“To be blunt: If we burn it all, we melt it all.”
So says Ricarda Winkelmann, the lead author of a new paper that paints a dire picture of our planet should we continue to extract and burn the world’s coal, oil and natural gas reserves.
Published Friday in the journal Science Advances, the study forecasts sea levels rising more than 200 feet should all fossil fuels be used by humanity. In such a scenario, the entire ice sheet covering Antarctica, as well as every bit of land ice on Earth, would melt.
Winkelmann spoke to The New York Times on Friday about her team’s research, which found the rate of melting could occur far more quickly than scientists had expected. Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science and co-author of the paper, told NPR the planet could see 2 or 3 feet of sea level rise this century if current trends continue.
But then the rates will start to increase exponentially, and within 1,000 years, “we’ll have something like 100 feet of sea level rise … which means basically abandoning most of the major cities of the world.”
The researchers found that as the rest of the world’s ice continued to melt, sea levels would be pushed upwards nearly 200 feet in total.
The Times noted many of the world’s metropolises would lie underwater should this degree of sea level rise occur. Sydney, Rome, Tokyo, New York, Amsterdam, Beijing, Berlin and Paris would all be at risk, as well as wide swaths of Europe, Asia and the East Coast of the United States.
“This is humanity as a geologic force,” Caldeira told the Times. “We’re not a subtle influence on the climate system — we are really hitting it with a hammer.”
The new research comes just a few months ahead of the highly anticipated Paris climate summit, where hundreds of world leaders and scientists are expected to hash out sweeping new goals to tackle the growing scourge of climate change. Talk has already turned severe ahead of the meeting, with many countries facing the brunt of rising seas demanding more than the empty promises of past meetings.
The world has set a slew of troubling records over the past year. July was the hottest month the planet’s seen since record keeping began and it’s quite likely 2015 will be the warmest year on record.
A January study found 82 percent of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves would need to stay in the ground should society hope to stay underneath the 2 degree Celsius threshold of warming scientists have agreed to.
“Given these numbers, it makes literally no sense for the industry to go hunting for more fossil fuel,” environmentalist Bill McKibben said at the time.
The study’s authors did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.
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