A History of Humanity’s Future
Our variety of the human species, homo sapiens sapiens, emerged from out of bands of more primitive yet contemporaneous older variants of humanity well over 200,000 years ago and rapidly expanded in both their numbers and the range of their occupancy on our planet. The competitive pressure by this efflorescence of homo sapiens sapiens against the older variants of humanity reduced the numbers of the latter to the point of extinction over the course of 1600 centuries, leaving just our variety of the human species to range over the Earth for 40,000 years up to the beginning of the 21st century. The story of our species from then up to the present moment is the subject of this work.
Calendar Year 2032
During at least the decade prior to CY2032, Planet Earth had experienced a continuous sequence of weather event catastrophes spawned from an immense and increasingly powerful undercurrent of climate change. Trains of maximally energetic hurricanes scythed through Caribbean islands and into the southeastern coasts of the United States of America, and similarly destructive typhoons swept westward out of the Pacific Ocean to blast into the islands and eastern fringes of Southern Asia.
Wildfires that spanned the horizon burned for months across huge swathes of land desiccated by drought, whether scrub-desert, rolling grassland hills, seemingly limitless prairies and taiga, or logged-out withered jungles, and on every continent except Antarctica. The long droughts that parched Earth’s verdure to the point of tinder were sometimes punctuated by torrential rain, snow and hail storms fed by titanic aerial rivers of evaporated ocean water transported by climatically altered atmospheric currents, and resulted in rapid, deep, turbulent and scouring floods that could wipe away the surface of the land and whatever our human vanity had caused to be built upon it, with the force of an all-devouring tsunami.
The excess heat energy firing the greater wrath of Earth’s weather was stored in the oceans, landmass surface layers, and atmosphere, and had been accumulating for over a century because of the capture by carbon dioxide gas, primarily, of radiant heat emitted from the surface of the Earth as a cooling phenomenon, and thus preventing its escape into space. That carbon dioxide gas, along with methane, nitrous oxide and several similar heat-trapping molecular gases, had been exhausted into the atmosphere as waste products of energy production by the combustion of fossil fuels for humanity’s industrial, recreational and personal uses.
The entwined mutually resonant growth of human population and fossil-fueled energy production caused increasingly massive amounts of heat-trapping gases to be exhausted into the atmosphere every year, and thus an increasing rate of global warming. By CY2032, the average temperature of the surface of the Earth was over 2° Celsius above what it had been a century before, and there was no effort to stop or even attenuate this human-caused global warming. In fact, all human effort was bent on accelerating this trend because it was seen as the mechanism for generating immediate personal financial riches and political power.
Sea ice disappeared from the Arctic Ocean, decimating both seal and polar bear populations, and opening the way for an “Oil Rush” by Russian, Canadian and US oil and gas drilling companies. A few incidents of scuffles between these Oil Rush prospectors prompted the respective governments to send in naval forces to “protect their interests.” Oil extraction platforms were quickly erected along the shallow continental shelves rimming the Arctic Ocean, and the new petroleum output both boosted the profitability and stock market prices of the respective energy companies while also depressing the global price of oil. This proved especially hard for oil-rich countries, like Iran and Venezuela, under economic sanctions by the United States and its economic followers.
Calendar Year 2035
Methane had been bubbling up from the East Siberian Shelf for over 20 years because of ocean warming and tundra permafrost melt, but the rate of such emission increased significantly after CY2032. In CY2033 summer fires along the northern shore of Siberia ignited steady plumes of erupting methane, and the incidence of these “natural” gas flares spread out to sea over the East Siberian Shelf. In CY2034 an oil spill from a shallow water Russian oil well was touched off by offshore methane flares, and the conflagration was quickly spread about the area. Unfortunately there was loss of life, and an increase in the ignition of sea-based gas flares.
Local fires of high intensity were able to survive the winter, and they were the source of later and expanded burning during CY2035. In that year offshore methane flares erupted in the Chukchi and Beaufort Shelves, and caused the US and Canadian Coast Guards to rush counter-fire protective resources to their offshore oil extraction facilities. These efforts required emergency appropriations from the respective governments, which were offset by sudden reductions of social services budgets, along with corporate tax reductions as measures of “emergency relief.”
All of these activities greatly increased the presence of naval forces in the Arctic Ocean in efforts to protect the corporate economic assets associated with each of the Arctic Oil Rush nations, and to erect militarized cordon sanitaires to keep rival and “dirty” methane flare-initiating oil prospecting operations from “infecting” declared “exclusive economic zones.” All this raised international tensions among the nations rimming the Arctic Ocean.
Calendar Year 2036
The average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 473 parts-per-million (ppm), and an unprecedented melting and sudden calving of glaciers all along the southern coasts of Greenland occurred on April 15th of that year; sea level rose 1.7 meters, though it took till mid-October for that effect to become stabilized and uniform across the globe.
Catastrophic inundation occurred in Bangladesh with tremendous loss of life, and many of the smaller West Pacific islands were made uninhabitable. The Bangladeshi refugee crisis sparked conflict on the Indian subcontinent, and the Australian and Southeast Asian naval forces were all deployed to repel refugee make-shift flotillas. The United States, Europe, Japan, China and Korea each scrambled to build sea walls and other forms of dikes to protect their most economically valuable coastal installations (Dutch construction firms cognizant of the advanced and massive hydrological infrastructure protecting The Netherlands were suddenly avidly sought out and richly rewarded for their work). Again, monies for such construction was appropriated on an emergency basis at the cost of social welfare programs. One tragic loss to world culture was the inundation of the city of Venice.
The drought-fire-hurricane-flood cycles of violent weather had continued with increasing force in the equatorial latitudes during the advance of the preceding years, and by CY2036 huge refugee streams were fleeing north from famine, because of the collapse of subsistence agriculture, and fleeing drug-and-plantation warlord violence. Similar refugee streams attempted to flee north from Africa across the Mediterranean Sea, from sub-Saharan lands devastated by a combination of drought and overwhelming plagues of locusts. As in the Western Pacific, European and American navies were deployed to repel northward bound refugee flotillas. There were reports, impossible to substantiate, of a few incidents of the sinking of refugee ships by drone bombers.
Social unrest increased everywhere. Uniformly, the wealthiest strata of societies increased their efforts at personal enrichment and for government subsidies and tax reductions for their associated corporations, all at increasing costs to public concerns and especially social welfare programs and charitable institutions for the poor. The middle and wage-labor strata of societies increasingly acceded to increased militarization of their national economies, whether in rationalized “logical” beliefs or out of emotional fearful xenophobia-bigotry, to have their governments deploy expanded military forces offshore and along their national borders to repel refugee “invasions.”
Such sentiments quickly hardened with the sudden outbreaks of disease epidemics, feared to become pandemics spread by refugees. Indeed, epidemics were breaking out more often as the globe warmed and pathogens old and new (some unlocked from thawed tundras) expanded latitudinally. Also, tropical bacterial and parasitic pathogens were expanding their ranges northward with the increased warming.
The increasing fractional capture of GDP by military establishments because of all of this boosted the financial gains of war industries and wealthy investors. The fraction of American citizens now living entirely mobile lives in camper vans, trucks and trailers, or cars, or even on foot, now reached 1% of the population. Sentiments similar to the “us versus them” attitudes taken by national populations toward foreign refugees now began to spring up domestically by homeowners (colloquially called “the settled”) toward their fellow citizen transients (“the unsettled”), and many local police forces were morphing into militias manning internal cordon sanitaires ‘protecting’ wealthier areas.
Commendably, there were new and spontaneous popular charitable efforts of both mutual and unrestricted aid, but these occurred only at and among the lower economic strata of societies, and they were often fragile against dissolution by forces of social negativity, and occasionally of criminality.
Calendar Year 2039
This was a year of major disaster. The CO2 concentration reached 489 ppm, and the average global surface temperature was now 2.4° Celsius above the temperature of the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries. A sudden massive area-wide eruption of methane occurred from the continental shelves rimming the Arctic Ocean with a coincident gas-flame flaring expanding all around that ocean, which included the ignition of thawed and dried peat bogs, into a new “Ring of Fire.”
By the end of the year the CO2 concentration had leaped to 510 ppm. While the initial methane concentration in the atmosphere above the Arctic continental shelves had skyrocketed, the extensive and expanding flaring there burned a significant portion of that methane to carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and at higher altitudes much slower paced oxidation also converted some methane to CO2 and CO.
In any case the total load of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere had been vastly increased and the pace of global warming accelerated beyond all previous experience. By year end the global surface temperature had reached 2.6° Celsius above the early 20th century datum.
Calendar Year 2041
The average global temperature broke through 3° Celsius above the datum. The CO2 concentration reached 518 ppm.
For a decade now Australia had been experiencing wildfires that burned continuously throughout the year. Since the Methane Burp of CY2039 those fires had been expanding into horizon-to-horizon “flame deluges” that raced toward the coasts. The much expanded Australian Navy was frantically busy shuttling between open ocean refugee repulsion missions and amphibious coastal operations of wildfire victims evacuation. Despite strident outcry by Australian environmentalists and significant portions of the Australian public, against further Australian coal exportation to China, that economic activity expanded because it was one of Australia’s few remaining sources of revenue that helped pay for its mushrooming military and navel expenses, and firefighting costs, since much of the agricultural and livestock industries had been burned away. Also, there was some absorption of agricultural and animal husbandry unemployment into expanded coal industry labor employment.
Calendar Year 2042
Summer heat deaths in Europe expanded significantly, and many European governments established watering and relief stations throughout their cities in public parks, squares and plazas. Too many medical emergencies were now occurring of people collapsing in the streets and in public transit from heat stroke, to respond to them individually from just the traditional fire, ambulance and emergency services facilities of the past.
Ominously, in an increasing number of localities these stations were also water distribution sites for rationed water. Similar water rationing stations, of a much more haphazard nature and sparsely spaced, were to be found in the Middle East and throughout the globe in historically dry and desert lands. In the most primitive, impoverished and remote of such dry lands, militia level water wars were now common. India and Pakistan were dangerously close to resorting to war over Kashmir, and each had made explicit threats to the other about using nuclear weapons.
The drought-wildfire-hurricane-flooding cycles in the United States had also increased, and economic devastation of the agricultural and livestock industries of the vast center of the country was now severe with a doubling of food prices from just five years earlier. Again, economic benefits were increasingly restricted to a diminishing sliver of the American population at the uppermost rungs of the economic ladder, and economic costs of militarization and high-end wealth protection were increasingly shifted to the lowermost economic classes. None of this was hidden anymore.
The panic for wealth protection increased in desperation the higher one went up the economic ladder. The vast majority of the American public, in the rapidly shriveling “middle class,” were increasingly panicked about straightforward economic survival: even with many successful “socialist” minimum wage increase reforms, income increasingly lagged expenses since rent, food and loan costs ramped up relentlessly, and the number of decent-paying (usually corporate sponsored) jobs was shrinking. The lowest stratum of American society, the poor, were consumed with a panic for elementary physical survival.
Calendar Year 2043
This was a calamitous year. A virulent pathogen that had lain dormant in Arctic permafrost for millennia was now finally able to escape into the open air, and it spread widely and quickly, borne on windblown dust and water droplets, and attached to avian and insect bodies. It produced a pulmonary illness of high mortality. The causative virus was robust against the disinfecting actions of time, sunshine, oxygen and natural antiviral chemicals in plants, and unfortunately also in human immune systems. Hundreds of millions would die within the year.
Complicating the cure was the fact that the viral agent was quick to mutate into equally lethal forms, some of which caused fatal heart and liver infections. All the viral strains remained active. The pandemic emergency of this Arctic Flu caused real panics: naval operations to repel refugee flotillas now routinely and openly fired upon and sank them. Triage centers were set up by nearly all countries, and in the more impoverished ones mass burials by bulldozer were implemented.
The first instance of the intentional shoot-down of an inbound commercial airliner with infected passengers occurred. Internationally, protests to this outrage were muted because all nations were quietly steeling themselves to accept this practice if need be, “for protection.” The accelerating death toll everywhere from the Arctic Flu took some of the bellicose fervor out of the numerous chronic conflicts underway at that time, from Indonesia through Southeast and Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East from Pakistan to Syria, Israel and Turkey, the Arabian peninsula, and across much of Africa east to west and north to south.
Large populist socialist and anti-capitalist movements in both North and South America had been active for years now, some in Central and South America engaging in outright guerrilla warfare against their oligarchic and neoliberal governing regimes, while others as in the United States were agitating politically to gain increased political power through electoral victories. In all cases the governing political establishments, which were after all entirely subsidiaries of incorporated wealth, worked against all types of popular reforms by both legal and illegal means. The undermining of populist and socialist electoral campaigns was standard, as were election interference and tampering by establishment agencies, both private and governmental.
While insurrections were common throughout much of the more impoverished world, there now began to appear more instances of political violence against state and federal authority in the United States, though such incidents remained isolated. Some observers believed that popular frustrations that had traditionally sought relief through school and shopping mall mass shootings were now being refocused into anti-government violence.
The CO2 concentration reached 527 ppm; the global average temperature reached 3.9° Celsius above baseline; steady glacial melt over the last seven years had increased the sea level rise to 3 meters above the “normal level” of the 20th century.
Calendar Year 2045
By now large coastal areas everywhere were inundated to some degree, continental interiors were becoming unlivable, and internal social unrest and politically destabilizing pressures had reached levels that were between frightening to nearly overwhelming, depending of the degree of development of the society in question, and the extent of the firepower, militarized police forces and security infrastructure its government had available for social control.
The Arctic Flu was now reducing national populations at noticeable rates. For years already, wealthy individuals had been building underground bunker retreats both at home and abroad, intended to house them for long periods with stores of food, water and energy supplies, with air filtration and disinfection systems, and waste disposal systems. For the most well-heeled, such bunkers-redoubts would include stand-alone air and water generation, recycling and re-purification systems. The super wealthy would have a colony of such clustered shelters so as to maintain protective private militias around them as well. New Zealand did a brisk business of catering to this high-end real estate demand.
The CO2 concentration reached 535 ppm that year, average global surface temperature reached 4° Celsius above baseline. No reliable cure had yet been found for the Arctic Flu, and massive famines added to the death toll from the flu. Because of the shrinking area of previously habitable terrain, due to unbearable heat in dry continental interiors and inundation of coastal areas, human crowding was very uncomfortably increased and fueled social unrest and insurgencies, and this despite the population reductions by the Arctic Flu.
The ski industry everywhere collapsed due to year-round elevated temperatures and lack of winter snow. Marine life was rapidly dying out, and the seafood industry as well as subsistence fishing was in sharp decline. Severe earthquakes in California, Iran, Turkey, Japan, Missouri and Tennessee, and volcanic eruptions in the Philippines added to the chaos and misery in their respective countries. A rebellion broke out in Western China; Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran exchanged missile attacks for aerial bombardments in an uncoordinated manner. On August 9th of that year a nuclear bomb exploded in Pakistan.
After CY2045 global communications and air travel became more erratic and it became increasing difficult to acquire the data necessary to form a comprehensive picture of global events. The prospects for peaceful international cooperation in facing many of the current difficulties seemed exceedingly dim.
Calendar Year 2046
It was now clear that the world had lapsed into isolationist regionalism with severe social unrest or insurrections and wars within each region. The American government completed vast underground complexes from which to operate in future. Fatal pandemics continued. Attacks had been made against satellites and space platforms, and it seemed evident that weapons platforms had been put into Earth orbit, conceivably with nuclear tipped missiles. Nuclear explosions had occurred on the Eurasian landmass. Radioactivity levels in the atmosphere were rising. The average citizen came to realize he and she was going to be left out on their own, there wasn’t enough room “underground” for everybody.
Calendar Year 2049
We saw the night sky whiten then glow red for hours. Liquor stores and gun shops were looted with abandon. Electrical power and electronic communications failed here. What was happening elsewhere was unknown. People hunkered down with their families around here, or else fled in their cars if they had saved-up gasoline to use. I will report more later, given the opportunity.
Now appearing at Counterpunch, as:
A Short History of Humanity’s Future
14 February 2020
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While reading this the film which came to mind was Children of Men by Alfonso Cuaron. I cried all the way home after watching it.
Can’t quite say I was plagiarized, but it’s clear someone’s making money publishing endtimes by climate tales:
Maybe not as brutal as mine, but grim enough.
I’ll tell you what went into making this article. First of course my thinking about climate change and its implications since at least 2004, when I began writing about it (for Swans), with by now over 50 articles at least. Then I was inspired in one way or another, directly for this piece, by three books and two movies. Those books are: Earth Abides (George R. Stewart, 1949), A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller, Jr., 1959), Magister Ludi, The Glass Bead Game (Hermann Hesse, 1943, 1949 in English). The movies are: The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Earth Abides was a particular influence. I recommend all of these to thoughtful readers and viewers.