I expect that my grand children, now in their late teens and twenties, will witness the full impact of the world-wide mass migrations to take place as one of the results of climate change. These migrations will take the form of all peoples moving towards the Earth’s north and south poles as the planet inexorably moves towards a state that will not support human life. In the case of the Americas this means Patagonia which is small and already partially bought up, or northern Canada. There are about half a billion people living between the equator and the Canada/US border.
Unfortunately this is not alarmist drivel it is the only scenario that makes sense, given the obvious reality of the human condition over the balance of the 21st century and beyond. This dystopian reality can easily be itemized into factors which are not in dispute by the worldwide body of serious scientists. Over all these items hangs the spectre of increasing population expected to top out at over 10 billion, a 500% increase since I was born.
Fresh water for drinking, crop irrigation and hygene:
Salinization of shallow aquifers such as Florida and the Pacific islands.
Depletion of non-replenishable aquifers such as the deep Ogalalla of the US Great Plains
Loss of glaciers such as those of the Himalayas that give rise to five major rivers which in turn provide water for more than 1.4 billion people.
Multi-year drought in places such as Australia, the African Sahel and California.
Contamination by agricultural and industrial waste.
Lack of irrigation water as mentioned above.
Depletion of soil by erosion.
Degradation of soils by pesticides, chemical fertilizers, over-use and over-tilling.
Loss of fisheries by over-fishing, reduction of ocean alkalinity (aka acidification), anoxia from agricultural run-off and increasing ocean temperature.
Intolerable atmospheric conditions
Heat waves, sandstorms, increase of particulates, decrease of oxygen content and general warming of the atmosphere will bring increasing difficulties to those who are already suffering from chronic disease, particularly of the lungs. At some point, every individual will face a decision to attempt to migrate to a more favourable climate or to stay put and die.
During and after the WW1, 16 million people died from the “Spanish” strain of influenza. Much of the magnitude of this pandemic has been attributed to poor hygiene in the trenches during the last weeks or months of the war plus the fact that those still alive returned home and took the virus with them. Many parts of the world still harbour virulent communicable disease, some of which can be passed on through the air (influenza and tuberculosis), through the water (cholera and dysentery), bodily fluids (HIV/aids, hepatitis and STD’s) through contaminated food and even by close contact with other animal species ( the zoonotic forms of influenza, tetanus, bubonic plague – yes it still lingers in some wild animal populations).
It doesn’t take much imagination to see the danger of disease to tens of millions of humans crowding together, having left behind medical services and already struggling with fatigue, injuries and immune system compromise.
Under such conditions, the existence of political boundaries, trade agreements, political and economic systems and even nations will become meaningless. Armed conflict will erupt but not under the auspices of the UN, NATO or any other such political entity, it will just erupt in response to whatever gets in the way of the migrating and often armed humans who are displaced. Alliances, governments, the rule of law and civil society (which has never been civil anyway) will unravel in favour of doing whatever it takes to stay alive.
At this point in time, all humans would do well to put their efforts into mitigating the factors and conditions which are leading us all inexorably towards the plight outlined above and only if and when that can be accomplished do we need to worry about treaties, nationalism, commerce, the sacred economy and other niceties of past centuries. Failing to accomplish such all-encompassing change will render all human political constructs useless.