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Our planet is warming. Here’s what’s at stake if we don’t act now.

Our climate is changing around us faster than predicted. From more frequent and extreme storms to unprecedented heat waves, we’re feeling the impacts of human-caused global warming.

But we still have time to change course. We can avoid more dire impacts of climate change by limiting warming to 1.5° C (2.7° F) according to a recent report by the United Nations.

The world is already 1° C (1.8° F) hotter than it was between 1850 and 1900, the pre-industrial era. And while there’s no question that limiting warming to 1.5° C will be difficult, there’s also no question that we have the technology needed to do it—and that it’s worth it.

In 2015, 196 countries signed on to a single, sweeping plan that aims to keep global warming to well below 2° C (3.6° F)—or even 1.5° C. The unprecedented Paris Agreement builds on decades of gradual work by the international community to combat climate change and adapt to its impacts. World leaders must work together to eliminate the release of heat-trapping carbon by 2050—and, ideally, by 2040. To do this, they will need to strengthen their commitments to cut emissions over time.

But climate change is not a problem that government can solve alone; we need collaboration across regional governments, businesses, and communities as well. We also need to help wildlife and people cope with a rapidly warming planet.

Here’s what’s at stake if we limit warming to 1.5° C versus 2° C.

 

Sea Level Rise

Sea level rise by 2100

1.5°C

1.5 feet

2°C

1.8 feet

Rising sea levels could impact tens of millions of people and wildlife around the world, particularly those living on coasts and islands

 
 

Coral Bleaching

Coral reefs at risk of severe degradation by 2100

1.5°C

70%

2°C

Virtually all

Changes in water temperature causes algae to leave coral reefs, turning them white and making them vulnerable to disease and death—a phenomenon known as coral bleaching.

 
 

Ice-Free Arctic

Ice-free Arctic summers

1.5°C

At least one a century

2°C

At least one a decade

Arctic sea ice recedes every summer, but still covers millions of square miles of ocean today. But the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth and ice-free summers could become a reality.

 
 

Heat Waves

People exposed to extreme heat waves every 20 years

1.5°C

700 million

2°C

2 billion

Heat waves will become more frequent and severe around the world, affecting hundreds of millions—or even billions—of people if we don’t act.

 
 

Flooding

Increase in flood risk

1.5°C

100%

2°C

170%

Global warming increases the risk of more frequent—and heavier—rainfall, snowfall, and other precipitation. And as that risk increases, so too does the risk of flooding.

 
 

Wildlife Habitat

Plants and animals at risk of losing more than half of their habitats

1.5°C

6% of insects

8% of plants

4% of vertebrates*

2°C

18% of insects

16% of plants

8% of vertebrates

As the earth continues to warm, crucial habitats may no longer be hospitable for certain animals or plants. This puts a variety of species at risk, depending on whether they can adapt or move.

*Animals with a backbone

 
icon of a polar bear from the side

You are part of the solution. Here’s how.

 

Your impact on climate change primarily comes from what you eat, how you power your home and mobile devices, and how you travel from place to place. The average US citizen emits 20 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year due primarily to these activities. (This is 10 times the emissions from the average person in India, for example.) Here are a few ideas for reducing your carbon footprint:

 

Electricity

If you own your own house, consider getting solar panels or looking into community solar projects in your area. Also, check if your utilities offer renewable energy options (most do) and make the switch. As renewable energy prices drop, this change can have little to no effect on your bills.

Transportation

Reduce the fossil fuel impact of your daily commute to work or school by riding your bike, carpooling, or using public transportation one or more days per week.

Food

Take a hard look at household food waste in your home and commit to cutting it from its current level. Only buy what you need and eat what you buy.

 

Animations by Hannah P. Mode.