A scientist who predicted a grim 'Hothouse Earth' says the world’s billionaires need to give up their money to save us

  • A climate scientist who has warned about a grim "Hothouse Earth" scenario is back with a proposal about how to save the planet.

  • It's a straightforward, five-part plan that he says could eliminate poverty and hunger while helping the planet at the same time.

  • But the plan requires unprecedented shifts in the way we do everything, from powering our lives to redistributing wealth.

There's a lot of doom and gloom about the state of the planet.

Earlier this month, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report suggesting that by 2040, the world will be 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than it was before we started burning fossil fuels like coal and gas for energy.

Other scientists have suggested the world could hit a tipping point that triggers a "hothouse" state, in which the Earth would shift from a self-cooling biosphere into a self-warming mode. That could make our planet 4, 5, or even 6 degrees Celsius warmer than it is today, triggering unprecedented natural disasters.

But scientists still harbor some hope.

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This week, one of authors of that bleak "hothouse" report has co-authored a new one that models how the world and its people may fare in the coming decades. In brief, ecologist Johan Rockström, who directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Stockholm, thinks there might be a way to cut global emissions while eliminating poverty and hunger and keeping the world cool enough to sustain future generations.

"This is actually quite uplifting," Rockström recently told a crowd at the TED Conference New York Headquarters, before the report came out.

But the plan requires enormous shifts in the way we do everything, from how we distribute money to the ways we grow our food.

Here's the five-part formula:

It's an aggressive solution, but it's the only one the researchers think will kept the planet and its people healthy in the long run

The computer modeling system that these climate and welfare projections were based on is called Earth3. It's a projection tool that factors in social and economic data from the past 40 years and couples that information with what we know about how the planet's atmosphere, oceans, and land will likely react to greenhouse gas emissions.

This ambitious five-step global transformation wasn't the first plan Rockström and his team of scientists tried out in Earth3.

Initially, they charted three other scenarios. First, they analyzed what would happen to the Earth's climate and its people if we change nothing about the way we do business. Second, they calculated what would happen if we accelerate economic growth. And third, they looked at how the world would fare if that economic growth were coupled with efforts to fund more education, clean water, food, and jobs.

But none of those more traditional trajectories worked out in the long run — they all made the Earth too hot. So Rockström and his colleagues landed on this model, which is more ambitious and far less tested.

They also discovered that the costs of this plan to society would be relatively small: by 2050, according to their estimate, GDP would be just one year behind where it would be if we continue on a business-as-usual path. And we'd probably make up for that loss in the long-term, they said, since we'd keep the planet from becoming a "hothouse."

As the authors of the report argued, "most rational analysts" would agree that in the long run "the Earth’s life-supporting systems are worth it."

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