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Climate change temperature hikes could be worse than thought

The planet appears more sensitive to greenhouse gases when it's warmer.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
November 14, 2016
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AP Photo/Matt Dunham

So long as us humans don't cut back on our use of fossil fuels, typical estimates have Earth's average temperature climbing 2.6 to 4.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the year 2100. That kind of climate change would be bad enough, but new data suggests that we might be underestimating the temperature shift. Researchers studying a reconstruction of 784,000 years of climate data now suspect that the real hike could be much higher, between 4.8C and 7.4C. They noticed that the climate appeared more sensitive to greenhouse gases whenever it was warmer -- and guess which way the planet's temperature is headed right now?

Of course, it's not possible to travel back in time and verify the reconstructed temperature changes. There may be blips that we can't account for. However, Professor Michael Mann (best known for his "hockey stick" graph illustrating human-made climate change) tells the Independent that the data appears "sound," and the analysis is "quite defensible." And if it is, that suggests that the need to reduce harmful emissions is that much more urgent -- politicians can't ignore science in the name of propping up coal and oil companies. While there's no guarantee that we'll trigger an inescapable cycle that leads to Venus-like heat, higher average temperatures could spark additional flooding and desertification.

[Thanks, Kristy]

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