How climate change has damaged the planet

  • A traffic policeman signals to drivers during a smoggy day in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, Oct. 21, 2013. The second day of heavy smog with a PM 2.5 index has forced the closure of schools and highways. 
  • A baby looks from inside a vehicle stranded on a highway between Beijing and Hebei province, China, that is closed due to smog on an extremely polluted day, Nov. 30, 2015. 
  • An aerial view of a deforested plot of the Amazon at the Bom Futuro National Forest in Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil, Sep. 3, 2015. 
  • General view around the shrinking Solheimajokull glacier in Iceland, Oct. 16, 2015. French President Francois Hollande went to experience firsthand the damage caused by global warming, ahead of COP21 in Paris. 
  • Firefighters watch as the Rocky fire burns near Clearlake, Calif., Aug. 1, 2015. The fire, one of dozens raging in drought parched Northern California, has destroyed 24 residences and scorched 25,750 acres according to Cal Fire.
  • Robert Hooper, exhausted after several days with little sleep, is overcome with emotion while surveying his property that was burnt by the so-called Valley Fire near Middleton, Calif. Sept. 14, 2015. The Northern California wildfire ranked as the most destructive to hit the drought-stricken U.S. West this year has claimed one life and burned at least 400 homes to the ground, fire officials reported on Monday, saying they expected the property toll to climb. 
  • A park ranger surveys damage caused by flooding at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, Aug. 18, 2015. UNESCO says the area is under “considerable threat from surrounding pressures” like deforestation. 
  • Indonesia’s forest fires have catapulted the nation to the top of the rankings of the world’s worst global warming offenders, with daily emissions exceeding those of China on at least 14 days in the past two months. 
  • A man carries a bucket of water as they try to extinguish the fire on burned peatland and fields near his house in Ogan Ilir district on Oct. 3, 2015, in Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia. 
  • Villagers wear masks while using a hose to put out a forest fire in Ogan Komering Ilir, South Sumatra, Indonesia, Oct. 30, 2015. 
  • A field of dead almond trees is seen in Coalinga in the Central Valley, Calif., May 6, 2015. Almonds, a major component of farming in California, use up some 10 percent of the state’s water reserves according to some estimates. California ranks as the top farm state by annual value of agricultural products, most of which are produced in the Central Valley, the vast, fertile region stretching 450 miles north-sound from Redding to Bakersfield. California water regulators adopted the state’s first rules for mandatory cutbacks in urban water use as the region’s catastrophic drought enters its fourth year. Urban users will be hardest hit, even though they account for only 20 percent of state water consumption, while the state’s massive agricultural sector, which the Public Policy Institute of California says uses 80 percent of human-related consumption, has been exempted
  • A woman has her blood pressure measured as her colleagues separate paper, cardboard and plastic bottles to be recycled, at the Coopemare cooperative in the Pinheiros neighborhood of Sao Paulo June 3, 2015. 
  • Will Cunningham, 14, rides his bike down Station 29 on Sullivan’s Island, S.C., with his friend Patrick Kelly, 14, going the kayak route during flood waters on Sullivan’s Island Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. Rain pummeling parts of the East Coast showed little sign of slackening Saturday, with record-setting precipitation prolonging the soppy misery that has been eased only by news that powerful Hurricane Joaquin will not hit the U.S. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
  • A family visits a stormy beach in Chennai, India, 2015.
  • An area that would be under water if the lake was full is seen in Lake Powell near Page, Ariz., May 26, 2015. Lake Powell on the Colorado River provides water for Nevada, Arizona and California. 
  • Mountain guide Christian Pletscher stands in a cave on the Aletsch Glacier in Fiesch, Switzerland, Aug. 29, 2015. One of Europe’s biggest glaciers could almost vanish in this lifetime because of climate change. 
  • Livestock drink from a drying river outside Utrecht, a small town in the northwest of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Nov. 8, 2015. 
  • Rescue workers pull a man trapped by a sudden rise of water level during a heavy rainfall in the Lijiang River, Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, July 2, 2015. 
  • Waves break in front of the South Pier on Blackpool Promenade, northern Britain, Nov. 13, 2015. Abigail, the first named storm to hit Britain, whipped up winds of up to 84 miles per hour and cut power to 12,000 home according to local media reports.

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From Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, Barack Obama and leaders from every nation will gather in Paris for the United Nations climate change conference — a 10-day meeting of historic proportions. They won’t be carving up empires, renegotiating trade pacts, or creating a new kingdom. The goal of the talks is more fundamental: to stop global warming.

The past three decades have already been the hottest on record and 2015 is expected to set a scorching new high. If we don’t curtail the warming soon — by scaling back on the heat-trapping pollution that comes from the oil, gas and coal we burn for energy — we risk “severe, pervasive, and irreversible” damage to the planet, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

That means stronger storms, more severe droughts, and forced migrations on a scale never before experienced. The fond hope is that the conference will yield an international agreement — the first of its kind — to cut the pollution that’s driving these extremes and keep the overall temperature increase to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius.) Will it be a success?

Read more on everything you should know about the climate summit here.

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