to the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative

[ Average Monthly CO₂ Levels in The Atmosphere Worldwide 1990 - 2024 

[ Map of observed changes in surface temperature on Earth from 1901 to 2016 (Source: UNDP) ]

[ A biker attempts to navigate NY’s flooded streets in 2023 (Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) ]

experienced heavy flooding that trapped people in their homes and damaged roads and buildings. Nationally, tens of millions of people were under a flood watch in July 2023, while globally, countries including South Korea, Pakistan, and Turkey saw destructive flooding that displaced millions of people and forced evacuations in the previous year.[vii]

In particular, climate change has prompted serious concerns about food scarcity. Unfavorable conditions for growing crops such as drought and excessive rainfall and extreme weather events such as flooding, and tornadoes are expected to get worse. This would be a huge problem even if our population was expected to hold steady, but in fact there will be an estimated two billion more mouths to feed by 2050. 

(Source: Statista) ]

Scientists have coined a term for the unique geological era in which we are living, the “Anthropocene,” an epoch in which civilization itself has significantly and unmistakably altered the atmosphere through the development of agriculture and industry. Indeed, the makeup of the atmosphere has changed. Although in the past there have been large fluctuations in carbon dioxide concentrations between interglacial periods, the time frame in which the recent increase has been occurring is much shorter, meaning that the resulting changes in climate will happen at a rate unprecedented in human history.


Climate scientists now have refined models predicting that if current emission rates are not mitigated, the critical threshold of a 2°C increase in global temperatures could be reached sooner than the previously projected 2050 timeline.[iv] This underscores the urgency for immediate and decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is already impacting every inhabited region across the globe, with human activities contributing significantly to the observed changes in weather and climate extremes. The extreme weather events and natural disasters witnessed in recent years serve as a stark preview of the increasingly frequent and severe challenges we are likely to face going forward.

 Among these events, the 2020 California wildfires and the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season, which lasted nearly an entire year, stand out. Such incidents are examples of compound events characterized by both prolonged hot temperatures and significant water shortages, exacerbating the effects of droughts and heatwaves.[v] In October 2021, parts of South Korea experienced average temperatures that were 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than average. In the past, that would have been an exceedingly rare heat wave – something that would never occur twice in a millennium, let alone in a person's lifetime. [vi]


Although it can be difficult to directly link these disasters to the effects of climate change, there is increasing evidence for the link, and they certainly provide a preview of what is to come on a hotter planet. As Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chief of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), puts it, “We are sure that the kinds of events that we've seen recently are likely to become much more frequent and much more severe.'' New research from the National Academy of Sciences indicates that scientists can now determine with some confidence the degree climate change has influenced some extreme weather events.[viii]

As is already becoming apparent, increased global temperatures will make wildfires more common, turning burning forests into major emitters of carbon dioxide rather than sinks to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. A hotter planet also means melting Arctic tundra, or permafrost. Melting permafrost can result in the release of billions of tons of greenhouse gases, including methane, which is about twenty times more powerful in its ability to trap heat than carbon dioxide. The damage from melting permafrost could be disastrous, as the amount of greenhouse gases contained in the tundra far exceeds that which has already been emitted directly by humans since the Industrial Revolution. Melting permafrost is already frighteningly apparent in Siberia, where greenhouse gas emissions from the Arctic tundra have increased by a staggering one third in only five years. The release of these gases on a large scale would dramatically accelerate global warming.[ix]

Since 2002, and continuing up to the latest data in 2023, NASA's GRACE and GRACE Follow-On satellites have shown that the land ice sheets in both Antarctica and Greenland have been losing mass. This is important because the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica store about two-thirds of all the fresh water on Earth. They are losing ice due to the ongoing warming of Earth’s surface and ocean. Meltwater coming from these ice sheets is responsible for about one-third of the global average rise in sea level since 1993.​[x] In the last century, the global mean sea level rose about 7.5 inches. By 2100, according to the 2014 IPCC Report, sea levels will likely rise between 10 and 22 inches, and beyond that melting ice sheets could contribute to a rise of up to 23 feet. Some scientists see these projections as quite conservative - a study this past spring concluded that oceans could rise more than six feet by the end of the century and the melting of ice in Antarctica alone could cause seas to rise more than 49 feet by 2500.[xi]

It turns out that the seas along the Atlantic coast of the United States are rising as much as three to four times the global average due to variations in ocean circulation.[xii] Norfolk, VA, is just one example of a coastal community that is already experiencing the impact of these higher seas. Like many cities, it was built on filled-in marshland, and is now compacting and sinking. Combined with sea levels that have risen 14.5 inches since 1930, this has resulted in constant flooding, which causes major problems with infrastructure and plummeting housing prices, even as the city tries to adapt by raising roadways.[xiii] Rising sea levels around the world could eventually completely submerge low-lying coastal areas, destroy important ecosystems, and displace millions of people.

Indeed, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) contends that the humanitarian crises that could be triggered by the effects of climate change have been vastly underestimated, with natural disasters and environmental degradation resulting in geopolitical instability, millions of refugees, and violent conflict over diminishing essential resources such as water, land, and food. [xiv]

 The interconnection between the climate crisis and human displacement is becoming increasingly evident. In 2022, more than half of the newly reported displacement incidents were triggered by climate-related disasters. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of refugees and internally displaced people now find themselves in countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Notably, 84 percent of refugees and asylum seekers fled from countries significantly affected by climate vulnerability in 2022, marking a substantial increase from 61 percent in 2010.[xv]


The FAO estimates that harvest yields will need to increase by 70% by 2050 in order to feed those people, with a needed annual increase in rice and wheat yields of 1.2 to 1.4%. Growth rates in annual yields of rice and wheat have been faltering at 0.6 and 0.7%, however, which clearly will not be enough to meet predicted demand in forty years.[xvi] Oxfam predicts that this future mismatch between supply and demand will result in a doubling of food prices by the year 2030, as well as millions of more people not having enough to eat.[xvii]

We are at a crucial juncture in human history and the stakes for human survival have never been higher. Ignoring climate change and waiting for a “more convenient” time to deal with it will not make it go away. Moreover, it will only be more difficult and expensive to effectively mitigate the consequences of climate change in the future. ​Local governments must lead the way forward  in the face of continued federal inaction. Tompkins County has committed itself to reducing its emissions 80% by 2050, but it will take a sustained effort on the part of citizens and their leaders to achieve this goal. Bringing global emissions down to a safe level for humanity will require all hands-on deck if we are to alter our trajectory for the better. Failure is not an option.

[i] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (n.d.). Trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide. NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory.
[ii] Thompson, A. (2016, May 16).CO2 nears peak: Are we permanently above 400 PPM? ClimateCentral.org.
[iii] Tiseo, I. (2024, March 13). Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 1990-2024.
[iv] Diffenbaugh, N. S., & Barnes, E. A. (2023). Data-driven predictions of the time remaining until critical global warming thresholds are reached. Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.
[v] Tripathy, K. P., Mukherjee, S., Mishra, A. K., & Williams, A. P. (2023). Climate change will accelerate the high-end risk of compound drought and heatwave events. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(28), e2219825120.
[vi] Kim, Y.-H., Min, S.-K., Cha, D.-H., Byun, Y.-H., Lott, F. C., & Stott, P. A. (2022). Attribution of the unprecedented 2021 October heatwave in South Korea. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, E2923–E2929.
[vii] Zhou, L. (2023, September 29). The "new abnormal": The rise of extreme flooding, briefly explained.
[viii] Balzan, M., & Worland, J. (2011, May 17; 2016, March 11). Natural disasters linked to climate change, says UN climate chief; Scientists are making stronger links between climate change and extreme weather. The Earth Times.
[ix] Adam, D. (2010, January 14). Arctic permafrost leaking methane at record levels, figures show. The Guardian; Climate change likely to be more devastating than experts predicted, warns top IPCC scientist. Science Daily. (2009, February 15).
[x] NASA Global Climate Change. (2023). Vital signs: Ice sheets.
[xi] IPCC. (2016). Climate change 2014 synthesis report: Summary for policymakers. United Nations; Dennis, B., & Mooney, C. (2015, March 30). Scientists nearly double sea level rise projections for 2100, because of Antarctica. Washington Post.
[xii] Mooney, C. (2016, February 1). Why the U.S. East Coast could be a major ‘hotspot’ for rising seas. Washington Post.
[xiii] Kaufman, L. (2010, November 25). Front-line city in Virginia tackles rise in sea. New York Times.
[xiv] UNHCR. (2009, August 14). Climate change, natural disasters and human displacement: A UNHCR perspective.
[xv] Siegfried, K. (2023, November 15). Climate change and displacement: The myths and the facts.
[xvi] FAO. (2009, October 12). How to feed the world in 2050.
[xvii] Grossman-Cohen, B. (2011, May 31). Food prices to double within 20 years.

[ Poor Indian children asking for food (Hadynyah/Getty Images)]

[ Land & Ocean Temperature Percentiles Jan - Jul 2023 (Source: NOAA) ]

Over the summer of 2023, the Philadelphia suburbs were hit with heavy flash flooding that inundated roads and killed five people. Earlier in the year, Vermont also 

In pre-industrial times, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was around 280 ppm (parts per million).[i] Many climate scientists assert that the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is below 350 ppm, which we have already surpassed;[ii] and as of February 2024, the levels have continued to climb, now sitting at 424 ppm.[iii]

309 North Aurora Street | Ithaca, NY 14850 | info@tccpi.org

Why is Decisive Action on Climate Change So Urgent?

​By Hannah Foster, TCCPI Intern, August 2011; updated by Aurora Namnum, CCETC Intern, June 2016;

updated March 2024