Humans have disturbed the climate to such a great extent that we have created chaos on Earth, scientists say.
Climate change as a result of burning fossil fuels, deforestation and pollution has caused an intensification of weather and hydrological extremes, which will continue to worsen.
Weather records around the world are being broken almost annually. The U.K. saw its hottest ever summer this year, Pakistan is experiencing some of the worst flooding in its history, and China’s Yangtze River is so dry from drought that the government is preparing to cloud-seed to make it rain. Wildfires have been plaguing California and Oregon all summer, causing mass evacuations and worsening atmospheric pollution.
Several important reservoirs across the U.S., including Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are inching towards dead pool level, upon which their hydroelectric dams will no longer be able to generate power, leading to electricity shortages in the regions nearby.
Electricity shortages are also affecting California, with some towns being told not to charge their electric vehicles to prevent strain on the state’s power grid.
In Mississippi, heavy rainfall and flooding has meant that 180,000 residents in Jackson have “indefinitely” lost access to reliable running water, and hailstones falling in Spain were so large that one hit and killed a one-year-old.
“Climate change is here, and it’s time to stop fiddling,” Matthew Casale, Environment Campaigns Director at nonprofit group PIRG, told Newsweek.
“Our planet is hotter, our forests are burning, and we’re losing more lives and homes every year. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that this dangerous rise in global temperatures is caused by human activity, primarily from burning fossil fuels.”
Auroop R. Ganguly, director of the Sustainability & Data Sciences Laboratory, told Newsweek this increase in extreme weather events has become known as “global weirding”.
“On the hydrometeorological hazards side, heat waves are getting (and are further projected to get) even hotter, cold snaps persisting even if growing less frequent, heavy precipitation getting heavier, and so on. The impacts can be far-reaching across multiple sectors such as ecosystems and coastal processes, aspects of the water-energy-food nexus, infrastructures and urban lifelines,” he said.
“The historical record is clear, natural variations do not explain the rise in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, or the rise in global temperatures, that we have seen over the last century,” said Casale. “If the world continues to emit greenhouse gasses at anywhere near the current rate, even more dramatic global warming is inevitable and the effects on all of us could be devastating.”
The reason for so many systems being affected to such a degree is that they are intertwined. When one changes due to our actions on the planet, they all do, and they feed into each other in ways that are very difficult to predict.
“Given the systemic variabilities and the inherent uncertainties, while the statistical probability of global weirding and consequent global disruptions and disturbances are expected to continue to increase each year, there will always be an element of predictive surprise and limits to predictability for any specific year or season,” said Ganguly.
According to Ganguly, this unpredictability can be dangerous, both because impacted systems may break when the worst cases do occur, and also because if the effects are less one year than another, people may be lured into complacency.
While the countries with the highest emissions include China, the U.S., India and Russia, those worst affected by the resultant climate chaos will be in the developing world. Nigeria, Yemen, Haiti and the Philippines are considered to be some of the most at-risk countries, according to Time magazine.
Some of the most affected regions may become uninhabitable, due to rising sea levels, droughts, flooding or wildfires, leading to millions of people becoming climate migrants or refugees. While these include areas in the developing world like Jakarta, Lagos, and New Delhi, according to Insider, multiple U.S. cities may become harder to live in, including New Orleans, Miami, and Chicago.
“The consequences will be felt disproportionately by the traditionally underserved communities with limited resources and social capital,” said Ganguly. “Thus, low-income countries will be more significantly impacted, despite contributing significantly less to global emissions especially on a per capita basis, and even within nations (whether high or low income), the lower-income and less wealthy peoples and communities will be disproportionately impacted.”
The longer we burn fossil fuels, the worse the effects of climate change will get, especially on those lower-income countries already prone to extreme weather events.
“We need to continue to take strong action now to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and zero out climate emissions to preserve a safe and healthy future,” said Casale.
Many people feel that there is nothing they can do as an individual to slow the effects of climate change and the resultant chaotic weather patterns: according to Pew research data, over half of people surveyed said that they thought individual action like driving electric vehicles or reducing personal carbon footprint would make either no impact or a small impact on climate change.
“To stop global warming and prevent the effects from getting worse, we need a mix of individual and collective action,” Laura Deehan, state director of Environment California, told Newsweek.
“The more of us who walk or bike instead of driving, buy electric vehicles instead of gas-powered cars, put solar panels on our roofs, reduce energy waste in our homes and offices, the better off we will be. But individual action won’t be enough on its own; we also need every concerned individual to tell their elected leaders that we are counting on them to take action to address climate change right now. By acting together we can catalyze the widespread policy change that sets our whole society on a better path forward.”