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Why is a few degrees of warming such a big deal when it comes to climate change?

  • Marie Cusick

A couple degrees doesn’t seem like much. But, a Penn State professor explains, it means more than we might think when it comes to the Earth.

A stark United Nations report issued in 2018┬ácalls on governments to try to┬ákeep any further global warming well below 1.5 Celsius.┬áThe scientists who authored it concede that there is ÔÇťno documented historic precedentÔÇŁ for such a rapid transformation of the global economy, but say the world faces┬ámyriad crises as early as 2040 ÔÇö including food shortages, extreme weather, wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs ÔÇö unless greenhouse gas emissions are sharply cut.

But we’re only talking about a few degrees of warming. Why is that such a big deal?

Richard Alley, a professor of geosciences at Penn State University, explains why the world is more sensitive to climate change than we like to think:

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