Putting 2°C in Perspective
A useful analogy, a look at where we are now, where we’re headed, and climate lag
2°C (3.6°F) is the amount of warming above pre-industrial levels at which experts say the consequences will become “catastrophic” for humans. We have already warmed the planet by 1.1°C (2°F).
But when we hear “2 degrees” we naturally underestimate the true implications of such a change. After all, I don’t notice a big difference between a 59°F and a 62.6°F day (15°C and 17°C), do you?
The thing is, 2°C does make a difference – a huge one. A better way to think about 2°C (3.6°F) is to imagine how you personally would feel with a fever that high. You’d be out of commission with a 102.2°F fever!
So when you hear these seemingly small numbers, understand that, in reality, they represent a dangerously high fever for the climate systems that support life on Earth – the systems upon which we do, and always have, depended on.
We clearly need to stop emitting greenhouse gases as soon as possible. But it’s also important to understand that there is a certain amount of warming locked in that we haven’t felt yet.
Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, the temperature would likely continue to rise another ~.5°C (.9°F) due to our greenhouse gas emissions over the past few decades. This is because there’s a lag time due to how long it takes for the oceans to heat up – like the time it takes for water to boil when you’re cooking.
Taking this into account we are dangerously close to 2°C already. In fact, we’re on track to blow by it to around 3.5°C – 4°C. This is simply unacceptable if you would like a livable planet. As the world bank said, “there’s no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible…the projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur.”
I believe we can and will overcome this, but there is no time to lose. We need drastic, systemic changes immediately.
Let’s start doing what we can today. Here are two articles to help you do just that!
Read other content from the “Alarming” section or see all sections of the What on EARTH?! sustainability newsletter.
I believe reversing global warming is humanity’s #1 priority, so I write to help crowdsource more sustainability into the world. I do this for people. I do this so we can live in a healthier, safer, more prosperous, and more just society.