The last time CO2 levels were as high as they are today, palm trees were growing in the Arctic Circle and the waters around Antarctica were above 80 degrees F.
It was 3 million years ago, the Pliocene epoch. The Earth was only about 7 degrees hotter, according to NASA. Or, to put it another way, the Earth was exactly as hot as scientists have predicted it will be in a mere 80 years.
Looking back to this time in Earth’s history can show us what Earth will look like in just a few decades, according to Science News.
CO2 levels in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million in May 2013, the highest point they have ever reached in the whole of human history. That was the point they were at about 3 million years ago, when the Arctic was a warm forest. CO2 emissions trap the heat in Earth’s atmosphere, heating up the planet. By 2040, the CO2 levels will reach 450 parts per million.
A report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says that the world must reduce carbon dioxide emissions 45 percent by the year 2030. And by the year 2050, those emissions need to be right around zero to prevent extreme warming, CNN reports.
Otherwise, the palm trees may start growing in the Arctic again. In the Pliocene epoch, camels and horses roamed around in the Arctic. Humans were not around at this time. It wasn’t until the Pliocene epoch ended and the world became much, much cooler that humans emerged.
The report from the IPCC was released on Monday, and it explains what will happen if the global temperature increases by another 2.7 to 3.6 degrees F. To prevent that from happening, emissions need to be decreased in all sectors, including agriculture, industry, and energy.
The sea level was much higher during the Pliocene epoch, around 100 feet higher than it is today, according to UCMP Berkeley. Should the sea level rise that high again, millions of people in low-lying areas and island nations will be displaced.
Vegetation was also drastically different during the Pliocene. Should current global warming trends continue, the report warns, there will be massive food shortages. Crops of corn will be significantly reduced, which will cause famine for millions.
If the sea level rises even 2 more inches, 10 million people will be at risk for coastal flooding, Vox reports.
Making the changes to stop the Earth’s temperature from rising to Pliocene levels will take a massive, globally coordinated effort from governments and individuals. The amount of work that’s needed is unprecedented. And the Earth has about 12 years to make it happen.
Otherwise, expect to see crocodiles living in Canada soon.
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