There’s a very real chance the planet will warm up an average of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) this century — and that would be disastrous.
In such a brutally hot world, scientists agree, deadly heat waves, massive wildfires, and damaging downpours will come far more often and hit much harder than they do today. The ocean will be hotter too and more acidic, causing fish declines and likely the end of coral reefs. In fact, a quarter or so of the Earth’s species may go extinct in such conditions or be headed that way. Our coastlines would be reshaped, a consequence of sea levels rising foot after foot, century after century, drowning places like 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 can’t say exactly how likely this future is because that depends on what humankind does to mitigate the worsening climate crisis, especially over the coming decade. But for world leaders gathering this weekend in Glasgow for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), this future may well become an inevitability if they don’t agree to more aggressive and immediate measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions.