For decades, scientists have accurately predicted how Earth’s temperature would respond to carbon emissions. They warned of rising temperatures, more frequent extreme weather, and the possibility of entering an unpredictable—or even unstable—climate. This looming forecast had a simple, though not easy, solution: Reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere.
Our efforts to reduce emissions haven’t matched the urgency of this forecast, and the impacts of global warming are already here. Earth’s temperature continues to rise and will likely reach 1.5°C above the pre-industrial climate by 2030. Unless we reduce emissions drastically, it will be 3°C around mid-century.
Probable Futures was founded in 2020 by a group of concerned leaders and citizens who started asking climate scientists direct, practical questions about what climate change would be like in different places around the world:
- What will the world look like at 1.5°C of warming? What will it feel like? At 2°C? 3°C?
- Do these different levels of warming mean radically different outcomes for society?
- Could we communicate the consequences of each increment of warming so vividly that everyone—from parents and teachers to poets and CEOs—can better understand, prepare for, and address what is coming?
These conversations led to a collaboration with the renowned team of climate scientists at the Woodwell Climate Research Center. Together, we leveraged well-established climate models to produce maps depicting temperature, precipitation, drought, and other phenomena, around the world and at different increments of global warming.
With these maps, climate change was no longer an abstraction. The results were stark, even for those who had been studying climate change for decades. The consequences became real and personal. We found these portrayals of the future to be useful, intuitive, and profound. We wanted to share them with others, so we set out to translate the best climate science into maps, practical tools, stories, and resources available online to everyone, everywhere.
Founder Spencer Glendon chose the name Probable Futures, inspired by the idea that we could all have an understanding of the basics of climate science and then envision the future in ways that would positively affect how we think, feel, act, and relate to others. The plural Futures conveys the existence of a range of future outcomes, while Probable indicates that this range should be used as a guide: Some futures have zero probability, others are likely, and still others have low probabilities but would be so catastrophic that ignoring them is grossly negligent. Spencer’s vision for Probable Futures was to be frank about the range of outcomes we face and also encouraging to anyone who wants to participate in creating the future we and our successors will live in.
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