In the wake of the latest IPCC report on climate change, New Scientist magazine has illustrated 4 possible futures. Which do you think we’ll choose?
My optimistic side hopes for 2 but I’m afraid it will be closer to 3.
1: Geoengineered safety We acted early in the 21st century, invested aggressively in renewable energies and crucially, geoengineering
It wasn't easy, but by investing heavily in R&D, we have built systems for sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it underground. At the same time, we have invested in renewable energies and virtually weaned ourselves off fossil fuels. The net result: annual carbon emissions have plummeted, and atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are finally dropping.
2: Slight delay We delayed both the transition to renewable energies, and the implementation of climate treaties
As a whole, we are a more efficient society than in 2013, using less energy and fewer materials to produce more. We are also good recyclers. All of this makes for better management of natural resources. Earlier on in the century, gas was the transition fuel of choice. Now most of our energy comes from renewables and nuclear. Incentives and better international institutions mean green technologies spread rapidly. We have made the transition to a low-carbon economy. We eat far less meat than in 2013, to cut the emissions generated by livestock farming. So pastures have shrunk and agriculture is more efficient. Forests are growing, boosting the amount of CO2 stored in trees around the world.
3: Too little, too late We cut emissions, but not until late in the century
The first half of the century was spent mostly carrying on business as usual: we relied heavily on fossil fuels. We did not introduce any dramatic changes to our life styles or activities in terms of consumption, travel and the number of children we have. Then, towards the middle of the century, the consequences of climate change became too difficult to ignore. As a result, our governments slowly began introducing some unambitious policies to regulate emissions.
4: Addicted to carbon The world economy is booming, but it's fuelled by coal and oil. The global population continued to grow rapidly throughout the century, pushing emissions ever higher
Welcome to the globalised, high-tech, consumerist future: one where we are still hooked on fossil fuels. Emissions have gone through the roof, and human health and the environment are the casualties. Biodiversity crashes are threatening the normal operation of "ecosystem services" – natural processes such as water recycling through rain and rivers, and pollination.
4: Addicted to carbon Welcome to the globalised, high-tech, consumerist future: one where we are still hooked on fossil fuels. Emissions have gone through the roof, and human health and the environment are the casualties. Biodiversity crashes are threatening the normal operation of "ecosystem services" – natural processes such as water recycling through rain and rivers, and pollination.
I predict 4, but hope also for the return of magic, rise of metahumans, and a possible election of a dragon as president of the US.