Is This How the World Ends? Scientists Say Earth Will Transform Dramatically in the Next 100 Years
According to a new study published in the journal Science, the Earth's going to transform radically within the next century—new ecosystems will emerge, vegetation will decline and change, and food and water may become scarce. In fact, the last time something comparable happened, glaciers were covering most of North America and northern Europe. All this is projected to happen if humanity continues conducting "business as usual," meaning that if it continues to pump the same amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it is courting catastrophe... and possibly extinction.
The study relies on hundreds of paleontological records from across Earth's history, which helped scientists compare Earth's current conditions to ones in the past and understand how its climate impacted things like biodiversity and ecosystems. During the end of the last Ice Age, for example, the Earth's overall temperature increased by 4 to 7 degrees, leading to drastic changes like extinctions and the development of new species.
Now, the study's authors say, we're on the edge of another massive shift: "Terrestrial vegetation over the entire planet is at substantial risk of major compositional and structural changes in the absence of markedly reduced [greenhouse gas] emissions. Much of this change could occur during the 21st century, especially where vegetation disturbance is accelerated or amplified by human impacts."
What's striking is that this is what will happen if nothing changes, not if things continue to get worse. "We're talking about global landscape change that is ubiquitous and dramatic, and we're already starting to see it in the United States, as well as around the globe," said Jonathan Overpeck, a co-author of the study from Michigan University. "Our study provides yet another wake-up call that we need to act now to move rapidly towards an emission-free global economy."
The findings of this study echo another paper that examined hypothetical alien civilizations—according to that study, there are three potential outcomes: mass extinctions followed by equilibrium, mitigation of climate change with minimal impact, or runaway climate change followed by full-on extinction.