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Anthropocene climate: The new (deadly) normal

Anthropocene climate: The new (deadly) normal

One Degree globeA temperature increase of less than one degree has already disrupted the global climate system, and this is only the beginning. Will the Anthropocene bring a totally new climate regime?

Part One:

Climate negotiators have adopted 2°C as the maximum increase in the global average temperature. that can be permitted if dangerous consequences are to be avoided. Many scientists, and the governments of many small countries, argue that 2° is too high – that the limit should be 1.5°. But according to climate experts, if current trends continue, the average temperature by the end of this century will definitely be 3.5° degrees above pre-industrial levels, and there is a strong possibility that the increase will be more than 4 degrees.[1]

That doesn’t sound like much. When I woke on a recent August morning, the temperature outside was 19°, and by noon, it was 25°. That’s a six degree jump in five hours or so, a pretty common experience in summer in the part of the Northern Hemisphere where I live. So why would we worry about an increase of 2 or even 4 degrees by 2100? Mention that at a party in my neighborhood, and someone is sure to say that they’d be very happy if our Canadian winters were 4 degrees warmer!

It may be counter-intuitive, but 4 degrees averaged over the entire world is actually a big jump. During the last ice age, when kilometers of ice covered areas as far south as present-day Chicago, the average global temperature was only 5 degrees cooler than today.

It’s important to remember that average global temperatures conceal substantial variations in time and place. The atmosphere is consistently cooler over oceans, so to get a global average increase of 4 degrees, continental temperatures would have to would have go up by considerably more. And it’s been estimated that a 4 degree average increase would mean a 16 degree increase in the Arctic.

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