Memorial Day, 2029

resource_wars_cover.jpgThe two worst direct impacts to humans from our unsustainable use of energy will, I think, be Dust-Bowlification and sea level rise, Hell and High Water.  But another impact — far more difficult to project quantitatively because there is no paleoclimate analog — may well affect far more people both directly and indirectly than either of those:  war, conflict, competition for arable and/or habitable land.

We will have to work as hard as possible to make sure we don’t leave a world of wars to our children.  That means avoiding centuries of strife and conflict from catastrophic climate change.  That also means finally ending our addiction to oil, a source “” if not the source “” of two of our biggest recent wars.  I reported in back September:

An intelligence forecast being prepared for the next president on future global risks envisions a steady decline in U.S. dominance in the coming decades, as the world is reshaped by globalization, battered by climate change, and destabilized by regional upheavals over shortages of food, water and energy.

The world beyond 450 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, the world that crosses carbon cycle tipping points that quickly take us to 1000 ppm, is a world not merely of endless regional resource wars around the globe. It is a world with dozens of Darfurs. It is a world of a hundred Katrinas, of countless environmental refugees “” hundreds of millions by the second half of this century “” all clamoring to occupy the parts of the developed world that aren’t flooded or desertified.

In such a world, everyone will ultimately become a veteran, and Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day will fade into obscurity, as people forget about a time when wars were the exception, a time when soldiers were but a small minority of the population.

So when does this happen?

Thomas Fingar, “the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst,” sees it happening by the mid-2020s:

By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.

For poorer countries, climate change “could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Fingar said, while the United States will face “Dust Bowl” conditions in the parched Southwest….

[Glad to see somebody serious understands what is coming (see “Sorry, delayers & enablers, Part 2: Climate change means worse droughts for SW and world“)]

He said U.S. intelligence agencies accepted the consensual scientific view of global warming, including the conclusion that it is too late to avert significant disruption over the next two decades. The conclusions are in line with an intelligence assessment produced this summer that characterized global warming as a serious security threat for the coming decades.

Floods and droughts will trigger mass migrations and political upheaval in many parts of the developing world.

Significantly, the UK government’s chief scientist, Professor John Beddington, laid out a similar scenario in a March speech to the government’s Sustainable Development UK conference in Westminster. He warned that by 2030, “A ‘perfect storm’ of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration as people flee from the worst-affected regions,” as the UK’s Guardian put it.

You can see a five-minute BBC interview with Beddington here. The speech is now online.  Here are some excerpts:

We saw the food spike last year; prices going up by something in the order of 300%, rice went up by 400%, we saw food riots, we saw major issues for the poorest in the world, in the sense that the organisations like the World Food Programme did not have sufficient money to buy food on the open market and actually use it to feed the poorest of the poor.

So this is a major problem. You can see the catastrophic decline in those reserves, over the last five years or so, indicates that we actually have a problem; we’re not growing enough food, we’re not able to put stuff into the reserves”¦.

So, what are the drivers? I am going to go through them now very briefly.

First of all, population growth. World population grows by six million every month “” greater than the size of the UK population every year. Between now and”¦ I am going to focus on the year 2030 and the reason I am going to focus on 2030 is that I feel that some of the climate change discussions focusing on 2100 don’t actually grip”¦. I am going to look at 2030 because that’s when a whole series of events come together.

By 2030, looking at population terms, you are looking at the global population increasing from a little over six billion at the moment to about eight billion….

you are going to see major changes but particularly in the demand for livestock “” meat and dairy….

By 2030, the demand for food is going to be increased by about 50%. Can we do it? One of the questions. There is a major food security issue by 2030. We’ve got to somehow produce 50% more by that time.The second issue I want to focus on is the availability of fresh water….  The fresh water available per head of the world population is around 25% of what it was in 1960. To give you some idea of this; there are enormous potential shortages in certain parts of the world”¦ China has something like 23% of the world’s population and 11% of the world’s water.

… the massive use of water is in agriculture and particularly in developing world agriculture. Something of the order of 70% of that. One in three people are already facing water shortages and the total world demand for water is predicted to increase by 30% by 2030.

So, we’ve got food “” expectation of demand increase of 50% by 2030, we’ve got water “” expectation of demand increase of 30% by 2030. And in terms of what it looks like, we have real issues of global water security.

…. where there is genuine water stress [in 2025 is] China and also parts of India, but look at parts of southern Europe where by 2025 we are looking at serious issues of water stress”¦.

So, water is really enormously important. I am going to get onto the climate change interactions with it a little bit later but water is the one area that I feel is seriously threatening. It is so important because a shortage of water obviously interacts with a shortage of food, there are real potentials for driving significant international problems “” what do you do if you have no water and you have no food? You migrate. So one can have a reasonable expectation that international migration will occur as these shortages come in.

Now, the third one I want to focus on is energy and, driven by the population increase that I talked about, the urbanisation I talked about and indeed the movement out of poverty….  For the first time, the demand of the rest of the world exceeded the demand of energy of the OECD…..  Energy demand is actually increasing and going to hit something of the order of a 50% increase, again by 2030.

Now, if that were not enough”¦ those are three things that are coming together. What will the world be like when that happens? But we also have, of course, the issue of climate change. Now, this is a very familiar slide to you all but we are shooting for a target of two degrees centigrade, a perfectly sensible target. There is enormous uncertainty in the climate change models about that particular target. It is perfectly reasonable to say ‘shouldn’t we be shooting for one degrees centigrade or, oddly enough, it is perfectly reasonable to say ‘shouldn’t we be shooting for three degrees centigrade’, the only information we have is really enormously uncertain in terms of the climate change model.

Shooting for two seems a perfectly sensible and legitimate objective but there are enormous problems. You are talking about serious problems in tropical glaciers “” the Chinese government has recognised this and has actually announced about 10 days ago that it is going to build 59 new reservoirs to take the glacial melt in the Xinjiang province. 59 reservoirs. It is actually contemplating putting many of them underground. This is a recognition that water, which has hitherto been stored in glaciers, is going to be very scarce. We have to think about water in a major way….

The other area that really worries me in terms of climate change and the potential for positive feedbacks and also for interactions with food is ocean acidification”¦.

As I say, it’s as acid today as it has been for 25 million years. When this occurred some 25 million years ago, this level of acidification in the ocean, you had major problems with it, problems of extinctions of large numbers of species in the ocean community. The areas which are going to be hit most severely by this are the coral reefs of the world and that is already starting to show. Coral reefs provide significant protein supplies to about a billion people. So it is not just that you can’t go snorkelling and see lots of pretty fish, it is that there are a billion people dependent on coral reefs for a very substantial portion of their high protein diet.

… we have got to deal with increased demand for energy, increased demand for food, increased demand for water, and we’ve got to do that while mitigating and adapting to climate change. And we have but 21 years to do it”¦.

I will leave you with some key questions. Can nine billion people be fed? Can we cope with the demands in the future on water? Can we provide enough energy? Can we do it, all that, while mitigating and adapting to climate change? And can we do all that in 21 years time? That’s when these things are going to start hitting in a really big way. We need to act now. We need investment in science and technology, and all the other ways of treating very seriously these major problems. 2030 is not very far away.

Some of this can be avoid or minimized if we act now. Some of it can’t. But if we don’t act strongly now, then by Memorial Day 2029, many of the global conflicts will either be resource wars or wars driven by environmental degradation and dislocation (see “Warming Will Worsen Water Wars). Indeed that may already have started to happen (see “Report: Climate Change and Environmental Degradation Trigger Darfur Crisis).

For one discussion of the kind of wars we might be seeing, albeit for the year 2046, here is a three-part radio series on Climate Wars.

Those are memories — and memorials — we must avoid creating at all cost.

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19 Responses to Memorial Day, 2029

  1. Pierre Champagne says:

    This is just the beginning, unfortunately. Add to this population growth, which will add much more pressure. Remember the food crisis when the price of oil went up last summer…

    Then there is the metal depletion crises that have already begun. This is why we need to go broader on the environment and adopt a structural strategy like the one proposed at Cap-and-Restructure: A Carbon Emission Alternative (lots of new information on the strategy has just been posted). The approach would be more powerful than cap-and-trade and apply to many other environmental issues.

    Tags: climate change and environmental solutions

  2. Sasparilla says:

    Sobering page Joe. The Climate Wars 3 part series is a very good listen. The author makes a good point in them….we have to get our ducks in order (get our international climate change agreements in place) now, while we are in a relatively calm international period (for large powerful countries at least) – before we descend into the large scale conflicts that will arise as areas/countries dry out/heat up/flood out and can no longer feed their people and their governments/societies start to break down – climate agreements become virtually impossible at that point.

    A good point from it, is that in 7 of last 8 years the world has consumed more grain that it produced and you can only do that for so long.

    I have make a pitch for the book, Climate Wars, it is even better than the 3 part audio series with lots of details and background info – it was completed in 2008 so the military and science interviews are pretty much up to date. The book focuses a light on the updated science, but focuses on the kinds of political ramifications/fallout throughout the world that could be expected as the effects of climate change expand. It ranges from the 2020’s up to 2100. The only recent climate change book I’ve read several times to get all the nuggets out of it.

    Just for a small US perspective on water/food, much of the plains states agricultural areas have been pulling water from the Okalala (believe that’s right) water aquifer (that’s why you have crop circles in Colorado for example) at much higher than replenishment rates for years, which is expected to get worse as things heat and dry out – that bank account will run out in the next couple of decades. California is already loosing water for parts of its agriculture as it dries out now – this will get worse. While we will probably (from what I read) still be able to feed ourselves in 20 years we will loose large amounts of arable land (due to water issues) that we have, use and assume right now.

  3. paulm says:

    >And can we do all that in 21 years time?

    Why is everyone focused on 2030? Can’t they see that things are going to come to a head much earlier!

    I think crunch time will be around 2015.

  4. Brewster says:

    Paul, I’m very much afraid you’re right…

    I strongly suspect that Oz will have a very serious problem with food by then, as many thousands of refugees (may I call it a flood) pour into Queensland.

    And Africa will descend into even more tribal warfare, maybe even sooner than that…

    As for New Orleans….. It’s just a matter of time…

  5. Jim Beacon says:


    Sure, some of the “crunch” will be by 2015. Heck, some of the crunch is already with us *today*. But the sad facts are that we would be extremely lucky to get this situation under some kind of sustainable control in only 21 years — so 2030 is the most optimistic date that is even vaguely practical. There’s going to be a whole lot of hurt between now and then. This is the bed we have been making for ourselves for the last 70 years. It’s why there is no more time left to waste on political and socio-economic bickering which only causes more deadly delay — the world has to do everything it possibly can right now towards achieving sustainability. Starting 20 years ago would have obviously been much better, but that opportunity is gone. We’ve only got one shot left and it is right now.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    I listed two more coming problems in a comment on the later thread about hurricanes.

    Probably should have done it here.

  7. Gail says:

    I was having just this debate with significant other, last, night, and again as we drove home from funtime sailing.


    I am not so sanguine. Looking at the evidence, and reading the historical record of previous climatic changes, it sure looks to me like we are in for a major shift, soon, and it’s no going to be to our liking.

    I would so rather be wrong and labeled an hysteric. So feel free!

    And please visit for photographic comic relief, click on my name.

  8. Gail says:

    And I would add that, if the predictions and observations are anywhere near as far off elsewhere as they are here, then we are in for big trouble.

    The trees here are only 50% leafed out. About 10% or so have NO leaves, and those that do, have branches that are only partially leafed outs, and the leaves are SMALLER than normal. Many of the trees that haven’t gone bare, have leaves that are WILTED. They are hanging, forlorn, and it’s only May!

    At this rate, by August we will have a barren landscape. And maybe then we will star wondering in earnest how the “Garden State” is going to produce food in hotter, drier climate.

    Folks, it’s already here.

  9. cugel says:

    As Jim Beacon says, this is a bed we’ve been making for ourselves. Sadly it’s also one we’ve been making for others. That’s going to generate a lot of hostility if we don’t show willing to do something serious about it.

    One thing Western nations are unlikely to do is take in large numbers of immigrants willingly. Immigration is already feeding extreme nationalism in Europe and that, I fear, is going to get worse. In combination with other pressures I think there’s a credible threat to liberal democracy in at least some countries by 2030.

    Which is yet another good reason for doing something serious about it right now, including free transfer of technology and actual hardware.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    “Ocean Life Of Ages Past Boggle Modern Imagination With Incredible Sizes, Abundance And Distribution”:

  11. Pat Richards says:

    David Benson,

    Not sure what your point is. No one is claiming that human-accelerated global warming is going to wipe out all life on earth. But it is going to dramatically upset the climate patterns and other systems we’ve come to rely upon to keep 7 billion people alive on this planet. The biggest threat is to ourselves. Some other species of animal and plants will also die off as the change accelerates, but there have always been species dying off long before we humans came along to screw things up. The weather/enviornment will change and life in the most general sense will change with it — after going through major die offs, struggle and painful adaptation. But our society won’t be able to make it through intact, at least not for the vast majority of people. If you’re OK with that, and don’t feel we have any responsibilty for what we’ve done or any obligation to stop doing it now that we know the consequences of our actions, then there’s nothing more to be said.

  12. paulm says:

    Here is a positivemessage from the Hay in Wales. The talk was mostly about climate change and attitudes. Well worth a listen. Onward Climate Soldiers…

    Nicholas Stern, Anthony Giddens and Marcus Brigstocke discuss being positive about taking action on climate change

  13. jorleh says:

    This all will happen, if not 2030, for sure 2035. And we have no chance to avoid the catastrophe: have a look for the world politics.

    No alarm. Alarming is late. With all kind of idiots and deniers around the end is near. This species has deserved it.

  14. russ says:

    How about June 12th 2017 for the exact date.

    Time to delete this blog RSS delivery one more time I guess.

  15. “Could food shortages bring down civilization?” Food shortages have brought down dozens of civilizations over the past 10,000 years. Read books by Brian Fagan and Jared Diamond. Yes, food shortages WILL bring down our civilization if something else doesn’t do it sooner. The most common mechanism is that a tiny shift in temperature causes the rain to move. Either flood or drought causes an end to agriculture. It IS happening to us right now.

  16. paulm says:

    High Water here and now for Brazil…

    408,000 people!!!
    still cannot return home because of floods that began last month

  17. Ron Broberg says:

    It is a waste time, energy, and effot to “end our addiction” to oil. It will only earn you enemies in mainstream America. Let time and the market do its work. It is very likely that we have already reached peak oil, and if not now, then in the near future. Oil prices will inevitably rise over time.

    On the other hand, providing support for alternatives to keep them in the game and help mature their tech will help make the transition off of oil easier when the market is ready and as consumers individually choose to get off oil.

    The oil age is nearing its end. We are nowhere near prepared for it. The return on energy with ethanol is a wash. PEVs are a novelty. Hybrids are a tiny fraction of the market. Our passenger rail system is barely alive. Our freight rail system is nearly maxed out with what its carrying today and has a couple of real chokepoints. IMO, government efforts should be geared towards R&D for EVs and next gen biofuels and electric train infrastructure.

  18. David B. Benson says:

    Pat Richards — Related to Resource Wars. Oceans almost fished out.

  19. James Newberry says:

    A half million people were “displaced” in Bangladesh yesterday due to a cyclone. And the crops?

    We understand. Meanwhile, the utilities and finance houses are redefining dirty energy into clean. See how easy the solution is? Carbonic acid gas, hey its only natural.