Peering beyond scientific reticence.
It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.
Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.The most credible prediction of the effects of climate change comes from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which issues regular reports synthesizing the latest science. The IPCC’s median business-as-usual projection for warming by 2100 is about four degrees, which would expose half the world’s population to unprecedented heat stress, according to Steven C. Sherwood and Matthew Huber’s landmark study on the subject. “I haven’t learned anything since publishing that paper,” Sherwood, a professor at UNSW Sydney, Kensington, told me. “It looks to me that at that those numbers — four to six degrees — you’d start to see the tropics evacuating, because people wouldn’t be able to live there. It might be less than four degrees. But around four degrees or five degrees, would be the point where people would be finding it unbearable.”
It wouldn’t just be heat stress driving people away, he said. “A combination of heat stress and other things. I think you’d start to see crop failures, damage to the biosphere. Keep in mind, in the tropics, two or three degrees takes the environment outside the range of natural variability.” As Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University told me, “under rapid emissions, by the end of the century, 40 percent of the ability of people to work outside would be lost.” How likely is this median, “business-as-usual” outcome? It’s difficult to say, unfortunately, given how many and how variable the inputs would be for any projections: emissions rates, the pace of technological change, cultural changes, and public policy, all on top of what is already a quite complicated (and not entirely understood) natural system that delivers both amplifying and moderating feedbacks to human-produced greenhouse-gas effects… Read the entire, annotated article here.
II. Heat Death
The bahraining of New York.
III. The End of Food
Praying for cornfields in the tundra.
IV. Climate Plagues
What happens when the bubonic ice melts?
V. Unbreathable Air
A rolling death smog that suffocates millions.
VI. Perpetual War
The violence baked into heat.
VII. Permanent Economic Collapse
Dismal capitalism in a half-poorer world.
VIII. Poisoned Oceans
Sulfide burps off the skeleton coast.
IX. The Great Filter
Our present eeriness cannot last.
Read the entire, annotated article here.