What Are the 5 Effects of Climate Change?

Human influence on Earth’s climate systems is now an established fact corroborated by observational records and climate models. The term “climate change” broadly refers to the long-term shifts in average temperatures and weather patterns that have been measured since the pre-industrial era. In essence, there are five symptoms associated with climate change: 1) increased surface temperatures, 2) rising sea levels, 3) melting ice sheets, 4) declining biodiversity, and 5) decreased agriculture production.

What Are the Effects of Rising Temperatures?

Rising surface, ocean, and atmospheric temperatures, also known as global warming, is perhaps the most influential symptom of climate change. As average daily temperatures gradually increase, there may be more incidents of heatwaves and droughts. Global warming also adds to the likelihood of wildfire occurrences. Evapotranspiration-the combination of water evaporation, soil moisture evaporation, and plant transpiration-rids soils and vegetation of their moisture. Dried-out plant matter acts as kindling during wildfires and enables the spread of flames.

Excess heat may also be hazardous to human health. People who are exposed to extreme heat can experience a range of conditions, including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes.

Why Is Sea Level Rise a Problem?

Sea level rise is related to the melting of land-ice and thermal expansion in seawater caused by heating oceans. The most affected communities are those along coasts. Coastal systems are more sensitive to rising seas because of their low elevation and proximity to large bodies of water. Erosion from intense wave action and flooding threatens coastal infrastructure more than that of high-elevation and inland territories. On top of that, coasts are highly vulnerable to extreme storms such as tropical cyclones. Coastal storms, including hurricanes and tropical storms, generate powerful ocean waves and harsh winds that indiscriminately damage property and claim lives.

How Does Melting Ice Sheets Affect the Environment?

Ice sheets are permanent masses of ice that cover vast amounts of land in Greenland and Antarctica. Under the influence of global warming, ice sheets melt more quickly. Water from melting land ice inevitably flows into seas and contributes to rising sea levels. In return, increasing amounts of melting sea ice loss reinforce global warming. This is because brightly colored snow and ice surfaces reflect sunlight back into space, whereas darkly colored sea water absorbs sunlight and heat energy. As ice sheets melt, Greenland and Antarctica will continue to heat up, and vice versa.

Permafrost (layers of subsurface soil, gravel, and sand that stay frozen year-round) stores plant material and keep them from decomposing as long as they remain frozen. Thawing these icy structures will allow the natural breakdown of plant materials to take place. When organic materials decompose, an array of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere and intensify global heating.

Biodiversity Loss Effects

A report published in 2021 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) drew a connection between climate change and biodiversity loss. According to the report, long-term climatological shifts have the potential to adversely alter a wide range of ecosystems.

For example, ocean acidification, which is driven by warming sea temperatures, can be harmful to species that form shells and skeletons from calcium and carbonate. When large amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide are absorbed by seawater, the water’s pH is reduced and the amount of carbonate ions decreases. Ocean acidification can make shells and skeletons grow more slowly or dissolve more quickly, leaving species like scallops, corals, sea urchins, and clams more prone to impaired health.

How Does Climate Change Affect Agriculture?

The physical effects of climate change could influence agriculture production in a myriad of ways because crops depend on suitable environmental conditions to grow. Crop growth can be disturbed by shifts in air temperature or losses in soil biodiversity.

A 2017 study titled, “Temperature Increase Reduces Global Yields of Major Crops in Four Independent Estimates“, compiled results from four analytical methods (global grid-based models, local point-based models, statistical regressions, and field-warming experiments). They discovered that “without CO2 fertilization, effective adaptation, and genetic improvement, each degree-Celsius increase in global mean temperature would, on average, reduce global yields…”. Exposure to hotter temperatures may therefore contribute to abiotic stress for crops. Assuming that this is true, climate change will make food security threats more pronounced in the future.

What Are Direct and Indirect Effects of Climate Change?

Freshwater systems provide usable water for technological development, agriculture and human consumption, while also serving as habitats for various aquatic species. Therefore, freshwater systems are of crucial economic and ecological value. A 2021 study titled, ” “The Importance of Indirect Effects of Climate Change Adaptations On Alpine and Pre-Alpine Freshwater Systems” asserts that human-made transformations in water hydrology and pollution from sewer outflows and agriculture chemicals are threats to freshwater systems. Properly accounting for the effects of climate change and anthropogenic influence on aquatic environments will hopefully improve climate change adaptation policies.

What Is Freshwater?

Rivers, reservoirs, and streams are examples of freshwaters systems. Freshwater is a subset of Earth’s water which is significantly less salty than marine waters (like seas and oceans). The United States Geological Survey, a branch dedicated to science within the United States Department of the Interior, defines freshwater as “water containing less than 1,000 milligrams per liter of dissolved solids, most often salt.” Though freshwater is renewed through the water cycle, it is a finite resource. If freshwater is used more quickly than it is naturally replenished, water security risks may be enhanced.

What Are Direct and Indirect Effects of Climate Change?

Authors of “The Importance of Indirect Effects of Climate Change Adaptations On Alpine and Pre-Alpine Freshwater Systems”, regard higher frequency of extreme meteorological events and increased temperatures as “direct effects” of climate change. These direct effects adversely influence the state and quality of aquatic regions. Direct effects also interact with human responses to climate change and produce “indirect effects”.

So-called indirect effects refer to human practices that are aimed at climate change mitigation. Indirect effects include land-use changes, alterations to freshwater systems and increasing irrigation practices. Authors suggest that “indirect effects may, at least in the short term, overrun the impact of direct climate change on water bodies.” Though all biomes are predicted to be impacted by climate change, freshwater systems in alpine and pre-alpine regions may be disproportionately at risk due to agriculture and hydropower plants.

Adapting Water Management to Climate Change

Freshwater use for the production of energy, also known as hydropower, is typically made possible by dams and in-stream structures. Hydropower infrastructure generates usable electricity for homes and businesses. Authors of the 2021 review article posit that hydropower is used as an alternative to nonrenewable energy resources. Hydropower production is therefore considered an adaptation strategy to climate change. Hydropower installations in freshwater networks can fragment or isolate certain species populations which are ill-adapted for the changes in water flow and perpetuate biodiversity loss. By modifying the hydrology of freshwater systems, water usage for energy production can compound the direct effects of climate change to aquatic flora and fauna.

How Does Agriculture Affect Climate Change?

Agriculture can be of detriment to freshwater systems as well, but in a much different way than hydropower plants. Climate change can intensify extreme weather event trends, such as floods, storms and droughts; these effects can drive diminished crop yields. In the interest of mitigating threats to crops brought on by climate change, agriculturalists may expand irrigation infrastructure or enhance fertilizer use. These adaptations can exacerbate the consequences which are already affecting crop growth cycles.

What Is the Impact of Climate Change On Water Resources?

Authors of the 2021 review claim that “rain-fed dairy farming is currently the most predominant form of agriculture, but in the future these grasslands may become more and more dependent on irrigation”. Redirecting water for irrigation use can potentially limit the quantity of water available in freshwater ecosystems. Variability in weather regimes may contribute to further dependence on water from irrigation (rather than from rainfall) in the future. Some of the responses that agriculturalists are expected to as a response to a changing climate pose risks to freshwater systems. Policy makers must account for indirect impacts to alleviate worsening the ecological status and water quality within aquatic environments.

The Disappointment of COP26: Reviewing the Glasgow Pact

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference which took place this November, 2021, in Glasgow. One of the primary goals of COP26 was to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2℃ by the middle of the 21st century. According to the Paris Climate Agreement, participant nations are also encouraged to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5℃ relative to preindustrial levels by mid century. COP26 was to be the latest installment in this ongoing conversation between world leaders, corporations and intergovernmental committees. Ultimately, COP26 did not present any serious guarantees of reaching the Paris Climate Agreement’s short term or long term goals. COP26 only concluded with ambiguous, unambitious goals.

Ambiguous, Unambitious Goals

Toward the end of the 2 week United Nations Climate Change conference, a meaningful change was made to the wording of the final decision. The phasing out of coal, was changed to the phasing down of coal. The latter wording can be found in the Glasgow Pact document. Sources reveal that this change was first proposed by representatives from India, and garnered support from China. As coal combusts, several airborne pollutants are released, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, particulates and ash. Coal burning is a prominent element climate destabilization, as it contributes to global warming and increasingly acidic oceans. Though COP26 is the first climate agreement to explicitly mention coal, the tentative promise to phase down coal use this century is not assuring.

The Glasgow Pact “emphasizes the need to mobilize climate finance from all sources to reach the level
needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, including significantly increasing
support for developing country Parties, beyond USD 100 billion per year… . As for the US$100 billion per year by 2020 pledge, first proposed in 2009, the Glasgow Pact “notes with deep regret that the goal” has not yet been met, but secures no further progress on this front.

This is a failure to small island and developing nations, who are already feeling the effects of climate change and are predicted to be disproportionately affected due to less resilient economies. Protests outside of COP26 erupted before the final event officially concluded. Hundreds of civil society representatives were dissatisfied with the conclusions reached during the climate convention. Even more frustrations have been articulated online.

COP26 tweet

The 7th subtitle, “Implementation“, makes no explicit commitments

The “implementation” section of the Glasgow pact likewise makes no explicit commitments. Without the implementation of targets, meaningful action can not be achieved. That said, more promises are likewise insufficient answers to immediate to answer immediate concerns for relief and infrastructure investments. COP26 has largely failed small island nations and those with emerging economies in this regard.

COP26: Helping the Least Developed Countries Adapt

coastal city, grass and trees
coastal territory

The Conference of Parties (COP), established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is a convention of governmental representatives and scientific experts for discussing climate change. COP26 will be the next COP gathering and will take place in November, 2021. World leaders participating in COP26 will discuss topics ranging from mitigation strategies to extensive economic reforms.

The countries most capable of adapting to climate change are those who have relatively high incomes and low economic vulnerability. These nations are more equipped to deal with climate destabilization than low income countries with high economic vulnerability. This is because higher income nations can afford to invest in net-zero transition projects, adaptation technologies and more resilient infrastructure.

Are Poorer Countries More Affected by Climate Change?

Lower-income nations by contrast have economies that are less capable of investing in green revolutions. Dealing with decreases in crop yields and infrastructure damage as a result of climate change is be more difficult in countries that have vulnerable economies because people in these regions tend to be more dependent on agriculture and other contributions from nature, such as fishing or logging. Increases in adverse weather events or changes in climate also threaten tourism in small island developing states. Under the influence of climate change, the least developed communities are expected to have a harder time rebuilding with limited finances and resources.

COP26 Outcomes

Climate finances are the funds planned to be provided to highly vulnerable nations to aid in addressing climate change and its impacts. Funds like the Green Climate Fund were created as financial support systems that lower income nations could draw from for new initiatives and adaptation. Alternative methods for climate finance include loans, export credits and government donations. The pledged for $100 billion a year (by 2020) for developing nations has been discussed as a central issue since 2009.

COP26 is an opportunity for relatively high income nations to sort out the details of their pending commitments. They are the primary beneficiaries of fossil fuel use, and are therefore liable for the consequences associated with climate destabilization. The territories that make up the Group of 20 (G20) generate more than half of the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and make up most of the world’s gross domestic product. These nations then have the greatest responsibility to help support people in highly vulnerable regions and small island states.

IPBES/IPCC: Nature-Based Solutions, Climate Change Mitigation

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have proposed a new conservation paradigm to address climate change and biodiversity loss which will benefit quality of life for human populations. This proposed conservation paradigm will effectively protect and enhance various ecosystems, including forests, peatlands, wetlands, tropical forests, freshwater systems, grasslands, savannas, some polar habitats and coastal ecosystems. The IPCC/ IPBES workshop report stipulates that nature-based solutions only abate climate change and biodiversity loss if they have aggressive targets and are implemented in conjunction with ambitious greenhouse gas reductions. Nature-based solutions, the conservation and enhancement of natural and managed ecosystems, will be a key driver for climate change mitigation.

ipcc and ipbes

What Are Nature-Based Solutions?

Protecting and enhancing ecosystems can help reverse the impacts of climate change by lowering greenhouse concentrations (through carbon sequestration), thereby limiting global average heat temperature rise, decreasing the frequency of extreme weather events and curbing the effects of ocean acidification. Properly managing ecosystems can also help restore biodiversity loss.

Species with restricted population distributions, those that have tolerance limits and those that have limited abilities to migrate to new habitats are considered to be most susceptible to climate change, according to the IPCC/ IPBES Workshop Report (page 17). Tropical coral reefs, savannas, tropical forests, high latitude and altitude ecosystems, Mediterranean-like ecosystems and coastal ecosystems are considered to be the most vulnerable ecosystems. Such ecosystems are already being affected by climate change.

Why Are Nature-Based Solutions Important?

Nature-based solutions are cost effective, can be rapidly employed, make ecosystems more resilient to the consequences of climate change and provides benefits for humanity. Benefits for communities of human populations include food security increases, job opportunities in ecosystem management and protection against floods (as is the case with coral reefs and coastal communities). Nature based solutions will call for changes in land-use. Monoculture plots will have to converted to diverse ecosystems (as single species plantations increase pathogen risks in plants), land clearing will have to significantly limited or reversed and ecosystem conservation will have to be prioritized on land and in aquatic environments. The technology already exists for nature-based solutions, it comes in the form of natural ecosystems, both natural and managed and the species that occupy them.

IPBES and IPCC Co-Sponsored Workshop

IPBES and IPCC compare and contrast circles
IPBES and IPCC compare and contrast circles

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) have drawn a connection between climate change and biodiversity loss. To paraphrase the IPBES-IPCC Workshop Report (page 16), climate destabilization intensifies risks to biodiversity.

Also, well-managed and natural ecosystems can be used to reduce carbon dioxide gas levels by absorbing carbon dioxide into vegetation and microorganisms. Therefore, replenishing biodiversity and ecosystems may be conducive to climate change mitigation efforts. It’s worth mentioning that neither climate change nor biological diversity and ecosystem degradation affects all regions the same. Some parts of the world, namely regions along coasts, tropical islands, or those predisposed to severe weather (such as droughts, heatwaves, and heavy rainfall) will likely be the first to experience the repercussions of climate destabilization – if they haven’t already.

What Is A Co-Sponsored Workshop?

This workshop report details just how closely linked the habitat and species loss are to our climate crisis. Though the IPCC is a United Nations collective that provides scientific evidence and predictions about climate change – for economic and political reasons- and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is an organization for information and policy pertaining to biodiversity, ecosystem conservation and sustainable development, both organizations have interests improving human well-being through sustainability.

Efforts to curb the limit climate change are aimed at protecting the quality of life for communities of people. The same is true of environmental conservation and habitat restoration. According to the IPBES and IPCC workshop report, climate change and biodiversity loss are mutually reinforcing; meaning that, resolving either one of these issues has implications for the other.

Harvard University Will Divest Its $42B From Fossil Fuels

Harvard University, one of the richest and most prestigious colleges in the United States of America, has just released a statement disclosing that it will end all investments in fossil fuels. According to Harvard’s self published news update, climate change is a “consequential threat”. Harvard goes on to reference the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report. The IPCC’s sixth assessment is its latest report which outlines the physical evidence for climate change and its environmental tolls.

To some extent, its apparent that Harvard recognizes the emerging need to decarbonize on an international scale. Earlier this year (2021), Harvard Management Company (HMC) announced that it had already ceased all direct investments in companies that pursued fossil fuel. Harvard admits that HMC has legacy investments that are still indirectly tied up in “private equity funds with holdings in fossil fuel industries”. According to Harvard, HMC has no interest in renewing these legacy investments once the relevant partnerships end or are liquidated. If Harvard and HMC are in fact serious about being conducive to the transition to the clean energy revolution, then they have a responsibility to set a standard for other institutions and companies. Though, it is fair to say that they have already taken preliminary steps in the right direction.

students holding divest Harvard sign
students holding divest Harvard sign

Beyond HMC’s vow to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within its own operations by July, 2023, its also collaborating with the Carbon Disclosure Project, Principles for Responsible Investment, and Climate Action 100+. These organizations all, in some way or another, contribute to managing carbon and fossil fuel outputs made by governments and conglomerates. Students, athletes and Harvard’s sports attendees have been floating banners that read “Divest Harvard” on them. Tweets from Al Gore, to Environmental expert, Bill McKibben, highlight just how celebrated Harvard’s news about ending new investments is.

Greta Thunberg: UK Is Lying About Progress On Climate Change

Greta Thunberg is a prominent 18 year old environmental activist and climate change communicator. The Swedish-born activist is generally well-known for her fearlessly forthright speeches, and her “skolstrejk för klimatet” School Strike for Climate. Greta Thunberg has just made a public video post claiming that the United Kingdom’s (UK) claims about climate change mitigation are lies. If Britain is in fact guilty of “creative carbon accounting”, then its future emissions sanctions could be too lenient.

Greta Thunberg UNICEF video screenshot

Why Greta Thunberg Accuses UK of Lying

Greta Thunberg begins her UNICEF video post by plainly stating that “there is a lie that the UK is a world climate leader and that they have reduced their carbon emissions by 44% since 1944, or whatever.” Thunberg’s post follows an announcement made by Boris Johnson that the UK has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions “by about 42 percent on 1990 levels”. British politicians have a long history of proclaiming that the UK is the world’s gold standard with respect to climate action. This may be partly because the UK is the first country to enact legally permitted reduction targets for carbon emissions. The United Kingdom was also the first country to pass a net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions law (2019) to be achieved by the year 2050.

To paraphrase, Thunberg goes on to say that all emissions have to be included in GHG assessments; otherwise, your carbon emissions count comes out to be “much nicer”. Thunberg is suggesting that the UK has not been accounting for all of its emissions, rendering its assessments ultimately inaccurate. Presenting false climate credentials is a serious charge, especially considering the emerging pertinence of the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg says that if you include “aviation, shipping, outsourcing, imports of consumption and the burning of biomass, it [emissions reduction statistics] doesn’t really look that good”.

What Is Carbon Accounting?

Carbon accounting is the quantification of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that organizations use to set goals for future emissions statistics. Emissions statistics help organizations track their Paris Agreement-compliance. The Paris Agreement is a binding treaty agreement between the 196 parties that volunteered to take part in 2015 at the first United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21 (2015). With COP26 (2021) around the corner, Thunberg’s announcement may serve as a warning to be scrupulous of the emission data that organizations and governments report.

Cowspiracy Documentary Summary

The 2014 documentary Cowspiracy illuminates the connection between the global climate crisis and modern farming techniques. The hour and a half film follows an environmentalist, Kip Anderson, on his search for answers regarding the most pressing environmental issues. His research leads him to stumble upon a scientific consensus: the use of animals in agriculture is among the leading factors that influence environmental degradation, including ocean dead zones, rapid species extinctions, habitat loss, Amazon rainforest destruction, water overconsumption and land misuse. However, Anderson grows frustrated as he discovers that some environmental organizations and other conservationists (Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Rainforest Action Network, and Oceana) refuse to be frank about the role of animal agriculture in climate change.

cow wi
dairy cow

The Silence of Environmentalists

Greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide contribute to global warming. Each of these natural gases are heavily produced in industrial factory farming practices, where forests are cleared, thereby robbing landscapes of not only their carbon sequestering potential, but also of innumerable wildlife species. Fossil fuel emissions come from fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, from eccentric fermentation in ruminants and from manure management.

Bruce Hamilton: Sierra Club

Bruce Hamilton of the Sierra Club describes the present rate of greenhouse gas proliferation as exceeding levels ever before seen or estimated. This is hardly news. However, during his terse interview, Bruce Hamilton declared that other sources of methane and carbon dioxide should be prioritized above agriculture farming. Is Hamilton suggesting that some other economic sector has greater overall emissions than agriculture does? Doe he know agriculture’s impact estimates should include transport and energy generation? The Sierra Club is an organization that partly focuses promoting sustainable energy and limiting global warming. As the Deputy Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Bruce Hamilton should know.

Ann Notthoff: Natural Resources Defense Counsil

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Ann Notthoff says that energy production and transportation are the major sources of environmental degradation. The woman then laughs when pressed about livestock’s contribution. She jokingly says, “that’s cow farts… I think that’s what that is”.

Chad Nelson: Surfrider

Dr. Chad Nelson of Surfrider notes that heavy metals from automated vehicles and herbicides and pesticides as sources of ocean pollution. When Kip Anderson questions Dr. Nelson about the influence of animal agriculture on oceanic pollution, Nelson simply remarks that California’s research teams do not see much evidence of it. A pattern is made apparent for the Cowspiracy audience. Environmental organizations do not wish to point the finger directly at factory farming.

The Cost of Speaking Up

In some cases, speaking out against factory farming or animal agriculture has cost activists their lives. The film mentions the tragic assassination of Sister Dorothy Stang, an American nun who was murdered in 2005 for her activism against cattle ranching. According to the film, more than 1,100 environmental campaigners were killed over a 20 year period in Brazil for animal activism. Journalist Will Potter believes that environmentalists are considered terrorists by the FBI. Will Anderson, the founder of Greenpeace Alaska, believes that most environmental institutions are failing us by neglecting to mention the role of human diets and farming practices in climate change.

Activism comes with a cost. In some cases, the cost is lost revenue or a reputation blow. The fact is, agriculture corporations are powerfully influential due to the amount of profit that they reap and the jobs that they supply. As staples in global economies, these organizations are capable of preventing activists from being publicly critical. Speaking up could result in funding loss, loss of business, alienation or worse.

AR6 Climate Change Report: Introduction

Today, August 9, 2021, the United Nations’ officially climate experts committee has released an updated report on climate change’s physical evidence and a list of solutions for policy makers. I’ve read over the policy maker’s report, and hope to explain what the document’s premises are. Since the International Panel on Climate Change’s last report, the AR5 (released in 2014), UN experts have made modifications in their modeling techniques and data analysis regarding anthropogenic climate change.

IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

The AR6 reports, with varying degrees of confidence, that the last few decades have been marked by increasing average surface temperature (0.8°C to 1.3°C for the years 1850-1900 to the years 2010-2019), increasing precipitation levels, melting Antarctic Ice Sheet and Greenland Ice Sheets, decreases in Arctic sea ice, rising upper ocean temperatures (depth of 0-700 meters) and rises in global sea levels. UN climate experts attribute relatively recent shifts in climate and weather to human influence.

Researchers also provide reconstructed data which simulates the mean surface temperature over the last 100,000 years. It is within the last 2000 years that an unprecedented spike occurs in mean surface temperature. Climate models suggest that rises in greenhouse gas levels, land use, ozone use and other human activities explain the rise in global surface temperatures. The concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane exceed natural multi-millennial levels; these natural gases happen to be the some of the primary products of human industrial activities, such as agriculture, organic waste and energy.