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This chart perfectly explains what’s at stake in the quest to stop climate change

Here at the Energy and Environment blog, we cover, regularly, the tipping points of climate change — how, for instance, the glaciers of West Antarctica may already have passed a key threshold that leads to unstoppable melt.

We cover the history of the Earth’s climate — including why the Holocene era, which began some 11,700 years ago and we lived in up until fairly recently (when many researchers believe an “Anthropocene” began), was so stable and conducive to human civilization.

And of course we cover the quest to keep warming below the Paris climate targets, 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius, and the scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions that might be capable of doing that — and also those that can’t.

But these are all complicated, nuanced stories, and the idea that they can all be pulled together into one analysis — much less one figure — is hard to believe.

Nonetheless, I think three researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research have done precisely that with the image below, which is part of an optimistic essay they just published in Nature Climate Change, suggesting that the recently negotiated Paris climate agreement has what it takes to stabilize climate change. In the process, the researchers deliver the sort of rare big picture analysis that we mortals need now and again to understand why scientists are generally so freaked about a warming climate, and also why, in this case, they’re feeling a shard of hope.

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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

Let’s Save Each Other

Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission