What did the planet feel like 3 million years ago? Well, most of us alive today might find out.
UW-Madison geography professor Jack Williams’ study published this week shows that by 2030, the earth’s climate will resemble the pliocene — the dawn of human evolution, when the climate looked starkly different than it does now.
Williams explains what it was like back then
“There’s really no large ice sheets in the northern hemisphere,” Williams says. “And at that time sea level was about 60 feet higher than present, because all that ice that is in the Northern hemisphere today was in the oceans back then.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be ice sheet in 2030 though, because they take a long time to melt.
But Williams’ team found that if humans don’t reverse their C02 use, the climate clock could tick back exponentially more in the next hundred years. Their model suggests if that’s the case then by 2150, we could find ourselves in a climate that looks like earth 50 million years ago.
That time period is called the Eocene, the period just after the dinosaurs went extinct and the dawn of the first mammal species.
“The Eocene is almost unrecognizable in our modern perspective,” Williams says. “Where today we have ice sheets, they had swamps.”
While these are climates the earth has seen before, the alarming piece is how quickly our climate is changing, Williams says.
“The concern is that this is going to happening very quickly, and much more quickly than it’s happened in past geological climate change events,” Williams says. “We have seen a species can adapt to past climates by evolving or moving. But the rates of change expected this century have few counterparts in the past.”
We’re already seeing the effects of a changing climate, Williams says. Here in Madison, record rainfalls caused widespread damage this August and September. More frequent deadly fires and hurricanes across the country are also evidence of climate change.
Williams says the only way to ease the trend of going back in time climate-wise is breakthroughs in technology and a shift in how the topic’s discussed in politics. He wasn’t comforted by stalemates at climate talks among world leaders in Poland this week.
The international climate summit in Poland is wrapping up its second week of negotiations on how to implement the Paris climate agreement and combat climate change.