Increased concentrations of greenhouse gas will
• increase the average temperature,
• influence patterns and amounts of precipitation,
• reduce permafrost, ice and snow cover,
• raise sea level
• increase the acidity of the oceans.
According to the IPCC, the extent of climate change effects on individual regions will vary over time and with the ability of different societal and environmental systems to mitigate or adapt to change. They predict that increases in global mean temperature of less than 1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 3 degrees Celsius) above 1990 levels will produce beneficial impacts in some regions and harmful ones in others. Heat waves will occur more frequently and will last longer. We will see currently wet regions getting more rainfall and dry regions getting less although there will be exceptions. These effects will persist for centuries even if CO2 emissions stop now.
One strategy to address projected climate change is to increase the earth’s capacity to absorb and store carbon. This is called biological carbon sequestration, or bio-sequestration. It can be done through forest protection, reforestation and use of bio char on land, and enhancement of carbon-absorbing plants such as sea grasses in marine ecosystems. Other more radical geo-engineering strategies, often referred to as ‘geohacking,’ include focus on changing the Earth’s albedo, by deploying space-based solar mirrors, or by coating the ice caps in black dust, or by creating an ‘artificial volcano’ to mimic the cooling impacts of eruptions like that of Mt Pinatubo.
Whether such extreme actions are feasible, desirable, or politically defensible, people’s relationship to the climate is changing. It is collective action that matters, what several billion people do.
An outlier outcome for the future of climate might be global cooling, as perturbations in the Earth’s climatic system push climate into a short cooling cycle. Another outlier takes into account the belief that humans are remarkably creative and able to figure out how to do things that are not obviously possible and thus will find a way to mitigate the problems.
Climate change mitigation involves reducing emissions through various mechanisms. Climate change adaptation means coping with the climate change we experience. With mitigation, adaptation becomes easier; both are needed.
Observed and projected changes in global average temperature under three no-policy emissions scenarios. The shaded areas show the likely ranges while the lines show the central projections from a set of climate models. A wider range of model types shows outcomes from 2 to 11.5°F. Changes are relative to the 1960-1979 average. Source: USGCRP (2009)
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