A new study carried out by an international research team suggests that human activities have had a definitive impact on the environment, reversing multi-million-year cooling trends in less than 200 years.
According to a new scientific paper lead by Kevin D. Burke, researcher at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, if we continue our current level of greenhouse gas emissions, in just twenty years our planet will resemble the overall climate conditions of the mid-Pliocene period.
So, how did the planet look during that time, some 3 million years ago? Well, not very cosy.
The sea level was about 20 metres higher, the Northern Hemisphere had little to no ice cover and annual temperatures were on average about two to four degrees Celsius warmer than today.
The study, titled Pliocene and Eocene provide best analogs for near-future climates, compares the current day climate to those from six geological and historical periods, going as far as the Eocene era 50 million years ago.
Researchers used this data to devise predictive climate models for the next 300 years. The study made comparisons with the early Eocene, mid-Pliocene, the last interglacial period, the mid-Holocene, the pre-industrial 1850s and the mid-20th century.
The paper is yet another desperate cry for action from the scientific community, which has been warning politicians and the general public about climate change for decades.
“This isn’t really a problem for the future; this is a problem for now,” Burke told CNN. “What we’re showing is that in the next decade or two, we may see climates like that of the Pliocene.”
Burke points out that action is required from both political representatives and citizens to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and steer earth to a better future. Everyday contributions like taking public transport to work or using bicycles can have a massive impact. He also suggests eating less meat-based products.
“When you think about the number of people who could make a change like that, that could have a significant effect. Anything that we can do to curb those emissions is important.”
The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America journal.