How come that an increase of the global average temperature of 1.5°C has such enormous effects on life on earth?

When I think about global warming I sometimes think about the temperature of the human body. When it is healthy the body temperature ranges between 36.5–37.5 °C. A temperature above 37.5°C is referred to as a fewer, signalling that the body isn’t well. An increase by 1.5°C would equal a body temperature between 38-39°C, which is clearly defined as a fewer. We all know how a fewer affects us. You are tired, maybe having some muscle pains and you are not able to perform at your best. The higher the fever the worse it gets. As just a little increase of body temperature has such profound effects on our abilities, it might make it easier to understand that an increase of 1.5°C is like our planet having a fever and that is doesn’t function at its best.

This comparison just illustrates how an increase in human body temperature of 1.5°C is perceived by us humans. It doesn’t explain why the effects of such a small increase of the global average temperature is such a big issue. The explanation lies in the term average. It doesn’t mean that the temperature will be 1.5°C everywhere, only that the average of all temperatures on earth equals an increase of 1.5°C relative to the pre-industrial times. It doesn’t say anything about the deviations from the average. What we know is that land masses warm more than the oceans, and that some parts of earth warm more than others. This suggests that some parts of earth is running a far higher fewer than what the average temperature suggests. These larger temperature differences influence weather systems, resulting in more intense storms, with record breaking wind speeds and extreme precipitation. Other parts of earth see prolonged droughts leading to lost harvests and starvation of humans and animals. Again, these extreme weather situations together with rising sea levels and a generally warmer climate will force people to leave the areas which become inhabitable. The number of climate migrants will most likely outnumber the current wave of migrants seeking refuge in Europe and elsewhere by far.

According to IPCC we will already in 2040 have reached a global average temperature that is 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level. This is in just 21 years! This clearly signals that we have no time to spare and urgent actions are required if we want to halt the global warming. To do this:

  1. We all have to contribute to drastically reduce our GHG emissions into the atmosphere.
  2. We can’t afford to carry on with business as usual for much longer, waiting for someone else to fix this problem, it is everyone’s responsibility to take action.

The text is a reflection based on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ1.2) extracted from chapter 1 of IPCC’s fifth assessment report.

You can download the entire FAQ document here.

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