Veterans Day, 2029

This post is an update of 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.  As the NYT reported in August:

The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.

Such climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.

The world beyond 450 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide — possibly even a world beyond 400 ppm — crosses carbon cycle tipping points that threaten to quickly take us to 1000 ppm.  It 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.

Fortunately, veterans and security experts and politicians of all parties have begun working together to avoid the worst.  In the op-ed announcing their breakthrough Senate climate partnership, Senators Graham (R-SC) and Kerry (D-MA) said one of the key reasons they joined forces to pass climate and clean energy bill is that “we agree that climate change is real and threatens our economy and national security.”

A key leader on climate and energy security has been the conservative Virgina Republican, John Warner, who is pushing hard to pass the clean energy bill “” because he is a former Navy secretary and former Senate Armed Services Committee chair and because he is a former Forest Service firefighter now “just absolutely heartbroken” because “the old forest, the white pine forest in which I worked, was absolutely gone, devastated, standing there dead from the bark beetle” thanks in large part to global warming.

Warner’s is trying to build grass-roots support for congressional action to limit global warming,” as Politics Daily reported.  “He is traveling the country to discuss military research that shows climate change is a threat to U.S. national security.” Here is part of PD‘s interview:

PD: Does the responsibility fall to us to respond to the consequences of climate change?
JW: Not exclusively, but we’re often in the forefront of response to these things. We’re the nation with the most sealift. The most airlift. We have more medical teams which are mobile, more storehouses of food and supplies to meet emergencies. And throughout our history, from the beginning of the republic, America’s always had to respond to certain humanitarian disasters.
PD: What are some examples of destabilization due to climate?
JW: One clear case of it is Somalia. [In the early 1990s] the prolonged drought began to tie up the economy, the food supplies. There was a certain amount of political and economic instability. Where you have fragile nations . . . a serious climactic problem will come along, with a shortage of food or water, and often those governments are toppled. And then they fall to the evils of . . . terrorism or others who try to exploit these fallen governments. You saw it in Darfur. You saw it in Somalia. This political instability and weakness is given the final tilt by a problem associated with climactic change.

Our choice today is clear.  We can continue listening to the voices of denial and delay, assuring that everyone ultimately becomes a veteran of the growing number of climate-related conflicts.

Or we can launch a WWII-scale effort and a WWII-style effort to address the problem as Hansen and I and others have called for.  That is our most necessary fight today.

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16 Responses to Veterans Day, 2029

  1. peppertree says:

    Today we honor our veterans. When Iraq attacked Kuwait and 600 oil wells were lit, we faced the largest terrorist environmental disaster ever. Took a long time to put out the fires.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    I foresee mass emigration that will be met by violence, and countries devolving into warlord societies, as in Eritrea and Afghanistan. This is inevitable unless we stop talking about more coal plants for the next 20 years.

    There will be massive violence in the US, too. Americans from places like Texas and Arizona are not going to take these changes peacefully. Their rage will be fed by $8 gas for their big pickups, and massive emigration from Latin America. We can expect to see an increase in vigilantes, and in screwball politicians such as the current Texas governor. If they can brandish machine guns in rallies over health care, what will they do when the fossil fuel economy disintegrates? Prediction: They will find a way to blame it on liberals.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    “Prediction: They will find a way to blame it on liberals.”

    Yep, that’s the way they roll. And they’ll blame it on climate scientists, because, “well, if they’re so smart how come they didn’t stop it, huh?”

    It doesn’t have to be any more logical than “Keep government out of my Medicare.”

  4. Peter Bellin says:

    Not to mention the carbon foot print of war…

  5. paulm says:

    We are looking at the collapse of ‘global’ civilization. It has started as you pointed out joe. Lovelock’s predictions will be the most accurate of the lot.

    We are at 0.8°C rise and there will be at least 2°Cs to go what ever we do now. The big question is will we be able to manage our CO2 emissions in the societal breakdowns that are ahead? Something essential if we are to come through this in the (very) long term.

    I am saddened at the prospect I see ahead for my kids and the next generation. I also have a feeling of dread, helplessness and fear at whats in store.

    A WWII effort has to be started right away. Cap-n-trade and managed migration to nuclear energy solutions wont cut it. Nations are going to have to revert to zero growth and sacrifice. This is coming voluntarily or not.

  6. Leif says:

    When I see the Military budget going for wind mills, water treatment systems, solar cookers, homes, schools, medical facilities, etc. for the third world, then I feel that we finally “get it” and in fact have a chance at a future that we can be proud of. The age of BIG guns is over when you are dealing with starving masses.

  7. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Gwynne Dyer quoted someone else “When faced between starvation and raiding, humans raid.”

    War is likely to be the single worst result of global warming. The starvation of billions will not be pretty, but the wars will be worse.

    Want to see the future,look at Somalia. Local Government 2109, Hells Angels.

    Boone Pickens will need an army of his own when he turns off the water, even if he has no choice in the matter.

    Some see the coming collapse as a good thing. They have no idea what it really means.

  8. Heraclitus says:

    It terrifies me to see people writing these kind of alarmist, doom-mongering comments and then to realise that they are writing in coherent sentences and actually reflecting the reality of what we may well face. If only we were all the usual apocalypse-nutters like you normally find on the ‘net.

    I’m also deeply worried for my children’s future but still cling to the “(and will)” of the ‘How the world can stabalize…’ post. Surely….

  9. Richard Brenne says:

    Each of these comments are quite sophisticated relative to virtually anything you read in the mainstream media. The only thing more terrifying than these scenarios is the determined denial of so many in the mainstream media, politics and the public.

    Everyone in a leadership or communication position that isn’t leading and communicating about this is a dinosaur who can’t help us. They’ll have a fate similar to that of the dinosaurs, who by the way did nothing to bring about their own end.

    Smartest species, my ass (and vice versa).

  10. Leif says:

    In spite of all the “gloom and doom” that we wallow in from time to time, myself included, I must admit that my main attraction for this site is the over all optimism. I do not know how you do it Joe, although I presume that having a youngster in your life is a big part of the equation. At the risk of sounding supper hoaky: May the force be with you…

  11. Mel Burke says:

    It may come down to using water resources for human consumption or for agricultural purposes…see more at:

  12. Leif says:

    Yet another thought experiment. You are a guard at an agriculture site growing grain for a country that bought the property from a past government, legal or otherwise, and you are charged with preventing theft of both food as well as the water used to irrigate same. The technology of this absentee land owner is such that they can tap the water sources far deeper than your home land can muster. Consequently, your countrymen experience drought and starvation. Rebellion rises and descend in mass on your post. Who do you shoot? For a slight variation, you are a member of the absentee home land sent to guard said resources for the home land. Who do you kill??? How many is acceptable???
    This is not that academic as many countries are buying huge properties around the world as we speak, (Plan B 4.0), to farm as their local resources are depleted. Saudi Arabia for one who’s total wheat production is being decreased by 1/8 per year and will be lost by 2016 because of aquifer depletion of fossil water use.
    Or China buys large portions of American Mid West in payment for our National Debt and ships that food home. Are you willing to go hungry? Do you take up a gun and renege on your debt?
    This is the world we are headed for, and very soon. Sleep well tin hats.

  13. Leif says:

    Here is an estimate from “Plan B 4.0″ on the costs of various mitigation efforts, p.p. 263, 264 The Book can be downloaded for free:

    Universal primary education $10 billion
    Eradication of adult illiteracy $4 ”
    School lunch programs for 44 poorest countries $6
    Assistance to preschool-children and pregnant
    woman in 44 poorest countries $4
    Reproductive health and family planning $17
    Universal basic health care $33
    Closing condom gap $3
    Total $77 billion

    Earth restoration goals
    Planting trees to reduce flooding and
    conserve soil $6 billion
    Planting trees to sequester carbon $17 ”
    Protecting topsoil on cropland $24
    Restoring range-lands $9
    Restoring fisheries $13
    Protecting biological diversity $31
    Stabilizing water tables $10
    Total $110 billion

    Grand total , annual expenditures $187 Billion

    Annual military budget
    United States $607 billion
    China $85 ”
    France $66
    United Kingdom $65
    Russia $59
    Germany $47
    Japan $46
    Italy $41
    Saudi Arabia $38
    India $30
    All Others $380

    World Annual Military Budget $1,464 billion

    PLAN B Budget $187 billion per year.

    Your call folks…
    It would appear to me that we could save the world and still have plenty to blow it to smithereens if need be.

  14. Cynthia says:

    I loved this post! Especially when I clicked on “Climate Wars” (the video you can listen to). Very, very interesting!

  15. Cynthia says:

    Earth day seems like a good day for Mass Protests. Anyone agree? (Vision… million-man marches!)

    According to head of the IPCC, we have to take drastic action before 2012 or it’s over. It ain’t happening! (Furthermore, the arctic sea ice will be gone in about 2 years unless we take drastic action immediately!!) Some scientists are even now saying, “we didn’t act in time; it’s over”.

    Scientists constantly say,”the people have to become involved! Things won’t change until the people demand change.” Copenhagen will be too late. It won’t take effect until the Kyoto deal is over, in 2012. Even then, the Copenhagen deal will not be ENOUGH TO REDUCE EMISSIONS IN TIME! We need zero emissions now or lose the Arctic! We have to fight or it’s over!

  16. Cynthia says:

    I used to live in Virginia and know how Warner feels about the White Pine tree forests. I sure hope they’re not all gone! That’s awful!!!