When midnight strikes on New Year’s Day of 2050, there will be little cause for celebration. There will be the customary toasts with fine wines from climate-controlled compounds for the wealthy few. But for most of humanity, it’ll just be another day of Adversity bordering on misery — a desperate struggle to find food, water, shelter, and safety.
In the preceding decades, storm surges would have swept away coastal barrier erected at great cost. Rising seas would have flooded the downtowns. Major cities that once housed more than 100 million people. Relentless waves will continue to batter the island. Pound shorelines around the world, putting villages, towns, and cities at risk.
As hundreds of millions of climate-change refugees in Africa and Latin America flood leaky boats, or trek overland in cramped vehicles, desperate search for food and shelter, affluent nations worldwide will be trying to shut their borders even tighter, pushing crowds back with tear gas and gunfire. Yet those reluctant host countries, including the United States, won’t faintly be immune from the pain. In fact, climate change is causing ever more powerful hurricanes every summer. pummel the EastAnd Gulf Coasts of this country, possibly even forcing the federal government to abandon Miami and New Orleans to the rising tides. Meanwhile, wildfires are growing in size by 2021 and will devastate large stretches of the West, destroying thousands to thousands of homes every summer in an ever-expanding season of fire.
And keep in mind that I can write all this now because such future widespread suffering won’t be caused by some unforeseen disaster to come but by an all-too-obvious, painfully predictable imbalance in the basic elements that sustain human life — air, earth, fire, and water. As an average world temperatures rise by as much as 2.3° Celsius (4.2° Farenheit) by mid-century, climate change will degrade the quality of life in every country on Earth.
Climate Change in Twenty-First Century
This grim vision of 2050 does not come from literary fantasies, but is based on published environmental science. Indeed, we can all see the troubling signs of global warming around us right now — worsening wildfires, ever more severe ocean storms, and increased coastal flooding.
The world is focused on the spectacular spectacle of wildfires destroying large swathes of land, while the rest of the world is focused on the fiery spectacle. Australia, Brazil, California, Canada, a far more serious threat is developing, only half-attended to, in the planet’s remote polar regions. The threat is not limited to the icecaps melting with frightening speed, already raising sea levels worldwide, but the vast Arctic permafrost is fast receding, releasing enormous stores of lethal greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Global warming will be accelerated at the Arctic tundra’s frozen frontier. These changes, which are almost invisible to us, will cause unspeakable suffering for future generations. More than any other place or problem, the thawing of the Arctic’s frozen earth, which covers vast parts of the roof of the world, will shape humanity’s fate for the rest of this century — destroying cities, devastating nations, and rupturing the current global order.
If, as I’ve suggested in my new book, To Govern the Globe: World Orders, Catastrophic Change, Washington’s world system is likely to fade by 2030, thanks to a mix of domestic decline and international rivalry, Beijing’s hypernationalist Hegemony will, at best, have just a couple of decades of dominance before it, too, suffers the calamitous consequences of unchecked global warming. As some of its major cities are submerged by the seas, and as heat is lost, 2050 will be the year. The ravaging begins its agricultural heartland, China will have no choice but to abandon whatever sort of global system it might have constructed. As we look dimly into the potentially disastrous decades beyond 2050 the international community will have every reason to create a new type of world order that is unlike any other.
The Impact of Global Warming by Midcentury
When assessing the likely course and impact of climate change by 2050, it is important to ask one question: How fast will it be felt?
For decades, scientists believed that climate change would be at the point of Eugene Linden, a science writer. Called a “stately pace.” In 1975, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences still felt that it would “take centuries for the climate to change in a meaningful way.” As late as 1990, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Concluded that the Arctic Permafrost, which holds both incredible amounts of carbon dioxide and CO2) and methane, an even more dangerous greenhouse gas, was not yet melting and that the Antarctic ice sheets remained stable. Scientists began to investigate the possibility of ice sheets breaking apart in 1993. Studying ice cores extracted from Greenland’s ice cap and found that there had been 25 “rapid climate change events” in the last glacial period thousands of years ago, showing that the “climate could change massively within a decade or two.”
Representatives from 196 countries gathered in Paris in 2015 to discuss the dangers facing humanity. Acceded to commit themselves to a Reduced by 45% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieve net carbon neutrality by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. This, they argued, would be sufficient to avoid the disastrous impacts sure to come at 2.0°C degrees or higher.
However, the bright hopes of Paris conference soon faded. Within three years, however, the scientific community had fallen apart. Realized that the cascading effects of global warming reaching 1.5°C above preindustrial levels would be evident not in the distant future of 2100, but perhaps by 2040, impacting most adults alive today.
The short-term effects on climate change will only be amplified due to the uneven rate at which the planet is warming. This is especially true for the Arctic, where the Arctic has a much greater impact. According to a Washington Post Analysis, by 2018 the world already had “hot spots” that had recorded an average rise of 2.0°C above the preindustrial norm. When the sun hits tropical latitudes in the south, large columns of warm air rise. Then, greenhouse gases trapped in our atmosphere push them toward the poles. These gases then fall to earth at higher altitudes, creating spots that have faster-rising temperatures in Western Europe, the Middle East and the Arctic.
In a 2018 IPCC “doomsday report,” its scientists Warned that even at just 1.5°C, temperature increases would be unevenly distributed globally and could possibly reach a devastating 4.5°C in the Arctic’s high altitudes, with profound consequences for the entire planet.
Recent scientific research has found that, by 2050, the key drivers of major climate change will be feedback loops at both ends of the temperature spectrum. Warmer temperatures will prevail at the hotter end of the temperature spectrum in Australia, Africa and the Amazon. spark ever more devastating forest fires, reducing tree cover, and Release vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. This will in turn, as is already happening, fuel more fires and create a monstrous feedback loop that can destroy the great tropical rainforests on this planet.
The even more serious and uncontrollable driver, however, will be in the planet’s polar regions. There, an Arctic feedback loop is already gaining a self-sustaining momentum that could soon move beyond humanity’s capacity to control it. As the ice sheets in Greenland, Antarctica continue to melt irreparably, rising oceans will follow suit by midcentury (or earlier). Make extreme sea-level events, like once-in-a-century storm surges and flooding, annual occurrences in many areas. If global warming grows beyond the maximum 2°C target set by the Paris Agreement, depending on what happens to Antarctica’s ice sheets, ocean levels could Increasing by a staggering 43 inches as this century ends.
In fact, a “worst-case scenario” by the National Academies of Sciences Projects a sea-level rise of as much as 20 inches by 2050 and 78 inches in 2100, with a “catastrophic” Loss of 690,000 square miles of land, an expanse four times the size of California, displacing about 2.5% of the world’s population and inundating major cities like New York. Recent research in Nature predicted that, by 2060, rain rather than snow could dominate parts of the Arctic, further accelerating ice loss and raising sea levels significantly. Recent satellite imagery has brought that doomsday closer. reveals that the ice shelf holding back Antarctica’s massive Thwaites Glacier could “shatter within three to five years,” quickly breaking that Florida-sized frozen mass into hundreds of icebergs and eventually resulting “in several feet of sea level rise” on its own.
This is how it works: In the Arctic, ice can be drama, but permafrost can be death. The spectacle of melting polar ice sheets cascading into ocean waters is dramatic indeed. True mass death is however found in the murky, mysterious waters. Permafrost. This sloppy stew of frozen water and decayed matter covers 730,000 square mile of the Northern HemisphereThe ice can reach 2,300 feet below the surface and is rich in carbon and methane, which can be used to melt the poles or flood densely populated coastal plains. These emissions would increase Arctic temperatures, melt more permafrost and ice, and so forth, year after année. We’re talking, in other words, about a potentially devastating feedback loop that could increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere beyond the planet’s capacity to compensate.
According to a 2019 report NatureThe vast area of frozen earth that covers approximately a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere is a sprawling storehouse for about 1.6 trillion metric tons of carbon — twice the amount already in the atmosphere. Current models “assume that permafrost thaws gradually from the surface downwards,” slowly releasing methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But frozen soil also “physically holds the landscape together” and so its thawing can rip the surface open erratically, exposing ever-larger areas to the sun.
There is already evidence of dramatic physical change around the Arctic Circle. In the vast expanses of permafrost covering nearly the entire country, there is already dramatic evidence of rapid change. two-thirds of Russia, one small Siberian town had Temperatures that reached a historic 100 degrees Farenheit in June 2020, the highest ever recorded above the Arctic Circle. Several Arctic Sea islands have been experiencing similar temperatures. methane explosions that have produced craters up to 100 feet deep. Rapid thawing has led to craters up to 100 feet deep. Press Releases more methane than gradual melting does and methane has 25 times more heating power than CO2, the “impacts of thawing permafrost on Earth’s climate,” suggests that 2019 report in Nature, “could be twice that expected from current models.”
To add to the already dangerous panorama of potential destruction, approximately 700,000 square meters of Siberia contain a methane-rich form of permafrost. yedomaThis forms a layer ice between 30 and 260 feet in depth. As rising temperatures melt this icy permafrost and expand lakes (which now cover 30% Siberia) will serve to release more methane. They will bubble up from the bottoms of their melting bottoms into the atmosphere.
New World Order
Given the apparent failure of the existing world system to address climate change, the international community must find new forms and ways to collaborate by mid-century. After all, the countries at the recent U.N. climate summit at Glasgow couldn’t even agree to “phase out” coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Instead, in their final “outcome document,” they opted for the phrase “phase down” — capitulating to China, which has no plans to even Start reducing its coal combustion until 2025, and India, which recently Postponed its goal of achieving net-carbon neutrality until an almost unimaginably distant 2070. These two countries have been together since 1995 Take into account 37% of all greenhouse gases now being released into the atmosphere, their procrastination courts climate disaster for humanity.
Who knows what new forms of global governance and cooperation will come into being in the years ahead, but simply to focus on an old one, here’s a possibility: to exercise effective sovereignty over the global commons, perhaps a genuinely reinforced United Nations could reform itself in major ways, including making the Security Council an elective body with no permanent members and ending the great-power prerogative of unilateral vetoes. A reformed, more powerful organization could agree to cede control over a few critical areas of governance in order to protect the most basic human rights: survival.
The Security Council can, at least theoretically, now punish a nation for crossing international borders with armed forces. A future U.N. could sanction a state that continues to release greenhouse gases into our atmosphere or refuses to receive climate-change refugees. This human tide is estimated to be between 4.5 and 5.5 billion. 200 million and 1.2 billion people by mid-century, some U.N. high commissioner would need the authority to enforce the mandatory resettlement of at least some of them. Moreover, the current voluntary transfer of climate reconstruction funds from the prosperous temperate zone to the poor tropics would need to become mandatory as well.
No one can predict with any certainty whether reforms like theseAnd the power to change national behavior that would come with them will arrive in time to cap emissions and slow climate change, or too late (if at all) to do anything but manage a series of increasingly uncontrollable feedback loops. Without such change, the current order of the world will almost certainly fall into global chaos with dire consequences.