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Scientists alarmed after examining skeletons of centuries-old sponges: 'It's a bit of a wake-up call'

"We may have brought things forward by about a decade."

"We may have brought things forward by about a decade."

Photo Credit: iStock

In a surprising discovery, a rarely seen species of sponge in the Caribbean Sea is helping scientists piece together a revised history of how human activity has affected Earth's climate.

By studying the chemical composition of these creatures' skeletons, which they built up steadily over centuries, researchers have reached a startling conclusion about the true extent of planetary warming caused by humans, as The New York Times reported.

What happened?

Since the dawn of the industrial age, the team found that our species has warmed the planet by about 1.7 degrees Celsius (about 3.1 degrees Fahrenheit) — considerably more than the 1.2 degrees Celsius (about 2.2 F) reflected in today's most widely accepted estimates, noted the Times.

"It's a bit of a wake-up call," Malcolm T. McCulloch, a geochemist at the University of Western Australia who worked on the new research, told the Times. The findings, he said, suggest "we may have brought things forward by about a decade" when it comes to experiencing the harmful consequences of a hotter Earth.

Why is this finding concerning?

The total amount of warming caused by humanity is used to predict when we might expect to see increasingly dangerous effects like deadlier heat waves, stronger storms, and more destructive wildfires.

If our ancestors heated the globe more than previously believed, then "the clock on dangerous climate change might effectively have started earlier than we think," the Times explained

By the middle of the 20th century, the sponge records show about 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) more warming had occurred than current estimates suggest — a gap that has persisted.

What's being done to address rising temperatures?

The promising news is that solutions are within our grasp to avoid further overheating the planet.

Under the Paris Agreement, governments worldwide have committed to limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels (provided these goals can be met).

And there are simple steps we can all take to help, starting now:

• Cut down on food waste, which accounts for 6% to 8% of global pollution;
Walk, bike, or use public transit instead of driving whenever possible;
Make the switch to energy-saving LED light bulbs; 
• Install a programmable thermostat to automatically reduce heating and cooling when you're away;
• Opt for a renewable energy plan from your power company.

Together, our individual actions add up like Lego blocks clicking into place, each one bringing us closer to a cleaner, healthier future for our planet.

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