How much does a half a degree Celsius matter?

Human-induced warming reached approximately 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels in 2017. At the present rate, global temperatures would reach 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) around 2040. The green section of the diagram represents the range of uncertainty in how much global temperature would continue to rise before leveling off, assuming that reductions in carbon dioxide emissions were to begin immediately and reach zero by 2055. Credit: IPCC


In terms of climate change a half a degree Celsius matters a lot. NASA has a two part series A Degree of Concern: Why Global Temperatures Matter and Part 2: Selected Findings of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming both by Alan Buis (6/19/2019). The two part series is visually well done and an excellent example of telling a story on the web (especially part I).

Higher temperature thresholds will adversely impact increasingly larger percentages of life on Earth, with significant variations by region, ecosystem and species. For some species, it literally means life or death.

“What we see isn’t good – impacts of climate change are in many cases larger in response to a half a degree (of warming) than we’d expected,” said Shindell, who was formerly a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. “We see faster acceleration of ice melting, greater increases in tropical storm damages, stronger effects on droughts and flooding, etc. As we calibrate our models to capture the observed responses or even simply extrapolate another half a degree, we see that it’s more important than we’d previously thought to avoid the extra warming between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.”

Read both reports for details.  This two part series could be the basis for a QL course.

About Thomas J. Pfaff

Thomas J. Pfaff is a Professor of Mathematics at Ithaca College. He created this website because he believes that sustainability, ranging from climate change to social justice, should be included in all courses whenever possible.

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