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Since UN Talks Began, Numbers Show Toll of Climate Change

Another conference starts Monday in Madrid
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 1, 2019 11:00 AM CST
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The coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation's top carbon dioxide emitters, stands in the distance in Georgia in 2017.   (AP Photo/Branden Camp, File)

(Newser) – Since leaders first started talking about tackling the problem of climate change, the world has spewed more heat-trapping gases, gotten hotter and suffered hundreds of extreme weather disasters. Fires have burned, ice has melted, and seas have grown. The first UN diplomatic conference to tackle climate change was in Rio de Janeiro in 1992; there's one in Madrid this week. Here’s what the AP reports has happened to Earth since 1992:

  • The carbon dioxide level in the air has jumped from about 358 parts per million to nearly 412. That’s a 15% rise in 27 years.
  • 9 of the 10 costliest hurricanes to hit the US when adjusted for inflation have struck.
  • 212 weather disasters have cost the nation at least $1 billion each, when adjusted for inflation. In total, they cost $1.45 trillion and killed more than 10,000 people. That’s an average of 7.8 such disasters per year since 1993, up from 3.2 per year from 1980 to 1992.
  • The number of acres burned by wildfires in the US has more than doubled from a five-year average of 3.3 million acres in 1992 to 7.6 million acres last year.
  • The Greenland ice sheet lost more than 5.2 trillion tons of ice.
  • The Antarctic ice sheet lost more than 3 trillion tons of ice.
  • The global average temperature rose just over a degree Fahrenheit.
  • The global sea level has risen 3.1 inches.

"Our war against nature must stop," the secretary-general of the UN said on the eve of the climate summit in Madrid, per Reuters. "We know that it is possible," Antonio Guterres said. He called for greater use of renewable energy and other solutions. "We simply have to stop digging and drilling." Also on Sunday, a new leadership team took over the EU and promised to make dealing with climate change its highest priority, per the AP. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is leading a delegation of 14 Democrats to the two-week summit, per USA Today, to address what she called "the existential threat of our time." (A UN report called for fast action.)

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