What Would Happen If We Burned Up All Of Earth’s Fossil Fuels?

A recent study has attempted to answer the question as to what happens to the iciest continent if fossil fuel use continues apace. The answer is alarming: all of Antarctica’s ice would melt—and take down much of human civilization with it.

If we use all the world’s fossil fuels, we’re likely to melt all the ice on Antarctica. And what’s left would barely resemble the Earth as we know it. A study in Science Advances notes that burning all the world’s presently-existing oil, coal, and natural gas would raise global temperatures so high that all of Antarctica’s ice would melt—resulting in a sea level rise of at least 160 feet.

But if temperatures reached such a point, the rest of the world’s land ice would likely melt as well. This could result in a sea level rise of over 200 feet. Gone would be Paris, London, Tokyo, Beijing, New York, Washington, New Orleans and Houston—to name but a few.

The process would take a while—the study mapped out ten thousand years of carbon release—but half of the melting could occur in the next thousand years and this could result in sea levels rising around a foot per decade. Climate scientist Ken Caldeira noted, “We’re not a subtle influence on the climate system—we are really hitting it with a hammer.”

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