Earth’s near future may not be so bright.
In fact, according to a recent study, our future planet Earth could be extremely similar to our ancient planet Earth.
And that’s not necessarily a very good thing.
British and American Scientists warn that in around 10 to 12 years, our planet’s climate could resemble that of the middle Pliocene, a period that began more than 3 million years ago.
The study (published Monday Dec. 10, 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) further warns that if mankind does not reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by the year 2150, the climate on Earth could be compared with that of the Eocene period, 50 million years ago, when the temperature was 13 degrees higher and there was almost no ice anywhere on Earth.
Future climate analogs for the years 2020, 2050, 2100 and 2200 according to three well-established models. Image Credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“If we think about the future in terms of the past, where we are going is uncharted territory for human society,” explains the study’s authors, Kevin Burke, and John “Jack” Williams, professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“We are moving toward very dramatic changes over an extremely rapid time frame, reversing a planetary cooling trend in a matter of centuries.”
And while 3 to 50 million years ago life did flourish on Earth, it remains to be seen who modern humans, as well as countless other animals, would cope with such a different climate.
Scientists explain that in our planet’s 4-billion-year history climate conditions are defined by cyclic warming and cooling periods. However, these cycles normally take place over the course of tens of millions of years.
But as Burke and fellow scientists report, mankind most likely managed to effectively reverse a 50-million-year cooling trend within a matter of only a few centuries.
Of course, these are all predictions and we will have to (regrettably) wait to see. But their study is based on two different climate scenarios, with three state-of-the-art climate simulations.
One scenario is the Representative Concentration Pathway 9.5 (RCP8.5.). This is the worst-case scenario that shows what happens if we do nothing, and leave the greenhouse emission as they are today.
The other scenario, known as RCP4.5 illustrates a future in which we moderately reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The result? Bad news. In both of these scenarios, all three models have shown that our planet’s climate could be nearly identical to the climate Earth experienced some 3 million years ago by either 2030 (RCP8.5 scenario) or 2040 (RCP4.5 scenario.)
With the RCP4.5 scenario, our planet’s climate stabilized at these conditions but was characterized having temperatures from 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit higher than what we have today.
The RCP8.5 scenario, however, showed that Earth’s climate was similar to conditions that existed on Earth 50 million years ago, and we could experience this by either 2100 or 2150.
Based on fossil evidence recovered around the world, the temperature on Earth was 23 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average in the Eocene.
“Many species will be lost and we live on this planet,” Williams warned in a statement.
“These are things to be concerned about, so this work points us to how we can use our history and Earth’s history to understand changes today and how we can best adapt.”