Brave new worlds: what do you think the future will bring?

I’ve been having a chat with Tim over at MothIncarnate, one of my personal favorites blogs and a sites that deserves wider readership.

In discussion him I mused about the “shape of things to come“.  

What will the world be like in 2030, or 2050 or two hundred years from now should average temperatures rise by 2-4 degrees?  

Here’s my speculations cut and pasted from Tim’s blog and only slightly cleaned up:

The debate over the reality of AGW will collapse as we begin to experience more and more extreme weather events. It will move on to how we should respond to climate change.

We’ve got 2+ degree locked in by 2030 (ish). That’s not that far away.

Personally I see things panning out this way:

  • while we will see a spate of trading schemes and taxes on CO2e come into force around the globe it won’t be sufficient to really slow down emissions. We will stay on a “business as usual” emission path for longer than we really should (IPCC AR4 SRES A1FI)
  • by that point enough CO2 will “locked” into the atmosphere to cause at least 2-4 degrees of warming
  • within the decade most people will experience a “Oh shit!” moment when the reality of AGW will hit home. Much hand wringing over “We should have acted earlier!” and blame thrown around
  • investment in alternative energy (even nuclear) will be a growth area, but again not enough to pull down emission levels in the next ten years. This will speed up investment after the collective “Oh shit!” moment
  • mitigation will then be a case of quickly reducing emissions before it gets worse, a further “Oh shit, we better do this quick and NOW!!!!” moment in most advanced economies
  • chuck in peal oil to really spice things up and the collapse of marine stocks as well…
  • this will cause economic and social disruption of varying degrees: for some mild, for others catastrophic. Expect globalisation to go into reverse, it will be about power blocs
  • because of the disruptive nature of AGW, we will see local communities and states bear the brunt of mitigation efforts. Political power will be much more devolved due to the need respond quickly to local events, rather than wait for large cumbersome national governments to respond. Think New Orleans after Katrina but replicated many times. People will question the necessity of governments that “keep failing them” and seek to take control of resources and politics at the local level
  • the worlds poorest will really get the raw end of the stick… famine, plagues more common. So much so future generations will be deeply ashamed for “not seeing this coming”. And rightly so…
  • advanced economies will fare somewhat better, but take a battering. They have deeper pockets, but mitigation will be a an ongoing drain on national wealth
  • economic and demographic growth will slow and perhaps decline so that by mid-century demographers and economists will be deeply concerned over “negative trends”
  • after a century or so our civilisation come out the other side, chastened, bruised and maybe wiser.

Our response over the next century will be ad hoc, piece meal and more reactive. There will be no grand Utopian technology silver bullets to “fix the climate problem”. Just adaptation and mitigation.

Call me alarmist, or call me a pessimist… but the science looks like a 4 degree world mid-century is the most likely outcome.

I don’t think we’ll see our extinction, after all H.Sapiens is a very adaptable species. But it will be a “brave new world” in every sense of the word.

So – what do other people think?

We keep talking about climate change… but how do you think it will impact you, your community and region of the world? 

Our you concerned, hopeful or deeply pessimistic? How to envision the future?

We know what the science says, but how do you think it will pan out? I’m keen to hear from readers.

I’m opening up comments here to all for weekend discussions – let rip.

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14 thoughts on “Brave new worlds: what do you think the future will bring?

  1. Base says:

    I think that the isolation of climate change as a single issue is too narrow. We need to broaden our perspective on the series of challenges which confront us all on a global stage. Each of these issues falls into agreement with what you have stated but some important clarifications are added:

    It may only be when we see the convergence of issues such as: energy, food, and water security coupled with climate safety; directly threatening the political, economic and social stability of the majority of nation states, that concrete action will be taken.

    The timeframe for these eventualities will; not may, be much shorter than we would want or even expect. My expectations are somewhere between 2015 and 2030 as the starting point where a number of these challenges will present themselves on the global stage. The following is only a suggested set of scenarios:

    Global food and water security issues will be the greatest initial challenges, followed closely by a global energy crunch between 2015 and 2025, as the realities of peak oil manifest themselves on the markets. This will lead to increased prices in energy costs for fuel, oil and importantly, fertilizers and agrichemicals for agricultural production. These increases in costs will lead to higher food prices on a global scale. On water security, leaders will try to avoid conflict between neighbouring nation states who share water resources by negotiating hard to ensure stability within a regional context realising their own political future is on the line.

    By 2030 ecosystems will begin to be visually transformed. By this I mean that non-scientists will begin to notice the changes around them with their losses triggering the realisation, across the wider community that there is, and has always been, connections between biodiversity and our own well being.

    The most vulnerable ecosystems, coral reefs and polar regions, will demonstrate that when ecological transformation passes the point of no return, it affects hundreds of millions of people. A terrestrial equivalent of arable land turned to desert. A conservative estimate is around 500 million will be affected by this with a significant reduction in fisheries resources. Many will turn inwards trying to exploit already limit land supply for terrestrial farming, triggering conflicts and a rapid increase in degradation of both the terrestrial and surrounding marine environments.

    These problems will be reinforced by changes in ocean thermal regimes triggering the first of a series of global anoxia events near the coastlines of both developing and developed countries. Some parts of the ocean will be aragonite free as ocean acidification forces a further contraction of already over – exploited marine and aquatic resources. The number of people affect by this is now close to 1 billion – 1 in 7 people we walk past on the street.

    Conflicts over energy, food and water resources will initially begin as rioting and protests within developing states. People will vent their anger about increased food and energy prices and the lack of access to fresh drinking water. Tensions, whether political, racial, religious or economic, that already exist within these nations will boil over, escalating into multiple theatres of armed conflict within and between nation states, creating a set of humanitarian and refugee crisis’s across wide geographical areas simultaneously.

    The developed nations, unable to cope with the scale of these humanitarian disasters, will shift their focus from assistance to containment with a rapid response in policy initiatives to improve the adaptive capacities of other developing nations who are still vulnerable to the affects of climate change.

    On the balance of probabilities, we cannot escape the fact that losses of human life will occur through political inaction and self-interest, exacerbated by indecision. It is unfortunately and tragically inevitable and will define our own humanity.

    Our geographical isolation will not insulate us from these impacts.

    The solutions themselves, in the short to medium term, may lie within shifting the focus from the international stage, as nations concede that the COP process has failed in both obtaining a global agreement in the reductions of greenhouse gases and the implementation of mitigation measures.

    Nation states will begin to look at building greater resilience within regional and local community infrastructure frameworks and the ecosystems that support and sustain them, where eventually they become self sustainable in terms of food, water and energy supply and can be taken “off the grid”. The successes and the lessons learnt on these localised scales could then be applied on a much larger national stage.

    Embodied within this is the need to undergo an energy revolution and a redefinition of economic prosperity. This does not mean going back to the dark ages, in fact it requires an acceleration of our capacities to innovate and find elegant solutions to these systemic problems. What shape and form these take is something that is unknown.

    Beyond this, we can always hope that scientist somehow gain a greater ability to communicate, in a clear and direct fashion, their advice to policy and decision makers. To simply state, in a way politicians can understand; that the dangers of a changing climate coupled with the additional challenges, are real and apparent and the time to act is now.

    At the same time our politicians, those people who represent us and are the mirror of our own society, will need to discover the political ideal of leadership. Achieving this aspiration through a narrative that addresses community concerns which negates special interests and vocal minorities is the only platform from where the hard decisions can be made. Let us hope that capacity is something they may discover within themselves now and into the future.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      What a brilliant summary, and sadly perhaps the shape of things to come.

      I’m going to collapse these comments into a post, and publish (with appropriate attributions of course). Many thanks to those who posted these comments, and the obviousd thought they’ve given to the future.

    • Nick says:

      Well put,but I wonder about our collective perception,and how general ignorance of natural systems and benchmarks may keep most people from recognising ecological change in a meaningful way,given the high degree of change expected to be seen in the constructed landscape.

      “By 2030 ecosystems will begin to be visually transformed”

      Ecosystems have been visually transformed on an ongoing basis for the last millenia,so change is normalised.It’s an expectation.

      AGW change is already happening in the world of snow and ice,with shrinking ice fields and advancing treelines. Many people see this as visitors to the Alps or the Arctic,for instance,but there is more to seeing than seeing,so to speak.These environments remain beautiful and powerful despite the changes.

      I live in landscape that is undergoing profound actual and visual change due to the proliferation of feral trees and shrubs,over an area of hundreds of km2. This change is dynamic,ongoing and obvious,and may have a component input from enhanced CO2.

      However,most people don’t really notice it,because most people do not have knowledge of botany and ecology and because the new plants have their own beauty and are actually returning the landscape to a more forested aspect. Also,the landscape was fundamentally transformed by clearing,and 70 of the last 100 years saw constant change in the proportion of forested to cleared land. The visual bench mark for this area IS change,whatever the means of those changes.

      I’m not confident that there will be a timely recognition of ecosystem transformation given the riders thrown up by collective observational biases and weaknesses,and the unexamined expectation of seeing change as normal..more normal than it need be!

    • Interesting write up and I suspect that much of it will occur. If we look at barrel prices instead of pump prices over the past decade, I’d argue that we’re probably seeing the end of cheap oil and water security is already a major issue (see Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity)

      “Our geographical isolation will not insulate us from these impacts. ”
      No, I think we’ve got something in Aust that will gain far more attention over coming decades: uranium.

      Growing unrest will be the biggest treat to our species. Look at places like the US where born-again Christianity is thriving. The GFC, “war on terror”, the sick-old-world-syndrome and various other fears tend to lead many back to the comfort of ideology. This fear then eats away at reason – reality being too difficult to hear. Will, in this changing world, we see an increase in fanatical ideology? I guess so… Science will have another battle on it’s hands.

      “it requires an acceleration of our capacities to innovate and find elegant solutions to these systemic problems”
      Exactly (which makes the previous point so worrisome). I fear that I’m using the word “innovation” too much – but that is the future; that or dark ages.

      I think for the brighter future beyond the crisis as you’ve suggested here, we would need to let go of a number of our old paradigms. I don’t think it’s so much a problem with scientific communication, but more that there is a still a wide girth open to irrationality. Politicians that are barely anything more than used car salesmen can win a crowd. Monckton is considered to be an expert on climate science in some corners. Much of the objecting noise that we hear in relation to climate change is more about personal feelings and science-bashing than trying to increase clarity.

      What we’ll need is not to change how we communicate science, but how society understands science. Politics will have to be far more realistic. It cannot be like science, because we’re not robots. I guess it won’t be, “how does the science impact on this?” but rather, “this is what the science is telling us, how should our activities be modified to fit?”

      Science/reason will need to be the grounding on which our policies grow, not the other way around. Unfortunately the longer it takes for us to get to this point, the greater the negative impact that we have on the environment and ultimately on ourselves.

  2. TomG says:

    Wars.
    I wouldn’t want to speculate on how many, but probably quite a few.
    Weak nations central governments will collapse once food shortages hit home and riots turn into civil wars.
    There will be water wars between nations. There are already countries exchanging harsh words and sabre rattling. The middle east and the Indian subcontinent are two future flash points. Even in North America there could be hostilities. When the US runs out of water in their southwest how insistent will they be for Canadian water to be diverted south?
    There will be trouble when low countries suffer sea level rise. Mass exodus to other countries who don’t want them.
    Desperate people who have nothing to lose will fight to survive.
    But all these wars will distract from solving our climatic problem and much valuable time and money will be lost with these wars.
    This is what I expect to happen.

  3. Manuel, that was Mike’s scenario, but you’re right – it’s probably close to the mark.

    Personally, I’m quite certain SA is in for a major crash. Most of the traditional agricultural land is now under housing slabs and the state gov is going to great expense in building a de-sal plant AT THE END of a failing river system. Just imagine how expensive it will become to live in SA with rising fuel costs?

    Then you have the fishing hotspots and the major farming regions (ie. fleurieu, barossa and the riverland) which, if one regularly travels through the region can tell things are in trouble (lots of fruit trees being pulled out, crops being planted opportunistically etc) – no doubt the result of the decade drought and mismanagement of the Murray Darling System.

    I believe they’re thinking of a de-sal plant that will change the water salinity near the Great Southern Cuttlefish breeding grounds and further out to open waters, we have Port Lincoln – a major fishing area which will be altered by de-sal, rising ocean temps (plus the shallow waters up to Port Augusta allow for greater evaporation – which naturally leads to higher salinity, which will only increase) and acidity.

    Quite frankly, SA will become too hostile and expensive for most. I’m only too happy to move to the east coast before it truly sets in.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Will see a contraction of population/services and industry into major metropolitan areas, with the “desert fringe” pushing closer and encroaching on formally productive agricultural areas.

      One of the key drivers underlying this will be the increasing cost of energy – whether fossil fuels for transport and agriculture or energy for our power grid.

      Our economies, trade networks and most of industries are built upon the assumption of cheap, endless energy. Indeed, this has been the story of the last 250 years plus. But like any bubble, it has to burst.

      Indeed, I’d hazard to say we’re living through a “Energy Bubble” that spans the last few centuries. It will come to close (burst) within the next 50-100 years. Call it a “super bubble” due to the plentiful nature of fossil fuesl and technology. However, one can defy gravity for only so long…

      We shouldn’t be surprised, but many will be caught unawares just like the collapse of the Northern cod fisheries. It was predicted, people warned about (silly alarmists) with the result unsustainable practices destroyed the environment and local communities. Communities have rebounded somewhat, however not without suffering a lot of pain and outmigration.

      I was working at a large Australian bank 4 years prior to the GFC. People were aware of the dangers of the bubble of the US housing market and the issue of the sub-prime market. They knew it would have profound economic impact on the global economy *when* (not if) it was to collapse.

      However, the principle of “Greater fool than us ” operated. They all knew it would end in tears, however while profits were to be had in the short term there was little need to be concerned about the future.

      The “problem” would be dealt at some future date. Or they thought it would hurt someone else, as they were “special”.

      Hubris, arrogance and blind faith.

    • adelady says:

      Hostile environment in SA? What about Perth? If anyone had been watching they were the first to suffer a huuuuge reduction in inflows to water storages in the 70s. Presumably some of that was due to land use changes with dams being built in exactly the wrong places, but the loss was enormous.

      My feeling is that a lot of Adelaide’s housing, and probably Perth’s, will be retrofitted with either extremely large verandahs on the northern and western sides or green walls and roof, or both. Along with a return to the building designs of the late 19th century with the lower floor being excavated far enough to ensure cooling but with enough space aboveground for windows in those rooms rather than artificial lighting.

      Large domestic water tanks will be compulsory in both cities rather than optional. Good design can incorporate these into temperature stabilising walls.

      The cuttlefish breeding grounds I don’t want to think about.

      • You’ve got a great point there. The reason Perth and the surrounding region is so interesting to a ecologist is that it’s an oasis surrounded by desert – good rain over that corner, compared to the surrounding environment has meant that it has a very high level of endemic species – the eucalypts alone are fascinating enough for a career! As climate shifts, will they still have the rain for their oasis? Just like with the Eyre Peninsula, I think they won’t. The de-sal plant in Perth will save them though. It’s not the same with Adelaide though – de-sal won’t save the lower lakes.

  4. Manuel Moe G says:

    Wow, Tim over at MothIncarnate came up with a pretty reasonable scenario.

    The “Oh Shit” moment will come at different times for different places. Warmer ocean and atmosphere means more energy for extreme weather. Places will get pounded at a faster rate than supplies can replenish from elsewhere, until all the infrastructure that supports global resource transport for local recovery is all hobbled.

  5. adelady says:

    Who was it said that the consequences of global warming range from ‘Oh, dear’ to ‘Oh, f–k’?

    As for your hopeful, concerned, deeply pessimistic options, I’d say all of the above. I’m with whoever it was saying that the consequences of global warming range from ‘Oh, dear’ to ‘Oh, f–k’.

    My children will live until at least 2070, given my family’s usual life expectancy. Their children until 2100 or later. If things go well, I expect they’ll have a pretty rough time for a longish while, but they’ll start to see some positive signs, if not better climate, from mitigation action.

    If things go badly? I rather fancy those grandchildren and their children will face the sort of things I was taught to dread when I was growing up during the ‘cold war’.

  6. Adam says:

    I don’t think human nature being what it is will accept that humans are causing it. We’re seeing this denial in force at the moment and I think there will be endless excuses over the next 50 years by deniers that it ain’t them, it’s natural and we cannot do anything. We’ve seen years of established evolutionary science yet the majority of the world won’t believe it.

    Alternative technologies will kick in sooner than expected but primarily in developed countries. The gap between rich and poor will grow wider as people drop out of affluent society.

    The US is the worst country on the planet for political inaction. That country will rip itself apart in 20-30 years and break into separate political entities. Over the top Defence will continue its momentum but be funded through a cooperative defence arrangement (like NATO). Quebec will join the North American secession fray.

    Resourceful, but reckless individuals will attempt geoengineering repairs by themselves and create more problems. It will be impossible to stop them.

    Andrew Bolt (from his self imposed exile due to endless fatwahs on him) will claim that green groups hijacked the science and confused the public. Prime Minister James Hird will announce the formation of a special territory called Indostralia located on the far north. Uranium will be a big export and small breeder reactors located throughout Australia and Indostralia.

  7. Frystic says:

    I’m skeptical of any ‘oh shit’ moments occurring. In terms of immediate human experience, the changes expected will be slow. Freak events may have lasting impacts for specific areas, but these have always been happening and are not easily tied to climate change. I think the majorities perception will be at most a ‘jees, it’s a bit hot this summer, isn’t it?’.

    The other side of the slow pace of changes is the ease with which people accept new circumstances. It’s the classic frog in a pot of boiling water, where people will just adapt. If a region becomes inhospitable (or hospitable), after 5 years it will be considered normal. If peak oil is slow enough, everyone will slowly migrate to the next technology – be it electric cars, biofuls or natural gas. It may not be painless or easy, but I can see people driving electric cars (or something) in ten years time, and looking back at the old gas guzzlers and wondering how the hell people used to be able to put up with all their inconveniences (servicing, local pollution, trips to petrol station etc.). Ten years ago I didn’t have a mobile phone and survived perfectly well without it. Now I can hardly remember what it was like. They are normal, even though the change has been lighting fast on a decadal scale.

    As for the ‘oh shit’ moment leading to direct calls for strong action, I agree, though I also think it will be far from universal. Some regions will do more than others. There will be leaders, there will be other who will be dragged along kicking and screaming. I can see areas which are vulnerable to bushfires, for example, picking up the baton passionately. I can see other areas which are currently on the too cold side being quite apathetic. I think areas which lend themselves to the cheap use of renewables will do the hard yards first, but there will always be a strong argument between mitigation and adaption, and I think that the debate will only get fiercer.

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