Climate change: The uncomfortable reality of life on Earth after we breach 1.5°C
Passing 1.5°C of global warming isn't just a political disaster, it will have dire consequences for us all, as those living on the front line already know
By Madeleine Cuff
7 June 2023
Aftermath of Cyclone Pam, Vanuatu
Dave Hunt-Pool/Getty Images
THIS time next year, you may be living in the same house, driving the same car and doing the same job. But in one fundamental way, life on Earth could have shifted irrevocably. Spiking worldwide temperatures, boosted by a transition to an El Niño climate pattern, could make 2024 the year that global warming exceeds 1.5°C for the first time. It may not sound like much, but scientists warn it will be a totemic moment for the planet.
Undoubtedly, breaching 1.5°C is a sign of political failure. Just eight years ago, almost every nation agreed to a binding treaty promising to hold the global temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Blowing past that threshold so soon will bring huge political fallout and unleash reactionary forces that could turbocharge – or cripple – the climate movement. "All hell will break loose," says Jochem Marotzke at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany. "That is something I’m very sure of."
But beyond this discontent, there are many other impacts of crossing this threshold. It will have catastrophic consequences for people living in the hardest-hit parts of the world and bring even wilder, more unpredictable and extreme weather for all of us. If we can get the temperature back down, this period may pass. But if emissions keep climbing, the climate will become increasingly hellish. That much is clear if you consider the communities now living on the front line of climate change. Understanding their experience gives a glimpse into the …