The gist is that for the foreseeable future, the kind of problems we’ve been seeing from COVID, mainly shortages, will become worse because of climate change. Developed countries will begin to function more like 3rd world, and the 3rd world (the worlds factory floor, will be destroyed from disasters and massively depopulated.
It’s a bit depressing. But it ignores the possibility of black swans. Which is just about our last hope right now.
I’d say it’s fair. Kind of the reason I’ve been tuning out of politics lately. I mean, I’m still gonna vote but I’m not at all hopeful for our future. Just hope I have enough cash to live in dignity in my elder years
That’s the best I can hope for right now… doesn’t seem like a very high bar but it is what it is.
I just skimmed the article but the premise is on point. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is just incidental; any massive disruption to supply chains, either in production, distribution, or final point sales has massive repercussions because of how interlinked everything is to a degree that is beyond linear forecasting. Take microchips in automobiles; it isn’t a huge segment of the overall integrated circuit (IC) market so you’d think that shifting demand would have little impact upon ramping up and down production unless you understand that starting and stopping lines of IC manufacture is a huge endeavor with massive capital cost implications, and so even though IC manufacturers are essentially back up to full speed they are still a couple years away from being ready to produce bespoke ICs for automotive companies at demand volume.
Climate change has multiple aspects to potentially disrupt trade including disruptions of production; economic damage that reduces demand; physical damage that increases demand; disruptions of transoceanic shipments and major ports from extreme weather events, food and material shortages because of climate disruptions, et cetera, and our current global distribution and “just-in-time” logistics is not robust or resilient to any major disruptions.
Is it insane to see some flicker of hope in this? For example, if no chips means no cars, then less resources wasted on that and connected industries, meaning reduced use of resources and reduced pollution. Unemployment could be handled, at least for a time, by robust government spending in productive areas. Etc.
I was going to say that it underestimates the ability of humans to adapt to changing circumstances, with the help of advances in technology, which maybe has some overlap with your answer.
Unfortunately disruption has more negative effects than ostensibly ‘positive’ ones, even though defined by reducing energy use and polluting activities. Our system of industrial economy, including agriculture necessary to keep people fed, is highly dependent upon these vastly interconnected manufacturing, logistics, and distribution systems. The developed world has been insulated from the worst of effects mostly by dint of having such an excess of everything that more modest reductions weren’t noticed but even while there are greater yields and faster global distribution, there has been increases in food insecurity in developing nations, especially those already in conflict, which can only be expected to continue as domestic sustenance farming becomes less reliable.
Governments, even ones with strong social safety nets, struggle with unemployment and revitalizing existing or instantiating new industries. It would theoretically be a great time to deploy a new, more robust transportation and energy distribution infrastructure, but you can see how difficult that is legislatively and the groundwork to do so really needs to be laid out several years in advance to ensure that there is something like a cohesive system with contractors vetted to reliably do the work, notwithstanding political variations from administration/government in the US and elsewhere that make it difficult to follow through on projects of more than a few years. So I’m skeptical that “government spending in productive areas” will come to the rescue even if there were a clear imperative for it.
The world has always been in crisis. Life has never been easy. Where and what the crisis is changes and is different each time. Maybe you or your immediate ancestors have been privileged or lucky, but the wheel keeps turning.
There’s always people who lose hope. There’s always people who find hope. Choose what kind of person you want to be.
Well, that’s a ready platitude, but the reality is that there are more people, both in absolute numbers and relative percentages, who are highly dependent upon interconnected global agricultural, manufacturing, and distribution systems than in any time in history, and who cannot transition to self-sufficiency or effectively migrate to more secure regions.
The Oklahoma Dust Bowl storms of the 1930s were a genuine catastrophe, turning once fertile agricultural land into a vast desert which, compounded by and contributing to the Great Depression left hundreds of thousands of people desperate. However, people could migrate elsewhere (over a hundred thousand Oklahomas formed a social enclave in Southern and Central California alone, contributing to its growth as a major agricultural producer) or receive aid from regions not adversely impacted.
In the case of global climate change, while some regions will be impacted more than others the sheer amount of people affected and and the projected global impacts means that it will have major security implications. Indeed, it is considered one of the largest national security threats by the US Department of Defense in coming decades as food insecurity, conflicts over scarce resources, and people forced to migrate from areas subjected to increase flooding and adverse weather effects leave little reason for blithe optimism.
We (that is, the developed world) could take steps to prepare for and mitigate this but that would require a major change in global production and distribution systems as well as transitioning to energy and agricultural systems that are more robust and sustainable. Aside from ‘pet’ projects, there is little in the way of real action, nor any real expectation that governments will step up until in crisis, and the potential scope and scale of a global climate crisis (especially one on the current projected track which is not trending toward the less impactful end of the scale) is unprecedented and frankly beyond the scope of action of even a single major government or small collection of governments, and the odds that countries and groups like the US, China, India, and the EU are going to see eye to eye sufficient to take meaningful action is unlikely at best.
I disagree. Based on my understanding of history, things have been getting steadily better for the human race since we first settled down in cities in the Middle East several millennia ago. There has been a few notable exceptions, but the fact that they are so notable shows that progress has been the rule rather than the exception.
For Europe the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Black Death, and the two World Wars are the main exceptions.
Outside of Europe the arrival of Europeans during the age of colonialism was the big crisis. Admittedly this was a major problem for those societies, and in many places the ongoing colonialism stunted the development of those societies. None the less, the societies in those places were also making progress through 1491.
I would go so far as to hypothesize that in the vast majority of the world, 1491 was probably the best year ever to date. I’d also hypothesize that up until the world seemingly went crazy in the mid 2010s, that say, 2015 or so was probably the best year ever in the history of humanity, with the exceptions being those places that were so ravaged by colonialism that they were better off just before the arrival of Europeans.
ETA. I think we’re in one of those exceptions right now. COVID-19 and global warming are clearly making things worse, but Trump and Brexit happened before COVID and back when global warming still wasn’t causing problems in most of our day to day lives. The world (not jus the US and UK) went crazy, but damned if I know why.
I remember reading a sci-fi novel about some mercantile nomad spaceships going from solar system to solar system to trade with the more advanced ones. Something bad happens in a solar system that disrupts their equivalent of our “just in time manufacturing/logistics” and it turns out there is no coming back from that, only a cycle of collapse followed with dead cat bounces followed by more collapse.
I can’t remember the title but I keep thinking about it these past few months…
Edit: The traders were called the Qeng ho and were featured in several novels by the acclaimed Vernor VInge. Highly recommended.
Second edit: looking back at the synopses of the novels, they’re really great. lots of cool concepts. Like a fluctuating speed of light depending on where in space you are. Go read one
To put things in a little context–life did get more or less steadily better from the time of cities being formed in Mesopotamia and Egypt. However as best we can tell from about 300 CE forward things started to go in poor directions in the region of the historical “Western civilization” (Western Europe + North Africa + Asia Minor + the Levant + Mesopotamia, roughly), the Roman Empire steadily declining in the West was leading to a steady erosion in agricultural output and stagnating population. The whole region was on shaky grounds for a few hundred years.
Interestingly around the mid-500s politically and economically things were looking up again, Emperor Justinian was on the throne in Constantinople and things at least seemed to be trending in the right direction. Then something happened, what history calls the “Plague of Justinian”, and that modern scholars largely believe was the first historically documented outbreak of the Black Death in the West. Exact death totals are hard to come by, but it was believed to be extreme. It largely arrested the ability of Justinian’s successors to build on what he had done (Justinian himself contracted, but lived through, the disease.) There’s something like 15 scholarly estimates of total populations from 1 to 1000 CE and there is some variance, but there’s decent support for the idea that in part because of the Roman Empire’s agricultural collapse consequent to its political and economic collapse in the West, and the Plague of Justinian, the population in Western Europe in 1000 CE may have been no higher than it was in the year 1 CE.
Estimates for the entire world’s population frequently suggest only around a 15-20% increase in population from 1 to 1000.
Then something fairly amazing happened. Climate improved in Europe, farming technology improved, stability grew. Year over year there were more farmers begetting more future farmers, good harvests followed good harvests. Life expectancy is thought to have increased. By the year 1300 the population of Europe is believed to have doubled from where it was in 1000 AD. This led to a huge surge in European culture.
However, then something happened again, the “Plague of Justinian” returned, not understood as such by scholars of the time, it was dubbed the “Black Death.” All told, by around 1460 the population of Europe is believed to have been less than half of what it was in 1346. It took centuries for Europe to recover.
From that point forward, things have mostly been on a pretty steady path forward for Western society, and for most cultures in general. While there were many negative events after that, the only thing worse than the Black Death would’ve been the introduction of Western disease to the New World, which caused a mass die off of indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere.
In other places, from the far east to sub-Saharan Africa and parts in between, even large scale wars and famines never approached the sort of contraction seen from the black death, and even things on the scale of WWII can be see as fairly minor “blips” in comparison (many countries had exceeded WW2 population and productivity within a couple decades at worst, and that’s the countries that were reduced to almost Year 0 state from the war–versus a solid two centuries of recovery from the black death.)
TDLR–yes things are better now than when we first settled in cities, but it’s been up and down. Climate change probably won’t approach the black death in terms of how much it disrupts society and kills people, but the best estimates we have now suggest it will be much more disruptive than say, the World Wars.
It’s actually worth noting a lot of decently informed people were saying as early as March and April of 2020 that the impact of covid on the supply chain was going to take years to shake out, and would have multiple “ripple waves” staggered over time. So far those predictions have been pretty salient. The people who understood the brittle nature of the modern supply pipeline in March 2020 knew that you can’t slam the brakes on it then just floor the gas to make up for lost time like it’s nothing, and they were largely right in their predictions that there would be multiple waves of supply shocks, economic trouble, and years of recovery to get back to where we were.
Also, people of the 1930’s were stronger than we are today, and could deal with suffering.
There was no refrigeration, so people were used to limited food.And even when there was enough food for meals, they lived their entire lives feeling just a little bit hungry most of the time.*
The level of desperation described by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath is painful to read about.
American society survived it back then.
Today, we could not .
*Because preparing food was a lot of hard work, so there weren’t many quick snacks between meals… Food was hard to keep preserved, the bread you bought yesterday was stale, etc…Just heating water for a cup of coffee meant stepping outside to the well and pumping the water, putting some kindling wood into a stove, lighting it and waiting longer than anyone today has patience for.
First off, that article is terrible.
- It relies on histrionics instead of facts.
- One of the few “facts” it offers, that there have been petrol riots in Britain, is wrong. A scuffle in a queue is not a riot.
- It blames globalisation for the problems of the world’s poor, but ignores the fact that globalisation has brought billions of people out of poverty. (It was estimated in 2018 that half of the world’s population had moved into the middle class or above.) https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2018/09/27/a-global-tipping-point-half-the-world-is-now-middle-class-or-wealthier/
- It blames the billionaire class for the global shortages problem, but the two billionaires it explicitly blames aren’t part of the problem. Zuckerberg’s Facebook hasn’t had any shortage problems, other than the occasional few lost hours. Bezos’s Amazon improved the distribution of goods, enabled thousands of businesses, and increased competition among retailers. In other words, Amazon has improved the global economy, not detracted from it.
But let’s ignore the article, and concentrate on a couple of other questions.
Are the current Covid problems the first descending steps of a downward spiral in which the next series of steps will be because of climate change issues?
There’s no question that Covid has caused major economic shocks. Entire industries have been brought to their knees and are only slowing beginning to re-establish themselves. Some, such as cinemas and serviced offices may never recover. However, periodic economic disruptions are the norm, rather than the exception. The 2008 financial crisis caused a severe downward spike of global economic growth to -1.7%. However, the following year, there was a global economic upward spike, and the global economy continued to grow through 2019. The 2020 Covid-induced downward economic spike is much worse, at -3.7%.
Recovery will probably take longer, and will depend on factors such as worldwide vaccination and acceptance of increased mortality risks. However, we’re probably talking about a 3-5 year recovery. Climate change is already having negative economic effects, but in terms of the global economy, they’re very small. Those negative economic effects are expected to increase over the next three decades, but they’re expected to lower the rate of acceleration, rather than cause deceleration. Deceleration is forecast sometime in the middle of the second half of the 21st century, presuming there’s no substantial fall in global greenhouse emissions.
So no, the current Covid crisis is not the lead-off to the prospective oncoming climate crisis.
Will future climate change related economic crises resemble the current Covid crisis?
My opinion - probably, yes. I don’t mean that future climate change related crises will result in lots of people working from home and avoiding personal contact. But it seems like there are perpetual medium-level crises that are in the news for a few days or weeks and then drop out of concern. Haiti’s had several major problems over the last few months, and the effect of those problems are still being reported on, but it’s considered a problem somewhere else. The same with Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban. Or, for a smaller US example, the same with the New York City Storm Ida flash floods. There’s a problem, people declare it’s an emergency, and then move on. It’s only when some big ongoing global disaster happens that major societal disruption is caused. Many small to medium climate-change related crises are going to happen over the next few decades and will just be absorbed and ignored. Then, there will be a large ongoing global disaster that will force radical government action around the world. And all the finger pointing, wailing about how we should have been better prepared, and desire to just get back to normal will probably be pretty similar to how everyone’s reacting to the current Covid crisis.
You are right; things have been getting better over the long run, but not steadily. There are always crises threatening to and sometimes succeeding in undoing recent progress. And a crisis doesn’t have to be big to hurt people–focusing on only large-scale or large-impact situations misses a lot of suffering.
My thoughts largely align with yours with a couple of small differences:
I do not think we will have 3 decades of small and medium disruptions before the climate equivalent of covid happens. I think we have 15-20 years of that at best because emissions are still increasing at a heart-sinking pace and there is a non-negligible risk that there are unknown feedback loops that will accelerate this and that current climate predictions are still too optimistic, as they have been in the past.
I think that when something major happens, death on a scale unseen in many centuries, we will react poorly and finger pointing will quickly turn into wars and famine. NATO is much weaker than it should be, as evidenced by Russia and China’s unchecked territorial expansions. HK and Crimea have fallen. When is it Taiwan’s turn? Why would any country trust the US or UK or NATO to have their back when they’ve clearly not the appetite for war?
I’m not sure how much NATO has to do with climate change–NATO as a treaty organization provides for mutual defense of its participant members, of which Ukraine and China are not members. We do not have formal treaty obligations to defend either Ukraine or Taiwan. We have loose agreements, which well, they were known to be loose agreements at the time. In the case of Ukraine it was a loose agreement that we wouldn’t violate its territorial sovereignty, and in Taiwan’s case that we would provide them with “military equipment sufficient to defend itself.”
I don’t actually anticipate the ills of climate change will happen with a big, flashy, Hollywood movie style event. Things like the covid supply chain shocks I think are a better format. Expect systems to just work less and less well, things to get worse and worse over time. There likely will be a point if you live through it (and people my age likely will miss most of it), where you can look back 10 years and be like “man, 10 years ago x, y and z were so much better” and the reason they are worse is because of climate related issues occurring.
Humans are bad at systematizing complex issues as well, so there may be a war that breaks out over resource usage, maybe one that ensnares NATO or the U.S. to some degree, and most of the “attention” will be on the heights of drama involved in the war itself, not a deeper understanding of the broader situation. We saw this after 9/11, for all the talk about “defending our freedoms” and the trillions of dollars in wars that followed, how rigorous was the public dialogue about the real roots of Islamic extremism? How rigorous was the public dialogue about how some of the very gulf petrostates we’re in bed with have a lot of rich people who help fund extremist groups? You can have your own opinions about why that stuff was never front and center, but at least part of it was wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are a lot more “exciting” than delving into the maladies of angry young men involved in extremist movements in the Middle East. Much easier to pain them as demons and beat your chest about freedom then show videos of bombing runs and destroyed homes.
What makes this whole situation difficult for me to wrap my brain around is that this decline started before COVID-19 and before any large scale effects of global warming were being felt on the ground, especially in the developed world. There had to have been other factor(s) that triggered the decline, likely still ongoing and seemingly still unidentified. Brexit, the rise of Trump, and the election of leaders like Trump around the world (Bolsanoro in Brazil, Duterte in the Philippines, Orban in Hungary, Modi in India, Erdogan in Turkey, and so on) all started back in the early to mid 2010s. This was before the more obvious manifestations of global warming started rearing their ugly heads, and obviously before COVID-19. I still don’t understand what triggered all that shit. Whatever it was, I suspect that has as much to do with the ongoing decline as global warming and COVID-19 do.
All of the examples you listed are populist politicians who’ve exploited the fears of their countries’ voters towards globalisation. Globalisation is a boogeyman that’s being used as dummy target by both the right and the left. The right blames globalisation for the loss of domestic jobs, and the left blames globalisation for wealth inequality and exploitation of poorer nations. Both have elements of truth and faults that are revealed by more detailed analysis, but the concern of voters is that a global agenda is hurting their country and they’re not interested in the detailed analysis. Globally, left-wing political agendas support internationalism, but are lousy at selling it and often come across as unpatriotic. It doesn’t help that the countries of the populist voters are often hampered, if not outright screwed over, by their international partners. On the right, it’s easy to find individual examples of people who’ve lost their jobs, or had their way of life negatively impacted, through globalisation, but harder to find beneficiaries when then benefits are diluted, rather than direct. Even in poorer per-capita countries such as India, which has clearly benefited from globalisation, there are groups who believe they’ve been left behind. The argument that they’re better off, just not as better off as everyone else unsurprisingly doesn’t have much resonance. It’s a situation where neither argument, left nor right, is very convincing, but the populist patriotic argument is easy to understand and appealing.