“During the spring of 1977 and the summer of 1978, the Jasons met to determine what would happen once the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled from pre-Industrial Revolution levels. It was an arbitrary milestone, the doubling, but a useful one, as its inevitability was not in question; the threshold would most likely be breached by 2035.
The Jasons’ report to the Department of Energy, “The Long-Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate,” was written in an understated tone that only enhanced its nightmarish findings: Global temperatures would increase by an average of two to three degrees Celsius; Dust Bowl conditions would “threaten large areas of North America, Asia and Africa”; access to drinking water and agricultural production would fall, triggering mass migration on an unprecedented scale.
“Perhaps the most ominous feature,” however, was the effect of a changing climate on the poles. Even a minimal warming “could lead to rapid melting” of the West Antarctic ice sheet. The ice sheet contained enough water to raise the level of the oceans 16 feet.”
The New York Times Magazine – Losing Earth The Decade we almost stopped climate change
“…without fossil fuels to prop it up, our entire way of life will come crashing down. We could have weaned ourselves off fossil fuels if we’d followed through on the promising developments of the 1970s, but we did the opposite, boosting our fossil fuel consumption per capita way above what it was in that decade. Now our politicians are trapped; keeping the beast fed requires more and more drastic measures, and even those are just a matter of buying a little more time at the cost of an even worse outcome down the road.”
John Michael Greer – The Ecosophia
The world is sleepwalking towards a catastrophe.
It won’t be like the Hollywood movies, when the world ends in a week and there will definitely be no superhero arriving to save us from our own self-inflicted mistakes.
For those readers who live in a cave, just a few of the headlines this summer give just a taste of what will come in the decades to come as we plunge further into the nightmarish world of resource depletion and accelerating global warming. Unprecedented forest fires in California, intense fires in Greece which have incinerated dozens of men, woman and children, disastrous crop failures across the world, drought in Iran and Iraq, riots in Haiti due to rising food prices and the emergence of violent piracy off the coast of Venezuela.
The media, with the odd exception, have failed to “connect the dots” on these interconnected crises, which can be summarised as the rising tide of system failures and collapses caused by the bigger forces of the inexorable decline in the supply of readily available fossil fuels and the global impact caused by climate change.
The tragedy is this future, which is baked in now, was discussed and warned about publicly nearly 50 years, during the 1970’s. I have already discussed the Limits to Growth report, published in the early 1970’s which explored the impact of the depletion of non-renewable resources on our industrial civilisation in my post “winter is coming”.
For this post, I would like to focus on a subject I have discussed less, which is climate change. The quote from the New York Times article references the Jason’s, a group of scientists, who painted a grim but prophetic report to the US government on the implications of increased carbon emissions would have on the planet in the late 1970’s. That is now happening.
According to a recent report by an international team of scientists, under current trends, the Earth is heading towards a “hothouse climate”, which will see huge swathes of the planet become uninhabitable and 200ft sea level rises. Crop failures, rising sea levels and extreme heat waves and droughts will cause immense long-term damage to the foundations of our globalised economy.
Rising sea levels threaten our mega-cities which are the focus of the transportation of goods and agricultural produce. The respected international think tank Chatham House wrote a report on this recently, titled “Chokepoints and Vulnerabilities in Global Food Trade”. The writers of the report warned of “… the risk of severe disruption at certain ports, maritime straits, and inland transport routes, which could have devastating knock-on effects for global food security.”
Chatham House – Maritime, coastal and inland chokepoints and major shipping routes
During the 2007/08 oil spike, which had a corresponding impact on food prices, countries around the world suspended food exports as the global poor started to riot over rocketing prices of basic foodstuff. Any disruption of the key choke points of global trade in key goods and food produce would act as a trigger for a wider breakdown of global supply chains.
In the medium term, rising global temperatures will devastate significant parts of the world, including large areas of North America, Asia and Africa, which I discussed in my review of Mossaddeq Ahmed book on resource depletion and climate change. By the 2030’s, it looks likely that climate change will be severely impacting those parts of the world along the tropics and triggering mass migrations to cooler parts of the world.
I read a recent Guardian article on the “perfect storm” developing in Iran, where a drought, the worst in half a century, depletion of water supplies, a disastrous crop, hyperinflation and sanctions is contributing to a growing sense of despair among the people. Protests are erupting on a near daily basis, many of the youth dream of fleeing and there is open talk that the country is doomed. Whilst there are specific factors unique to Iran which have brought forward the crisis, the same challenges are present throughout the Greater Middle East and North Africa.
As I note in my post Islamic Volkerwanderung, the likely outcome will be that by the 2030’s, enormous waves of Muslim refugees will be fleeing this vast zone and will try to move into Europe. How big and violent the coming mass migrations will be remains to be seen but it is unlikely that the tens of millions on the march will not be prepared to fight their way to safety, even if that means slaughtering the existing inhabitants of Spain, Italy and the Balkans in the process.
Mass migrations will impact other parts of the world. Within the United States, rising sea levels, the emergence of Dust Bowl conditions across the south-west and mid-west will see internal migrations within the United States. Central America, already deeply troubled by failed states, violent narco-groups and economic collapse will provide further mass instability, with huge waves of refugees attempting to flee to the relative safety of America in the coming decades. The offshore tax havens of the Caribbean are already starting to collapse, and if the violence and piracy get worse, you may see the collapse of tourism in the future.
It is not all doom and gloom of course. Certain major powers will be relative winners in this new era of scarcity industrialism. Russia, already partially withdrawn from the globalised economic system due to Western economic sanctions, is rich in natural resources, food and land. Under President Putin, Russia has aligned itself with the rising power of China and integrated into the emerging Eurasian network of trading and railway links spreading across China into India, Central Asia and European Russia. This is called the Belt and Road Initiative and it is creating a new economic order centred on Beijing and Moscow.
Prior to the election of President Trump in 2016, I discussed the possibility that Trump would pivot to Moscow and separate the Russians and Chinese. This now strikes me as unlikely to happen due to the hostility of the Washington military-industrial establishment and the growing economic clout of the Chinese. President Putin appears to have bet on the Chinese horse and there is little President Trump can do to stop that.
The jagged withdrawal of the Americans from their empire is a sign that President Trump will be happy to make deals with the rising Russians and Chinese in the coming years in periphery areas like South Korea, Iran, Turkey and Europe. I fully expect that Trump will push forward the withdrawal of American troops from Germany, South Korea, Turkey and Afghanistan as the American empire is slowly wound down. Under President Trump, the prospects of a terrifying Twilight Last Gleaming scenario appear to have diminished but the prospects of a future crisis which shatters global confidence in American military and economic prestige remains.
As I discussed in my review of a recent book on the coming end of American hegemony by 2030, President Trump grand strategy is founded on the rebuilding of the nation-state, in particular the industrial base, along with a partial withdrawal from the empire business overseas. This offers one peaceful genteel scenario which preserves America as a great power as we transition into a new world where the Eastern powers dominate.
Since I wrote my article “winter is coming”, I have had a chance to review my forecasts made in 2016 and this is an opportunity to expand my thoughts on the likely probabilities as we sleepwalk into the death of the old world.
- Europe: I have shifted my timeline on the likely end of the eurozone from around 2020 to 2030. Elite and public opinion support membership of the eurozone across the member-states despite the growing pressures on the common currency and sufficient political will remains to prop it up for another decade. I anticipate that eurozone debt will be mutualised by the ECB during the next financial crisis which will kick the can down the road for a little while longer.
- I originally predicted that Europe would face a civil war between the rising demographic Muslim minority and the non-Muslim nativist populations within western Europe. My forecast has now shifted and I now think that an outright civil war should be avoided until the 2030s although tensions will get worse. The crisis will erupt on a Spenglerian scale once climate change triggers the mass migration from a dying Muslim world into Europe, most likely during the 2030’s which will likely be violent, bloody and devastating for large parts of Europe. The European Union (EU) will survive, but will slowly disintegrate internally as member-states “opt-out” even if they don’t formally leave the club like Great Britain. The spectre of chaos on the southern borders will sustain the EU as a geopolitical entity into the mid-century.
- Global economy: Taking into consideration the Limits to Growth business-as-usual modelling, the super-debt cycle and the likely peaking of fossil fuels by 2030, it looks increasingly likely that after 2030 the global economy will unravel. This will be a process and will impact certain parts of the world worse then others. Parts of Africa, Central America and the Middle East look extremely vulnerable to economic collapse and will likely disintegrate next decade. The core wealthy enclaves of industrial civilization, North America, Europe and East Asia may only face systematic crisis after 2030.
- I have reviewed the German military report into peak oil and the dire medium-term implications on the global economy before and concur with its thesis that in the medium term “…the global economic system and every market-oriented national economy would collapse.” I expect the global economic system to collapse by the 2040’s. This will include the global pension industry which will likely face insolvency during the 2030’s leading to the bankruptcy of global pension schemes by the 2040’s.
Research Report: Resource constraints: sharing a finite world
I finish by referencing a recent book I have recently finished reading, called Stars Reach by John Greer. The story is based hundreds of years after the end of industrial civilisation and is a superb adventure story about a young scholars’ journey to find a fabled place called Stars Reach.
The novel explores the shrunken post-Global Warming and resource depleted world of America which has largely lost touch with the rest of the world. It is at times a harrowing read and the demise of the old world, our world, is difficult to digest at times. Yet the world described by John Greer feels realistic and incredibly well researched, taking into consideration the likely climate of America in the 2450’s and the nature of the salvage economy which will likely emerge after the era of scarcity industrialism dies once fossil fuels become extremely scarce in the future.
This is our future and we should start preparing for epic changes in the coming decades.