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Why it's important

Life in the world is in a delicate balance and any sudden changes can have very dramatic negative consequences. Climate Change will change where plants and animals can live, and it can mean extinctions of sensitive species and all those that rely on them. It will change where and if we can grow crops, how we get water, and can cost us real money in terms of the services that the Earth provides us. Below is a list of things that are beginning to happen as a result of climate change. If you want to read about more of the effects on wildlife, check out the Nature section.

The Earth provides a lot of services that we tend to take for granted
Heat waves and periods of unusually warm weather: Frequent and severe heat waves lead to increases in heat-related illness and death, especially in urban areas and among the young, ill, and elderly. There are a large number of areas of the world that have shown long periods of heat waves or warming over the last 100 years. This is expected to be one of the largest effects in the United States, especially in the northern states such as Alaska, where effects have already been felt.

Ocean warming, sea-level rise, and coastal flooding: Warmer temperatures increase the melting of mountain glaciers, increase ocean heat content, and cause ocean water to expand, all of which cause global sea level rise. On average, global sea levels have risen 4-10 inches in the past hundred years. During the next hundred years, it is estimated that sea level will rise half a foot to 3 feet. On average, 50 to 100 feet of beach are lost for every foot of sea-level rise. There are a number of areas of the world that would be devastated with this sort of rise in sea level and encroachment of oceans. There may need to be a relocation of a large number of people, especially in low-lying islands if this sort of rise actually occurs. Relocation is already occurring in Alaska due to rising sea levels.

Rising sea levels and higher storm surges could result in a flood like this hitting Manhattan every 10 years..Credit: Applied Science Associates, Inc. Sources: Google, Sanborn Map Company, Inc. NECIA, 2007
Economic Effects: The Earth provides a lot of services that we tend to take for granted. For example, improving soil quality, water quality, and providing diverse plants from which we can find medications, among many other things. In addition, our economies rely on natural processes staying more or less how they have been. Our agricultural plants have been chosen to be perfectly tuned to the climates we currently grow them in. All of this, along with the costs of relocating people, damage from flooding and storms, and the spread of disease, among other things could end up costing us between 5% and 20% of the global GDP by the end of the century, according to the Nicholas Stern Report.

Glaciers melting: Over the past 150 years, the majority of mountain glaciers that are monitored have been shrinking. Many glaciers at lower latitudes are now disappearing and its possible that most glaciers will be gone by 2100. As glaciers shrink, summer water flows will drop sharply, disrupting an important source of water for irrigation and power in many areas of the world.

Arctic and Antarctic warming: Parts of Canada, Alaska, Siberia, and the Antarctic have been experiencing warming well above the global average for the past few decades, causing melting permafrost. This melting is forcing the reconstruction of roads, airports, and buildings, and increasing erosion and the frequency of landslides.

Spreading disease: Warmer temperatures allow mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as malaria and dengue fever to extend their ranges and increase their ability to infect humans. This is especially a concern if there is any increased risk of flooding with even small global temperature increases. In addition, there is likely to be an increase in smog-related disease due to increases in temperature.

Early spring arrival: Spring now arrives earlier in many parts of the world, resulting in earlier thaw dates for bodies of water, earlier plant blooming and leafing dates, and earlier animal egg-laying, spawning, and migration. This may disrupt animal migrations and alter balances between species that have developed over millenia through slow co-evolution. One expected change as a result of this early spring may be the growth of opportunistic plant species at the expense of scarcer species with narrower or more specialized ecological requirements. Many plants have an early growing and flowering season before competing weeds can develop, but milder winters may allow weeds to overwinter as adult plants or germinate sooner.

Coral reef bleaching: Reefs can bleach from losing microscopic algae that color and nourish living corals, but water that is warmer than normal by only 2-3 degrees F can be linked to bleaching, killing an entire ecosystem.

Downpours, heavy snowfalls, and flooding: A warmer climate will bring an increase in worldwide precipitation, especially during winter and in mid to high latitudes. In addition, more of this precipitation is expected to fall in downpours and heavy snowstorms, leading to an increased level of flooding. The area of the US affected by extreme rainfall has increased significantly since 1910. Warmer temperatures can also lead to an increase in the strength of major storms such as hurricanes. Droughts and fires: As the climate heats up in many areas of the world, droughts are expected to become more frequent and severe in some locations, making wildfires more likely as well as making crops and trees more vulnerable to pest infestation and disease. These effects will be exacerbated by land use changes and land clearing practices that make drought more likely. Droughts are also going to limit access to Clean Water.

Effects on Plants and Wildlife: The ability of many species to adapt to changing climate is very difficult. In the past, many species have adopted to changing climate through migration, but this is increasingly difficult given how broken up habitats and migration routes are by housing, industry, roadways, and other development. The ability to adapt in place is difficult due to the rapid rate of increase in temperature change. Over the past 16,000 years, the rate of global temperature increase has been about 1°C every 4,000 years, but now some predictions have been made that we could see a 1°C increase in temperature over the next century. There have already been attempts by species to shift their ranges, but there has been some difficulty, and with it increases in problems with new pests being introduced and with human-wildlife conflict. There are also going to be effects seen because of seasonal synchronization difficulties, drought destroying certain plant species, heat killing off some less tolerant species, and wetter, milder winters preventing hibernation during times when food is scarce.

Ocean Acidification: Increased atmospheric CO2 increases the amount of CO2 dissolved in the oceans, which reacts with water to form carbonic acid, increasing the acidity of the oceans. This is dangerous because of the extreme sensitivity many organisms have to changes in acidity.

A map compiling the state of these effects around the world can be seen at http://www.climatehotmap.org/.

Up next: Where we are
Climate Hot Map
Map that shows where various global warming and climate change effects have been witnessed
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EPA - Climate Change
EPA's climate change homepage
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Climate Hot Map
Map that shows where various global warming and climate change effects have been witnessed
Click now to view
EPA - Climate Change
EPA's climate change homepage
Click now to view
Climate Hot Map
Map that shows where various global warming and climate change effects have been witnessed
Click now to view
Climate Hot Map
Map that shows where various global warming and climate change effects have been witnessed
Click now to view
Climate Hot Map
Map that shows where various global warming and climate change effects have been witnessed
Click now to view
Exploratorium - Global Climate Change
Overview of climate change research
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EPA - Climate Change
EPA's climate change homepage
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Climate Hot Map
Map that shows where various global warming and climate change effects have been witnessed
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Wikipedia - Climate Change
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Climate Hot Map
Map that shows where various global warming and climate change effects have been witnessed
Click now to view
Climate Hot Map
Map that shows where various global warming and climate change effects have been witnessed
Click now to view
Exploratorium - Global Climate Change
Overview of climate change research
Click now to view
Climate Hot Map
Map that shows where various global warming and climate change effects have been witnessed
Click now to view
Exploratorium - Global Climate Change
Overview of climate change research
Click now to view
Climate Hot Map
Map that shows where various global warming and climate change effects have been witnessed
Click now to view
Wikipedia - Climate Change
Wikipedia article on climate change
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Wikipedia - Global Warming
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