Scary Forecasts

Historian and geopolitical analyst Gwynne Dyer spent a year talking to senior political, military and science officials. In his book Climate Wars he writes

This thing is coming at us a whole lot faster than the publicly acknowledged wisdom has it. When you talk to the people at the sharp end of the climate business, scientists and policy-makers alike, there is an air of suppressed panic in many of the conversations. We are not going to get through this without taking a lot of casualties, if we get through it at all.

No one knows exactly what will happen, but here are a few clues.

Data shows the seas are rising and rising faster every year. Some studies predict worst case rises of 2 metres this century. The long run predicts tens of metres.

Most of the biggest cities in the world are coastal cities. If 10% of the population live in low lying areas, that’s more than 600 million people who will have to move.

CO2 levels are also increasing the acidity of the oceans. Sea creatures will come under more stress not only from changing coastlines but from acidity changes. Fisheries will be less productive and we’ll have a harder time gathering food from the sea.

Some cities and farmlands are watered by glaciers. These are melting and patterns of rain are changing.

Crops not only depend on water but also temperature. More heat doesn’t always mean more productivity.

The fossil record shows major temperature swings associated with major species extinctions; what will people eat?

Costs of maintaining infrastructure will put pressure on governments. Water shortages and food costs will increase refugee pressures and make international treaties more difficult.

And it’s already happening; more than 10 million people in Africa are dying from starvation; a fifth of Pakistan was underwater in the 2010 floods, affecting 20 million people; the 2003 heat wave in Europe killed tens of thousands.

Hopeful note (sort of): Dyer says in this interview he thinks we’re going to manage climate change in the end, though he still thinks a lot of people are going to die.