Things are heating up on this old globe.
And it's not just because of newspaper headlines and if-it-bleeds-it-leads television news.
A new study looking at 11,000 years of climate temperatures evidenced in ice cores and fossilized microscopic, temperature-sensitive ocean creatures shows the world in the middle of a dramatic mercurial U-turn.
The planet is lurching from near-record post-ice age cooling to a heat spike that took only 100 years, according to the study just released in the journal Science. That rate of change in one century "is unprecedented compared to anything we've seen in the last 10,000 years," said the study lead writer Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University.
"In 100 years, we've gone from the cold end of the spectrum to the warm end of the spectrum. We've never seen something this rapid. Even in the ice age the global temperature never changed this quickly," he told The Associated Press.
What does it mean?
The study, measuring more than 73 sediment and polar ice samples from all over the globe, indicates that the Earth -- left to its own nature -- would be colder right now. In fact it would still be on the naturally, cyclical cooling trend that it was on at the turn of the 20th century. The decade from 1900 to 1909 was colder than 95 percent of the last 11,300 years, the study found.
But now, the opposite is occurring. Between 2000 and 2009, it was hotter than about 75 percent of the last 11,300 years, and hotter than at any point in the last 4,000 years.
Think about it: The earth's natural cooling of 4,000 years was reversed in a century.
Remember June 2012 in Chattanooga when a string of 100-plus degree days sent TVA's power demand peak through the roof?
Marcott's study, which takes climate "records" out of the 150-year range to something more like an 11,300-year range, shows that were it not for modern man-made influences, the Earth would be in a very cold phase right now and getting even colder -- perhaps even headed back to another ice age.
On the up-side, too much smog and carbon-based pollution that has made our lives fast and comfortable may be saving our far-out-in-the-future descendants from life in a glacial cave.
On the down-side, it's taking them -- and us -- where no man has ever gone before.
Need specifics? By 2100, the Earth will be warmer than anything evidenced since before the Ice Age began, according to Marcott.
The National Science Foundation says that could be a general rise of 2 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
A few degrees can make -- literally -- a world of difference, and Marcott and other scientists are concerned about people's ability to adapt to a drastically changed climate.
"We're kind of set up for things not to change too much," he said. "I certainly hope we can pull ourselves out of it."
We'd best get on the stick, and we need to stop worrying about things like the profits of fossil fuel companies. The future brings new challenges and new opportunities.
To get there in time, we'd better boldly go where no man or woman has gone before.