Climate change has been at the top of the agenda for many years, with its effects being both startlingly visible and slowly insidious in nature. But how will global warming affect future generations? This piece seeks to analyze the potential outcomes, from the drastic effects of extreme weather events, to the long-term implications of gradual, but irreversible, changes in temperature.
Immediate changes are already being noticed by those living in areas most susceptible to global warming impacts, like communities adjacent to rivers, coasts and other areas prone to flooding. These communities are feeling the brunt of more regular and powerful storms, hurricanes, and floods. Storms are a natural phenomenon, but due to increased temperatures and sea-level rise, their magnitude has been amplified and they have become more destructive. Not only are these events causing significant monetary losses due to loss of life and infrastructures across the world, but they are also causing people to displace, changing the cultural and social fabric of the affected areas. Some researchers have even gone so far as to suggest that global warming may cause a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions in many countries.
The lethal combination of extreme weather events and higher sea levels threaten the island nations, many of which are situated at depths of merely a few meters from the sea. Large-scale migrations are projected and leave many of these small countries, as well as some of their inhabitants, exposed to the risk of having to abandon their home. According to a study published in Nature in 2019, sea levels are projected to rise by up to one meter by 2100 due to global warming, should the current emissions trends remain unchanged. This could lead to coastal cities disappearing and the displacement of hundreds of millions of people.
In addition to this alarming immediacy, there is also the potential threat of unexpected consequences of global warming associated with significant, and slow, long-term changes in regional climates. According to a 2020 report commissioned by the World Health Organization, global warming-induced changes in climate, such as increased temperatures or altered hydrological cycles, may lead to the emergence or enhancement of certain vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and Zika. This could have significant consequences on the health of future generations, and the loss of agricultural land due to extreme weather events and rising sea levels could potentially lead to food shortages and malnutrition.
Finally, despite the urgency and the dire implications for future generations, governments and decision-makers have been too slow to act. Changes in emissions policies, support for renewable energy sources, and other measures are still far from reaching consensus. For instance, the Paris Agreement was enshrined in law in Europe, but the official US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has quashed hopes of global greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets being reached.
These alarming climate scenarios suggest that drastic changes are needed to improve the eco-systems of the world and to protect the future generations of life on earth. It is necessary for international organizations and governments to come together to invest in renewable energy sources and support environmentally-friendly initiatives. Companies should also take part in these efforts, especially by embracing a no-waste policy and improving the sustainability of their operations. Scientific research has also been critical, providing policymakers with accurate and predictive data to help make informed decisions. Despite the progress that has already been made, much more needs to be done to reverse the impacts of global warming on the planet and its inhabitants.