa, the fastest-growing cities are the most vulnerable.
#30 - Researchers expect sea levels to rise 1-8 feet by 2100[ref]
Scientists predict that if we do nothing to limit global warming and human-caused climate change, the global temperature may rise by 3-5 degrees Celsius by 2100. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there could be unfavorable changes if we fail to stop global warming. Such as sea-level rise, low agricultural yield, and so on.
#31 - The Arctic ocean is expected to become ice-free by 205011
Global warming has made the arctic sea ice shrink in recent years. It got to its lowest point yet, in 2012. The climate change facts show the ice in the arctic ocean may be gone by the summer of 2050. The melting ice sheets in the arctic are contributing to sea-level rise.
The intergovernmental panel on climate change says published evidence strongly indicates the severity of climate change. They believe that the damaging effects of climate change are likely to increase over time.
#32 - In Syria, they predict the mean annual temperature to increase by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050[ref]
#33 - In Syria, they expect the yearly mean precipitation to decrease by 11% by 2050[ref]
#34 - In the United States, they forecast the mean annual temperature to rise by 2.51°C in 2040-2059[ref]
China and the United States are responsible for the highest greenhouse gas emissions. Together they account for over 40% of emissions. These countries need to play a leading role in global efforts to control climate change.
#35 - In the United States, they predict the annual precipitation to rise by 48.90mm in 2040-2059[ref]
If we immediately stopped greenhouse gas emissions, global warming would not stop for decades or even centuries. Carbon dioxide, the major heat-trapping gas, stays active in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. So, even if we take significant actions now, it will be long before we see visible results. However, if we do nothing, as these climate change facts show, scientists predict that global temperature will continue to rise.
The approach to dealing with climate change is in two stages. The first is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the second is adapting to the existing changes. A two-step solution seems easy enough, but climate change is a complex problem. And it's going to cost a lot of money. Forecasters predict that the impacts of climate change could cost as much as 11-14% of global GDP. by 2050.
Natural climate solutions such as restoring lost forests and rewilding nature not only have the potential to help mitigate the worst but also create jobs and economic growth as we replace oil and gas.
Solving it will affect the economic and social culture of countries all over the world. The climate change facts show clearly that we can not afford to turn a blind eye to what we need to do now to prevent more harm to our future environment, lifestyle, and even survival.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.