Climate change is a problem so grand it’s often hard to bring it back down to Earth. However, thanks to a new study, published in the journal Science, it might be a little easier for you to get your head around.
Their findings suggest that the average westerner’s carbon footprint melts 30 square meters (323 square feet) of Arctic summer sea ice every year.
Melting Arctic sea ice is perhaps one of the most visible and immediate signs of climate change. As human activity continues to pump more carbon dioxide into the environment, it trap more heat into our atmosphere, and therefore raises Earth’s temperature. In turn, this leads to more Arctic sea ice melting in greater quantities each summer.
Their calculations were centered around observational records of Arctic summer sea ice levels from 1953 to 2015. They then compared these levels to carbon dioxide emissions and found that they were both “linearly related”. Simply by tracing the average carbon dioxide output of each person, they were able to establish how much the average person’s carbon footprint contributes to sea ice melting.
“So far, climate change has often felt like a rather abstract notion,” co-author Professor Julienne Stroeve of UCL Earth Sciences said in a statement. “Our results allow us to overcome this perception. For example, it is now straight-forward to calculate that the carbon dioxide emissions for each seat on a return flight from London to San Francisco causes about 5 square meters [54 square feet] of Arctic sea ice to disappear.”
The plight of Arctic sea ice is continuing to look more bleak, with this summer’s Arctic summer sea ice levels being the second lowest on record. However, the researchers say that their statistics also show that previous models perhaps underestimated the extent of Arctic sea ice loss.
They added that global warming must be kept below 1.5°C (3.6°F) if we want to see Arctic summer sea ice in the future.
“The internationally agreed 2°C global warming target is not sufficient to allow Arctic summer sea ice to survive,” said lead author Dr Dirk Notz of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany. “Given the observed sensitivity of the ice cover, the sea ice is gone throughout September once another 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide has been emitted. These levels of emissions are usually taken as a rough estimate of the allowable emissions to reach the 2°C global-warming target but much lower levels of emissions are needed to keep global warming below 1.5°C, as called for by the Paris agreement.”