Climate change is causing feedback loops that accelerate the warming process. When meltwater collects in pools on glaciers and sea ice, its darker surface collects more sunlight; this in turn melts more ice, which would have reflected sunlight.
Melting ice is watched closely by many communities. Entire towns in Alaska, for example, are planning to relocate. In some cases the need is caused by coastal erosion and in others by the thawing permafrost that was their foundation.
Rising seas are overwhelming many coastal communities around the world. In 2014 the global sea level was already 8 inches higher than in 1880.
Storm surges now reach further inland endangering more people and destroying more property. The science team for the investigative TV series Years of Living Dangerously estimated that hire sea levels caused more than 100,000 additional people across New York and New Jersey to get hit by the surge of super storm Sandy in 2012.
The warmer, dryer climate has mountain communities and the winter sports industry acting to protect livelihoods and ensure access to water. Several have reported a noticeable decline in the duration of the snow sports season and some towns now face the prospect of water shortages in the summer months.
Organizations like the Aspen Canary Initiative, Protect Our Winters and Aspen Snowmass are on the front lines, promoting climate change mitigation measures and working to improve resilience.
Changes in mountain water runoff combined with changes in precipitation conditions and warmer temperatures are exacerbating drought conditions. The impacts can be devastating for communities downstream.
One day in 2010, more than 1000 people assembled in the empty gravel bed of the vanished Santa Fe River. They held up blue-painted pieces of cardboard or tarps as a satellite passed overhead. Only from space could one mistake this landscape as still existing in its past dynamic natural state.
Communities affected by the increasingly dry climate are mobilizing what resources they have to spread awareness and concern. Events such as these are important flashpoints. We are accustomed to the natural environment sustaining our lifestyle. It takes the gathering of voices and creative energy around singular stories to change our deeply ingrained habits.
The changing climate is forcing us to rethink our water usage and supporting infrastructure. Lake Mead has fallen below the Hoover Dam's intake pipes, necessitating the construction of a difficult and expensive new intake system to slake the thirst of residents of the urbanized, arid West. How will we adapt our growing cities, our expanding economy, to live in a region that never had much water?
In California, fireman are on the front lines of climate change, struggling to adapt to a fire season that now lasts all year.
The 2014 fire season in California started in January, and was longer and more intense than any in recent memory. The state exhausted its $209 million wildfire budget only three months into the fiscal year.
Extreme heat threatens public health and economic productivity. The National Climate Assessment reported many cities in the US have suffered dramatic increases in death rates during heat waves. Climate change models indicate the frequency and duration of heat waves is on the rise.
Sustaining plenty in a world with more extreme weather will be a challenge. Our ability to produce food is already being disrupted by climate change. Crop and livestock yields are expected to decline as climate change induces numerous stresses beyond weather changes that include weeds, disease and insect pests.
Just like with our farms, climate change is inducing stress on our forests as well. Shorter winters have enabled the population of insect species like Bark Beetles to grow. It is estimated they have killed more trees in the US and Canada in recent years than wildfires. This may be another dangerous climate change feedback loop as trees are an important carbon sink in our first line of defense against growing emissions of green-house-gases.
The 2014 People's Climate March brought over 400,000 people to New York City, and spawned over 2,600 solidarity events in 162 countries. Numerous surveys indicate awareness about climate change is growing fueling the many movements advocating for effective mitigation and adaptation solutions.
Public opinion, however, is still divided. There is a massive gap between what people think about climate change and what the experts know. We need more communication initiatives capable of bridging this gap and empowering individuals and communities with the knowledge to make smart decisions.
Indeed, support for action on climate change is spreading across society. The religious community is no exception. Groups such as Interfaith Moral Action on Climate Change, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Interfaith Power and Light are leading the way forward for people of faith who want to make a difference.
The leader of the Roman Catholic church, Pope Francis, is expected to give a lengthy address on Climate Change at the UN General Assembly in 2015 and call for a summit of the world's main religions.
Public opinion, however, remains divided. There is a massive gap between what people think and experts know. We are need of more communication initiatives to raise productive awareness about climate change; initiatives that expose the many facets of the problem and the efforts of the climate heroes among us working towards solutions. We need more climate stories to empower individuals and communities with the knowledge to make smart decisions.