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Causes, consequences of a warming planet

How serious is the climate change threat?

From the Don Hofstrand series: Causes and consequences of a warming planet series
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How serious is the threat of a changing climate? Although it is difficult to predict specific outcomes, we know there will be negative impacts on basic needs such as food, water, health, shelter and security. And the longer it continues unabated, the more damage will be inflicted.

We can also be assured that the longer we wait to address the issue, the more difficult it will be to control. Most of the warming of the planet since 1970 has been caused by human activity. So we have it in our power to control it. However, if we continue along our current path of using fossil fuels we are in danger of crossing tipping points and triggering feedback loops in nature that will take on a life of their own and drive the continued warming of the planet regardless of what we do to reduce human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

Many world leaders are aware of the dangers of a changing climate. For example, United Nations Secretary-General Guterres has stated that climate change is probably the defining challenge of our time.

The World Economic Forum conducts an annual survey of members on the global risks facing the world in the coming year. About 760 survey participants ranked 30 global risks as to their likelihood of occurrence and their impact. For 2018, “Extreme Weather” was rated number one as the most likely to occur and virtually tied for number one with “Weapons of Mass Destruction” as having the most impact on the world.

“Extreme Weather” was followed by “Natural Disasters” in both likelihood of occurrence and impact. This was followed by “Failure of Climate Change Mitigation and Adaption.”

Apparent from the information presented in this series, the warming of the planet and the resulting changes in climate are a serious threat to our well-being. The solutions are obvious. An all-out effort is needed to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. In addition, we need to learn how to adapt to the climate change we have already created.

Don Hofstrand is a retired agricultural economist from Iowa State University Extension. During the last few years of his work life, he focused on renewable energy and climate change. He and his wife live in Mason City.


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