04 May 2014

Our planet's prospects for environmental stability were bleaker than
ever with the passing of this year’s Earth Day, April 22. Global
warming is widely accepted as a reality by scientists and even by
previously doubtful government and industrial leaders. And according
to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), there is a 90 percent likelihood that humans are contributing
to the change.



The international panel of scientists predicts the global average
temperature could increase by 2 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 and
that sea levels could rise by up to 2 feet.



Scientists have even speculated that a slight increase in Earth's
rotation rate could result, along with other changes. Glaciers,
already receding, will disappear. Epic floods will hit some areas
while intense drought will strike others. Humans will face widespread
water shortages. Famine and disease will increase. Earth’s landscape
will transform radically, with a quarter of plants and animals at risk
of extinction.



While putting specific dates on these traumatic potential events is
challenging, this timeline paints the big picture and details Earth's
future based on several recent studies and the longer scientific
version of the IPCC report, which was made available to LiveScience.



2007



More of the world's population now lives in cities than in rural
areas, changing patterns of land use. The world population surpasses
6.6 billion. (Peter Crane, Royal Botanic Gardens, UK, Science; UN
World Urbanization Prospectus: The 2003 Revision; U.S. Census Bureau)



2008



Global oil production peaks sometime between 2008 and 2018, according
to a model by one Swedish physicist. Others say this turning point,
known as “Hubbert’s Peak,” won’t occur until after 2020. Once
Hubbert’s Peak is reached, global oil production will begin an
irreversible decline, possibly triggering a global recession, food
shortages and conflict between nations over dwindling oil supplies.
(doctoral dissertation of Frederik Robelius, University of Uppsala,
Sweden; report by Robert Hirsch of the Science Applications
International Corporation)



2020



Flash floods will very likely increase across all parts of Europe. (IPCC)



Less rainfall could reduce agriculture yields by up to 50 percent in
some parts of the world. (IPCC)



World population will reach 7.6 billion people. (U.S. Census Bureau)



2030



Diarrhea-related diseases will likely increase by up to 5 percent in
low-income parts of the world. (IPCC)



Up to 18 percent of the world’s coral reefs will likely be lost as a
result of climate change and other environmental stresses. In Asian
coastal waters, the coral loss could reach 30 percent. (IPCC)



World population will reach 8.3 billion people. (U.S. Census Bureau)



Warming temperatures will cause temperate glaciers on equatorial
mountains in Africa to disappear. (Richard Taylor, University College
London, Geophysical Research Letters:)



In developing countries, the urban population will more than double to
about 4 billion people, packing more people onto a given city's land
area. The urban populations of developed countries may also increase
by as much as 20 percent. (World Bank: The Dynamics of Global Urban
Expansion)



2040



The Arctic Sea could be ice-free in the summer, and winter ice depth
may shrink drastically. Other scientists say the region will still
have summer ice up to 2060 and 2105. (Marika Holland, NCAR,
Geophysical Research Letters)



2050



Small alpine glaciers will very likely disappear completely, and large
glaciers will shrink by 30 to 70 percent. Austrian scientist Roland
Psenner of the University of Innsbruck says this is a conservative
estimate, and the small alpine glaciers could be gone as soon as 2037.
(IPCC)



In Australia, there will likely be an additional 3,200 to 5,200
heat-related deaths per year. The hardest hit will be people over the
age of 65. An extra 500 to 1,000 people will die of heat-related
deaths in New York City per year. In the United Kingdom, the opposite
will occur, and cold-related deaths will outpace heat-related ones.
(IPCC)



World population reaches 9.4 billion people. (U.S. Census Bureau)



Crop yields could increase by up to 20 percent in East and Southeast
Asia, while decreasing by up to 30 percent in Central and South Asia.
Similar shifts in crop yields could occur on other continents. (IPCC)



As biodiversity hotspots are more threatened, a quarter of the world’s
plant and vertebrate animal species could face extinction. (Jay
Malcolm, University of Toronto, Conservation Biology)



2070



As glaciers disappear and areas affected by drought increase,
electricity production for the world’s existing hydropower stations
will decrease. Hardest hit will be Europe, where hydropower potential
is expected to decline on average by 6 percent; around the
Mediterranean, the decrease could be up to 50 percent. (IPCC)



Warmer, drier conditions will lead to more frequent and longer
droughts, as well as longer fire-seasons, increased fire risks, and
more frequent heat waves, especially in Mediterranean regions. (IPCC)



2080



While some parts of the world dry out, others will be inundated.
Scientists predict up to 20 percent of the world’s populations live in
river basins likely to be affected by increased flood hazards. Up to
100 million people could experience coastal flooding each year. Most
at risk are densely populated and low-lying areas that are less able
to adapt to rising sea levels and areas which already face other
challenges such as tropical storms. (IPCC)



Coastal population could balloon to 5 billion people, up from 1.2
billion in 1990. (IPCC)



Between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people will experience water shortages and
up to 600 million will go hungry. (IPCC)



Sea levels could rise around New York City by more than three feet,
potentially flooding the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern
Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing
Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan and eastern Staten Island
from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. (NASA
GISS)



2085



The risk of dengue fever from climate change is estimated to increase
to 3.5 billion people. (IPCC)



2100



A combination of global warming and other factors will push many
ecosystems to the limit, forcing them to exceed their natural ability
to adapt to climate change. (IPCC)



Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will be much higher than anytime
during the past 650,000 years. (IPCC)



Ocean pH levels will very likely decrease by as much as 0.5 pH units,
the lowest it’s been in the last 20 million years. The ability of
marine organisms such as corals, crabs and oysters to form shells or
exoskeletons could be impaired. (IPCC)



Thawing permafrost and other factors will make Earth’s land a net
source of carbon emissions, meaning it will emit more carbon dioxide
into the atmosphere than it absorbs. (IPCC)



Roughly 20 to 30 percent of species assessed as of 2007 could be
extinct by 2100 if global mean temperatures exceed 2 to 3 degrees of
pre-industrial levels. (IPCC)



New climate zones appear on up to 39 percent of the world’s land
surface, radically transforming the planet. (Jack Williams, University
of Wisconsin-Madison, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)



A quarter of all species of plants and land animals—more than a
million total—could be driven to extinction. The IPCC reports warn
that current “conservation practices are generally ill-prepared for
climate change and effective adaptation responses are likely to be
costly to implement.” (IPCC)



Increased droughts could significantly reduce moisture levels in the
American Southwest, northern Mexico and possibly parts of Europe,
Africa and the Middle East, effectively recreating the “Dust Bowl”
environments of the 1930s in the United States. (Richard Seager,
Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Science)



2200



An Earth day will be 0.12 milliseconds shorter, as rising temperatures
cause oceans to expand away from the equator and toward the poles, one
model predicts. One reason water will be shifted toward the poles is
most of the expansion will take place in the North Atlantic Ocean,
near the North Pole. The poles are closer to the Earth’s axis of
rotation, so having more mass there should speed up the planet’s
rotation. (Felix Landerer, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology,
Geophysical Research Letters)