The math of climate change is frighteningly simple. The more greenhouse gases get released into the atmosphere, the more the planet will change in extreme ways.
In 2016, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere hit an 800,000 year high, and it’s likely that this level will substantially rise in the decades ahead.
This runaway problem has spurred scientists to look beyond simply ending fossil fuel use, although that’s still a fundamental priority. Increasingly, frameworks for dealing with climate change involve farfetched proposals like geoengineering and carbon removal programs.
In the meantime, the effects of climate change are becoming more starkly apparent with each passing month.
Over the past year, scientists more confidently linked climate change to devastating weather and climate events and pinpointed more clearly how the planet will change if the carbon emissions don’t rapidly approach zero.
Nearly 16,000 scientists signed an open letter in November urging immediate climate action. At this point, their plea has become a background refrain in global political discourse. But as the world more clearly changes, their calls to action may finally gain the traction they deserve.
Overall, here are six signs that climate change got way worse in 2017.
Astronaut Randy Bresnik took this photo of Tropical Storm Harvey from the International Space Station on Aug. 28, 2017.
Hurricanes aren’t caused by climate change. They just become more frequent and intense as water temperatures increase.
Similarly, powerful monsoons in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh caused catastrophic flooding and landslides that killed more than 1,200 people.
NASA's Operation IceBridge photographed an image of a giant iceberg in the distance that recently calved off of the Larsen C ice shelf on Oct. 31, 2017. This iceberg, A-68, is the size of Delaware, more than 600 feet thick, and has a total volume twice the size of Lake Erie.
Rising temperatures have caused the Arctic to shrink 7.4% every decade since 1979, an average decrease of 28,000 square miles every year, and the rate of melting speeds up each as feedback loops are created. An example of a feedback loop is when melting ice turns to water, absorbs more sunlight because water is darker than ice, heats up, and causes more melting. If all the ice in the Arctic melted, sea levels would rise by more than 60 meters.
Coral Reef Die-Off & Ocean Acidification
The oceans absorb a significant amount of the carbon that enters the atmosphere, creating carbonic acid that makes it hard for marine life to survive and threatens the entire oceanic food chain. An eight-year study published earlier this year found that acidity levels have increased by 26% since the industrial revolution.
The oceans also absorb a significant amount of the heat trapped in the atmosphere from greenhouse gas emissions. This warming, in turn, is leading to the collapse of coral reefs throughout the world.
Major coral reef die-off events occurred throughout the world in 2017, as water temperatures cooked these precious ecosystems alive.
Droughts and Flooding
People walk through a waterlogged street following heavy rains in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. Heavy rains Tuesday brought Mumbai to a halt flooding vast areas of the city.
As temperatures get warmer, the global water cycle is changing as evaporation and precipitation increase. But while evaporation will, for the most part, be evenly spread throughout the world, rainfall will vary dramatically. Already, these effects are being felt in devastating ways.
Across 17 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa in 2017, below-average precipitation fueled droughts that put 38 million people at risk of not having enough food. In Ethiopia, for example, a brutal drought devastated crops, leaving 7.7 million people without food.
On the other side of the spectrum, intense rainfall led to severe flooding in South Asia and in countries across South and Central America.
Both situations, paradoxically, cause water and food crises, as water sources either dry up or become contaminated and crops die.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for strong climate action. You can take action on this issue here.
A man takes a shower at a beach of Alimos suburb, in Athens, July 12, 2017. A summer heatwave has hit Greece, with temperatures reaching a high of 102 degrees Fahrenheit in Athens.
The only year hotter than 2017 in recorded history was 2016, and that was because of a freak El Nino event.
Hotter temperatures throughout the world are causing crops to die, water sources to dry up, health problems in humans, and many more complications.
Most troubling, however, are the growing frequency of brutal heatwaves. A terrible 2017 heatwave in Europe was labeled “Lucifer,” the Western US broke heatwave records, and heatwaves in India exceeded 124 degrees Fahrenheit.
Disrupted Migration Patterns
Animals are extraordinarily sensitive to shifts in their preferred environments. So as climate change intensifies around the world, it’s no surprise that the migration patterns of animals are being impacted.
From lobsters to caribou to hundreds of bird species, animals species are coping with inhospitable changes to their ecosystems by moving around. But as their ranges shrink, many species are becoming endangered.