Climate Change Worsening Faster Than Expected

Here in the Midwest, the “Hundredth Meridian” has been moving eastward (140 miles east and so now technically is the 98th Meridian). That is the dividing line between the dry and the humid. The dry region is creeping into Iowa and, in recent years, it has brought droughts along with it. Yet in the unpredictability of climate change, this year Iowa as had more precipitation than has been seen since records began to be kept in 1895. We have some of the best soil in the world and so feed a large part of the world, but farmers here are having a hard time getting their crops in. Also, it wasn’t that long ago that the Midwest had one of the largest floods in American history, what they called a 500 year flood. On top of that, there has been increased tornado activity.

Climate change causes weather patterns to go wacky and bounce between extremes. Along with other weather events such as superstorms that get so much attention, droughts and floods have increasingly been seen around the world. Like the American Midwest, Europe has also recently experienced droughts and that has decreased crop yields. It’s far worse in other regions. One of the largest cities in India has lost all access to water, as all four reservoirs have dried up. The Middle East is having the worst drought seen in almost a thousand years. And it turns out this has been happening for a while. Scientists have determined that man-made climate change was causing droughts at least as far back as earlier last century. Even further back, the impact on climate can be detected from ancient Roman air pollution.

Not only scientists but the Pentagon has been studying the situation and warning about the consequences. Climate change is a climate crisis. We now know that it’s a key contributing factor to ongoing famines, economic collapse, sociopolitical instability, international conflicts, civil wars, revolutions, and refugee crises. In some parts of the world, it’s beginning to get too hot to live. And these places happen to be where most of the world’s population is concentrated. A similar pattern is happening with how most of the world’s population is along coasts where storms are becoming a worsening threat. The Arctic is seeing record temperatures, the permafrost and glaciers are melting, and islands are disappearing as the water rises. Ever more people are being affected, many to the point of desperation. This leads to authoritarian and violent reactions, including terrorism. So, large numbers are fleeing in all directions and so the problem cascades from one society to the next.

Even in countries like the US, the increasing stress might be more subtle but no less impactful. Most Americans now agree that climate change is happening, even if the ruling elite continues to put on a spectacle in debating it. There is an underlying sense of crisis, not only felt by farmers who are struggling and worried about the future. Many major storms and floods have devastated American cities. Because of drier conditions, wildfires are ravaging other parts of the country. Even as President Donald Trump denies its existence, maybe the stress and uncertainty of climate change contributed to the populist outrage that got him elected. Americans realize there is a dangerous situation developing and, in desperation, it isn’t uncommon for people to turn to demagogues and authoritarians. It’s not that climate change is behind every bad thing in the world, but what is true that every bad thing in the world will be made worse by it.

Even ignoring the worst results on society, the harm to the individual is real. Many people become sick as pests and viruses spread. And many die from numerous causes, such as heatwaves: “More than 70,000 people perished to the extreme heat of the 2003 European heatwave, more than 10,000 people to the 2010 Russian heatwave, and more than 2,000 to the 2015 India heatwave. Altogether more than 800 cases of deadly heatwaves have been documented worldwide since 1980” (Climate & Capitalism, Heatwaves can kill 27 ways, and climate change puts 74% of humanity at risk).

Even for those who don’t die, life will be more difficult, uncomfortable, and stressful. Resources, from water to food, will become scarce for ever more people and so, even for those lucky enough to have access, prices for basic goods will increase. Disease and sickness will grow, along with healthcare burdens that could bankrupt many countries. Sure, the worsening conditions in many cases will lead to mass violence, probably world war, but for the average person that might be the least of their worries when they are faced with everyday difficulties and struggles in trying to take care of their families. We will see mass suffering on a scale not known in modern history. It has already begun.

Much of it is already too far gone to stop. Ecological destruction, for example, has already hit a tipping point where mass extinction will probably continue unabated. Yet climate change itself is not inevitable. Even at this late of a date, we could change our ways and avoid the worst outcomes. Will we? Probably not. But I’m not absolutely certain civilization will entirely collapse. Humans are innovative when times get tough. Still, we are forcing ourselves into a corner that will be hard to get out of without mass sacrifice and mass death. There will be high costs without any guaranteed benefit, much less certain salvation. The best hoped for outcome could be severely decreased populations living in small areas of environmental stability while others might eke by in biodomes. Life won’t return to normal. The good times of temperate climate that made the agricultural revolution possible, that is most likely coming to an end.

* * *

Environmentalist Majority
Climate Catastrophe In Slow Motion
Modernity as Death Cult
Inequality in the Anthropocene
Climate Change, Refugees, and Terrorism
Is Adaptation to Collapse the Best Case Scenario?
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