There’s been lots of disturbing news lately about climate change.
To say the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2021 Sixth Assessment was bleak is an understatement. Here’s the Panel’s headlines for policy makers.
Then there was the recent US NOAA report, The State of the Climate 2020, which said that despite pandemic lockdowns all over the world, planet-warming gases in the atmosphere rose to their highest levels ever. The report said Earth is arguably in its worse shape ever.
Throughout the summer, climate change has been in our face. Horrifying images of natural disasters around the world fill our screens almost daily. We witnessed (and are still witnessing) wildfires destroying millions of forested acres across the planet, along with the towns that surround them. Our jaws dropped in July as thermometers climbed past 100 degrees in places like Alaska and British Columbia for the first time in recorded weather history. We cringed at footage of catastrophic flooding through much of Europe that out centuries-old cities and towns and villages. Our stomachs turned as we heard about a flash flood along China’s Yellow River that trapped 500 subway riders in a tunnel, killing twelve, and saw still more devastation in Central Tennessee after fourteen inches of rain. Then there was Ida, the energy laden hurricane that devastated southern Louisiana and New Orleans then kept going and going, flooding huge swaths of the nation as it moved inland and continued northeast, wreaking havoc in densely populated cities and suburbs from Philadelphia to New York City and beyond. As of this date the death toll in Louisiana stands at 11 and 49 in the Northeast.
Equally disturbing are threats to food and water supplies from the long-term megadroughts that plague many far-flung parts of the planet. The two-decade-long megadrought in Colorado River Basin, which serves 40 million people and supports 15 percent of America’s crop output and 11 national parks, is forcing seven Western states and parts of Mexico into unprecedented water shortage declarations.
The UN and NOAA reports and the onslaught of natural disaster news have think tanks, academicians, governments and businesses throughout the world grappling with the humanitarian and economic consequences of climate change and ways we must adapt.
Migration is one of those consequences. Human history has been shaped by migrations, large and small, caused by all things biblical: climate change, natural disasters, famine, pestilence, plagues, war and greed (think gold rushes or lower taxes), religious differences, and the list goes on. But the scale of migration that could occur as a result of our now very visible planetary climate change is truly unprecedented.
All this is to say that migration is a theme I’m interested in as short fiction writer focused on life in the mid-to-late 21st Century. The reality is that some of us who never in our wildest dreams expected to become migrants could find ourselves the new kids on the block someplace we never imagined we’d live. It’s not inconceivable that there might be only a few comfortably habitable regions for humans left on the planet by the end of this century, so we might find ourselves packed into those areas, eating things strange new foods, drinking water recycled from sources we’d never imagined, and living lives quite different than those we lead now.
As part of my research, I’m reading a book published in 2010 titled The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future, by Laurence C. Smith, who is currently professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University. I’ve read the first few chapters, but I’m already looking at maps of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, and the northern tier of the US differently and wondering how the relatively unpopulated northern tier of planet Earth might look in 2050, and where (if I live that long) I might wind up. More importantly, I wonder where my son and his wife and their future kids will be, and my nieces and nephews and their families, too. (Fortunately, many of them are already on the southern end of what Smith considers the Northern Tier). As I read more about how Smith sees the world in 2050, I’ll share more of my thoughts. In the meantime, I’m thinking maybe it’s a good thing I still have a few heavy wool sweaters from my Chicago days, in case I wind up in in assisted living in Yellowknife, Canada or Trondheim, Norway. Or maybe I’ll just need a good rain slicker? A few days ago, I received this newsflash from weather.com, part of The Weather Company a weather forecasting and information technology company.
BTW, The Weather Company is a subsidiary of the Watson and Cloud, business unit of IBM. I love my news flashes from Watson, IBM’s artificially intelligent supercomputer that, according to Wikipedia can now ‘see,’ ‘hear,’ ‘read,’ ‘talk,’ ‘taste,’ ‘interpret,’ ‘learn,” and ‘recommend.’
If planetary change doesn’t scare you, then maybe AI will. More on that in future blog posts.