Climate change may already be causing more hurricanes, droughts and other exciting things, but it will REALLY kick into gear in about a century — that's when things are supposed to get apocalyptic. Scientists don't like to talk about the really devastating effects of climate change, partially because they've gotten so much backlash even for suggesting it exists.
Luckily, one enterprising New York Magazine writer shook a bunch of scientists down and got them to explain how climate change will affect the world in the next century or two. As it turns out, a lot of the ways are pretty surprising. I warn you: if you are not in the mood to feel like the world is ending, then you might want to stop reading. Instead, check out this story about a bird playing peekaboo.
Alright, everyone still here ... I warned you.
Ancient plagues comes backIce traps viruses and bacteria. When ice melts, these bugs get released, sometimes still intact. Scientists have already found viruses from the 1918 Influenza epidemic, which killed 100 million people. Researchers think smallpox and the Bubonic plague may also be trapped in the ice. Not to mention all the viruses that existed before humans were even around and have no immunities for.
"But already last year, a boy was killed and 20 others infected by anthrax released when retreating permafrost exposed the frozen carcass of a reindeer killed by the bacteria at least 75 years earlier," writes David Wallace-Wells, the aforementioned science writer. "2,000 present-day reindeer were infected, too, carrying and spreading the disease beyond the tundra."
We get stupid"Idiocracy," may not be all that fictional. Human brains need oxygen. More carbon in the air means less oxygen. And that means stupidity, probably not the quality you want if you're trying to avoid global catastrophy.
War doublesRemember that whole war in Syria? Droughts caused by climate change may well have contributed to it. And there's plenty more where that came from. Researchers say that, for every half degree warmer the world gets, armed conflict increases by 10-20 percent.
"Overall, social conflict could more than double this century," says Wallace-Wells.
Farmland becomes too tropical to grow foodI know I'm not supposed to pick favorites, but if I had to guess how global warming could end civilization, my money's on this one.
Most of the world relies on cereal crops like wheat, rice and corn. These plants grow well in places like the Midwest and can't survive in hot areas like the tropics. So if temperate regions all of a sudden become tropics — which is what's happening (anyone notice all the mosquitos this summers?) — people won't be able to grow wheat anymore.
"If the planet is five degrees warmer at the end of the century, we may have as many as 50 percent more people to feed and 50 percent less grain to give them," adds Wallace-Wells.
In theory, colder places like Canada and Russia would become great places for farming these staples ... after a few hundred (thousand?) years. It takes a while for soil to build up, so these regions won't all of a sudden become perfect substitutes for the rolling plains of Illinois, which will start to look more like the Amazon, minus all those lovely oxygen producing trees.
Plus, there will be a lot more droughts. Oh, and fish will die. More carbon in the ocean means the water will get more acidic, which will kill fish. It'll also increase hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas.
"Hydrogen sulfide is also the thing that finally did us in that time 97 percent of all life on Earth died, once all the feedback loops had been triggered and the circulating jet streams of a warmed ocean ground to a halt — it’s the planet’s preferred gas for a natural holocaust," says Wallace-Wells.
Happy you read this? No? Well, I can't take it back — the article or the carbon emissions — but I can offer some good news: All that is what's scheduled to happen if we do nothing. But it's not too late. I mean, sure, it's probably too late for Florida, but human civilization as a whole totally has a fighting chance.
Now go watch that peekaboo video.