Since the early 20th century, we have known that humanity’s industrial activities are heating up the planet, with the average global temperature increasing by more than 1 degree since 1880 when the industrial revolution began in the West.

Burning fossil fuels for electricity and heat is the main culprit, accounting for nearly a third of the global greenhouse gas emissions that are warming up the planet, followed by transportation, manufacturing, construction and agriculture and other fuel burning.

Top 5 industries causing global warming

  Sector % share of greenhouse gas emissions
1 Fossil fuel energy: 30%
2 Transportation 15%
3 Manufacturing and Construction 13.3%
4 Agriculture 11.1%
5 Other fuel burning (like wood) 8.2%
Top 5 total: 77.6%

Source: The World Resources Institute, Feb 2020

But what does global warming mean beyond things getting a little hotter? Well, one of the most important factors is the warming of the world’s coldest regions: Antarctica and Greenland, where ice caps and glaciers contain 69% of all the world’s fresh water.

Antarctica | Jocrebbin

The systematic warming of the planet means that, since the 1950’s, temperatures have increased by more than 2.4 degrees in Antarctica, while they increased by 2.7 degrees in Greenland just between 1996 and 2014. This makes these regions the fastest warming areas on the planet.

And this, of course, means the ice there is melting, which is leading to rising sea levels all over the world. This is wreaking havoc with ocean temperatures and weather systems, leading to increased coastal erosion, more frequent hurricanes and typhoons, and even the collapse of entire fisheries like in the Gulf of Maine.

The melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are, in-fact, the largest contributors to rising sea levels, which increased by 16-21cm between 1900 and 2016, with a rapid rise of 7.5cm recorded between 1993 and 2017.

This, as highlighted above, is really bad news for humanity. Right now, the Greenland ice sheet is disappearing four times faster than in 2003 and already contributes 20% of the water leading to rising sea levels.

Losing our cool

Because man is causing global warming by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas for energy for electricity, transportation and manufacturing, how much and how quickly the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt in the future will be largely determined by us.

A Polar Bear crosses the The Greenland ice sheet

If emissions continue to rise as they are right now – which puts us on track for 4.1 degrees of global warming by 2100 – then the current rate of melting on the Greenland ice sheet is expected to double by the end of the century.

If all the ice on Greenland melted, it would raise global sea levels by 6.1 metres. If all the ice in the world were to melt, sea levels would rise by 70.1 metres. In that case, all of our coastal cities would be lost, including New York, Shanghai and London and more than 40% of the global population would become refugees.

And that’s not to mention all of the chemicals currently trapped in the ice that would be released and the damage all that freshwater would do to the delicate salt balance of the oceans and our underground drinking water reserves.

Wake up call

Of course, this is disaster movie territory, and hopefully something we can avoid. However, climate change and rising sea levels are already causing problems.

2012 Movie (2009)

As mentioned above, sea levels have already risen, and we are losing the battle to save many islands and coastal cities, including Jakarta here in South East Asia. Jakarta is sinking by an incredible 25.4 centimetres a year and by 2050, 95% of Northern Jakarta will be underwater. In 2019, the President announced that Indonesia would be moving its capital.

Other sinking coastal cities include Mexico City – the fastest sinking at 30.5 centimetres per year ­– New Orleans and San Francisco in the US, as well as Lagos in Nigeria.

In-fact, studies show that sea level rises of just 1 to 3 metres could mean disaster for every low-lying coastal city around the world. Currently, the UN estimates that sea levels could rise by around 1 metre by 2100 – in just 80 years.

As mentioned above, right now – if nothing changes – the world is on target for 4 degrees of global warming by 2100. If that happens, then the oceans could rise by 2 metres. If that happens, around 1.8 million square kilometres of land (or an area around five times the size of Vietnam) could be lost and up to 187 million people displaced.

And so, climate change is about much more than rising temperatures: it really affects everything on our planet. As our ancestors knew (but many of us have forgotten) everything in nature is in a fine balance and when that balance is disturbed, big changes occur.

That is why NOW truly is the time to stop burning fossil fuels and turn to nature: the sun, the wind and the tides, to create energy for humanity. If we don’t, we will find ourselves in pretty hot (and rising) water.