The climate crisis is no longer a looming threat – people are now living with the consequences of centuries of greenhouse gas emissions. But there is still everything to fight for. How the world chooses to respond in the coming years will have massive repercussions for generations yet to be born.
In my book How to Save Our Planet, I imagine two different visions of the future. One in which we do very little to address climate change, and one in which we do everything possible.
Image via Wilderness Society
This is what the science suggests those very different realities could look like.
Year 2100: the nightmare scenario
The 21st century draws to a close without action having been taken to prevent climate change. Global temperatures have risen by over 4°C. In many countries, summer temperatures persistently stay above 40°C. Heatwaves with temperatures as high as 50°C have become common in tropical countries.
The extra heat in the ocean has caused it to expand. Combined with water from melting ice sheets, sea levels have risen by more than one metre. Many major cities, including Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro and Miami, are already flooded and uninhabitable. The Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and many other small island nations have been abandoned.
Fish stocks have collapsed. The acidity of the ocean has increased by 125%. The ocean food chain has collapsed in some regions as the small marine organisms that form its base struggle to make calcium carbonate shells and so survive in the more acidic waters.
High-speed electric trains reaching 300 mph link many of the world’s major cities. Intercontinental flights still run, using large and efficient planes running on synthetic kerosene that’s made by combining water and carbon dioxide sucked directly from the atmosphere.
Global diets have shifted away from meat. Farming efficiency has greatly improved during the transition from industrial-scale meat production to plant-based sustenance, creating more land to rewild and reforest.
Half of the Earth is dedicated to restoring the natural biosphere and its ecological services. Elsewhere, fusion energy is finally set to work at scale providing unlimited clean energy for the people of the 22nd century.
Two very different futures
The outcome your children and grandchildren will live with depends on what decisions are made today.
Happily, the solutions I propose are win-win, or even win-win-win: they reduce emissions, improve the environment and make people healthier and wealthier overall.
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