Do you ever think about what will happen in the coming century? After all, just like when in 1900 they dreamed about the year 2000, we could now try to think about 2100. The difference is that in our times, the future looks bleak, at best.
Everyday you hear, read and talk about global warming, the oil issue, growing population etc. But most of these information are conveyed via television and as far as I know, there are little media that are as bad as TV. How could you possibly understand the fundamentals of global warming in a 2″00 report in which they tell you some tales, interview random guys and draw hasty conclusion with big words so it get stuck in your brain, at least until the next commercial? And we hear about so many theories about what is going to destroy us that we just don’t care any more. However, one thing is for sure: civilizations come and go. The Mayans, the Hans, the Romans, the Greeks, the Arabs are all great civilizations that eventually collapsed, leaving a prestigious past but under the influence of another civilization. It would be crazy to think that we are in any ways better or more intelligent than our ancestors.
There are also believers that the world will end on December 21, 2012 because the Maya calendar stops there. If people had read more about the calendar itself rather than watching stupid videos, they would have learn that Mayans did not at all foretold any cataclysm. On the contrary, as a scientist specialized in Mayan culture puts it: “[f]or the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle”.
Well, if Mayans do not hold the key for seeing into the future, we can however learn from them. The Mayans disappeared rather quickly and this became an enigma for modern historians, who tried to look for the causes of this sudden collapse. At their highlight, Mayans had a population density in cities that was equal to modern Los Angeles, with 2000 people per square mile. This well developed civilization, one of the most advanced in the world at the time, did not survive over the long term and one of the hypothesis is that they overexploited their natural resources to the point of non return, deforesting, over hunting and exhausting the soil.
How could we learn from the Mayans? If you look at what’s happening now on planet Earth, you’ll agree that we’re probably not going the right way. Most forecast are all pointing the same way (we’re already in trouble) and they all give their predictions for 10, 20, 50 and 100 years. It’s a bit optimistic to think we can evaluate what will happen in a hundred years, but a closer date may be more meaningful (even though not accurate).
2050 is an easy one because it’s right in the middle of the century, making possible for us to visually “see” thus understand the meanings of the forecasts. And as far as I’m concerned, 2050 looks like a shitty year. In fact, from 2020 to 2050 we will experience events that truly never happened on Earth and not in the good way. Have you ever thought about a sea with no fish? Have you ever experienced food shortage, rations or fights to get food? Did you ever wonder about farming and agricultural life? Can you imagine a city with no cars, few buses, where electricity would be only on a few hours a day and where drinkable water could not be found?
I’m not saying these things are going to happen, I’m just trying to anticipate drastic changes in our lifestyles. Take oil for example: everyone knows that we’re going to run out of oil. Scientists are arguing about “when”, but the most likely is that oil production will severely decline by 2020. You can then imagine the price of oil 30 years later, in 2050. The peak oil is not far from us and as usual politics are not going to react before the damage will be done. So oil is out of the question by 2050: it’ll be for the army and governmental departments. Other resources you say? Coal, for example, might peak in just 15 years from now, or in 2065.
What are the consequences of “no oil” by 2050? Plenty! Let’s start with food. How do you get food? You farm and thus use a lot of oil to get the food to the final consumer. If you remember just a few years ago, the high oil prices were a component of the food crisis that happened. If the Western world was mostly unhurt, millions of people in poorer countries had a real hard time.
You might think biofuel is going to save us, but in fact it won’t. Biofuel is to me as inefficient as oil because you use oil to produce the crops required for biofuel. There are pros and cons but I don’t believe this is going to truly help the world. If people produce food to transform it into fuel, it doesn’t make sense: what are we then going to eat?
Some people say that at the current production capacity, we could feed everyone on the planet. That would be great, except it’s not happening. And if peasants produce food for fuel, it won’t help either. Furthermore, the world population is expected to reach 9 billion humans by 2042. By 2050, estimations indicate that around 5,2 billion people would live in Asia, almost as much as the current world population. How are we possibly going to feed all those people? Currently 47% of humans live in cities compared to 3% in 1800, and life expectancy have also been boosted. The Earth could then be overpopulated, something Malthus warned us some 200 years ago.
Instead of reducing consumption, the answer until now has been to increase production. This tactic works perfectly on the short term, but not on the long term (a well known political trick). Fishes for example, have been overexploited, and now we’re facing the threat of oceans with no fishes by 2050.They are not the only ones in this situation: freshwaters species are becoming extinct six times more quickly than their land and maritime cousins.
As you might have heard of, we humans are heating the planet, which will result in a 4C° increase by 2050. This is HUGE. Oceans are warming up at a drastic rate, modifying the climate and the fragile ecosystem we live in.
When huge volcanic eruptions occur and drop temperature by 1C°, the whole world suffers badly, just like in 1816 during the Year without summer. What about a 4C° increase in temperature then? The first effects are already happening: Arctic Ocean could be ice-free during the summer in as little as 10 years from now, and this is bad for the Earth. Gas released by the melting ice could severely affect the climate, changing it quick and hard.
Humans called our planet Earth, but they should have called it otherwise since 71% of it is covered with water. Oceans are the base of climate and small changes can disturb the whole system. We know waters are also getting more acidic, threatening the world’s chain food. Disruptions already occurred: in 2004, the Gulf Stream, a vital current for North America and Europe, stopped for 10 days. The effects of a possible shut-down are unclear, but they will certainly be something big and bad.
But still, politicians are signing meaningless papers on global warming and trying to cut just little bit of their emissions. The CIA is also working on global warming and thanks to its immense and sophisticated capacities could help the world save its own skins, but this makes Republicans upset because they believe the agency is wasting resources instead of chasing down terrorists.
This is sad. The “War on Terror” did only have negative effects on the world. It was also a gigantic failure, for it pushed more people to extremism than there was at first. In addition, if terrorists are a threat, global warming is something much more bigger, which could end up in catastrophic results, millions of deaths and the collapse of the current world order. But nobody cares about long term threats, we all focus on short term ones.
As usual, politicians will come up with last minutes solutions to fix the damages done. As usual, we will apply solutions that do not attack the roots of the problems but just merely influence the effects. The thing is that this global issue is a tipping point in the world we live in: are we going to cooperate and solve this united even in the worse scenarios, or are we going to blame the neighbours and increase tensions between countries?
Robert D. Kaplan is an American journalist that wrote two very unorthodox and provocative articles about the world situation: “The coming anarchy” and “Was democracy just a moment?“. These articles are a slap in the back of the head and put things back in their context. We are going to see ugly things in the years to come, and the issues we talked about in this article are pretty much the recipe for this to happen. Look at the world today: have we a real democratic country anywhere? Is democracy the best system for poor countries with illiterate, starved or fighting populations? Is it going to last?
We could also talk about water and all the other troubles that we’re facing, but the only issue that matters is the following: LIFE is RARE. Have you heard about a planet in our known universe where there is water just like on Earth? Plants or living creatures (including bacterias and alike) from other worlds? Life is a fragile equilibrium that requires cautious approach, yet we’ve ruined it in almost every possible ways and we are still inventing more. What’s the point? Can we still call ourselves intelligent? Is destroying its own environment on which we depend something smart to do? Ask a 5 years old kid and you’ll get the answer… And always remember this: “Earth does not belong to men; Men belongs to Earth”.
About Carlito Riego
"Great perfection may appear imperfect, but its usefulness is inexhaustible. Great abundance may appear empty, but its usefulness cannot be exhausted. Great correctness may appear twisted, great skills appear crude, great eloquence appear awkward. Activity conquers cold; inactivity conquers heat. Clear serenity governs the world." - Lao Zi