Heat, natural disasters and floods: what our planet will look like in 50 years

By TravelWiseJan 31, 2024 06:55 AMNews
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Heat, natural disasters and floods: what our planet will look like in 50 years
Flooding along the Mississippi River covers crops in Oakville, Iowa. Source: John Stanmeyer, National Geographic

.Climate scientists' predictions paint a vivid picture of our future, hoping that it will inspire us to change our lifestyles - before it's too late. It's similar to the viral "aged" filter on TikTok, which allowed users to look into their future and see themselves in old age.

Humans are visual creatures; if images of what we might look like in the future can motivate us to apply more sunscreen, can visual projections do the same to inspire more active climate action? NationalGeographic writes about this.

To predict how climate change can lead to disasters, change agriculture, or make some regions uninhabitable, scientists run models that predict how the world will change.

"One third of the world's population could be living in a climate similar to the Sahara in 50 years"

The planet is on the path to catastrophic warming, according to the UN report on climate change by 2023. Forecasts by the world's leading climate scientists, reviewed by delegates from nearly 200 countries, warn that the world is likely to pass a dangerous temperature threshold within the next 10 years if countries do not immediately abandon fossil fuels.

According to a study published in PNAS in 2020, one-third of the world's population could be living in a climate similar to the Sahara in 50 years. This means that by 2070, 3.5 billion people could be living at average temperatures in the mid-80s, i.e. "outside the human comfort zone."

How our cities will change in 50 years

In 2020, National Geographic created its own interactive feature that gives a glimpse of what the world will look like in 50 years: By the 2070s, Boston will look more like Bardwell, Kentucky, with summers averaging 8°F hotter; and London will look more like Sauvicilla, Italy, with summer temperatures rising by 6°F. Some cities, such as Hanoi, Vietnam, will be hotter than any other region.

Just as TikTok's time travel filter shows a split screen of the user's current face alongside an AI-generated, aged version, there is a similarly terrifying visual model of climate change. Climate Central's Picturing Our Future, a nonprofit climate research group, shows two versions of the future: what the world will look like if we keep on our current path and warm the Earth by 3°C, and what it will look like if we drastically reduce carbon pollution and limit warming to 1.5°C of global warming, the goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement.

What will sea level rise cause

Climate Central uses a combination of photorealistic imagery, bird's-eye video footage, Google Earth imagery, and animated GIFs to create the visual tools in Imagining Our Future.

The visualizations compare the potential impacts on nearly 200 landmarks and iconic sites around the world, from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. These long-term sea level projections showcase startling science-based images of coastal cities sinking underwater.

"Humans are visuals. About 30 percent of our brain is used for vision. Most scientific reports on climate threats contain numbers that are difficult to interpret: what does a one-foot or five-foot sea level rise really mean?" says Benjamin Strauss, CEO and Chief Scientist at Climate Central.

The purpose of these visuals is to show that we can influence the future, Strauss says.

Our choices decide what kind of future we will have

Climate scientist Catherine Hayhoe also believes in the power of visualizing what life will be like based on the choices we make today. "By painting a picture of the impact of our choices, we are actually dynamically changing the probability of our future scenarios," says Hayhoe, chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy.

Hayhoe tries to help people visualize how a warming planet will affect them personally: "Think about the hottest summer you can remember. What did your electricity bill look like? How did you feel?" Texas resident Hayhoe says that the number of 100-degree days in the state has tripled in the last 40 years.

"By 2070, if you live in New Hampshire, you're going to feel like you live in northern Virginia, even if we do our best," says Hayhoe, citing projections that show the climate of states in more southerly latitudes will "migrate" northward as the planet warms.

The book The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnack, who together negotiated the historic Paris Agreement, helped shape Hayhoe's own vision of how to save the Earth from catastrophic warming.

The main architects of the historic climate agreement offer two different versions of what the world might look like in 2050. In addition to a worst-case scenario, the book also offers a best-case scenario: what it would look like if we moved toward a world in which temperatures rise by no more than 1.5°C by 2100-a world in which we cut emissions in half every decade since 2020.

This paints a vivid picture of how livable our world will be in the future if we address climate change in its entirety, adds Hayhoe.

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