We are at a crossroads, and we have to choose carefully which path we take. It is certain that we will have to make changes to how we live if we want to take the better route. Otherwise, we will have to face the oncoming climate catastrophe and learn to cope with the colossal natural disaster that will come with it. If we refuse to accept the urgency of the changes we need to make, there could be dire consequences for us and all human beings yet to exist. We have about 10 years before we reach the point of no return, at which atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will cause enough harm to set off devastating chain reactions of natural events.
We are all quite familiar with what would happen if we went down this neglectful pathway. From an early age, we are taught about increasing temperatures causing arctic ice caps to melt, which in turn raises global sea levels. This then melts more ice, creating a powerful cycle of environmental decline contributing to ever-increasing flooding all over the world. We are also taught about desertification, deforestation and other man-made natural destruction. About 75% of the worlds land is already degraded, and this increases by an area about the size of half of Europe every year. Destroyed habitats will have a huge impact on natural ecosystems and societies. By 2050, land degradation will reduce crop yields by 10%. In this future, famine will be commonplace. But what does this version of the future look like from our perspectives? What impacts will it have on our day to day lives?
The New World would be turbulent. One major event we would see is the mass migration of people. If we carry on with business as usual, 700 million people will be displaced by 2050 due to land degradation alone, which could increase to 10 billion by the end of the century. We would see an unprecedented refugee crisis as millions of people will try to find habitable places to live. As global populations increase and the area of habitable land decreases, overcrowding would be inevitable. The divide between the rich and the poor would keep growing, while the world is fighting over whatever scraps of food are available. As the strain on resources increase, we would see political turmoil and civil wars erupting out of desperation. Humanity could drive itself close to extinction. The remaining few could rebuild. Or Homo Sapiens could remain forever as an insignificant species, never returning to its former glory as Mother Nature takes the helm and brings the planet back to equilibrium.
That’s one possible outcome.
As much as we have the tendency to harm ourselves and everything around us, humans are also capable of adapting and creating intelligent solutions to deal with pressing issues. In an alternative outcome, humanity takes the path of urgent action. We wake up to what is happening around us and do what we must to mitigate the climate crisis. Unlike the well researched negative outcome, the alternative would be hard to predict. We have no idea what technologies and strategies we will invent in the coming years. Yet, based on what is being developed today, there can be some speculation about what the future might hold.
One thing is for certain though. Any steps towards a greener future will not be done out of goodwill. The future will be shaped by the restrictions set out by governments, and economic opportunities within those boundaries. The use of fossil fuels will become illegal or unfavourable, and renewable energies will flourish due to them becoming more profitable. Luckily, the wind and the sun are unlimited resources energy companies can exploit at will.
Along with fossil fuels, petrol and diesel-powered cars will also be outlawed. In the UK, the MPs want to pass legislation that will ban all fossil fuel powered cars by 2035. By that point, we will have affordable electric vehicles powered by our renewable energy. However, manufacturers are starting to develop safer self-driving cars, and with time, we start to trust them. Maybe in 2040, we would not own cars and would share a communal network of self-driving vehicles. As it would be automated, there would be no traffic jams or accidents, and cars would race around cities like blood cells in a body. Roads could be reimagined, maybe becoming an underground network, freeing up space for people to enjoy in the sun. The same could be applied to our planes and ships. Mitigating climate change doesn’t mean we need to slow down.
Buildings and construction currently contribute significantly to global emissions. For example, in New York, 80% of all emissions come from buildings. To combat this, designers of the future will start looking back to pre industrial techniques and materials for construction. Homes of the future will be made of timber, straw and earth, more sustainable materials that also satisfy our human needs to be in nature. As our mastery of the environment grows, the boundaries of cities will blur; we will be able to have our home embedded in nature, and we will bring nature into our cities. Neighbourhoods would become peaceful and quiet as the sounds of combustion fade away and the sounds life and nature return.
The climate crisis might lead to life being harder for everyone. However, if we innovate and change our way of thinking, this might be an opportunity for humans to kick start a new era of prosperity. It is easy to imagine what the future might hold for us, but it can only be achieved by making a change now.