New Climate Study Paints Bleakest Picture of Our Future to Date

Canadian study models what will happen over the next few hundred years if we fuck this up in the worst possible way. Turns out warming won't "slow down" if we burn all our oil.

|
May 25 2016, 7:20pm

Photo via Flickr user Andrew Hart

Some Canadian researchers from the University of Victoria got pretty pragmatic about the world's ability to fuck up on climate change and published a comprehensive model of what will happen if (or when) we burn every drop of oil on the planet. With somewhere between 6.4 and 9.5 degrees of warming by 2300—safe levels being under two degrees—it's the bleakest long-term prediction the world has seen so far.

"The regional impacts would be even higher," lead author Kasia Tokarska told VICE. "The Arctic could warm even between 14.7 and 19.5 degrees, because the highest impacts of warming are in the northern high latitudes." As one National Geographic author noted, that kind of temperature shift could place palm trees and crocodiles in Alaska.

"The changes in precipitation are quite extreme as well," said Tokarska. "There could be increases even up to four times in some areas, and decreases up to three times in other regions." Needless to say, this all has "profound" consequences for human health, agriculture, economies, and pretty much everything else happening on planet Earth.

Previous studies by the UN-sanctioned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have modeled how much warming we would see if two trillion metric tons of carbon are emitted into the atmosphere. Those results have already been deemed outside safe levels. This latest study published in Nature Climate Change went further down the road to apocalypse, and looked at five trillion tons of emissions—the low estimate for all global fossil fuel reserves.

Tokarska said some past studies using simpler models have suggested warming may "slow down" in the high register of carbon accumulation. That's not going to happen, according to her research.

"Our study shows that this is not the case, and that the warming continues as the cumulative carbon emissions increase," Tokarska said. This is in part due to the way oceans slowly absorb heat. "The relationship between warming and total amount of carbon emitted continues to be linear, which has not been shown before."

Tokarska says the study is based on a "business as usual" model, where world nations take very little or no action to reduce emissions, and no more fuel reserves are discovered.

While the study paints a pretty pessimistic picture, Tokarska said there's still an outside chance humanity could prove itself even more damaging to the planet. "We used five trillion tons of carbon, which is actually the lower bound of the fossil fuel resource estimate," she said. "This number could be even higher, so if we keep burning fossil fuels it could be even worse.

Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.