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GlobalView: Climate Change in Perspective

Select and drag the blue tab along the timeline below to see how sea ice coverage has changed over time. The change is represented as a percentage, using October 1979 as a baseline.

 Ice  
 Ice lost since 1979

"Sea Ice Index" data courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

This sea ice extent data shows the Northwest Passage in September 2011.

To get a sense of how rising seas, combined with storm surges and flooding, could affect the east coast of the U.S., select Miami, New York or Charleston, South Carolina, here or on the globe. Adjust the slider to see some of the effects in each city.

Sea level rise analysis based on data from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Surging Seas of Climate Central. (Assumes a projected sea level rise of 3.4 feet for Miami and New York, and 3.3 feet for Charleston.)

Atmospheric CO2 levels, measured in parts per million.

Data courtesy of the Scripps CO2 Program.

Select any of the following cities to learn more:

Select and drag the blue tab along the timeline below to see the change in CO2 emissions over time. Select and drag the globe to see the emissions of individual countries.

CO2 emissions measured in billion metric tons. Data courtesy of the European Commission's 2013 report.

Select and drag the globe to get a better view of where most CO2 originates and concentrates, especially as the seasons change.

Computer model animation, based on 2006 data, courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.

Computer model animation, based on 2006 data, courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.

PROJECT CREDITS
Writer & Researcher, Alex Bruns, Bloomberg View
Creative Director & Designer: Lisa Strausfeld, Bloomberg View
Design & Development: Jonathan Cousins & James Nick Sears, Cousins & Sears
Product Director: David J. Harding, Bloomberg View
TimeSelected
By The Editors / Bloomberg View / Dec. 19, 2014
GlobalView: Climate Change in Perspective
 

The debate over climate change, unlike climate change itself, seems to be stuck. Let's see if we can get it moving.

The arguments are mainly over three issues: whether climate change exists, what causes it and what to do about it. The first two questions are controversial but shouldn't be. And the third would generate honest debate even if there were agreement about the first two. But viable solutions to the crisis aren't hard to find.

The debate over climate change, unlike climate change itself, seems to be stuck. Let's see if we can get it moving.

The arguments are mainly over three issues: whether climate change exists, what causes it and what to do about it. The first two questions are controversial but shouldn't be. And the third would generate honest debate even if there were agreement about the first two. But viable solutions to the crisis aren't hard to find.

Some people are already feeling the effects of global climate change — residents of the Pacific Ocean's disappearing islands, for example...
...and natives of Alaska.
The greatest current impact of climate change, however, is on places where people don't live. Data from the Earth's poles reveal the story.
At the North Pole, the Arctic sea ice coverage has been steadily declining. It is now 86 percent of what it was three and a half decades ago.
By September 2007, the ice cover had reduced enough for the Northwest Passage to completely open for the first time in human history. It has been open on several occasions since.
At the other pole, West Antarctica is experiencing an accelerated ice loss, which in the Amundsen Sea region \"appears unstoppable.\"
And as the ice melts, the sea rises. Over the last 100 years, the global sea level has increased by about 6.5 inches. That trend has accelerated in recent years. By the turn of the century, the combination of sea level rise and coastal flooding could be catastrophic for some cities.
Climate change has many causes. But one of the main culprits is increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon emissions have been accelerating since the dawn of the 20th century, and the CO2 level in the Earth's atmosphere has now passed 400 parts per million, the highest mark in recorded history.
And human activity is making the problem worse. Burning fossil fuels increases the atmosphere’s concentration of CO2. As the global economy grows, more countries will increase their energy usage — and, potentially, their CO2 emissions. Since 1990, two countries have been responsible for more than a third of the world's CO2 emissions: China and the U.S.
This is what CO2 emissions look like as they travel around the world over the course of a year.
Probably the most sensible and comprehensive way to reduce C02 in the atmosphere is to tax carbon, discouraging the use of fossil fuels and using the revenue to ameliorate some of the tax's harmful effects.
But enacting new taxes, especially on a national scale, will always be difficult. In the meantime, dozens of cities all over the world, from Munich to Miami, are preparing for climate change.
Responding to the risks created by climate change won't be easy. But there are a lot of innovative and practical ideas out there — and the sooner the world acts, the better.