Memorial Day, 2030

resource_wars_cover.jpgThe three worst direct impacts to humans from our unsustainable use of energy will, I think, be Dust-Bowlification and sea level rise and ocean poisoning:  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: 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 decades if not 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 last 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.

That’s a key reason 33 generals and admirals announced support for the comprehensive climate and clean energy jobs bill last month, asserting “Climate change is making the world a more dangerous place” and “threatening America’s security.”  The Pentagon itself has made the climate/security link explicit in its Quadrennial Defense Review.

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 800 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 and 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 may 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.  And if we don’t act swiftly and strongly to stop it, the worst impacts could last a long, long time (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe).

So when does this start to 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  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 has been 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 many others have called for. That is our most necessary fight today.

This post is an update.

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41 Responses to Memorial Day, 2030

  1. fj2 says:

    If we stick with reality-based governance that will greatly reduce the likelihood of wars and catastrophes.

    Of course, that’s a big if.

  2. Heraclitus says:

    A great post. This is the message we need to be sending out over and again. And this is why I consider myself a catastrophist on climate change. There is, I believe, a small though not insignificant chance of catstrophic change in the climate within the next few decades, but the chances of catastrophic impacts – resource wars as outlined above – from the small changes we will inevitably see are much greater. The more we delay the greater the impacts – we need to be advocating for a WWII effort before we have WWIII imposed on us.

  3. Ani says:

    Its about time people start to react. The scientists have done their job well identifying the problem. Its up to the people and their governments to come up with the best solutions. We will always have the ostrich and flat-earthers to contend with, but we must move foward for the sake of our grandchildren.

  4. fj2 says:

    Following current scientific trends in underestimating the rate of the accelerating environmental crisis, ongoing emissions increases, and disastrous environment effects, these projections of catastrophes even to 2020 AD and 2030 AD may unfortunately be optimistic.

  5. Leif says:

    “I do not know the weapons of WW III, but WW IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Albert Einstein.

    I, for one, hope WW III will be fought with humanitarian reason coupled with scientific understanding and humanity will be victorious. ( Increasingly unlikely).

    We can skip WW IV altogether or as another commentator on CP said fought “with sonnets.”

  6. fj2 says:

    The stuff of this post and others on this site should be front-page news and the president must take the media to task why it is not.

    We have gotten way too used to hiding from the undercurrents of disaster, not acting accordingly, and paid the price again and again.

  7. fj2 says:

    By far the most potent weapons are the tremendous reserves of natural capital and most importantly human capital and its extremely potent capability of restoring the Eden in which humanity has learned to flourish and, manifestly preventing the ever accelerating reality of paradise lost.

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    My Barbra Streisand Story (a true one)

    In the early 1990s — I can’t recall the exact year — it was announced with great fanfare that Barbra Streisand would be performing some very special concerts, for the first time in a long time.

    At the time, I lived in a area with lots of doctors, financial folks, lawyers, high-techies, and “indian chiefs”. It was an affluent area. Nearly everyone wanted to see “Barbra!” There were not going to be nearly enough tickets to go around, and everyone knew it.

    The ticketing agency at the time announced the date and time that tickets would go on sale at their retail locations. Realizing that the demand would be great, they said in the ads that people should not line up outside the stores until some period (perhaps an hour, I can’t remember) before the store opening time.

    To make a long story short, people in the community held various different “philosophies” about who should be considered first in line. Some people arrived the night before and, wanting to avoid sitting overnight in the parking lot, agreed (among themselves) to put their names on an ordered list, so that they could come back later and still have their place in line reserved. Others showed up later, but still early in the morning, well before the ads said they should come. They felt that the list should not be honored: After all, the earlier people had not even been willing to stay in line. And then, a good number of people came at the precise time that the ads said they should come. They felt that they should be first in line because they followed the rules. Indeed, when the ticket outlet folks arrived, the people who followed the ad’s instructions appealed strongly to the ticket folks that they should be given tickets first. So, in any case, at the time the doors were opened and tickets were about to go on sale, the large crowd consisted of people who had three conflicting philosophies about who should be considered “first in line” to get the insufficient quantify of tickets that would be offered. Who would get to see Barbra, and who wouldn’t? That was the question.

    Well, there was great tension — no joking — and a riot nearly broke out. People were calling names and some of them were edging towards the door. People were making different demands of the poor retail sales folks who had the task of deciding who would get tickets. (In the end, this particular outlet was able to sell about thirty pairs of tickets, before the concerts were totally sold out, and the group at the store numbered over two hundred. So the vast majority of folks ended up without tickets, including me.)

    Consider: The resource involved in this case were tickets to a Barbra Streisand concert. The people involved were all intelligent, “upwardly mobile”, relatively affluent “professionals” in a nice community. The weather was nice that day. Everyone had plenty of food. There was no major recession. The question was not one of life or death. And yet three different philosophies about “who would be first” nearly brought about a riot. No joking.

    Here is another (briefer) story of the same sort. When I worked at Disney, Disney had started up a new business. Because of the nature of the new business, two different major Disney business units both felt that the new business should fall under their leadership. In other words, business unit “X” felt that the new business should be theirs, and business unit “Y” felt that the new business should be theirs. A disagreement. Everyone liked idea of the new business unit, and thought it was cool and (I suppose) “sexy”, so to speak, and everyone wanted it as part of their unit. The two business units fighting over the matter were both lead by “brilliant” and highly educated folks, and indeed teams, all doing strategic and financial and market analyses — although paying more attention to the fighting than to the business itself. In the end, here’s what happened: (You guessed it.) The brilliant folks leading both of the major business units spent so much energy disagreeing with each other, and fighting over who would “get” the new business unit, that they overlooked some rather foundational basics (the company had proceeded to launch the business amidst all this fighting), and the business failed dismally. It was shut down. Much money was lost. So much time has been spent fighting over the business that major decisions had been made foolishly and the whole thing was a dismal failure in the marketplace, for reasons that should have been obvious to everyone involved.

    When humans can’t cooperate and find some agreement, two things tend to happen: People get anxious, tensions mount, and riots break out. And, people get so focused on their disagreements that they make bad decisions, often decisions that are bad for everyone involved.

    If “intelligent” and well-fed people almost get into a riot with each other over Barbra Streisand tickets, then what do you think will happen when the influences of climate change start to disrupt coastlines, agricultural productivity, water availability, and etc. etc. etc. for millions and millions and millions of people, some of whom already don’t like each other or us?

    We’d better face and address these problems wisely, otherwise all bets are off.



  9. Jeff Huggins says:

    (Sorry for the typos in my Comment 8)

  10. fj2 says:

    The following MIT Opencourseware seminar directly addresses at least part of priming this planet’s vast wealth of human capital to meet current and future crisis (massive poverty reduction is another).

    “Infrastructure in Crisis: Energy and Security Challenges,” Professors Karen R. Polenske and Apiwat Ratanawaraha

    Level: Undergraduate/Graduate; as taught in fall 2009

    Course Description
    The purpose of this seminar is to examine efforts in developing and advanced nations and regions to create, finance and regulate infrastructure systems and services that affect energy security.

    We will introduce a variety of methodological and disciplinary perspectives. During the seminar, students will explore how an energy crisis can be an opportunity for making fundamental changes to improve collapsing infrastructure networks.

    The sessions will be used to introduce the challenges to modern society concerning energy security, and for students to study how food security and energy security are intertwined, as well as how infrastructure supports the energy system.

    We will review the moral hazard aspects of infrastructure and the common arguments for withholding adequate support to the rebuilding of energy systems.

    Students taking the graduate version will complete additional assignments.

  11. paulm says:

    …all clamoring to occupy the parts of the developed world that aren’t flooded or desertified.

    I think you are missing a big part of what is happening…developed nations like the US and the Euro Zone will also succumb to GW extreme events relatively soon, in parallel with the rest of the world.

    Develop nations will start to crumble from within and there will be utter chaos from pole to pole across the Eaarth.

    Hansen, Holdren, Bill etc know what is in store, no, what is happening right now and that is why their message now addresses adaptation as much as mitigation.

    It is very very likely that we are going to see a Lovelock outcome and we must seriously start to prepare for this. One solution to consider is an ark. The move 2012 is extreme, but it has an important message.

  12. Pierre C says:

    The resource problem is far more acute than people think. Reserves estimates point to a few decades for many minerals. While is replaceable with relatively cheap renewable alternative. It will be the end of the road for metals as they are generally not substitutable. See the following website for details: A Structural Strategy: Carbon Emissions, Renewable Energy, the Management and Conservation of Non-Renewable Resources, Toxic Contaminants…

    Our children’s future is very bleak on the ‘resource’ account alone. The website above provides an alternative to that. The following link gives a picture of what the new system would look like. Note: Book II of the series (due in 2011) will focus on the issue of resource crisis.

    The Sustainable Economy and the New Green Society: GHG & Carbon Emissions, Renewable Energy, Toxic Contaminants, Non-Renewable Resources, Green Transportation…

  13. Leland Palmer says:

    I’ve always suspected that there is a part of our financial elite that welcomes climate change and would like to use it as a weapon, knowing that it will impact China and the Third World more than it will impact us here in the U.S. – at least at first.

    There is for example Pat Buchanan’s book The Death of the West- How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. In it he talks about how the demographics and birth rate of dark skinned people are a threat to the white populations of the U.S. and Europe.

    Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalizm talks about how our financial elites use crises and disasters to spread neoliberal capitalist ideas and policies. We saw something similar in Iraq and in New Orleans after Katrina- an attempt to build a new purely capitalist society on the ashes of an older somewhat socialist society, following a major disaster. The Heritage foundation even had a plan for New Orleans, you can find it if you Google it.

    Garret Hardin, Virginia Abernethy, and Cordelia Scaife May’s Laurel Foundation appear to be all part of a particularly virulent negative population growth group, that favor the idea of “lifeboat ethics” in which it is held to be perfectly legitimate for affluent people in the West to keep poor people in the Third World from climbing into our lifeboat.

    We’ve got some scary, scary financial elites, with very strange and savage ideas. We saw this of course during the Bush administrations. It’s perfectly possible that some of them welcome global warming because it could create resource wars. We’ve got a Military/Industrial/Congressional complex that makes a lot of money off of weapons and wars, and we are in fact the world’s largest supplier of arms and military equipment.

    Add in the fact that ExxonMobil appears to want to drill for oil and gas under the current polar sea ice, and we see we have a perfect storm of financial elites who appear to see global warming as being in their financial interests.

    So yes, we could easily have resource wars, and probably will have them unless we succeed in stopping the destabilization of the climate.

    We could have resource wars partially because some of our financial elites want to profit from them, too.

  14. mike roddy says:

    Good story, Jeff! Here’s mine…

    About 1985, a friend of mine and I had gone to Katmandu to visit my sister (she was staying with her lama near a stupa). We had open tickets, and the only airline serving the Katmandu-Delhi route was Air India, which had daily flights. As with Jeff’s Streisand tickets, Air India was always overbooked.

    Every day there was a line at the airport of people with tickets who could not get on the plane. Directly behind the ticket counter and baggage check in were the long moving ramps that took your suitcases back to the baggage handlers. At the end of the ramp and behind a small door were the Air India offices, which were protected from the rabble on purpose.

    One day most of the people in line were told again to come back the next day, after having been told the same thing the day before. The locals were resigned, and left. A large group of tourists and Western travelers- most of those at the counter- climbed on to the moving baggage ramps and stormed the ticket offices. It was useless, of course: what was Air India going to do? Conjure up another plane?

    People in the West will have the most trouble handling future adversity. In Biafra and Calcutta, millions died stoically. We spoiled Westerners, like the ones in Jeff’s story, may fall apart when things get tough.

  15. Raul says:

    One of the aspects that I have gained more appreciation of as I’ve
    matured if that the truth of nature will continue long after me.
    It may be that I’ll have to imagine it, though.
    Scientists chose to collide two photons to find outcome, equal
    time for joining two photons traveling in the same path guided
    to the same space? If combining would the photons jump to a higher
    more energetic level or just readjust so that each has it’s
    freedom of being.
    Truth has it’s own beauty even if I don’t know of the truth.

  16. Adrian says:

    My Rhetoric & Composition 101 classes have, over the last couple of years, become centered around climate change and environmental issues. This summer term I’ll be incorporating Climate Progress and selections from Joe’s book.

    Education and action must occur at every level.

  17. Very important post. I think the geopolitical impacts of climate change are often overlooked and it is one area where we can convince conservatives why they need to act.

  18. Pierre C says:

    The above should read: While OIL is replaceable with relatively cheap renewable alternatives…

  19. Leif says:

    An area often overlooked is the world food reserves when talking about resource shortages. A bad harvest over large sections of any “bread basket” will have almost instant repercussions as the world food reserves are measured in months if I am not mistaken.

  20. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Leif –

    as far as I recall it is some time since wheat, that most basic of staples, has reliably been measured in months. I could be wrong but I seem to remember the last I heard global reserves were declining back to below two months.

    So where in God’s name is the global focus on Biochar as the affordable enhancer of both soil-moisture stabilization and fertility ?

    Tangled up with a bunch of urban neo-environmentalists’ bigoted assumptions that it would be done really badly and incentivize forest destruction, as opposed to being done well and compounding the incentives for a gigahectare of native afforestation!

    The stupefaction of some current ‘green’ mindsets I find perhaps the greatest of our difficulties – progressive thinking is being utterly distracted from vital strategic goals.



  21. Ron Broberg says:

    “Far over the misty mountains cold
    To dungeons deep and caverns old
    We must away ere break of day
    To seek the pale enchanted gold.

    The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
    While hammers fell like ringing bells
    In places deep, where dark things sleep,
    In hollow halls beneath the fells.

    For ancient king and elvish lord
    There many a gleaming golden hoard
    They shaped and wrought, and light they caught
    To hide in gems on hilt of sword.

    On silver necklaces they strung
    The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
    The dragon-fire, in twisted wire
    They meshed the light of moon and sun.

    Far over the misty mountains cold
    To dungeons deep and caverns old
    We must away, ere break of day,
    To claim our long-forgotten gold.

    Goblets they carved there for themselves
    And harps of gold; where no man dwelves
    There lay they long, and many a song
    Was sung unheard by men or elves.

    The pines were roaring on the height,
    The winds were moaning in the night.
    The fire was red, its flaming spread;
    The trees like torches blazed with light.

    The bells were ringing in the dale
    And men looked up with faces pale;
    Then dragon’s ire more fierce than fire
    Laid low their towers and houses frail.

    The mountain smoked beneath the moon;
    The dwarves, they heard the tramp of doom.
    They fled their hall to dying fall.
    Beneath his feet, beneath the moon.

    Far over the misty mountains cold
    To dungeons deep and caverns old
    We must away, ere break of day,
    To win our harps and gold from him.”

  22. prokaryote says:

    Very good statements from Beddington on the development – timeframe. Good to put this all in prospective.
    So far models underestimated climate change (speed & acceleration). Something to be very cautious about.

    Environmental migrant

    When the migration is considered to be forced and not a matter of choice, the term environmental refugee is also used. Additionally, if the causes for the migration are believed to be due to global warming related environmental disasters, the term climate refugee is sometimes used.

    Some causes for environmental migration are increased droughts, desertification, sea level rise, and disruption of seasonal weather patterns. A statistically significant correlation between migration and environmental degradation including climate change was shown by Afifi and Warner (2007), controlling for the already established major drivers of migration.[2]

    In the World Disasters Report 2001 [1] published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, more people are now forced to leave their homes because of environmental disasters than war. They estimate approximately 25 million people could currently be classified as being environmental refugees.

  23. Nick Downie says:

    I have a certain amount of first-hand experience of societal breakdown. I have been involved in 12 wars/campaigns, five of them as a soldier, one of which was as a quasi-guerrilla (three years), and another as a guerrilla commander charged with strategic sabotage. For the remaining seven I spent my entire time in the front line, shoulder to shoulder with the combatants (well, maybe a couple of yards behind them :] )

    Couple of quick points first. Don’t pay too much attention to what the CIA says. I’ve carried out missions for two intelligence agencies, and both times their daft ideas nearly got me killed. Intelligence people are self-important desk-wallahs and they know diddly-squat about the real, grubby, violent world.

    Second, Somalia did not begin as a ‘resource war’. In 1988 I spent six frustrating months trying, one by one, to interest the TV programme editors in the UK in the story (I was freelance). It was clear to me, from talking to various groups of Somali exiles in London, that the place was about to blow apart at the seems. In my ‘pitch’ I said that “the streets of Mogadishu will soon be running with blood”. In short, it was entirely political/tribal. However, no one could care less (then) and I never did get a commission.

    Back to climate change.

    I feel the West has very little to fear from the Third World. Starving, water-stressed peasant populations do not become aggressive; they become passive. I can’t think of one case in which an environmental disaster has led to the problem spilling violently across international borders, apart from a few Somali bandits in NE Kenya and a bit of toing and froing between Sudan and Chad. Basically, Africans will die in situ, as will Indians, South East Asians, et al. Africans have to cross the Sahara, or the Mediterranean which the Europeans won’t allow. The Asians have to cross the Hindu Kush, the Karakorams or the Himalaya (I know all three ranges well – tough places) after which they will be greeted less than cordially by the Chinese, the Central Asian tribes, or a vast desert. The South Americans have to squeeze through the isthmus. Easy to block; the US Navy can sink anyone else.

    As for what these nations might do to each other, what’s the point of invading a neighbour who is in as bad or worse condition than oneself? The Egyptians are reputed to have ‘mountain troops’ (yeah, right) in case the Ethiopians turn off the Blue Nile. Good luck, boys! The Ethiopians will make mincemeat of you – in 1975 I filmed Ethiopians and Eritreans fighting it out at close quarters. Not pretty.

    Terrorists may be disregarded. They lack imagination (the sine qua non of effective sabotage) and they are grossly incompetent, from the IRA down. Muslim fundamentalists in particular are stunningly stupid – I knew a lot of them, including the current deputy leader of the Taliban with whom I shared a room for six weeks back in 1981. (Poisonous bastard. I warned both MI6 and the CIA about him, so what did they do but give him and his nasty little mates millions of dollars-worth of weapons. Makes one want to weep.)

    When it comes to the industrialised nations I’m not so sure. Haven’t given it much thought to be honest. I wouldn’t like to be a Canadian, sitting in a coolish place just north of the most heavily-armed and violent populace the world has ever seen. (As an aside, I once had to do a survival course. We were sent off in pairs – I was with a US Special Forces officer – with instructions to live off the land. Within 48 hours, or less, every single member of the course had resorted to theft and/or breaking and entry. The US chap and I held up cars and relieved them of anything edible, plus their cigarettes. I was well brought-up and he was a nice guy, but the veneer of civilisation gets stripped off very fast when one is seriously hungry.) Elsewhere, the New Zealanders will have to put up with an Aussie invasion, but they’re not a bad bunch. Europe, I feel, could get quite messy. As for Sino/Russian relations? Ouch.

    I used to think that the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent was a complete waste of time and money. Now? Maybe not. Carbon capture, anyone?

  24. prokaryote says:

    Nick Downie, i agree with most what you said but the scenario you outline, would mean nations close their borders and globalization (economy) would freeze up. Further it is a global situation which effects show up everywhere. You cannot hide – run from it. So yes the question/action we must ask for is, “Carbon capture, anyone?” And this has to be down on the global level. Industrial nations give technology and the 3-world needs to adopt biochar on industrial scale.


  25. mike roddy says:


    Is that Yeats?

  26. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    A world of wars is very nearly inevitable, way beyond highly probable. Are we ready to protect borders from those who have nothing to loose, where failure to cross is a death sentence.

    Do not forget the internal tensions and internal migration. Will Oregon build a fence to stop migrating Californians? Cannot happen? Then look at how the homeless are already treated in many places, how much worse will it be when the homeless will really affect how much is left for residents.

    The sea is emptying, foodbowls are turning into dustbowls. Six billion people competing for food for 1 billion. Long pig will be back on the menu.

  27. Ron Broberg says:

    mike roddy,

    that’s Tolkien ;-)
    It’s the Dwarves’ song in The Hobbit.

    Its themes seemed vaguely appropriate to the Massey mine, the BP hole, an industrialized world, and the heat waves killing Indians. And a bit more too.

    The jewels around here are decidedly feathered: red robins, gold finches, blue jays, mottled thrushes, and black and white magpies this weekend.

  28. Wit's End says:

    Nick Downie, #23, a very interesting perspective.

    As to third world countries, and whether their populations will passively accept ecological genocide, or even have any option, the fact that they have become the dumping ground for environmental degradation to provide resources to the developed world is important, as noted by the admin at SurvivalAcres (who is making a long-anticipated return to the virtual universe of blogging…

    Also to your litany of potentially horrific consequences due to a breakdown of society, I would like to include, as a mother of three daughters, that one of the first barometers of civilized society – respect towards women – is historically one of the first to disintegrate. I fear for my children. The treatment many women receive from men in the best of times is of concern. When there are increased strains from hunger, poverty, war, and unemployment, women and their children are the first victims of rage, despair, and helplessness.

    How safe will women be from attack if society in America becomes chaotic and the enormous population of imprisoned men is released, either from anarchy of just the inability of government to pay the bills to maintain the security system?

    Eventually of course everybody starves. We are all on the same Titanic. There will be no rescue boats, since they will be swamped too.

    But I suspect there is going to be a frantic squabbling over who gets thrown overboard first.

  29. paulm says:

    I think from the trail of posts here, there is more and more realization that its not going to be pretty in the near future.

    I am really saddend by it all. Onwards and up.

  30. Nick Downie says:

    prokaryote, the scenario I was alluding too was past the date of any global economy, and it is something I am desperate to avoid. I also know full well there is nowhere to hide. My tone was slightly flippant because that is how I deal with the images in my head, images based on the many terrible things I have seen. The English language, rich though it is, does not have the vocabulary to encompass the horror and the savagery of war – in fact it doesn’t even begin – but what faces us will make the 20th century, with its mere 100 million violent deaths, seem like a bright summer’s day.

    What is encouraging about Joe’s post above is that, for the first time, it seems the powers that be are, at long last, taking climate change seriously. Whether they will take the measures necessary remains to be seen. As for technology transfer, were I in charge the first thing I would do is ban all future patents – and revoke all past ones – on anything that might help in the fight we are engaged in. I would also switch off all the street lights, worldwide. In WW11 the British lived for five years with a total blackout – even headlights were reduced to a glimmer – and we managed. It might not reduce global warming by much but it would save a helluva lot of money which could be diverted into research. If nothing else it would make clear to everyone that we’re on a war-footing. (And the stars would come out, reminding us of how small we are.)

    Rabid Doomsayer, when it comes to fences I read the other day that the Indians have already put up a 1,500-mile fence around Bangladesh. It’s quite clear what their attitude is going to be when sea-levels threaten to drown their cousins. In due course ours will be no different. As for long pig, that may reappear on the menu far sooner than one thinks. I’ve interviewed a German who indulged in the Arctic in the 70s, an Englishman who had on a lifeboat in the South Atlantic in WW11, and a Frenchman who knew about it going on in the concentration camps. We are not a cuddly species.

  31. fj2 says:

    “Our Epic Foolishness,” by Bob Herbert, May 31, 2010, The New York Times

    “If a bank is too big to fail, it’s way too big to exist. If an oil well is too far beneath the sea to be plugged when something goes wrong, it’s too deep to be drilled in the first place.”

  32. Gary says:

    Kindly credit Stephen Schneider for his authorship of “The Genesis Strategy”…published 1976…suggesting that the future may require
    large scale food storage.

  33. Adrian says:

    I think it’s a given how craven humans can be in their response to extreme situations–not that humans need much to set off their inner evil natures, what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil.

    Ron, thanks for quoting Tolkien, who did, after all experience trench warfare in WWI and lived through WWII in England, but who nevertheless expressed in Lord of the Rings the point of view that we all, even the most ordinary, have a responsibility work for a better future and that what we do will make a difference.

    I sincerely hope all of those who have commented here, who are so experienced and aware, are working in their private/professional/public lives to help avoid such a terrible possible future, as are so many others around the world. Probably so, or else why read Climate Progress and then comment?

  34. Nick Downie says:

    I feel I have said enough already, and after this I will shut up, but I’d like to add a couple other things.

    First, Wit’s End, #28, whose comment hadn’t appeared on my screen last time I wrote. I have two daughters and some years ago I outlined to them what I thought was in store. Their faces fell. They said, “But Dad, in that case what’s the point of going on living?” I have never mentioned the subject again and ever since I have struggled to remain optimistic. As for the fate of women in this truly awful mess, yes Wit’s End, you are quite right to be worried, but there is hope. One of the things I nearly added to my suggestion of switching off the street lights was that men would have to get used to accompanying women to their front doors, out of politeness, not for ulterior motives. In Britain an abiding memory is how the population pulled together in WW11, and many of that generation regretted the later loss of the ‘wartime spirit’.

    In the front line it is even more marked, and although civilians have great trouble accepting this, it is there that you find the very best of human nature (as well as the worst). The comradeship of fighting men has been described, rightly, as the purest form of love since it expects nothing in return.

    When it comes to women’s place in war, I have another story. (I know it irritates people when I talk from experience but it’s all I have – I am no intellectual.) We were fighting for possession of a waterhole so that our cattle could be watered. The opposing sides consisted of two groups of men that the outside world regards, entirely wrongly, as ruthless in the extreme: communist guerrillas and the British SAS. The fight had been going on all day, the air was full of bullets and bombs, and men were dying. Into the middle of all this walked a woman, leading her goats – she’d been waiting long enough. As she came into the sights of the combatants, the guns fell silent, only resuming when she was past. Her progress across no man’s land was marked by a cone of silence, as it was when she returned, having watered her flock.

    That night some of the enemy’s women came into our camp. We knew what they were doing – they were counting our number and marking our positions. What happened? We smiled, called them “sister”, and offered them tea. (They didn’t accept.) The point I’m making is that in that war, women, children and old people were inviolate. In the three years I fought in it I can assert with confidence that not one was so much as scratched (US military and suicide bombers please note). There is no way of knowing how things will pan out now, but against much of the evidence it may not be all bad. I cling to that thought.

    Adrian, #33. Part of the problem is a pervading feeling among ordinary people of helplessness. CND in Britain organised endless mass demonstrations against nuclear weapons. They made not a blind bit of difference. In 2003 a million people took to the streets of London to protest the coming invasion of Iraq, to no effect. In my working days I risked my life time and time again to inform people what was going on in far-flung parts of the world – many of the most horrific images on TV in the 70s and 80s were mine – but I was constantly assailed by the feeling that my efforts were futile. One day I was standing in the doorway of a bucking, swaying aircraft, prior to parachuting into a firefight with my cameras. I turned to my companion (who was killed by my side a week later) and yelled, “The things we do for the sake of thirty minutes’ entertainment on a Thursday night.”

    Now? Now I am old, worn out, and dirt poor. No one in authority is interested in what I have to say. At the moment I have a solid roof over my head, but I recently lived in a tent for three years, my electricity coming from the sun, my water from a mountain stream, my only means of transport a mule. I will be returning to that state of living within the year, not out of choice but out of poverty. I read these pages because they are far and away the best on the Net; I have made my comments in the faint hope that they will add something to the debate. That is the best that I, and billions of others, can do.

  35. School Marm says:

    1. Thank you Joe for posting this. In keeping with Eric Severeid’s first (or second) law, ‘The chief cause of problems is solutions’ my chief fears about climate catastrophe are the solutions people will try. I’ve had several ‘spirited’ discussions on the net and off with people who consider population to be the main and apparently only problem and solution to climate cataclysm, ignoring the effects of consumption on the ppm. Thinking of climate as a security problem while doing nothing to actually solve it is a recipe for that sticks and stones war mentioned.

    2. I noticed several really good stories with the moral “people will panic and get aggressive when things get bad.” While that may be true, some equally good stories could be told showing just the opposite. The Brits are famous for complaining endlessly about the small things but stiff-lipping it for the real problems; people everywhere else are often the same.

    No one knows how this will turn out. Trying to avoid the anxiety of uncertainty by telling ourselves we do know, whether hopelessly or pollyannishly is not helpful. It is helpful to know that those are simply us, what attracts us and reflects our deep unconsciousness, and not what we actually know about the future. Neither hope nor hopelessness are helpful; act as well and strongly as possible and let go of expectations, as Gandhi, or any good Buddhist would tell you.

    3. fj2 (way up there at the top) thinks Obama should take the media to task. Who’s going to take Obama to task and motivate him to do that or anything else adequate? It’s not up to him. If it were we’d be toast. We know we cannot depend on the governments of the world, especially this one of either party, to do enough. It’s up to us–personally, communally, politically, emotionally, artfully and with joy in the attempt.

    2.5. If you haven’t changed your life dramatically since starting to read CP…. what are you waiting for? (Things on the order of starting to stop driving (finishing by next year), starting to stop eating meat (“), growing your own organic permaculture food*, cutting energy use by 50%+ in preparation for installing solar panels next year (boy, next year is going to be big for you, isn’t it?), writing at least 2 letters a week to politicans, businesses, churches, or media on the subject… ). Do something to deal with the understandable (inevitable?) feelings of despair, anger, etc. that come to you with this knowledge. (Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects, and the Pachamama Alliance’s Awakening the Dreamer symposia are both excellent but there may be many other ways near you. If there aren’t, start one. Put together a Powerpoint presentation and give it to the Lions, the Boy Scouts and the Camber of commerce (speaking of lion dens…)Or learn one of those 2 works just mentioned and spread it.

    It’s so much better with other people, whether you’re talking about sex, eating, teaching or feeling things.

    *Take a permaculture course (PDC) or read Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

  36. mike roddy says:

    Nick Downie, that was beautiful. Thank you.

  37. Potential flash points between developed and developing nations will clearly be people movements.

    I’m from Australia, where even the tiny trickle of refugees induces incredible panic and xenophobia. Coupled with the fact that our own environment is coming under increasing stress: most readers would be aware of the drought situation and that the Murray-Darling river system is dying (and by extension Australia’s “food bowl”). We’re building desal plants in anticipation.

    Over the next few years as things worsen, the conservatives will clamour to “protect the borders”. They’ll throw up walls, armed patrols and harsh and selective immigration policies.

    All too quickly they will switch from denial to over-the-top border protection. Never mind it was situation that could have been avoided had we seriously tackled the challenge 20 years ago. Never mind they listened to the “sceptics” and preferred short term economic benefits over long term planning.

    Developed nations will find they will have to dedicate an ever increasing proportion of their GDP to mitigation. Aid will dwindle as a consequence, as nations seek to “protect their own”.

    Global trade will suffer. The movement of capital and goods will slow, hurting national economies as it becomes less safe to move goods through contested waters rife with pirates. Horn of Africa write large. Investment will be made, but in sea walls, desal and a hurried switch to nuclear.

    Civil war could be a greater issue.

    In China, India, the middle-East the flight of population within the borders of their own countries will be a source of enormous tension. Residents of better off regions will resent the “intruders”. Ethnic, religious and cultural distinctions will be become more marked. In the middle east minorities such as the Kurds will have additional grievances. China’s heterogeneous population may fracture along ethnic lines. Muslim minorities in throughout Asia will become targets while in turn becoming more militant.

    Regimes will find it hard to respond: the unspoken agreement of continued prosperity that China’s rulers promise their population will be hard to maintain. Resentment will build, as too anger as parts of the country suffer from drought and flooding.

    Population flight may have a “knock-on” effect as one group displaces another, who then in turn displace another in a process reminiscent of 4th-6th century Western Europe.

    Could this be the future?

    Let’s hope not. But we should do everything possible to avoid it.

  38. Leif says:

    I would add that traditional enemies of black and white all turn to gray. The soot of China’s industry melts the glaciers of the water supply of her people. The CO2 of our prosperity disrupts the agriculture of our nation and the world. It all gets very incestuous.

  39. INFIDEL says:

    The first gulf war, which I assume you meant in the two wars you talked of, had a lot to do with oil but also was an honorable and just war. You might not agree with other things happened like sanctions on iraq or whatever, but pushing saddam out of kuwait was the right thing to do.

    For what it’s worth, I’m from kuwait.

  40. INFIDEL says:

    Nick Downie,

    Reading stuff like this from your posts:

    “violent populace the world has ever seen” referring to America, makes me think you haven’t seen much of the world or read any history. Or you’re just some teenager on a computer somewhere making stories on the internet. There’s a third option but it’s better to keep this thread civil.

  41. Nick Downie says:

    INFIDEL, #39 & 40. Would that I were “just some teenager on a computer somewhere”. Enter my name in Google Books. I have never courted personal publicity but, bar one or two, the first 50 titles make reference to my work. (It is far from a complete list.)

    And “for what it’s worth”, I served with the Pesh Merga in 1974/75, as an unpaid volunteer, long before Saddam became a fashionable enemy. We were sold down the river and blackmailed into surrender (50,000 men) by Dr Kissinger and the CIA. The threat was that if we didn’t throw down our arms within 24 hours then all the Kurdish women and children in the refugee camps in Iran would be handed over to the Iraqis – and to Saddam, who already (as the then vice-president) had an appalling reputation for torturing civilians. It was my first experience of realpolitik in action. I have never forgotten it, nor have I forgiven it.