Yes, it's far more extreme and happening far faster than anyone imagined possible. From Australia to China, Germany to Greece, Canada to the U.S. and beyond, the planet is already being devastated by climate change. And no, I didn't expect to see the effects of the fossil-fuelized overheating of our world hit such heights (or do I mean depths?) so quickly, even perhaps in my own lifetime. Still, I'm old. No matter how bad it gets while I'm here, one thing's obvious: I won't faintly live to see the worst of it. But my children and grandchildren will and that pains me in ways I can't begin to (and won't even try to) express. Under the circumstances, what so much of the "leadership" of the major fossil fuel-emitting countries has done in terms of the climate emergency (and it is clearly an emergency now) should give the phrase "crimes against humanity" a new and deeply personal meaning.
Of course, you know perfectly well who the worst of the war criminals are. As I wrote back in 2013, while this country was all-too-bizarrely absorbed with Islamist terrorists, few enough of us were focused on the true terror of our age and those I then labelled "terrarists" (a word that never caught on), who could prove to be the destroyers of this planet. I was thinking then about fossil-fuel company CEOs, in particular, and I wondered, since they knew just what they were doing, if someday (were there still historians left to write about them) they wouldn't be seen as the worst criminals in history. After all, as I put it then, "To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn't that the ultimate crime? Isn't that terracide?"
And of course, they were hardly alone. Imagine that, in 2024, the country that has emitted more greenhouse gasses than any other in history, could re-elect Donald Trump or elect some other climate-change-denying Republican as president. And then life here would undoubtedly go on in some blind fashion that should be (but sadly isn't) almost unimaginable until the veritable roof of the world caved in. Or rather, as TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, whose new book To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change is an instant classic, writes today, perhaps what will cave in is the permafrost that stretches across so much of the northernmost parts of this planet and holds within it the possibility of both broiling and drowning us all. Just read his piece and you'll see what I mean. Tom
Climate Crisis at the Top of the World
Global Orders and Catastrophic Change
By Alfred McCoy
When midnight strikes on New Year's Day of 2050, there will be little cause for celebration. There will, of course, be the usual toasts with fine wines in the climate-controlled compounds of the wealthy few. But for most of humanity, it'll just be another day of adversity bordering on misery a desperate struggle to find food, water, shelter, and safety.
In the previous decades, storm surges will have swept away coastal barriers erected at enormous cost and rising seas will have flooded the downtowns of major cities that once housed more than 100 million people. Relentless waves will pound shorelines around the world, putting villages, towns, and cities at risk.
As several hundred million climate-change refugees in Africa, Latin America, and South Asia fill leaky boats or trudge overland in a desperate search for food and shelter, affluent nations worldwide will be trying to shut their borders even tighter, pushing crowds back with tear gas and gunfire. Yet those reluctant host countries, including the United States, won't faintly be immune from the pain. Every summer, in fact, ever more powerful hurricanes, propelled by climate change, will pummel the East and Gulf Coasts of this country, possibly even forcing the federal government to abandon Miami and New Orleans to the rising tides. Meanwhile, wildfires, already growing in size in 2021, will devastate vast stretches of the West, destroying thousands upon thousands of homes every summer and fall in an ever-expanding fire season.
And keep in mind that I can write all this now because such future widespread suffering won't be caused by some unforeseen disaster to come but by an all-too-obvious, painfully predictable imbalance in the basic elements that sustain human life air, earth, fire, and water. As average world temperatures rise by as much as 2.3Â degrees Celsius (4.2Â degrees Farenheit) by mid-century, climate change will degrade the quality of life in every country on Earth.
Climate Change in the Twenty-First Century
This dismal vision of life circa 2050 comes not from some flight of literary fantasy, but from published environmental science. Indeed, we can all see the troubling signs of global warming around us right now worsening wildfires, ever more severe ocean storms, and increased coastal flooding.
While the world is focused on the fiery spectacle of wildfires destroying swaths of Australia, Brazil, California, and Canada, a far more serious threat is developing, only half-attended to, in the planet's remote polar regions. Not only are the icecaps melting with frightening speed, already raising sea levels worldwide, but the vast Arctic permafrost is fast receding, releasing enormous stores of lethal greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
At that frozen frontier far beyond our ken or consciousness, ecological changes, brewing largely invisibly deep beneath the Arctic tundra, will accelerate global warming in ways sure to inflict untold future misery on all of us. More than any other place or problem, the thawing of the Arctic's frozen earth, which covers vast parts of the roof of the world, will shape humanity's fate for the rest of this century destroying cities, devastating nations, and rupturing the current global order.
If, as I've suggested in my new book, To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change, Washington's world system is likely to fade by 2030, thanks to a mix of domestic decline and international rivalry, Beijing's hypernationalist hegemony will, at best, have just a couple of decades of dominance before it, too, suffers the calamitous consequences of unchecked global warming. By 2050, as the seas submerge some of its major cities and heat begins to ravage its agricultural heartland, China will have no choice but to abandon whatever sort of global system it might have constructed. And so, as we peer dimly into the potentially catastrophic decades beyond 2050, the international community will have good reason to forge a new kind of world order unlike any that has come before.
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