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Climate Change: How Doomed ARE We?

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Climate change is THE existential question that humanity is facing. But are we too late? Has climate change reached the point of no return? Are we doomed?

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices.
KQED Learn: https://learn.kqed.org/discussions/47

What’s the state of climate change right now?
Since around 1880, the average global temperature of the earth has increased by 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. That increase is due almost entirely to humans burning fossil fuels, mostly from 1950 on. That might not sound like a big increase, but it is. It means sea level rise, shrinking polar ice caps, and increased extreme weather events like heat waves and monsoons.

That’s why a hundred and ninety-plus countries signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement. The goal is to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius — or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit — by the end of this century. Many scientists say that staying under 1.5 puts us near the upper limit of what’s tolerable. We’ll have droughts, sea level rise, and extreme weather, but chances are we can manage it.

What does climate change look like in the future?
That’s why we have the IPCC. The IPCC is part of the United Nations, and it stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s been the world’s top authority on climate science for the last 30 years. Thousands of climate scientists from around the world volunteer their time to analyze and summarize the latest and best climate science. According to these experts, if we keep burning fossil fuels like we are today, then we’re blowing past 1.5 degrees of warming by 2100. We’ll almost definitely hit 2 degrees, and might even reach 3 or even 4 degrees. That means longer and more intense heat waves. And stronger hurricanes and dangerous flooding.

How do we get climate change under control?
Let’s start with transportation. 95% of the vehicles on the planet burn fossil fuels. They’re responsible for almost ⅓ of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide! It might sound like a pipe-dream to replace those gas-guzzlers with electric vehicles, but it might not be. In the last decade and a half electric vehicles that don’t have any pollution out of the tailpipe went from a dream to commonplace in places like California, China, Norway.


Then we have the energy sector — think power plants. In 2016, 80% of the world’s energy came from fossil fuels, while only 5% came from renewables like solar and wind. But we’re seeing that change. Now solar is the cheapest form of energy in just two decades. That’s a huge change.

And then there’s how we use land. We’re cutting down WAY too many trees and using a lot of that land to raise livestock that we end up eating. The United Nations estimates that if the world stopped getting food from animal sources, greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by one-fourth.

Climate Change: How Do We Know? (NASA)

Is it too late to prevent climate change? (NASA)

Sea level rise (NASA)

IPCC Special Report Global Warming of 1.5º C

IPCC Special Report Climate Change and Land

IPCC says limiting global warming to 1.5 °C will require drastic action (Nature)

Eat less meat: UN climate-change report calls for change to human diet (Nature)

Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers (Science)

Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data (EPA)

Energy Consumption in the United States (U.S. Energy Information Administration)

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