Are the Effects of Global Warming Really that Bad?

Short answer: Yes. Even a seemingly slight average temperature rise is enough to cause a dramatic transformation of our planet.

The Missouri River encroaches on homes in Sioux City, Iowa, during a 2011 flood

  Read the newspaper article about the effects of global warming and choose one sentence to fill in the gaps.

Eight degrees Fahrenheit. It may not sound like much—perhaps the difference between wearing a sweater and not wearing one on an early-spring day. But for the world where we live, which , this small rise will have grave consequences, ones that are already becoming apparent, for every ecosystem and living thing—including us.

According to the National Climate Assessment, human influences are the number one cause of global warming, especially the carbon pollution we cause by burning fossil fuels and the pollution-capturing we prevent by destroying forests. The carbon dioxide and other pollutants which we release into the atmosphere act like a blanket, trapping the sun's heat and causing the planet to warm, which . Evidence shows that 2000 to 2009 was hotter than any other decade in at least the past 1,300 years. This warming is altering the earth's climate system, including its land, atmosphere, oceans, and ice, in far-reaching ways.

More frequent and severe weather

Higher temperatures are worsening many types of disasters, including storms, heat waves, floods, and droughts. A warmer climate creates an atmosphere which , changing weather patterns in such a way that wet areas become wetter and dry areas drier. "Extreme weather events are costing more and more," says Aliya Haq, deputy director of NRDC's Clean Power Plan initiative. "The number of billion-dollar weather disasters is expected to rise."

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2015 there were 10 weather and climate disaster events in the United States—including severe storms, floods, drought, and wildfires—which . For context, each year from 1980 to 2015 averaged $5.2 billion in disasters (adjusted for inflation). If you zero in on the years between 2011 and 2015, you see an annual average cost of $10.8 billion.

The increasing number of droughts, intense storms, and floods we're seeing as our warming atmosphere holds—and then dumps—more moisture poses risks to public health and safety, too. Prolonged dry spells mean more than just scorched lawns. Drought conditions jeopardize access to clean drinking water, fuel out-of-control wildfires, and result in dust storms, extreme heat events, and flash flooding in the States. Elsewhere around the world, lack of water is a leading cause of death and serious disease. At the opposite end of the spectrum, heavier rains cause streams, rivers, and lakes to overflow, which . A warmer, wetter world is also a boon for food-borne and waterborne illnesses and disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks.

Higher death rates

Today's scientists point to climate change as "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, which . As temperatures spike, so does the incidence of illness, emergency room visits, and death.

"There are more hot days in places where people aren't used to it," Haq says. "They don't have air-conditioning or can't afford it. One or two days isn't a big deal. But four days straight where temperatures don't go down, even at night, leads to severe health consequences." In the United States, hundreds of heat-related deaths occur each year due to direct impacts and the indirect effects of heat-exacerbated, life-threatening illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and kidney diseases. Indeed, extreme heat kills more Americans each year, on average, than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and lightning combined.

Adapted from
Header photographs: flicker, pixabayand Max Pixel