If you consider it, an average temperature rise of 2 °C doesn’t seem so bad. Warmer summers, getting a nice tan and not freezing during winter on the way to campus. What about a 4°C rise? How does that seem? In reality, neither look good; expect droughts, higher sea levels, extreme flooding and unpredictable storms. The UN has set a target to reduce CO2 levels so we won’t create a world that is 2°C warmer, but even if CO2 was cut off overnight we can still expect a rise of 0.6°C to 1°C of global temperature. Many scientists are worried that we won’t make the target and are headed for a 4°C temperature rise.
‘the average uk household produces 21 tons of co2 a year…’
CO2 is a greenhouse gas and makes the Earth warmer. But how much do we actually make? And how does this amount of CO2 actually heat the Earth? The average UK household produces 21 tons of CO2 a year, this comes from your heating, electricity and burning petrol. England comes 14th in the world and releases 415, 000,000 tons a year – that’s about 2 million blue whales or a thousand empire state buildings. Once in the atmosphere, CO2 absorbs radiation from the sun that would other wise be reflected back out to space. This causes more heat to be trapped and is known as the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and because of it the Earth can sustain liquid water and harbour life. As we increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere we increase the greenhouse effect and cause the Earth to get hotter and hotter.
So how would a 2°C warmer world affect Europe? Floods would become the norm. Every year we would experience stronger floods, but with strong flood defences and town planning, we should be able to deal with these. In the summer, we would have more droughts, with water being scarce. But again with clever planning, we would be able to store up water in the winter months. It’s going to get hot. Even in recent summers in the UK, when we have week long heat waves, thousands die. As the world get hotter, more people are at risk of dying in the summers, but with air conditioning and communication hopefully we can be keep this to a minimum.
‘The irony of it all is that the countries that produce the most CO2 will be least affected by its presence.’
So it is going to be bad, but it’s not unmanageable. Other places in the world won’t be as lucky: Africa can expect crop failure, diseases, desertification and droughts; small islands will face ever
rising sea levels that would create social and economic instability; in Australasia, many of the niche ocean environments would become harmed and might even disappear, there would also be flooding on land as well as increased forest fires. In South America there would be crop failure and famine from droughts and flooding. The irony of it all is that the countries that produce the most CO2 will be least affected by its presence. But with a global effort and small migration from the equator to cooler parts of the world, this can be manageable.
Reaching a 4°C hotter planet means that the southern tip of Africa to the top of Spain is going to become inhabitable due to extension of deserts and extreme flooding. The weather will cause chaos with massive storms and unpredictable rains.
England will become like the south of France, and as millions of people migrate north, over crowding will become a massive problem, as well space for farm land. Coasts will be lost to the sea, drowning many cities. Western Antarctica will become habitable. Let that sink in. The continent that is the least habitable is going to melt and become habitable. I could scare you about how a 4°C rise will be the end of life as we know it, or, I could tell you about how we are going to prevent it.
‘Many predictions actually show that if we reduce our green house gas emissions we can prevent the worst scenario from occurring..’
The future could be bright or, more specifically, green. When scientists try to predict the future, they create models with many different economic and social scenarios. The ones that we see in newspapers tend to be worst-case scenarios like the 4°C temperature rise. Many predictions actually show that if we reduce our green house gas emissions we can prevent the worst scenario from occurring; especially as green power is becoming more efficient and more prominent in our society, with some countries like Finland and Sweden running almost entirely on renewable energy. England is now running on 25% renewable energy, which is 10% more in 2013 and it looks very possible that will reach the 30% goal set for 2020. As renewable energy becomes more efficient and well-funded, our country and the rest of the developed countries can reduce their carbon footprint and prevent the 4°C warm world scenario from ever happening.