Life-threatening heatwaves, drowning coastal towns, tens of thousands of displaced refugees… These words may very well describe a scene from the latest horror movie. But they also describe the nightmare scenario facing us humans in just a few decades if we continue to leave the threat of climate change under-addressed. This term, climate change (which is shorthand for anthropogenic climate change), refers to the complete set of climate characteristics—temperature; precipitation; pressure systems; wind patterns; and oceanic currents—that are changing both locally and regionally due to human influences. It is closely related to global warming, also called global heating, which describes the general trend of increasing global temperatures we see under climate change.
Climate change has the potential to render Earth unrecognizable from what any human has ever experienced. These changes will have an immense impact on ecosystem services, global economies, and our own quality of life. Yet, while there is much talk about these risks, there is too little action addressing its main causes. Some of the lack of action may be attributed to “climate change” and “future” often being used in the same sentence, giving politicians and industries a false impression that we can deal with climate change once we achieved sufficient economic growth. The reality could however not be further from the truth, as we already see signs of the changes to come here today, including near-annual crop-failures, record-high temperatures, and record-strength coastal storms.
Thankfully, with the increase in understanding that our activities are creating a global crisis of epic proportions, the impacts of climate change are now being actively debated in the corridors of governments and major corporations. Politicians, the media, and others are also increasingly replacing “climate change” with more vivid language, like “climate crisis” and “climate emergency” (e.g. Carrington, 2019). This will hopefully encourage even more governments and industries to come to the table and cooperate like never before to address the fundamental drivers of climate change. Solving this global crisis requires an international multi-pronged approach that should include ecosystem protection and restoration, direct species management, and legislative action. But before we consider the solutions, we will first investigate why climate change is happening, and how it will impact biodiversity over the coming decades.