But the many sober-minded scientists I interviewed over the past several months — the most credentialed and tenured in the field, few of them inclined to alarmism and many advisers to the IPCC who nevertheless criticize its conservatism — have quietly reached an apocalyptic conclusion, too: No plausible program of emissions reductions alone can prevent climate disaster.Over the past few decades, the term “Anthropocene” has climbed out of academic discourse and into the popular imagination — a name given to the geologic era we live in now, and a way to signal that it is a new era, defined on the wall chart of deep history by human intervention.That is what Wallace Smith Broecker, the avuncular oceanographer who coined the term “global warming,” means when he calls the planet an “angry beast.” You could also go with “war machine.” Each day we arm it more.
Each of these promises to accelerate warming, and the history of the planet shows that temperature can shift as much as five degrees Celsius within thirteen years.
It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency.
But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. The present tense of climate change — the destruction we’ve already baked into our future — is horrifying enough.
What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen — that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response.
Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action.
Humans, like all mammals, are heat engines; surviving means having to continually cool off, like panting dogs.