What if: global temperatures continue to rise?


Daniel Shin, Editor-In-Chief

The world watched as over 100 heads of state converged in Glasgow, Scotland ahead of the largest annual climate change conference to discuss the most pressing environmental issue today—global warming. Since the start of the industrial revolution, global temperatures have been rising without any indications of abatement, impacting the livelihoods of billions. Recent wildfires in California and the Atlantic hurricane season served as yet another painful reminder of global upticks in natural disasters.


However, despite the warning signs evident in the news and scientific literature, not enough is being done to slow down climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric EAdministration’s 2020 Global Climate Report, worldwide temperatures have seen an average increase of 0.08 degrees Celsius per decade since the 1880s and accelerated to double that rate since 1970. What if global temperatures continue to rise?


From simply looking at the numbers, an increase of 0.16 degrees Celsius per decade since 1970 does not seem like much, and it is easy to assume that even if global temperatures continue to rise at that rate, it will pose little threat to life on the planet. However, that statistic quickly becomes bleak with the context of the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which 196 nations signed a legally binding contract to keep climate change under two degrees Celsius before 2100. Two degrees is not an arbitrary figure either—it indicates a critical threshold above which Earth would undergo irreversible and catastrophic damage.


To begin, a two-degree increase would exacerbate many existing problems on Earth. Higher surface temperatures increase the likelihood of drought and in turn, reduce freshwater availability and crop yields. In addition, the aforementioned natural disasters will strengthen and occur more often. Meanwhile, global sea levels will rise as the polar ice caps melt, submerging territories like the Maldives, Shanghai, and Thailand while making many coastal regions inhabitable. 


Humans are not the only ones to suffer from the carnage of global warming either. In fact, all life on Earth will be impacted by the runaway train of pollution and greenhouse gases. A warmer planet will destroy habitats, such as the polar ice caps or coral reefs, for many species, demolishing biodiversity.


Despite the doom and gloom of this article thus far, there still is a great deal of hope. After all, this column is titled “What if,” not “What will.” Just as it takes small changes in global temperatures to cause worldwide disasters, it takes minute adjustments in our day-to-day habits to prevent them. 


While advances in renewable energy and electric cars make the headlines, our daily habits are what make all the difference, and at SIS, there are plenty of opportunities for teachers and students to adopt sustainable practices. Recycling that old worksheet instead of throwing it into the trash. Bringing a reusable water bottle from home instead of buying a plastic one each day. Reading the eco-friendly TTONL instead of the Tiger Times paper edition (just kidding).


Of course, making a complete transition to sustainable practices overnight is hardly an easy task. Oftentimes, it is tempting to think that our actions are not grandiose enough to directly combat climate change. What difference does it make if we bring reusable bottles when billions of others carelessly waste plastics each day? If such questions occasionally cross your mind, no one blames you. Indeed, deciding to simply bring a reusable water bottle will not immediately solve climate change. 


Yet, it is important to realize that everyday citizens, including SIS students, faculty, and staff, are responsible for climate change, and as such, any progress to slow the rise of global temperatures begins with a change in our daily actions in classrooms, outdoors, and at home. Ultimately, if we can all agree that making a greener planet for generations to come is a moral responsibility, then it is upon our generation to fulfill that duty.


By collectively taking action upon the question, “what if global temperatures never stop rising?” we will be able to give future generations the privilege to wonder, “what if global temperatures had never stopped rising?”