How Climate Change Could Destroy America


Image via Feministe

You've got to love the fuzzy, optimistic headlines climate change has a knack for inspiring. This one refers to a recent article in Slate, where Josh Levin maps out the possible apocalyptic futures America faces if climate change continues unchecked. Could the US go to war with Canada? Could Americans abandon Boston and New York City in droves for Cleveland and Detroit? Could land around the Great Lakes become the last bastion of hope for neo-Okies forced out of their Florida and California homes and onto the road by ever-worsening climate conditions? Unfortunately, it's all very possible . . . Basically, what Levin does here is compile various predictions from a number of climate scientists and writers, cite historical precedents for climate-related migrations in the US (the Dust Bowl), and make some compelling inferences as to what could happen as weather conditions continue to get worse than they ever have before. It's part climate science survey, part thought experiment.

Climate Change: the Threat Multiplier
Individually, many of the global warming consequences listed are ones we've heard before, such as how climate change will be a general threat to national security:

Even in the best case, global warming has the potential to get worse over time, and to exacerbate a bunch of other potential America-killers. It is, in military parlance, a "threat multiplier": It will increase energy demands, intensify water shortages, and strain international relations. In a 2007 CNA Corporation report on climate change and national security, retired U.S. Navy Adm. T. Joseph Lopez predicts that global warming will bring on "[m]ore poverty, more forced migrations, higher unemployment. Those conditions are ripe for extremists and terrorists."
And that makes for a pretty scary talking point. But when you consider, as Levin does, that societies have already fallen because of natural climate changes--before we'd really gotten around to messing with emitting greenhouse gases--it gives the idea the sense of urgency it deserves:
People around the world will, in short, be poorer, thirstier, and more desperate. This isn't just an educated guess—past societies have collapsed because of changes in temperature and precipitation . . . Brian Fagan documents the demise of the Pueblo Indian civilization at Chaco Canyon (in what's now New Mexico) during the Medieval Warm Period (roughly between 800 and 1300 A.D.). Faced with massive droughts, individual families set out in search of more water and better land. Eventually, no one was left.


Dust Bowl Photo via How Stuff Works
The Dust Bowl and Future US Climate Migration
Levin goes on to point out that the same basic principle was at work during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s--displaced by drought and a sagging economy, Okies formed refugee communities and headed West for work. As we know, this created a slew of social problems--and violence. Imagine that happening on an even larger scale: when sea levels rise high enough to force people out of Boston and New York City (as some predictions suggest will happen over the next 100 years), or residents evacuate the Great Plains after it becomes an arid desert (again, certain climate predictions note this could occur), there's probably going to be chaos.

As Americans pack themselves into the smaller, still-hospitable regions and cities, trouble could brew.

It's possible the government of Hot America would buckle under the weight of such a disaster. With those in the most-livable zones unwilling to pay for the rebuilding or relocation of vast swathes of the country, the nation could split regionally.
Some of those still-hospitable hot spots? Maybe currently declining cities like Detroit, Buffalo, and Cleveland, which were originally settled for their proximity to fresh water and fertile resources.

Climate Change Starts a War
The land around the Great Lakes, which contain over 20% of the world's fresh water, could become prime real estate--so prime that it's not entirely unfeasible that the US could one day try to sack Canada to get access to all of it.

Many of the predictions end up spelling out Mad Max-ish scenarios for of the country's future that seems at once fantastic and uneasily plausible. Others suggest entirely realistic social conflicts that seem more likely than not to occur. Levin doesn't posit that all of this will actually happen--though he sites sources that support each prediction--but some of it certainly could. Regardless of how accurate each idea turns out to be, it's an interesting thought experiment--one that we should be engaging in far more often.

Read the full story over at Slate.

More on Climate Change and America
Natural Disasters in America Blamed in Part on Climate Change
The American Museum of Natural History Tackles Climate Change

Tags: Carbon Emissions | Global Climate Change | United States