The planet is 2 degrees warmer: Why do we care?

climate change - streettrotter

As I sat chatting with my mother and her sisters, in our ancestral house in Dehradun with high ceilings and just fans to cool off in summers, my mother fondly talked about how, a few decades ago, the City of Love did not even need fans because summers were short and mild in the Doon valley surrounded by hills on all sides.

A rise in summer temperatures over the years opened up a market for coolers in the city and the present day scenario is marked by an ever increasing demand of air conditioners all around the capital of the northern hilly state of Uttarakhand. An enquiry into the cause of this unwelcome change, lead me to discover the reality of climate change that most of us conveniently choose to ignore.

Rising temperatures and longer, more intense summers along with other extreme weather disasters is the new fate of our planet which is crying out to warn us of an impending doom that we have called upon us ourselves. Here are a few facts that will help you understand the climate change crisis better:

Why the Paris Climate Agreement?

The Paris Climate Agreement was a landmark deal that aimed at limiting global warming in reaction to growing fears that the planet is becoming hotter even faster than scientists expected. This fear stemmed out from the fact that the planet was recorded to be already 1 degree hotter than pre industrial levels.

196 countries from across the world met at Paris in 2015 to make the Paris Climate Agreement and pledged on “holding the increase in the global temperature to well below 2 degree Celsius above pre industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius”.

With the hazardous side effects of climate change surfacing at a greater frequency all over the planet, in terms of water availability, sea level rise, extreme weather disasters and coral bleaching, it became inevitable for the us to ask difficult questions and take uncomfortable stands.

Why does half a degree matter?

The difference between 0 and 1 degree is the difference between ice and water. Our planet is in the danger of becoming 2-4 degrees warmer by the year 2100. Research claims, we have already made it warmer by 0.8% and the effects of it are bleak enough for us to stop and reconsider how we are treating it.

According to an article published by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, if the temperature rise is not limited to 1.5 degrees as aimed and goes up to 2 degrees, heat waves will last a third longer. Rain storms will be a third more intense and the sea level will rise by a third more water. In addition to that, coral bleaching will make the tropical reefs practically disappear by 2100. Clearly, limiting the temperature rise is about much more than just avoiding long exhausting summers.

What is climate change doing to our favorite travel destinations?

UNNATURAL EVENTS AND CALAMITIES

Climate Change makes natural systems unbalanced, leading to unnatural events of extreme intensity. There was 16 Inches of snow in the Sahara Desert for example this year, the third time in the last forty years. The Bomb Cyclone which hit the East Coast of US and Canada dumped snow and ice in the least expected places like Florida and Georgia. The cold caused power cuts in thousands of homes and disrupted flight services across the country.

climate change - streettrotter
Snow fall in Sahara Desert | Image credits: Karim Bouchetata/Geoff Robinson

Not just human lives were lost, but Iguanas and green lizards froze and started falling off trees. Cold stunned sea turtles rushed to the shore in Texas making them more susceptible to predators. Pennsylvania received freezing rain and three stranded sharks were found in the Atlantic, one of which had frozen to death.

We live in an ecosystem that runs on the principle of interdependence and co-existence. If we don’t act to maintain this balance, our ecosystem will collapse and our survival will become endangered too.

LONGER SUMMERS AND SHORTER WINTERS

Hot days have become more common than cold days all over the world since 1950 and fourteen of the fifteen hottest years on record globally have been recorded since 2000. This has impacted multiple popular travel destinations around the globe.

The Alps for example, have undergone a significant snowmelt because of which the season for winter sports has been shortened by 38 days since 2017. Scientists claim that by the end of the century, one will have to climb the 10,000 foot mark to be able to see snow.

The Yamal Peninsula in Russia faced an unusually warm winter in 2013 that brought rain to the peninsula. However the rain later froze covering the pastures with a thick layer of ice, leading to thousands of reindeers starving to death.

This can happen to food crops too. None of us wants to inhabit a planet that has no food, no drinking water and weather conditions that are hazardous to survival. The question remains, how many of us are willing to do something to prevent that from happening.

DISSAPEARING ECO SYSTEMS AND CORAL BLEACHING

The Dead Sea is reducing in size at the rate of around four feet a year and has already lost 1/3 of its surface area. Due to lack of rainfall and extreme evaporation along with extraction of minerals by cosmetic companies, the lake is unable to replenish itself. The claim by researchers is that if it continues to shrink at the same rate it will completely disappear by 2050.Likewise, The Great Barrier Reef which stretches across 1400 miles, attracts millions of snorkelers and scuba divers in every year. However the rising temperatures in the ocean and the subsequent coral bleaching, has lead to 50% of the living corals die in the last 3 years. The Seychelles which are a popular honeymoon destination on the coast of East Africa have seen a similar fate.

The Glacier National Park in Montana which is home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna, drew in 5.3 million visitors in 2017. However with temperatures rising, 30 different glaciers in the park have reduced in size by 85% which means that there will be little ice left in the park by the end of the decade and none by the century.

This image shows the perimeter of Sperry Glacier in Glacier National Park in 1966,1998, 2005, and 2015.

Similarly, Alaska which is home to a large variety of biodiversity is under the havoc of receding ice caps and landslides so intense that they can be recorded on a Richter scale and rampant forest fires.

Earth is bestowed with innumerable natural miracles and gifts that have been a site of human recreation for centuries. The conversation about its conservation if taken seriously, can lead us to reaping its benefits for the coming centuries too.

ARIDITY AND DROUGHTS

Very high temperatures and dry conditions during critical parts of crop development produce essentially no food or seed in plants. They not only increase the chance of pests and pathogens spreading but also paralyze the overall growth of plants.

This has had an impact on agriculturists around the globe including the peanut farmers in drought ridden Texas, Wine grapes in Australia and California and the African Cacao trees that the world depends on for the chocolate we eat.

The Amazon which covers two-fifth of South America and is one of the most visited tourist destinations of the world has become a delicate eco system battered by extreme droughts. The vegetation is parched and according to NASA’s reports, Amazon’s trees will start dying if the dry season lasts longer than 5-7 months as opposed to the 4.5 months long summer right now.climate change - streettrotterThe Rhone Valley in France which is known for its wine making is also under the same threat with the rising temperatures making it inhospitable for growing grapevines. According to experts, the production can soon reduce by much as 85% forcing the wine makers to relocate. Similarly the Napa Valley in California which is home to a 1000 commercial wine producers is facing challenges and a threat of complete disruption of the wine making business due to rising temperatures.

So by ignoring climate change we are not only losing on wine and chocolate but also forcing the people who depend on growing those for subsidence to give up on their livelihoods.

SINKING CITIES

Melting of glaciers leading to rising sea levels is one of the most pestering outcomes of the green house effect. The Arctic Ice is melting at the rate of 159 billion metric tons every year. Rising sea level is bound to make thousands of islands uninhabitable within a decade. The most affected islands at this point are the Marshall Islands, Hawaii and The Maldives.

The Maldives, which is the lowest lying island country in the world, is at the risk of vanishing completely, with locals already relocating due to high tides and turbulence from the sea. Mumbai which is an extremely popular travel destination in India, and is home to 1.8 million people, is expected to witness a two inch rise in water by 2050 which will lead to major parts of the city under water.climate change - streettrotterVenice is under the threat of being flooded by the Adriatic Sea that runs through the city in form of canals. Piazza San Marco and other low lying parts of the city are at the greatest risk of completely submerging. Activists have tried to initiate preventive measures by investing in advanced flood gates and other technology. An artist called Lorenz Quinn has created a huge sculpture of hands reaching out of the Grand Canal to draw attention to the impending doom.

Rio De Janeiro in Brazil is expected to face a sea level rise of 32 inches by 2100 which is enough to submerge the city’s beaches, airport and inland neighborhoods. The city’s leaders have partnered with NASA and are using satellite data to come up with mitigation strategies.

We might  have the technology to mitigate the disasters to come but we need to use it in smarter ways to stop them from happening altogether. At the end of the day there is no PLANet B.

Can we travel more responsibly?

Tourism is responsible for 5% of the world’s CO2 emission according to World Tourism Organization. We don’t need to stop traveling but we definitely need to do it more responsibly in these times of climate change. Here are some handy tips to become a woke traveler:

  • Read about the place you are planning a tour to. Understand the ecosystem and its problems and make sure your visit does not add up to those problems.
  • The recent massive water shortage in the hills of Shimla in India because of rampant tourism, that lead to a weeklong dearth of drinking water for the residents is an example of scenarios that could have been avoided.
  • Fly directly to your destination if you can instead of changing multiple flights.
  • Rent bikes or walk on foot wherever you can instead of hiring a taxi while traveling locally at a tourist destination.
  • Car pool is never a bad idea.
  • Choose to stay in locally owned hotels to contribute to the economy of your tourist destination.
  • Participate in a conservation project if needed.
  • Say no to littering and educate fellow travelers about the same.


About the Author: Abhinandita Dev is a relentless dreamer who dreams to bring real and significant change to the world and to the lives of the people around her. She is a literature graduate who decided to make a career in design in the middle of her three year graduation at the Delhi University. Her first attempt at writing was when she penned down a fictional story at the age of 11. That was the only piece of fiction she has ever written and she has been writing about real social issues that move her to write ever since.