Consequences of climate change: How bad is it really?
Anger, fear, helplessness, worry. These are just some of the overwhelming feelings that the topic of climate change evokes. In order to relieve you of some of these overwhelming feelings, this blog entry summarises the consequences of climate change. This will give you a structured overview of the significance of climate change, what exactly its consequences look like and which ones will be felt where. To dispel the feeling of helplessness, you will find ways at the end how YOU can save our home!
The pitfalls of this topic
Surveys have shown that climate change is currently considered Germany's most important problem after health. And that's a good thing, because our country is literally on fire.
- The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is rising.
- Because of the greenhouse effect, this leads to a continuous rise in temperature on our planet.
- Points such as energy production, agriculture, mobility and the growing world population are the main causes.
You can find a detailed explanation of the causes of climate change here.
However, this development does not mean the end of the Earth, but the end of the Earth as we know it. What exactly it will look like afterwards is partly known, partly difficult to assess.
This is due to the occurrence of chain reactions that take place when so-called tipping points are crossed. The case of the Amazon rainforest is an example of such a tipping point: there is a critical point at which we have destroyed too much forest and released too much stored CO2. Once this point is reached, this development can no longer be reversed and global warming is abruptly accelerated. Find out more in our blog entry about the Amazon rainforest .
Positive feedback also makes it difficult to accurately assess the consequences. This term describes the process in which the occurrence of a situation reinforces itself. Sounds complicated, so here is an example: Increased temperatures cause the polar ice caps to melt. As a result, their white surfaces can reflect less warming radiation back into space. This leads to further temperature increases, which in turn leads to further melting, which in turn leads to further temperature increases,...
It is known, however, that the global climate is a system with numerous interactions and interconnections. Chain reactions and positive feedback effects are therefore to be expected.
This is one of the reasons why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assesses the consequences of climate change as severe in its 2022 report. This assessment applies to nature as well as to our society, economy and everyday life.
Even if we significantly reduce our CO2 emissions in the next few years, the effects in the form of reduced climate change would not become apparent until 2050. This is due to the long residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Until then, the following developments will accumulate.
Climate extremes: Weather events that do not conform to the norm for the place where they occur. The imbalance in the global climate generally favours their frequency.
- These include, for example, hurricanes, whose occurrence has already become three times more likely and whose intensity has increased by 10-15%.
- Storms and floods have also doubled since 1990.
- Droughts and fires are other examples.
Rise in average temperature: Heat waves are already occurring more regularly. Joy over more sunny days is unfortunately unfounded due to numerous indirect consequences. More on this in a moment.
Sea level rise: One of the most frequently mentioned consequences, which is promoted by several mechanisms.
- Because of the increased temperatures, the ice on the land is melting. Positive feedback! Permafrost soils form one of the largest carbon reservoirs on our planet. As soon as they melt, they release the CO2, which would lead to additional global warming.
- The ice in the water is also melting. Currently we still have ¼ of the sea ice we had 30 years ago.
- In addition, the water in the oceans is heated and expands as a result. Warm water is also less able to bind CO2. We would also lose the ocean as a carbon reservoir.
- Another chain reaction is caused by the fact that the additional water reduces the salinity of the oceans. This leads to changes in ocean currents, can result in floods, for example, and changes the entire ecosystem, as the ocean habitat becomes uninhabitable.
- The rise in sea level naturally also threatens the homes of millions of people. In the following diagram you can get an overview of what the situations in different countries would look like with a sea level rise of 1 metre and 5 metres.
Droughts: The increased temperatures lead to droughts. Consequences of this are already evident in the agriculture of wheat and maize, whose yields are sparser.
- Droughts favour e.g. (forest)fires, crop failures, food and drinking water shortages.
- Forests are also among the most effective carbon sinks and thus regulate our climate. When they burn, they release CO2 into the atmosphere and further accelerate global warming.
Extreme precipitation: The warmed air can store more rain, which is discharged more abruptly and intensively. The dried-out soil cannot absorb the precipitation, is washed away with its nutrients and can lead to landslides.
Floods and inundations:
- Coastal flooding, which used to happen every 100 years, soon happens annually.
- Our favourite coastal cities will be uninhabitable by 2100 at the latest. These include Venice, Lisbon, London, The Hague, Amsterdam, Bremen, Hamburg, Sylt. In Bangladesh, floods affect one in four inhabitants and island states like the Maldives disappear completely.
Another consequence of increased temperatures. Positive feedback: White surfaces reflect warming rays very effectively and thus keep the earth cool. This effect disappears, of course, when the ice melts, so that global warming (the actual cause of glacial melt) is further intensified. This effect is also called the "ice-albedo feedback effect".
On this map you can see which areas are particularly threatened.
The direct and indirect consequences of global warming cannot always be clearly differentiated. However, some of the most important consequences caused by the above are listed below.
- The increasing concentration of CO2 in the oceans acidifies them. This leads to the death of corals and thus also of the fish living there. With global warming of 1.5°C, this already affects 70-90% of all corals!
- This also removes the main source of food for half a billion people, as well as a widespread source of livelihood.
Drinking water shortage:
Due to the rise in sea level, more salty seawater penetrates into the groundwater. Other causes: weather extremes, droughts and fires.
Starvation: Consequence of weather extremes, increased temperatures, droughts, fires
- Developing countries are particularly affected, where there is already poor or no access to water and food, and which are particularly dependent on agriculture and stable prices.
- Extreme weather events have resulted in 23.5 million people lacking sufficient food in the past year. The following graph shows you which countries are most affected.
Infrastructure: In principle, this is affected by all consequences of climate change, the extent of which depends on the region.
This also affects developing countries in particular. Damaged and new areas must then be made habitable with money that is subsequently lacking in other places, e.g. for the further development of those countries. This has an additional impact on the global economy.
Climate refugees: The destruction of livelihoods leads to waves of refugees in less affected areas.
- According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), 2.5 million people in Africa had to leave their homes for this reason in 2021 alone.
- Such developments exacerbate conflicts, wars and geopolitical instability.
Spread of pests and pathogens: Caused by rising temperatures and heat waves, but also by droughts and floods.
- Researchers have calculated that climate change exacerbates 58% of symptoms caused by pathogens. Such pathogens include viruses, bacteria, plant pollen, fungi, mosquitoes, ticks and rodents. Animal diseases are (re)appearing.
- In addition, stress and malnutrition due to the conditions further weaken our immune systems and we are more susceptible to these pathogens.
Cities: In cities and their agglomerations, the risks of heat waves and floods are particularly high.
This has direct effects on the health of the inhabitants: Heat-related deaths and suicide rates, as well as diseases, are skyrocketing.
Habitat changes: All the effects mentioned have this consequence in common.
- The greatest species extinction of this century will occur: If the 1.5°C warming target is met, an estimated 20-30% of all species will become extinct. According to the latest scientific findings, the 1.5°C target only seems achievable if politicians and economists take drastic measures immediately.
- This extinction of animal and plant species is due to the fact that they cannot adapt quickly enough. A good example of this is coral reefs, which cannot change their location and are mercilessly exposed to the consequences of global warming. Other habitats, such as the tropics, are never naturally exposed to strong fluctuations. The species found here are not adapted to having to adapt to changes in climate. Finally, there are simply no alternatives for habitats like the poles.
- These indirect consequences further encourage waves of refugees.
At this point, it should be emphasised that these consequences are currently still mainly limited to developing countries and that these countries will remain the hardest hit in the long term. Accordingly, already disadvantaged regions continue to lose their livelihoods, their economies are further weakened and global social inequalities continue to worsen.
In 2017 alone, hunger crises were triggered by climate extremes in 34 countries, affecting 100 million people. What is unfair is that the people of these regions mostly contribute nothing to climate change and can do little to prevent it.
Germany feels the impact of climate change
The 2021 flood disaster at the latest showed us that even Germany is not safe from the consequences of climate change. On the contrary: the more than 180 deaths and numerous people affected make us realise that we have to be active NOW. The frequency of extreme weather events has more than tripled in the last 50 years. More floods are therefore to be expected.
At the same time as storm surges, sea levels are rising. This affects our North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts.
Heavy precipitation is also becoming more frequent, and has already demonstrably increased, especially in winter. The wish for a white Christmas is therefore becoming increasingly unrealistic.
Contrast this with the increase and rising intensity of hot days: Compared to three hot days (days with a maximum temperature above 30°C) in 1951, we now record 10 hot days per year. The hope of holiday feeling at home is unfortunately unfounded: Such heat poses risks to health, especially for children and the elderly. The incidence of e.g. circulatory diseases increases, our productivity decreases and our economy suffers. For people already affected by pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, respiratory or cardiovascular diseases, the impairment caused by heat temperatures increases.
In addition, we are experiencing more drought, droughts and declining groundwater levels. Already, the moisture in our soils has decreased and the water supply for crops is reduced. Crop failures and ultimately further economic damage are the result. When it rains, the soil is not able to absorb the water it needs, but is washed away, costing the soil valuable nutrients. On the other hand, bacteria have an easier time spreading and attacking plants.
The sinking groundwater also leads to low water levels that restrict shipping. Because of supply shortages, the economy is taking a hit.
Other impacts of climate change on our economy can be attributed to business interruptions, damage to infrastructure and property, other supply chain failures and price increases.
A look at our forests does not show a green light either. The described changes in the climate lead to forest dieback. Dead trees provide less shade and moisture for plants close to the ground, so that they are exposed to pests, such as the bark beetle, and fewer nutrients. The dry soils and leaves also encourage forest fires.
Lastly, we can already slowly observe changes in our seasons. The early start of spring makes our winter blues go away faster, but it also shifts the flowering season. This costs many animals food during their breeding season. In addition, there is a prolonged pollen season, which poses further health risks. The same applies to the facilitated spread of various disease vectors in the form of mosquitoes.
On this website you can check the specific forecasts for your state.
Positive consequences of global warming
Now it would be rather one-sided to present only the negative consequences of climate change. So, for the sake of completeness, here is an overview of the positive developments:
The expansion of new energy resources is increasing, so we are developing better alternatives to fossil fuels.
New, previously unattractive regions can profit from tourism. Good, but other regions are falling away. The Mediterranean region is no longer recommended at 40°C.
Admittedly, this pattern can be applied to most positive consequences. When Arctic ice thaws, that path is clear for shipping. Yay! Unfortunately, this area is then also free of polar bears, stored methane is released and mobile ice endangers shipping.
Well, that was sobering: the negative consequences undoubtedly outweigh the positive ones. So let's move on to ways to stop climate change.
How can we respond?
Our options for action are limited to three types of behaviour:
- Mitigation: This refers to combating the causes, in this case the prevention of negative impacts on the climate. In order to stop the consequences of climate change, we would have to reduce our CO2 emissions, consume less, or reforest forests, for example. Most measures for "climate protection" belong to this category.
- Adaptation: Addressing the impacts of climate change involves adapting to its risks, in other words, learning to live with the problem. Good examples of this are the construction of dams and other types of flood protection, or adaptation in building construction.
- Geoengineering (Climate Engineering): "Fixing" the problem by, for example, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere or counteracting ocean acidification. This way solves the problem that the climate might respond too slowly to our climate protection measures. Accordingly, geoengineering could be an alternative to avoid tipping points. However, its development is still in its infancy, so that costs and effectiveness are sometimes difficult to predict.
What can you do?
We often hear that we have to act now. We hear less often that we really have to act NOW, because immediate climate protection measures take decades to show their effect.
So: It is better to act green than to see black! In the following, we suggest how to do this.
When it comes to food, there are many ways you can easily reduce your CO2 emissions. Next time you go shopping, try implementing 3 of the tips and see what new dishes reveal themselves to you! So:
- Really enjoy your meat by going for better quality, but less often.
- Otherwise, go for fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses and nuts. Not only the environment, but also your body will thank you!
- Regional and seasonal food is much kinder to our environment and gives you more nutrients. Seasonal calendars, like the one from Utopia, show you what is growing.
- There is huge waste in the food industry because crooked, naturally grown fruit and vegetables are no longer available in our shops. Etepetete and SIRPLUS save these foods and put a smile on your face with the crookedest carrots!
- Currently, more than half of German food waste is avoidable. At TooGoodToGo and RESQ you can find whole dishes from restaurants that you can save from the bin at a lower price.
- Next time you go to a restaurant, bring a can if you know the portions are usually too big for you. Or ask to have your leftovers packed on the spot!
- To use your leftovers at home, and the recipe app from suggest creative recipe ideas.
- If you regularly buy too much: Write shopping lists, freeze or give the surplus to neighbours and friends.
- After the best-before date, your food is not directly waste. Smell it to find out if you can still use it!
Reduce your energy consumption and, if possible, switch to green electricity! There is a lot of waste, especially at home, but it can be improved quickly by making small habitual changes. Simple tricks include:
- Boil only as much water as necessary.
- Replace normal light bulbs with LED bulbs (you can save 90 % of your energy consumption for lighting! And up to 200 € electricity costs...).
- Spare 30% des Stromverbrauchs Deines Kühlschranks, indem Du ihn abtaust. Lasse Gerichte außerdem erst vollständig abkühlen, bevor Du sie einräumst.
- Adjust the energy settings of your electronic devices, keyword power saving mode and do without standby mode. And take the power supply out of the socket!
- Save yourself the prewash. What's more, 30°C washes use only a third of the electricity of 60°C washes and get just as clean. Only underwear, towels and bed linen should be washed hotter.
Environmentally conscious travel
Die CO2 Emissionen von Flugzeug und Auto sind Dir längst bewusst, trotzdem hier nochmal der Vorschlag, lieber auf Bus, Bahn und Fahrrad zu setzen. Ist super effektiv, denn diese Wahl kannst Du wahrscheinlich täglich treffen!
Invest your money wisely by choosing "eco-banks" that support sustainable projects with your money. Good examples are GLS Bank, Triodos, EthikBank and Umweltbank. The Fair Finance Guide also shows you in which sectors other credit institutions invest your money.
All these ideas sound nice and good, but are simply not feasible for you? Or you would like to do even more? Then you can donate to various causes!
By supporting our projects, you help the environment with every euro. Here you can also choose for which of our projects we should use your donation! Welthungerhilfe is working to combat global injustices that are exacerbated by climate change, and would be happy to receive your help!
Donations to Greenpeace are used for political campaigns or the protection of the oceans, among other things.
To answer the initial question, the consequences of climate change are severe and affect all areas of life. Climate extremes, rising average temperatures, rising sea levels, droughts, floods and melting glaciers can be summarised as direct consequences. However, they bring with them other impacts, some of which exacerbate each other. Although the most severe consequences have so far occurred in developing countries, Germany is also increasingly affected. We can still change this. Each of us has the power to make a big difference with small adjustments. In the truest sense of the word, the life of humanity is now in our hands.
We are looking forward to hearing from you: Which consequences of climate change have you already experienced? Which ones are you particularly worried about? And would you like to share more tricks? Then feel free to write to us via the contact form.
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Blog article written by Emily Waltermann