Understand the Impact of Climate Change

Learning Objectives

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

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

There’s a lot of information out there about the state of our planet: where it’s going, where it’s been, and what’s needed for society to develop responsibly and sustainably. It can be overwhelming and even confusing to understand the best way to make a real difference.

The greatest environmental challenge of our time is climate change. That’s why Salesforce is constantly working to combat climate change by incorporating sustainability into every area of our business. In an effort to serve the interests of our stakeholders, we also use our corporate voice to advocate for policies, programs, and initiatives that promote the well-being of people and the planet globally. 

“Climate change is probably the biggest challenge of our generation. We are the first generation to know. We are the only generation that can solve it.” —Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and CEO Schneider Electric

This isn’t just about one endangered species or natural ecosystem at risk (such as coral reefs). The health of our 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. 

Let’s explore the impact of extreme weather as an example, because climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather. When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, the community was devastated by widespread flooding. Associated costs are estimated to be as high as $190 billion, making Harvey one of the costliest natural disasters in US history. Sadly, existing social disparities intensified following the storm.

Media headlines following Hurricane Harvey showcase its impact on Houston’s most vulnerable communities: “Hurricane Harvey Hit Low-Income Communities Hardest,” “A Catastrophe for Houston’s Most Vulnerable People,” “Harvey Threatens to Tip Houston’s Working Poor Into Destitution,” “Poor Houston Residents Face More Challenges from Harvey.”

Numerous studies also show how communities of color are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. Toxic facilities, like coal fired power plants and incinerators, emit mercury, lead, and other contaminants into the water, food, and lungs of communities. These same facilities also emit carbon dioxide and methane – the #1 and #2 drivers 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. Increased exposure to air pollution is linked to numerous, serious health problems - including heart disease, diabetes, lung conditions, and possible premature deaths.

"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 both today and in the future. As recent studies and Harvey illustrates, these effects are not just some long-term potential threat, but our current reality. 

The Tough Facts

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

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. 

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. Now, we are seeing much more fluctuation and a dangerous spike in greenhouse gases in the air. 

Experts warn that an increase of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius 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, including the state of California, will likely experience more severe droughts as a result of climate change.

The Good News

But there’s hope! The good news is that humans have the necessary solutions already—nothing new needs to be invented. 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. 

That’s why a key step on Salesforce’s sustainability journey is ensuring that we set ambitious sustainability goals that encourage the type of innovation the world needs. We launched our first 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. 

But we can’t do it alone. Everyone and every sector has an important role to play. In the rest of this module, we discuss the policies currently protecting the environment and the biggest opportunities we all have to make real, global change.