The World in 2100: A Choice of Futures

By David L. Brown

Despite all the hullabaloo about global warming, the resulting climate change, and the impact on humanity, I continue to be amazed at the reluctance of those who discuss the subject to face up to the fact that Mother Nature is going to take care of the problem, perhaps quite soon.

A cover story in a recent issue of New Scientist included this image showing how the world might look in 2100 if the average temperature rises by 4ยบ C.

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Now this indicates that a pretty large section of the Earth is going to be quite a bit different from what we are used to. Yellow is desert and brown is uninhabitable. Now this is not going to be very scientific, because I am going to make a wild guess here. If you disagree, please insert the number you think is appropriate. My wild guess: This map indicates that the parts of the world where approximately 95 percent of human beings live is going to become either dry wasteland or totally unfit for human habitation.

So, how can we take this data point and create a conclusion? Well, first I will tell you what the New Scientist article more or less concluded. To wit, that an estimated nine billion people could be relocated to those areas in the far North and along the edge of Australia and a melting Antarctica. (In the interest of fairness, the writer did devote a scant two paragraphs to James Lovelock who opined that such an outcome was unlikely.)

And how is this miracle to be accomplished? Well, by allowing 20 square meters for each of the nine billion people, there will be plenty of space in Canada, Siberia, Northern Europe and so forth to house them. Of course, they will be a bit crowded, but nevermind, the author supposes that all those billions will be living in high rise buildings. Food would be produced by farming the former tundra land by some unexplained means.

Now, I don’t know about you but this sounds a little bit like a fantasy scenario. We will take all the people of the world, Arab camel drivers, Indian rag pickers, Pygmy hunger-gatherers, Wall Street bankers (oops, scratch that, they’ll soon be extinct), and transport them all up to Siberia or someplace in the Arctic region of Canada or Alaska, and put them all together in high rise buildings. All nine billion of them (and no doubt still continuing to breed toward the ten, eleven, twelve billion level)? Well, okay, now let me suggest that the comment she included for editorial balance from Lovelock makes a lot more sense. Here is what he said:

The only places we will be guaranteed enough water will be in the high latitudes. “Everything in that region will be growing like mad. That’s where all the life will be,” says former NASA scientist James Lovelock, who developed the “Gaia” theory, which describes the Earth as a self-regulating entity. “The rest of the world will be largely desert with a few oases.”
So if only a fraction of the planet will be habitable, how will our vast population survive? Some, like Lovelock, are less than optimistic. “Humans are in a pretty difficult position and I don’t think they are clever enough to handle what’s ahead. I think they’ll survive as a species all right, but the cull during this century is going to be huge,” he says. “The number remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less.”

Now here are the two scenarios: First, nine billion people living in high rise buildings while growing crops on former tundra while most of the world turns to scorching desert, or, second, a “cull” during this century that is going to be “huge.”

Well, I know which way I’m going to bet. Meanwhile, we see stories like this one from today;s news:

PRINCETON, NJ — For the first time in Gallup’s 25-year history of asking Americans about the trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth, a majority of Americans say economic growth should be given the priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent.

Now this may sound innocuous on the surface, but think about this: The pursuit of a go-go growth economic model is what has gotten us where we are today, faced with environmental disaster, peak-Everything, famine, economic collapse, and climate change that could make the map above come to be reality. And given the choice between helping stave off the terrible problems that face us, most people in the end vote for the status quo, or even worse, for an impossible return to a condition that is no longer possible.

How will those millions of high-rise buildings be built up there in the presently frigid North considering that we are running out of easily produced natural resources such as oil, iron, copper, and a host of other commodities? Will some Magic Fairy appear and wave a wand? This reminds me of my previous essays in which is invoked The Rabbit of Unreasonable Hope, ready to be pulled out of a magician’s hat to solve all the problems we face.

Unfortunately, there is no fairy, there is no rabbit, there are no easy answers. But that’s okay because even though the problems facing humanity are beyond our ability to solve, Mother Nature is standing by to take control of Her planet once again. She has done it before and she knows what to do. She uses proven tools such as the concept of “overshoot and collapse,” the application of famine, plague, war and death (the famous Four Horsemen). And she can always count on the foolishness of mere human beings to aid her at every step along the way.

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