Major Potential Effects of Global Warming

By Elizabeth May, Zoe Caron

Part of Global Warming For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The impact of global warming will increase in the coming years, but the degree of change will vary greatly, depending on where you live and depending on how rapidly nations around the world reduce greenhouse emissions. No matter where you live, though, the unchecked impacts of climate change are potentially catastrophic in the long-term.

  • It affects people: Depending on their location, people may be affected by disease, rising sea levels, drought, or major storms. The impact of these effects will be greatest on those with the least financial resources to adapt to or recover from the effects.

  • It causes extreme weather: While the atmosphere warms, the climate is changing, and so is the weather. More frequent and more intense storms, flooding, droughts, heat waves, and even extreme snowfalls are all part of the changes.

  • It increases extinctions: Changing climates mean that some environments may no longer be hospitable for certain plants or animals, which will need to relocate to survive. Some species, such as polar bears, have nowhere to go. Extinction is a possibility for many species of animals and plants, which may be unable to adapt to their environment at the same speed at which the climate is changing it.

  • It melts ice at the poles: The Arctic ice is melting so rapidly that within a few years the North Pole will be ice covered only seasonally. This has a dramatic impact on the planet’s climate: Polar ice reflects sunlight and deflects heat; when it melts, more of that heat stays in the atmosphere. The melting of the Greenland and Western Antarctic Ice Sheets threatens an extreme rise in sea levels.

  • It warms oceans: While the oceans warm, water is expanding and causing sea levels to rise. Warmer waters are killing coral reefs and krill — essential to supporting the sea food web.