I’ve spent the last two years on Earth. data Org’s visualization editor delves into environmental reports. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most fascinating climate change facts I’ve discovered that most people aren’t aware of — enjoy and share!
1. We’re positive we’re to blame.
“It is unequivocal that human impact has warmed the atmosphere, oceans, and land,” the IPCC states in its most recent report.
What makes us so certain? It took a long time, but climate modeling is now fine-tuned enough to anticipate how things might unfold in the absence of human intervention, with a margin of error. What we are seeing now is outside of that margin of error, demonstrating that we are the ones who have sparked the shift.
2. The previous ten years have been the warmest in 125,000 years.
The most basic of our climate change facts is that, according to a recent IPCC study on the condition of our climate, the last decade was likely the hottest in the last 125,000 years. For roughly 100,000 years, we’ve been alternating between glacial (ice ages) and warmer interglacial times like ours, but we’ve now reached temperatures similar to those before glacial periods existed.
The temperature has reached its highest level in 125,000 years due to climate change.
The temperature (very likely range) during the warmest multi-century period in at least the last 100,000 years, which happened around 6500 years ago during our present era, the Holocene, is shown in the vertical bar on the left. The next most recent contender for a period of higher temperature is roughly 125,000 years ago, prior to the latest ice age. Slow (multi-millennial) orbital oscillations triggered each of these previous warm episodes, which are no longer in effect.
3. The ocean absorbs the vast majority of the heat we generate.
According to a 2019 study, it absorbed 90% of the heat gained by the earth between 1971 and 2010. Another discovered that it absorbed 20 sextillion joules of heat in 2020, which is equivalent to two Hiroshima bombs every second.
Facts about climate change and how the ocean absorbs heat
Because the ocean has such a large volume and heat-storage capacity, some creatures are accustomed to relatively constant temperatures. Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to climate change, which is why so many are dying.
4. CO2 levels are at their highest level in 2 million years.
CO2 levels pre-industrial were roughly 280 parts per million (ppm). Today, we’re nearing 420 parts per million.
NASA climate change facts: CO2 during the last 800,000 years
The most distant time period for which CO2 levels have been estimated is roughly 500 million years ago, during the Ordovician period.
CO2 levels in the past
The ocean saves us yet again by absorbing nearly a third of the carbon in the atmosphere. It was actually a source of carbon before the industrial revolution, not a sink, but the tremendous amount of CO2 now in the atmosphere has caused it to start absorbing the gas.
5. Each year, we lose 1.2 trillion tonnes of ice.
Because we are dealing with a volume beyond our comprehension, this item on our list of climate change facts can be difficult to comprehend.
We’ve lost roughly 28 trillion tonnes of ice since the mid-1990s, with a current melt rate of 1.2 trillion tonnes per year.
To put it in perspective, the total weight of all human-made objects is 1.1 trillion tonnes. That’s roughly the same mass as all living things on the planet.
Read more: Utah’s 20 Most Interesting Facts
6. Air pollution has both positive and negative aspects.
We recently learned that air pollution kills about 10 million people each year, significantly more than the 4.4 million people who have died from COVID as of this writing. The poor air quality will plague developing areas in South Asia and Africa for years to come, but there is a silver lining.
Polluting particles, such as PM10 or PM2.5, which have similar negative health impacts to cigarettes, actually reflect rather than trap the sun’s heat. We’ve already put enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to raise the temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius, but fine particles have maintained it at 1.1 degrees so far.
Some have recommended purposely spreading particles into the atmosphere to assist reflect more sunlight, but we have refrained due to the risk of unintended consequences.
7. It is now possible to attribute (extreme weather)
We can now confidently trace natural calamities to human-caused climate change. This wasn’t always the case — a lack of data and refined attribution techniques made it difficult to determine how much we contributed to each extreme weather occurrence.
We can quantify how much more likely events like the North American summer heatwave of 2021 became as a result of climate change, which the World Weather Attribution claims would have been “nearly unthinkable” without it.
8. Global warming is reversible (to a degree).
The warmth we’ve generated would gradually reverse if global net emissions were completely stopped, but other climate impacts would last for decades. For example, reversing the trajectory of sea-level rise would take several centuries to millennia.
possible situations if humanity ceased using fossil fuels
9. In 2019, we lost 302.4 billion work hours due to extreme heat.
If you’ve ever visited humid Southeast Asia on a hot August day, you know that working outside with shade is nearly impossible, and working outside without it is perilous. According to a study published in The Lancet, the number of work hours missed due to heat rose from 199 billion in 2000 to 302.4 billion in 2019. In 2019, that translates to 436,969 typical human lifetimes.