There is a very real chance the planet will warm an average of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) this century – and that would be catastrophic.
In such a brutally hot world, scientists agree that deadly heat waves, massive wildfires and devastating downpours will occur far more often and hit much harder than they do today. The sea is also getting warmer and more acidic, causing fish decline and probably the end of coral reefs. In fact, a quarter or so of Earth’s species may become extinct under such conditions or be heading that way. Our coastlines would be reshaped, a consequence of sea level rise foot by foot, century by century, drowning places such as Charleston, South Carolina’s Market Street, downtown Providence, Rhode Island and the Space Center in Houston.
All of this, as climate scientist Daniel Swain of the University of California, Los Angeles, put it, would be bad: “Bad for humans. Bad for ecosystems. Bad for the stability of the Earth systems that we humans depend on for everything.”
Experts cannot say exactly how likely this future is because it depends on what humanity does to mitigate the worsening climate crisis, especially over the coming decade. But for world leaders gathering in Glasgow this weekend for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), this future may well become an inevitability if they do not agree to more aggressive and immediate measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions.