If climate change is actually happening, and at the rate the science suggests, then we must do something about it. This is the message being put forward by a growing number of people around the world as expressed during UN High Level meetings, on social media and in protest actions.
Perhaps most telling, the young are increasingly vocal on the subject, putting their elders and leaders on notice to act. They will inherit the future, and they don't like what they see.
In this article I'll consider how best I envision the Climate Change Topic to play out. Basically, this shall deal with identifying key drivers of change, then suggest an array of actions depending on which drivers are dominant. The actions are not predictions as such, but suggestions intended to aid critical thinking.
This article doesn't factor in inherently unpredictable developments, such as the rise of charismatic leaders, surprising scientific evidence, pandemic disease, or radical technological breakthroughs. Instead, I'll assume that the current scientific understanding of climate change, that is subject to debate, is about right, that technology continues to advance steadily, but that public sentiment can shift dramatically and that government action can as well.
I'll assume that the dominant drivers of change to be climate change itself, government actions, and popular concern.
Solving the problem
Climate change is no worse than the IPCC says it is, and is amenable to prompt action. Governments manage to cooperate and agree to a new treaty to cut carbon by 2030, and a global structure is set up to ensure compliance. There is a massive investment in renewable energy, both government supported and also from private sources. This accelerates the technical efficacy of renewables like solar and wind energy.
Energy conservation increases as digital systems enable better control over energy use. In addition, vast areas are planted with trees, bushes and grasses to soak up atmospheric carbon. Transport shifts to trains and electric cars. Local production of goods and food increases and the average person recycles more and travels less. People take more and more responsibility for their own emission actions.
The younger generations are focused on sustainable living as a fundamental belief, and increasingly shape events as they move into positions of power and influence. The world's population manages to maintain a cooperative attitude and to encourage their leaders to do the same.
The growth in greenhouse gas emissions is halted and a decline begins. There is still work to do, but the population of Earth breathes a huge sigh of relief. Furthermore, all the hard work sets us up for a bright future, even a new golden age.
Are we there yet?
Governments undertake some new policies to counter climate change, mostly to avoid criticism, while talking a lot about adaptation. Renewable energy is promoted, but the main energy reliance is still on fossil fuels, especially gas, and some nuclear.
Some people are satisfied with this largely token effort, but increasing numbers protest about the pace of change. Hard core protesters emerge to cause real disruption, which governments soon describe as terrorism. Increasingly harsh sentences are handed down to such protesters, further alienating moderates.
The pace of warming eases somewhat, but long term trends remain a problem. People have not really changed their attitudes to reflect the new times and so leaders can avoid genuine remedial action. There is an ongoing unease in people's minds which begins to have widespread psychological and health effects.
There is still much disinformation, too much ignorant ranting, too much avoidance of responsibility and too little material change to the causes of the problem.
Climate disaster and social catastrophe
The effects of climate change worsen and its ramifications become evident, governments adopt policies of effecting some remediation, focusing on adaptation, but mostly avoiding real change.
Popular dissent rises, especially among the young, which only hardens the generational divide and makes politics increasingly toxic. Governments harden their position on climate 'terrorists' who are taking direct action, attacking the remaining fossil fuel operations - such as mining, factories and other high energy use activities – that are seen as carbon intensive. Massive anti-terrorist forces previously put in place to counter fundamentalist terrorism entirely shift their attention to climate terrorism.
In this hothouse context, civil discourse breaks down completely and democracy crumbles. Our main institutions – governments, corporations and militaries - are discredited and increasingly violent emotions flow through the populace, evidenced in vicious social media exchanges, street riots and terrorist acts.
Increasingly desperate geo-engineering projects are attempted in order to lesson atmospheric carbon. These projects have little positive impact (because we still know too little) and some even make the problem worse.
Increasingly desperate governments find it increasingly difficult to cooperate with each other, and open conflict breaks out. Eventually, nuclear weapons are used, armed conflict ensues and democracy collapses. Authoritarian leaders emerge to promote narrow nationalistic responses, making cooperation to deal with the basic threat impossible.
More and more people are afraid of the grim future and increasingly weird beliefs and movements emerge in response. Rationality itself is under siege. With runaway warming and no meaningful response, the world spirals into chaos.
Of course none of these scenarios will occur - the world is more complicated than that - but we can only hope that what does happen is closer to the first scenario than the second two. That is, that our basic social and political values survive even as the threat is materially addressed. We still have time to go down this road, but we must act immediately to do so.