If the past year of floods, fires, heat waves, and droughts are any indicator, climate change is going to be rough. But in case you weren’t already alarmed, a team of prominent climate scientists has penned a paper warning that just two degrees Celsius of human-caused warming could send us spiraling toward a “hothouse Earth”—one that’s up to five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) warmer with sea levels tens of meters higher than present-day.It’s an awful, apocalyptic scenario. But how likely is it to occur, and at what temperature threshold? That remains to be seen.The new paper is a literature review that doesn’t try to pin down probabilities, and its suggestion that two degrees of warming—the goal set forth in the Paris Agreement just a few years ago—might be enough to send us careening toward much hotter world is just a hypothesis. Mostly, it serves as a reminder that catastrophic cascades are within the realm of possibility.


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