Global Warming Debate: Exploring 1.5°C vs 2°C Scenarios

Global Warming Debate: Exploring 1.5°C vs 2°C Scenarios

Mike Mahoney

Whether climate change threatens the world’s oceans, landscapes and vulnerable human populations it is among the most emotionally and politically charged issues of our day. Even respected scientists have failed to reach consensus, fueling arguments and confusion among various constituencies and groups.   

To help gain clarity on the important issue for all of us, we suggest that you do what we did: reference a variety of sources to help illuminate what you believe (or don’t) about man-made global warming and to what extent it actually jeopardizes the environment.

2 °Celsius vs 1.5 °Celsius

Two figures of interest encountered during our research include 2 °C and 1.5 °C. Multiple sources claim that if the globe warms by 2 °C (35.6 °F), the crucial ‘tipping point,’ the world’s ecosystems could be irreversibly upended.  Sources add that holding the increase to

1.5-degrees Celsius (above pre-industrial levels) will cause far less damage, so environmental proponents consider it the aspirational (and arguably more achievable) goal.

Among the more credible studies citing the 1.5 °C target was the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)–we say credible because their report contains exhaustive (by most research standards) analysis by 90 scientists from 40 countries, referencing 6,000 different studies.    

The Possible Upside

Authors of the IPCC report say that, though riskier than the present, holding the temperature increase to 1.5 °C will significantly reduce the warming-related threats that they foresee, including weather extremes (drought, tropical cyclones, flooding, extreme heat), water scarcity, melting glaciers and rising seas, and global food insecurity.

As summarized on the Environmental Defense Fund website, potential benefits from holding to the 1.5 °C mark may include:  

  • World population exposed to water stress may be reduced by 50%
  • 10 million fewer people could be at risk from sea level rise
  • Several hundred million people may avoid poverty susceptibility by midcentury
  • Loss of 1.5 million tons of global annual catch for marine fisheries could be avoided
  • 10-30% of coral reefs could be saved
  • The number of plant and animal species losing over half their habitat could be cut in half

What if They’re Right?

The often-contentious debate about whether warming-induced weather change is man-made will likely persist for the foreseeable future, as authoritative sources like NASA and The Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) continue to disagree. To tame temperatures at around 1.5 °C, carbon emissions must drop over the next decade to just 45 percent of levels in 2010. If it’s even possible­–and many experts think it isn’t–such a transition would be wholly unprecedented.

In the midst of it all we, as citizens of the world who think living on planet earth is a treat and a privilege, are left to wonder: what if it really is in trouble? Shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility and have a respectful dialog about it? Maybe objectively examine how we’re personally treating the environment? There may be more to gain than there is to lose.  

If you agree, why not purchase and wear one of our 1.5 °C t-shirts and go out there and start your own friendly conversations about environmental issues?

You can also reference the sites below for additional information on the subject. 

National Resources Defense Council

Environmental Protection Agency Renewable Energy Advocacy

Environmental Defense Fund

Curated list of other organizations

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