TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Through the millennia, Earth’s climate has gradually shifted from ice ages to periods even warmer than today due to natural cycles. But the current moment is different, the rate of warming is unprecedented in the history of modern human civilization – and it’s being forced by humans, due mainly to the burning of fossil fuels.

We know there’s danger ahead, but are these alarming headlines accurate? Or is the alarm, simply alarmist?

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WFLA’s Chief Meteorologist and Climate Specialist Jeff Berardelli spoke to Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Chief Scientist from The Nature Conservancy and one of the World’s leading climate scientists to discuss just how concerned we should be.

Hayhoe says humans are conducting an unprecedented experiment with the only home we have, “When you look at plants and animals, people say well they have adapted to greater changes in the past, and they have, but not this fast. The changes that are happening are orders of magnitude faster than the warming between the last ice age and today. So what’s at stake is everything, everyone, every place, that we care about.”

For some, Hayhoe’s message will sound heavy, and hard to believe. But what science is telling us, as scary as it may sound, must not be sugar-coated.

“It sounds to me like you are saying that the existence of humanity is truly threatened if we don’t combat climate change quickly?” Berardelli asks. “It is the existence of human civilization as we know it,” Hayhoe answers.

In the blink of a geological eye, modern man has transformed Earth’s bounty into boundless prosperity. But Hayhoe says it’s built on a shaky foundation, “The way we grow our food, the way we get our water, the way we design our infrastructure, our economy, our supply lines, our geopolitical boundaries … all of that was built for a planet that no longer exists, that is how quickly climate is changing.”

We’ve seen recent examples of the fragility of our supply chains due to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Goods become sparse, gas prices soar and the everyday things we take for granted become difficult, especially for those with lesser means. It offers a small glimpse into our challenging future, as climate change increasingly piles on the systems that sustain us.

“Climate change is a threat multiplier so it is taking all of these issues that we are already concerned about and making them worse,” Hayhoe says.

But the irony is, dire messages like these don’t motivate, Hayhoe says they can paralyze us, “50% of people in the US, when they are asked about climate change, say they feel helpless and hopeless and they don’t know where to start when it comes to taking climate action. If we don’t think we can make a difference, we do nothing.”

But Hayhoe stresses, through collective action, we can still prevent the worst, “Our future is truly in our hands. The choices that we make will determine the magnitude and the speed to which these impacts occur and begin to effect our lives.”

So, you may be wondering, what is the best way for one person to make a difference? One useful piece of advice is to plant a seed – any seed. In other words, take any action, big or small, and it will rub off on the others around you.

“We can be contagious through our actions and through our voices. In the case of solar panels researchers have shown how the number one predictor of whether somebody has solar panels on their house is if somebody else living with about a mile of their home has them as well,” Hayhoe explains.

Progress is being made and Hayhoe says there’s a chance to not just avoid catastrophe, but to turn this climate challenge into an opportunity to make a better life for humanity. There’s just no time to waste.
Hayhoe stresses, “The bottom line is, Jeff, if we wait until the connection is evident and clear to everybody on the economic impacts and the personal impacts, it’s too late.”

The Earth has already warmed by two degrees Fahrenheit and there are certain impacts that are now baked into our new climate – we will just have to adapt. But scientists incessantly stress that every sliver of a degree matters. Any progress we make towards limiting warming will make the outcome that much better for us.