Originally published on About.com on May 17, 2014
Recently news broke of two new climate change studies that show that the catastrophic collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is underway, and has been for over two decades. The melting of this sheet is significant because it acts as a linchpin for other glaciers and ice sheets in Antarctica that will in turn melt over time. Ultimately, the melting of the south polar ice cap will raise sea levels globally by as much as ten to thirteen feet, which is in addition to the sixty-nine feet of sea level rise that scientists have already attributed to human activity.
These studies are just the most recent in a slew released over more than two decades that showcase the sweeping implications of human-caused climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published five substantive assessment reports since 1990. The most recent, published in March, reminds readers of key implications of climate change. These include changing rates and patterns of precipitation and sea-level rise; serious and complex changes in animal geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundance, and species interaction; reduced crop yields; and impacts on human health, including increases in heat-related deaths, and changing distribution of water-born illnesses and diseases. This latest report warns that we are underprepared for extreme climate events, as demonstrated by recent heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires; and, it reiterates that the negative implications of climate change are experienced more forcefully by economically and politically vulnerable populations around the world.
There is a troubling gap between the serious reality depicted by climate change science and the level of concern among the U.S. public. A recent Gallup Poll conducted by sociologist Riley Dunlap found that while most U.S. adults view climate change as a problem, only fourteen percent believe that the implications of climate change have reached a “crisis” level. A full third of the population believe that climate change is not a problem. Dunlap also found that self-identified political liberals and moderates are far more concerned about the impacts of climate change than are conservatives.