Scientists around the world are working hard to expand our knowledge of climate change and its effects, but you don't need to be scientist to get to grips with the fundamentals. These figures help paint a picture of where we are at, and how we got here.
Based on analysis of ice cores drilled and recovered from thousands of meters below the earth's surface, scientists have managed to create a reconstruction of the concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas in the earth's atmosphere over the last 800,000 years. The results show that the concentration of CO2 has always fluctuated over this time. However, the scale of increase in the atmosphere's CO2 levels since the mid-twentieth century is truly unprecedented.
Data Reference : OurWorldInData
While atmospheric CO2 concentrations have always fluctuated, they have remained between about 170 and 300ppm. Today, concentrations have exceeded 400ppm, and scientists are in agreement that increasing levels of CO2 since 1850 are human caused. It is not just the high concentration that is a concern, but the continuing rapid rate of escalation that is a worry. In order to curb the effects of global warming and climate change, we need to drastically reduce our emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
Data Reference : NOAA/GML
Not all greenhouse gases (GHG) were created equal. The Global Warming Potential (GWP) is a measure of how much energy the emissions of 1 ton of a gas will absorb over a given time period, relative to the emissions of 1 ton of carbon dioxide. The larger the GWP, the more that gas warms the Earth compared to CO2 over that time period. Although Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O) and Fluorinated gases are emitted in much lower quantities than CO2, their impacts on global warming are tens, hundreds, and even thousands of times higher!
The GWP of GHGs
Data Reference : Myhre et al., WG1AR5_Chapter08, 2013
As the name suggests, global warming is the increase in the earth's atmospheric temperature over time, and global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the primary driver of global warming. In just the last 40 years, global temperatures have risen approximately one degree Celsius, and are still rising. Scientists warn that global warming has the potential to directly and indirectly lead to extreme weather events, melting ice, rising sea levels, extinction of wildlife, challenges to food security, mass migration and even civil unrest.
Data Reference : NASA-GISS
Melting Polar Ice
Melting polar ice might seems like a distant problem, but its consequences are part of a viscous cycle. When the earth's surface is covered in ice, it reflects a lot of light and heat back into space. However, as this ice coverage disappears, more solar heat gets absorbed on the earths surface and oceans, accelerating global warming. Large quantities of methane (CH4) gas is also stored in arctic ice and permafrost regions, which gets released into the atmosphere as the ice melts, further accelerating the greenhouse effect.
Data Reference : NSIDC
Rising sea levels are caused from melting glaciers and ice sheets, as well as the thermal expansion of water in the world's oceans as it warms. The consequences of this rise - some of which we have already been observed - are extreme, including flooding, coastal erosion, contamination of agricultural lands with salt water, and an array of ecological impacts. Tide gauge dating back from over a century have show that sea levels are rising, and since the early 1990's this data has been supported by sophisticated satellite data.
Sea Level Change
Data Reference: CSIRO (tide gauge) and NOAA (satellite)
A Global Problem
Global CO2 emissions now stand at over 36 billion tons of CO2 annually. This graph shows just how rapidly CO2 emissions have risen in the past 150 years across different parts of the world. Here in the Arabian gulf, our emissions account for nearly 4% of global emissions, and when population sizes are factored in, residents in this region have some of the highest carbon footprints per capita in the world.
Data Reference : OurWorldInData
Every meal that we have has an impact on our environment. The term foodprint (or, food-footprint) refers to all of the GHGs that were emitted in order to grow the food and get it from the farm to your plate. Making adjustments to your dietary choices is one of the easiest and most effective ways of reducing your overall emissions footprint. As you can see from the graph, animal-derived foods have emissions that are magnitudes of times higher than plant-based foods. Limiting you meat intake, and leaning towards a veggie heavy diet can drastically reduce your foodprint.
Data Reference: Poore & Nemecek, 2018