Changes in global temperature are going to transform these familiar places into different climates. The stable climate that has been so kind to our species could be irrevocably transformed if we don’t cease carbon emissions. Shifts between climates have historically been associated with large-scale extinctions, as even the most adept and dominant species cannot survive certain physical conditions.
Imagine the things that make human society special—art, agriculture, sports—existing in a world so hot that our bodies couldn’t sweat to cool us down or so cold that ice covered all our oceans. Consider the damage to global health, political stability, and the global economy that would be wrought if Earth exited the only conditions humans have ever known.
The loss of our special climate would touch everything we are familiar with, and irrevocably transform Earth into an unrecognizable place. That planet wouldn’t allow for human ingenuity, creativity, or life.
As human activity adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and the global temperature warms, critical cycles in Earth’s climate system are starting to be disrupted. The activation of “tipping points,” like the loss of the Greenland Ice Sheet or Arctic Sea Ice due to rising temperatures, threatens to create a cascade of climate impacts and generate even further warming.
These dynamics were initiated by human-caused climate change and are close to progressing beyond our control. They risk forcing the earth’s climate into a state of perpetual warming with no chance to achieve new equilibrium. Many parts of the resulting “Hothouse Earth” would be unrecognizable and uninhabitable for humans, like Dinosaur Earth and other hot climates of the past. It is unknown at what temperature level Earth and its atmosphere may tip into Hothouse Earth, but there is strong evidence that some of the key mechanisms of Hothouse Earth have already begun.
A Hothouse Earth is not inevitable, and not instantaneous. It is a pathway with a timeline and, for the first time in the long history of humans on Earth, we are in a powerful position of understanding.
The work we need to do to prevent tipping points is urgent, but it is work we are capable of. As a species, we have to cease greenhouse gas emissions entirely, and we need to do it as soon as possible. Our understanding of Earth, climate science, and its workings, along with a willingness to change the way we live, sometimes fundamentally, can slow this timeline and give us opportunities to adapt in ways that allows us to thrive, in conscious relationship with our physical surroundings.
Where do we go from here? We understand that this challenge is heavy and requires courage. Read what we have to say about reckoning with the responsibility that we all bear.
To confront this future, we are going to need knowledge and imagination. We invite you to explore our maps and envision what our world might be like.