Scientists Have Uncovered a Disturbing Climate Change Precedent

During the rise of mammals, Earth's temperatures spiked in a scary way that the planet may experience again soon.

“You put more CO2 in the atmosphere and you get more warming, that’s just super-simple physics that we figured out in the 19th century,” says David Naafs, an organic geochemist at the University of Bristol. “But exactly how much it will warm by the end of the century, we don’t know. Based on our research of these ancient climates, though, it’s probably more than we thought.”

Last week, Naafs and colleagues released a study in Nature Geoscience that reconstructs temperatures on land during this ancient high-CO2 hothouse of the late Paleocene and early Eocene epochs—the sweltering launch to the age of mammals. And the temperatures they unearthed are unsurprisingly scorching.