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While there may be a tendency to be complacent about the recurring record temperatures, with each month come more climate-related consequences that cannot be ignored, and they make for big news stories. (Photo: Johnysweb/flickr/cc)

No Need To Wait for the Future: Global Warming Impacts Are Happening Right Here, Right Now.

One thought hit me today, and it was not a very optimistic one. I thought that one may get so used to the fact that that month after month temperature records are being broken, that the issue of global warming would somehow become an afterthought, or a “cry wolf” phenomenon. After all, it is happening every month, right? Therefore, one would not give much thought to the fact that yet another month followed suit – NASA just released its global August measurement, and the value was 0.98⁰C (1.76⁰F) above the August 1951-1980 baseline average and 0.16⁰C (0.29⁰F) warmer than the previous warmest August, 2014. In fact, August 2016 tied July 2016 as the warmest month ever on record.

Record heat monthly temperatures are still big news

While there may be a tendency to be complacent about the recurring record temperatures, with each month come more climate-related consequences that cannot be ignored, and they make for big news stories. From wildfires and droughts to devastating floods, climate change fingerprint is all around us and does play a role in making events more extreme. An example are the recent Louisiana floods, caused by intense rains which, according to the science of attribution, were at least 40% more likely to happen because of climate change.

The impacts of climate change are not in some distant, blurry future

We are feeling climate change impacts right here, right now. A recent peer-reviewed study evaluated the effects of a warmer global temperature and estimated that “temperature depresses current U.S. maize yields roughly 48%, warming trends since 1980 elevated conflict risk in Africa by 11%, and future warming may slow global economic growth rates by 0.28 percentage points per year”. These numbers are impressive and of great concern for global welfare – and they are based on analyses of current data, not future projections. Also of note is the range of effects – agriculture, economy, conflict risk, to name a few. Climate change has a reach that may not yet be fully realized by policy makers and others who think it is something that will happen “in the future”.

How much climate will change is a risk in itself, and we must prepare

A lot of discussions in climate change studies revolve around the fact that the amount by which climate will change is not known, mainly because that depends on policies, responses, and attitudes taken now through the next decades. That is why models have a wide range of projected warming, to account for all possibilities. However, as I mentioned previously, the fact that we do not know the actual amount of future warming is not an excuse for inaction – in fact, it is the more reason to prepare for the range of impacts that may occur. Climate change is here, its effects are being already felt in a variety of ways (not only directly climate-related such as floods or wildfires), and we do not need to wait years or decades to see its effects. We should heed the warnings and act now, investing in preparedness and emissions reductions, so as to minimize possible added (and maybe worse) future risks and impacts.

© 2021 Union of Concerned Scientists

Astrid Caldas

Astrid Caldas is a climate scientist with the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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