At what point does society collapse from climate change?
Most people really don’t understand, or just underestimate, the extent to which climate change is going to affect our everyday lives.
Even in a “best case” climate change scenario, where the planet only warms 1.5 degrees C by 2050 or 2100, dramatic changes will affect the Earth.
A planet that is 1.5 degrees C warmer than pre-industrial levels is a planet that will see massive people movements, strains on governments, and poor areas devastated with damage wrought by heavier storms, longer droughts, and hotter temperatures.
Puerto Rico was destroyed at “only” 1.0 degree C of warming. And things are still getting hotter.
The sad reality is that we are not on a “best case” path. We seem to be content to stay on a “worst case,” business-as-usual path, in which the world warms 5 degrees C or more.
It’s important to be plain about what this means. This really will mean social collapse, anarchy, and wars and eventually, species extinction.
So the question becomes, at what point does this happen?
Much of this depends on when the Earth crosses various “tipping points,” that we are only now understanding.
If the West Antarctic ice sheet melts, if Greenland melts, if ocean circulation changes, if the ocean becomes suddenly and far more quickly anoxic faster than we realize, if methane in the permafrost warms the atmosphere much faster than people anticipated: these are just a few of the tipping points that scientists are racing to understand, and which are not accounted for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.
If these things happen, that will probably be the dramatic wake up call when people realize that things are really different. That the old Earth is gone. That we are on a new planet. A planet that is not really suited for human habitation.
I look at climate studies or read about climate issues probably every day, and I have been doing that for several years now. And even though I do that, I am still in denial about climate change, and what it will do to my life.
Some of this probably stems from the limits of my own imagination, as I try to piece together the various aspects of the science of climate change.
Some of this is inherent in the science itself. The science is good, but it is not a crystal ball into the future. We know winter is cold, but we don’t know what the temperature will be like on Christmas. The science will only go so far.
But some of the limitation is certainly a denial. I am in denial about how bad our shared predicament really is. None of this is a conspiracy, no one is hiding anything. The science is public. It can be read and understood by any one who wants to read it. Government leaders have been grossly negligent to the point of intentional in condemning the species to possible extinction. Corporate leaders have not cared to change their ways or to pressure governments to act. And we the people sit on our hands, hoping for a superman or superwoman to save us, to do the hard work of the radical reforms we need -- the rebellion we need -- to change the destiny of our species and our planet.
At what point does society collapse? Sadly, sooner than we want. Sooner than we think. And none of us are prepared for it.