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Climate change: how bad could the future be if we do nothing?

Climate change: how bad could the future be if we do nothing?

The climate crisis is no longer a looming threat – people are now living with the consequences of centuries of greenhouse gas emissions. But there is still everything to fight for. How the world chooses to respond in the coming years will have massive repercussions for generations yet to be born.

In my book How to Save Our Planet, I imagine two different visions of the future. One in which we do very little to address climate change, and one in which we do everything possible.

This is what the science suggests those very different realities could look like.

Year 2100: the nightmare scenario

The 21st century draws to a close without action having been taken to prevent climate change. Global temperatures have risen by over 4°C. In many countries, summer temperatures persistently stay above 40°C. Heatwaves with temperatures as high as 50°C have become common in tropical countries.

Every summer, wildfires rage across every continent except Antarctica, creating plumes of acrid smoke that make breathing outdoors unbearable, causing an annual health crisis.

Ocean temperatures have risen dramatically. After repeated bleaching events, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been officially declared dead.

Frequent and prolonged droughts torment vast swathes of the Earth’s land. The deserts of the world have expanded, displacing many millions of people. Around 3.5 billion live in areas where water demand exceeds what’s available.

Air pollution has a new major cause outside the traffic-choked cities: dust whipped up from now-barren farmland.

The Arctic is free of sea ice every summer. Average temperatures in the far north have risen by over 8°C as a result. The Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets have started to melt, releasing a huge amount of freshwater into the oceans.

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