The Future – Somewhere Between Catastrophic and Just Terrible

This blog is somewhat future obsessed.  I can’t help it but I worry constantly about what the future holds and nothing worries me more that catastrophic climate change and ecological collapse.  Perhaps, I am just cranky because it was 90 degrees here today (November 18th!) in San Antonio.  Regardless I was ruminating a bit on the future as I was outside baking in the sun and was thinking about the World Scientists Warns the World A Second Time report.  The report was published in the journal BioScience and is an update of a report that was published 25 years ago (warning the world the first time) of the perilous position we find ourselves in regarding climate change and ecological destruction.  The update raises the alarm of the first report and shows how much worse things have gotten since the first report (with a few exceptions where things have gotten better).  Below is a series of graphs documenting various environmental changes from 1960 to present

Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 5.49.49 PM

Freshwater resources have declined, dead zones have increased, total forests have declined, vertebrate species have declined, and CO2 emissions and temperatures have increased considerably.  On the positive side Ozone depletion has reversed (thank you Montreal Protocol).  Although the report highlights changes that could be made that can reverse many of these trends at this point I am not optimistic.

Whenever one starts thinking about climate change and the environment, catastrophic thinking is hard to avoid.  However even if the trends portrayed in the graphs above continue the future may not be catastrophic, it might just be terrible.  In a recent article for the Niskanen Center the economist Ed Dolan wrote something that I have thought about a lot since I first read it.  Dolan doesn’t think that climate change will lead to economic collapse or anything catastrophic like that but what he does envision is just  . . .sad:

“One problem is that we might not like a future world with great wealth but widespread environmental devastation. To me, such a future sounds uncomfortably like life in, say, today’s United Arab Emirates—a world where you can ski, but only on artificial snow and artificial indoor mountains; you can smell the flowers, but only in a garden; and you can see animals, but only in a zoo. Economics is supposed to be about tradeoffs. Personally, I’d be happy to trade some future GDP for a greener, healthier planet.”

This is the world I think we are heading toward, and already live in to a certain extent, one where large mammals are only seen in zoos, where approaching 100 degrees in November is normal, where wildflowers don’t grow, and snow doesn’t fall.  It might not be a catastrophe but its not a world as beautiful and enchanting as it could be.

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