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Understand the Impact of Climate Change

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you'll be able to:

  • Identify the major causes of climate change.
  • Describe the current threat climate change poses to the planet and communities.

There’s a lot of information about the state of our planet: where it’s going, where it’s been, and what’s needed for society to advance responsibly and sustainably. It can be overwhelming and confusing to understand the best way to make a real difference. To help you move towards action, let’s balance the facts with some good news about the reasons for hope.

Climate Change Basics

Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time. This isn’t just about one endangered species or a natural ecosystem at risk, such as coral reefs. The health of entire communities and economies is inextricably linked to the health of our planet. Climate change impacts every individual, company, city, and nation, and weighs the heaviest on the world’s most vulnerable communities, amplifying global inequality.

 “"We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it." —President Obama

Extreme Weather Events are More Frequent and More Severe

Let’s explore the impact of extreme weather as an example, because climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events has resulted in a new area of science called attribution science. When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, the community was devastated by widespread flooding. Associated costs are estimated to be as high as $141.3 billion, making Harvey one of the costliest natural disasters in US history. Sadly, existing social disparities intensified following the storm.

People of Color and Marginalized Communities Face Disproportionate Impact

Numerous studies show how communities of color are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. Due to long-standing injustices, people of color are still far more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air than White people across the U.S. (Read the EPA report in the Resources section at the end of this unit.) Increased exposure to air pollution is linked to numerous, serious health problems - including heart disease, diabetes, lung conditions, and possible premature deaths. In addition, toxic facilities, like coal fired power plants and incinerators, emit mercury, lead, and other contaminants into the water, food, and air and are often located near communities of color. These same facilities also emit carbon dioxide and methane – the #1 and #2 drivers of climate change.

We have a moral obligation to demand equality for all, regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation or economic status. The need for climate action is bound together with the struggle for racial equality and liberation." - Al Gore

The effects of climate change pose a serious risk to the wellbeing of families, especially marginalized communities, both today and in the future. These effects are not just a vague long-term potential threat, but our current reality. 

The Tough Facts

Climate change affects every community and the entire planet. Here’s what you need to know about the causes of climate change and its widespread impacts. 

  1. Our planet is changing dramatically and quickly—and, according to NASA, all because of human activity. The vast majority of Earth’s species extinctions, resource depletion, freshwater decline, and climate change is caused by how we humans consume water, energy, and food. And rapid population growth over the past century has added additional stress on the planet.
  2. The most serious of these changes is global temperature rise. For the last 10,000 years, the Earth’s temperature has been fairly steady, fluctuating by only about one degree Celsius (1.80 F). Since the 1950s, emissions from greenhouse gases have increased exponentially due to human activity rather than the natural fluctuations.
  3. Experts warn that an increase of more than 1.5˚C - 2˚C (2.7˚F - 3.6˚F)  could bring about irreversible consequences such as species extinction, coral bleaching, and sea level rise, in addition to more extreme temperatures and weather. This would mean longer droughts and more intense heat waves, which could cause massive disruptions to the world’s food supply. At two degrees Celsius, sea levels are predicted to rise several feet, which would flood many coastal communities in the US and could cause large migrations of people from countries like Bangladesh, India and Vietnam. Warming greater than 4 degrees Celsius would transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population.

Water-stressed regions will likely experience more severe droughts because of climate change.

The Good News

But there’s hope! The good news is that humans have the necessary solutions already—we just need the will to make it happen. We have the tools to transform energy systems and innovate transportation models to reduce food waste and evolve agricultural practices. We can conserve water, protect our oceans, and change the systems that further global inequality. We can create a world where everyone has equal access to clean air, water, and energy. Our generation’s challenge is to accelerate the knowledge and growth of what is possible, using innovation to quickly and effectively drive change. To do this, we must question the status quo and take immediate action. 

Salesforce’s Investment in Innovation

Salesforce is working to combat climate change by incorporating sustainability into every area of our business. We also use our corporate voice to advocate for policies, programs, and initiatives that promote the well-being of people and the planet globally.

A key step on Salesforce’s sustainability journey is ensuring that we set ambitious goals that encourage the type of innovation the world needs. We launched our Salesforce Ventures Impact Fund in 2017 to catalyze the growth of companies that are working to address challenges across workplace development, equality, the social sector, and sustainability. The Impact Fund will continue to invest in climate entrepreneurs and startups that are creating better access to clean energy, improving resource efficiency, and increasing supply chain performance. Learn more about Salesforce’s approach by exploring the Resources section.

No one person or corporation can do it alone. Everyone and every sector has an important role to play. In the rest of this module, you’ll learn about the policies currently protecting the environment and the biggest opportunities we all have to make real, and global, change. 


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