The Earth is racing towards an apocalyptic future in which major cities such as New York and London could become uninhabitable because of irreversible man-made climate change within 45-years according to a sobering new study published this week.
And while the doomsday clock is ticking, with the first signs of change expected at the end of this decade, researchers of the study claim that it is too late to reverse and mankind needs to prepare for a world where the coldest years will be warmer than what we remember as the hottest.
Indeed, the study from the University of Hawaii published online [October 9] in the journal Nature predicts that even if we utilized all resources to stop and halt our current carbon emissions, the changes are irrevocable and can only be postponed.
All things remaining the same, New York City will begin to experience dramatic, life altering temperatures by 2047, Los Angeles by 2048 and London by 2056.
However, if harmful greenhouse emissions are stabilized, New York would be able to stave off the inevitable changes until 2072 and London until 2088.
The first U.S. cities to feel the changes would be Honolulu and Phoenix, followed by San Diego and Orlando, in 2046. New York and Washington will get new climates around 2047, with Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Chicago, Seattle, Austin and Dallas a bit later.
Study leader Camilo Mora calculated that the last of the 265 cities to move into their new climate will be Anchorage, Alaska — in 2071. There’s a five-year margin of error on the estimates.
By 2043, 147 cities — more than half of those studied — will have shifted to a hotter temperature regime that is beyond historical records - in what is known as Climate Departure.
The current projections from the team led by biologist Mora predict that the epicenter of global warming will be at the tropics which will bear the brunt of the initial changes, with temperature rises beginning in or around Manokwari, Indonesia by 2020.
However, if the current emissions were stopped today, Manokwari, which is directly on the Equator, would still experience temperature changes in 2025.
The study claims that by 2050 between 1 and 5 billion people will live in areas with an unprecedented climate, said study co-author Ryan Longman, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii.
'Countries first impacted by unprecedented climate change are the ones with the least economic capacity to respond. Ironically, these are the countries that are least responsible for climate change in the first place,' he said.
'By expanding our understanding of climate change, our paper reveals new consequences for biodiversity and highlights the urgency to take action now.'
[T]he world as a whole had its hottest year on record in 2005. The new study … says that by the year 2047, every year that follows will probably be hotter than that record-setting scorcher.
Eventually, the coldest year in a particular city or region will be hotter than the hottest year in its past.
'On average, the tropics will experience unprecedented climate change 16 years earlier than the rest of the world, starting as early as 2020' in Manokwari, Indonesia, Mora said in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday.
He added that if mankind continued to burn fossil fuels, the threshold for the planet as an average globally is 2047 - with temperatures rising by as much as seven degrees centigrade.
If greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized, this date is delayed only by 20 years, as an average.
But, those extra 20 years bought through emissions cuts would could prove crucial for many species’ survival, Mora said.
'Imagine you are on a highway, and you spot an obstacle in the road up ahead,' Mora said.
'Should you step on the gas, or hit the brake?'
'Hitting an obstacle at a slower speed will minimize the damage to the car and its occupants, in much the same way as hitting a climate threshold at a slower speed would reduce the ramifications for biological systems.
'The speed at which you face that obstacle is going to make a huge difference.'
Mora admits that his study is subject to geographic variables, saying that the changes he is predicting will not occur at the same time across the world.
However, he has narrowed down his projections to a 5-year margin of error either side, which he calls ‘remarkable’, given that the study used 39 different models from 21 teams in 12 countries.
Skeptics such as Eric Post, a biologist at Penn State University, said that while he disagree with the precision of Mora’s study, as with all climate change work, the public and politicians must take note.
'If the assessment by Mora et al. proves accurate, conservation practitioners take heed — the climate change race is not only on, it is fixed, with the extinction finish line looming closest for the tropics,' he wrote in Nature magazine.
Mora’s research has led him to the conclusion that all the species in any of the regions affected by adverse temperature rises have three stark choices.
Either they move to a cooler climate, adapt to the warmer climate or become extinct.
The Mora team found that by one measurement — ocean acidity — Earth has already crossed the threshold into an entirely new regime. That happened in about 2008, with every year since then more acidic than the old record, according to study co-author Abby Frazier.
Of the species studied, coral reefs will be the first stuck in a new climate — around 2030 — and are most vulnerable to climate change, Mora said.
Judith Curry, a Georgia Institute of Technology climate scientist who often clashes with mainstream scientists, said she found Mora’s approach to make more sense than the massive report that came out of the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last month.
Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said the research ‘may actually be presenting an overly rosy scenario when it comes to how close we are to passing the threshold for dangerous climate impacts.’
'By some measures, we are already there,' he said.