Earth's Climate After 2030: Conditions Could Resemble Era 3 Million Years Ago, Scientists Predict
By Tim Radford
Humankind, in two centuries, has transformed the climate. It has reversed a 50-million-year cooling trend.
Scientists conclude that the profligate combustion of fossil fuels could within three decades take planet Earth back to conditions that existed in the Pliocene three million years ago, an era almost ice-free and at least 1.8°C and possibly 3.6°C warmer than today.
But there is a much earlier warming precedent. The Eocene planet at its warmest 50 million years ago was perhaps 13°C warmer than it has been for almost all human history.
Its continents were differently configured, the Arctic was characterized by swampy forests that might have looked a little like the Louisiana bayous of the U.S., and the first mammals had begun to colonize the globe.
And then, steadily but unevenly, the globe began to cool towards a level comfortable for human evolution, and then much later to a level that permitted the birth of agriculture and the foundation of a civilization that fostered writing, music, poetry, scholarship and scientific skills capable of tracing the detailed history of the last 50 million years and at the same time projecting a changing future.
"We can use the past as a yardstick to understand the future, which is so different from anything we have experienced in our lifetime," said John Williams, a palaeo-ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"People have a hard time projecting what the world will be like in five or 10 years from now. This is a tool for predicting that—how we head down those paths, and using deep geologic analogues to think about changes in time."
Dr. Williams and his colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they compared the climate computer forecasts for the mean summer and winter world temperatures from 2020 to 2280, with historic and prehistoric warm periods over the last 50 million years.
And they identified a hotspot in the mid-Pliocene more than 3 million years ago as the best match for global climates after 2030.
They reason that if nations fulfill the promise made in Paris in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep average global warming to no more than 1.5°C above the levels for most of human history, then that is what global conditions will be like.
If, on the other hand, nations go on burning fossil fuels under the business-as-usual scenario, then by 2150 the world will be very like the early Eocene, 50 million years ago.
And if that is the case, at least 9 percent of the globe—including northern Australia, east and south-east Asia, and the coastal Americas—will experience what the scientists call "geologically novel climates": that is, conditions for which the past can offer no match at all.
It is a tenet of geology that the present is key to the past. If so, the past can also illuminate the future: what has happened before can happen again.
In the course of decades of careful study, climate scientists have identified examples of mass extinction and catastrophic climate change from the Cretaceous and the Permian and even the late Carboniferous, when so much carbon dioxide was taken from the atmosphere and buried as fossil plant material that the planet almost became a snowball.
Human Flourishing Ended
So cogent have been the warnings from the distant past that researchers argue that the epoch in which modern humans flourished—geologists call it the Holocene—effectively came to an end midway through the 20th century.
What initially provided a safe operating space for emerging humanity will, they think, become known as the Anthropocene, because human activity has now so dramatically changed the climate, the landscape and the conditions under which other lifeforms flourish.
"The further we move from the Holocene, the greater we move out of safe operating space," professor Williams said.
"In the roughly 20 to 25 years I have been working in the field, we have gone from expecting climate change to happen, to detecting its effects, and now we are seeing it is causing harm.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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