AS WORLD leaders prepare to meet at the Group of 20 conference this week, a slew of recently released research confirms that climate change is an immediate and critical problem that must be at the top of the list of global priorities. No matter how irresponsible President Trump’s behavior on this matter, the world cannot afford to lose four years. The effort must press on.
Evidence continues to pile up that the effects of climate change are measurable and getting worse. A study published in Nature Climate Change last week revealed that sea levels have been rising more rapidly in recent years. One culprit appears to be the melting of the massive Greenland ice sheet, an effect that scientists had not anticipated would be such a substantial cause of sea-level rise already, indicating once again that scientific uncertainty is at least as likely to lead experts to underestimate as to exaggerate the climate threat.
Global warming’s effects will be deadly to human beings. Another new paper in Nature Climate Change found that 30 percent of the planet’s population is exposed to deadly levels of heat and humidity for at least 20 days a year. Even if Earth-warming emissions are cut back drastically, nearly half of humanity will face this misery by 2100. Without emissions cuts, three-quarters will suffer.
Scientists are getting better at quickly attributing the role human activity may have played in real-life weather disasters. Experts with World Weather Attribution, a global scientific effort, found that the record heat in Europe last month, which caused temperature-related deaths and costly forest fires, was up to 10 times more likely in some places because of climate change. Experts predict these sorts of events will become more frequent.
Global warming will also punish economies in areas least able to withstand the harm. Scientists have long warned that those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are also among the poorest. That turns out to be true in the United States, too. A study in the journal Science found that “warming causes a net transfer of value from Southern, Central and Mid-Atlantic regions toward the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region, and New England,” which means that “because losses are largest in regions that are already poorer on average, climate change tends to increase preexisting inequality in the United States.”
Even though the amount of carbon dioxide that humans emit has leveled off lately, “the excess carbon dioxide scorching the planet rose at the highest rate on record in 2015 and 2016,” the New York Times reported last week. “A slightly slower but still unusual rate of increase has continued into 2017.” It is not clear what is behind this phenomenon. Scientists speculate that carbon “sinks,” such as the oceans and forests that absorb carbon dioxide, may be getting worse at doing so. It is one more ominous sign.