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2100: Hot, crowded and rich

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


Climate scientists use standardized scenarios as they peer into the future. The scenarios, known as “representative concentration pathways” and “shared socioeconomic pathways,” specify trends in population, economic growth, energy use, and other variables that produce different degrees of warming, help maintain comparability among the work of research groups. But by putting everything in the form of tidy numbers, do they obscure the big picture?

Some of the most widely publicized visions of the future combine two scenarios known as RCP 8.5 and SSP5. These assume that population increases to as many as 12 billion people, nearly twice as many as today. They also stipulate no implementation of climate policies, heavy reliance on fossil fuels (especially coal), and a tripling of CO2 emissions. That would be enough to produce as much as 5 degrees C of warming by 2100, far more than the 2 degrees C, beyond which lies climate catastrophe, according to many environmentalists.

Although it is less often discussed, RCP 8.5 and SSP5 also assume a remarkable increase in economic prosperity. They project that GDP per capita in 2100, adjusted for inflation, will be five times higher in countries that are already developed today, and up to 30 times higher in those that are now less developed. This economic growth surprises some people, but it should not. After all, economic production and consumption are the source of the emissions that drive the warming. If they didn’t grow, the future climate would be cooler.

To grasp what this paradoxical future that combines environmental devastation with great economic prosperity would really look like, we need to move beyond the numbers. Let’s take a quick trip through time to visit some representative countries of the crowded, warm, and wealthy world of 2100.

We start with a stop in Iceland—the richest country in the world, with a per capita GDP of $1.5 million, stated in US dollars with 2010 purchasing power. (This and other income estimates come from a recent study by Marshall Burke and colleagues.) Yes, there is still actual ice here, if you look in the right place at the right time of year. As a tourist attraction, ice is one source of the country’s wealth. Tourism aside, Iceland has maintained strict immigration controls, as have most European countries. That leaves plenty of room for crops in its fertile fields. Food exports are another source of income. Iceland continues to get most of its energy from geothermal sources, so it bears little of the blame for the climate woes that affect many other parts of the world.

Mongolia was poor and chilly back in 2010, but in 2100, it is one of thirty-eight countries that are better off than they would have been without climate change. Its per capita GDP of 390,000 dollars makes it the seventh richest country in the world. Unlike Iceland, Mongolia has opted for an open immigration policy. Its population has increased 40-fold since 2010 and now stands at 120 million. Descendants of refugees from Pacific Islands and the Bengal Delta outnumber those of native Mongolian stock. Most people live in cities. The country’s highly mechanized agriculture, which makes Mongolia the breadbasket of Asia, requires few workers. Abundant coal and a young, skilled, and rapidly growing urban population have made Mongolia an industrial powerhouse that some compare to Japan of the late twentieth century. As we take a tour by high-speed train through verdant fields of corn and soy beans, we can’t help but wonder what Genghis Khan would think if he could return today to his once-austere homeland.

Australia, unlike Iceland and Mongolia, has been a loser from climate change, at least in relative terms. Although per capita incomes are more than double their 2010 level, they would have risen five-fold without global warming. The environment is in terrible shape. There is little open-air agriculture. Kangaroos and Koalas survive only in zoos. Nearly everyone lives in cities, which have become more compact for efficient air conditioning. Streets and cars are a thing of the past—people and freight move around in pneumatic tubes that connect everything. Fortunately, energy is abundant. There is plenty of room in the desertified countryside for solar farms, and the country is still working its way through its vast coal reserves. Mineral exports pay for food from Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Siberia. The population is stable. Australia has consistently limited immigration, although it is generous with foreign aid.

India is the world’s poorest country in 2100. Although per capita GDP has risen three-fold since 2010, it is still only $1,657. Much of that is spent on municipal air conditioning, so little is available for personal consumption. By traditional standards, India, one of the world’s hottest countries, is simply uninhabitable. There are fewer days each year when it is safe to go outside, even briefly, but with few countries willing to accept climate refugees, more than a billion people continue to live here. Whereas Sydney and Melbourne were still recognizable as cities, Indians live in more compact habitats. From the inside, they look much like ships, with crowded bunkrooms for the poor and luxury decks for the rich. Like Australia, India is self-sufficient in energy, thanks to abundant solar power and coal. There is a vibrant cultural life, but exports of music, films, and services like software development do not earn enough to pay for food imports. The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid from the hyper-wealthy, unwelcoming, but guilty countries of the North.

We are back to the present now. Can we really believe what we have seen? Did the world really spurn even modest climate mitigation policies that would have left it a little less wealthy, but cooler? Did it really avoid the famines and wars that might have decimated populations and wrecked economies, leaving the planet battered but not quite as hot? These are questions that climate models alone can’t answer.


Edwin G. Dolan holds a PhD in economics from Yale University. He hastaught in the United States at Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago, George Mason University and Gettysburg College. From 1990 to 2001, he taught in Moscow, Russia. After 2001, he taught economics in Budapest, Prague, and Riga. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Niskanen Center and lives in Northwest Lower Michigan.

All empires fall

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


All empires fall, and all empires fall for the same reason… Arrogant Complacency.

They rise through hunger and innovation. The Egyptians invented the war chariot, and conquered North Africa and the Middle East. Then the Mesopotamians built a better chariot, and that was it for the Pharaohs, after them came the Persians, and after them the Romans, and so on and so on; each building newer and better machines of war.

If it is true that necessity is the mother of invention, then it must be doubly true that war is its father, after all nothing says necessity quite like your neighbours attempting to part your head from your body.

“What has that got to do with climate change?” I hear you ask (I have truly excellent hearing)

Well everything. Empires grow fat the more successful they become, the people no longer hungry become lazy, delegating work to slaves, or immigrant labour, their sense of inherent supremacy over their enemies leads to complacency, and then one morning you find the Visigoths at the gates, and they aint no tourists neither.

Even when they recognise the danger, it’s either too late or they’re so inured from reality by their belief in their supremacy, (We’re number one, HoooWahh; sound familiar?) that they simply refuse to believe they can lose. Ask Louis XVI, or the Romanovs, they could tell you a thing or two about it; and the British still cannot believe the Empire is gone.

You’re still wondering what all this has to do with Global warming; Jeez calm down, I’m getting to it.

It’s a commonly held belief that man’s interference in the workings of nature leading to his ultimate demise, is unique to our time, not so. Eleven hundred years ago an entire Peruvian civilisation disappeared because of irrigation. Yes, you read that right, irrigation proved to be their undoing.

What they didn’t realise was that every time they irrigated the land, the absorbed water, as it was drawn back up through the soil brought nutrients and minerals with it; and one of those minerals was salt.

Over the course of two hundred years they salinated the land so thoroughly that they rendered it incapable of growing anything.

And how do we know this? Because it`s happening all over again, only this time in California.

We may be unique in the history of mankind, in the history of any species that has littered this planet for that matter; we can see our own demise heaving very slowly into focus, one degree at a time. But we suffer from the same paralysing sense of entitlement that bedevilled all the Empires long gone.

We complain that it’s too hard, that wind farms are ugly, that we can’t make the sacrifices. We’re too pampered, too fat, too full of ourselves; we live in a society that claims that not only is broadband a necessity, it’s a human right; y’know, like clean water, only more important.

Are we capable of learning the lessons of all those fallen civilisations? Possibly.

The most heartening sign is that China and India, the fastest growing economies in the world are ditching coal faster than you can say “Fake News” and switching to solar.

So there may be hope for us yet, though I won`t hold my breath; lucky for me I’m a good swimmer.


Finbarr Swanton was born on a bitter March morning sometime in the last century to much screaming and wailing. Though not by his mother, she slept through the whole event. Raised in the purgatory that was 20th Century Holy Catholic Ireland, he survived a primary school education at the hands of the (un)Christian brothers; just. And yes; it is true that none of the schools he attended are still places of education, though he contends that they never were in the first place, and that their closures are purely coincidence, having nothing at all to do with him. He has had too many jobs to list here. None of which; he admits, have led to a life of indolent riches. He has to date epubbed two books, a Y/A fantasy fiction novel and a collection of short stories; both of which were received with rapturous indifference… The struggle continues.

Recuerdos de la anciana sabia*

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


(* Memories of the wise old woman)

I have discovered a recording I made of my great grandmother, la anciana sabia, when she was very old and I was young. This is the one in which she described what the Central Valley of California was like before I was born.

She remembered when the two great north-south highways, one on each side of the valley, lay mostly along the valley floor. That was before flooding became so frequent that it was cheaper to move the freeways up to the foothills to carry people and freight vehicles. Off these main highways, you can still see occasional weathered signs showing the name of the town you were entering, the population, and the old elevation above sea level, before sea level rose one foot after another, and the government stopped updating the signs.

In those days, the Sierra Nevada mountains north to south were covered with trees, and there was snow every winter but less heavy rain. That was in the century when the other side of my family was carried north from Michoacán on a tide of workers to pick fruit and vegetables in the Central Valley. My Anglo and Latino ancestors ended up together near the inverted Delta formed by the San Joaquin and the Sacramento rivers. This land had been reclaimed for farming centuries ago, before rising seas made it cheaper and more sensible to return much of it to the birds and the fish. Now the salmon move most years through a great inland sea.

“When your grandmother was born, in Sacramento in the spring of 1986,” said my great grandmother, “the Sacramento River a mile from our house almost topped its banks. Even then I thought, ‘Why do they allow homes to be built in this flood plain?’” In those days, she said, hardly any dwellings were built on pilings—just a few along the Sacramento river north of the Capitol, where now great river walls protect the parts of the city nearest to the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers.

In the Delta, too, only a few people lived in dwellings on pilings, people nearest the rivers and on the edge of basins that are used for growing now only in dry years. You can still see the remains of old Delta roads in a very dry year when locals travel along them instead of using their solar boats. The magical architecture of the floodplains, the houses on pilings, was just beginning to evolve. Winter floods would only occasionally fill the Yolo Bypass, the first great bypass for flood water.

In those days, people grew vast areas of crops on the west side of the valley to feed people in California and the rest of the country and the world. As it became too hot to grow food in the ground, except under solar panels, people everywhere in the country and the world began to relearn how to grow their own food, in fields or greenhouses or agridomes, wherever they live, as our family has done, so that food doesn’t have to be moved great distances. But even now, furthest north in the Central Valley, farmers grow rice, grapes for wine, and marijuana.

“Once upon a time,” said my great grandmother, “men thought they could move water to anyplace that people wanted to live and farm.” That was before, one by one, the big dams failed and earthquakes broke the great north-south aqueducts into useless fragments. In those days, she said, farms grew food for people and animals from one end of the valley to the other. Some farmers irrigated those fields to grow alfalfa to feed cattle, and the meat of cows was so cheap that everyone whose faith allowed it ate beef all the time.

But the southern Valley kept getting hotter, and it kept getting harder to grow many crops in the traditional ways, all one crop planted for miles in soil under the desert sun. It has taken decades for people to learn that even in the deserts, it is possible, with permaculture, to surround yourself with green growing things. But that requires growing many different things together.

When we take the hybridcopter and travel to cities in the southern deserts, we see the new dwelling enclaves where artificial intelligence manages systems that control temperature, clean waste water, capture any rainwater that comes through, and pull water out of the air. Near Tulare Lake, they grow agave for syrup and mezcal. Only on the east side of the valley do thirsty nut trees still grow, taking in carbon dioxide and giving shade.

La anciana sabia saw this Valley begin to be transformed in her lifetime. “People used to accumulate more things,” she said, “before all the fires and floods and dislocations. Gradually, we lost the illusion of permanence.”

Hija, it doesn’t do much good to warn people about calamities. We live our lives up close,” she said, drawing so near to me that our noses almost touched. “The BIG picture” spreading her arms wide and then pulling me closer “we mostly miss, the pending events, the unforeseen consequences.”

“ArtIntel takes care of those things,” I said, repeating the argument I had heard so often. “ArtIntel does an error-free job of reasoning everything through, anticipating every possible consequence of every possible choice.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “we programmed it to do that for us. But even without that, human beings would adapt to their own follies, then innovate their way out of any problem their shortsightedness created for them.”

“Every few centuries,” she said, “people all begin to tell each other that they, of all human beings forever, are living at the end of everything, as if they thought they deserved to suffer uniquely, to be punished by gods they do not even believe in.

“They are always mistaken.”


Jane Wagner-Tyack is a writer and former educator who follows water issues for the League of Women Voters of California. She lives in Lodi, California.

The GAO on climate risk to the US

Some branches of the US government continue to function despite Trump’s delusional world view and misguided actions.

Last week, “13 federal agencies unveiled an exhaustive scientific report on Friday that says humans are the dominant cause of the global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization.”

The GAO also published a report “Information on Potential Economic Effects Could Help Guide Federal Efforts to Reduce Fiscal Exposure” that has this figure:

It concludes with “GAO recommends that the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President (EOP), including the Office of Science and Technology Policy, use information on potential economic effects to help identify significant climate risks and craft appropriate federal responses. EOP entities and the Environmental Protection Agency did not provide official comments on the report.”

The green turtles

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


The time had come. She could feel a trickle of sand upon her nose, as she broke through from the safety of her spherical home. Clambering on top of her discarded eggshell, she propelled herself to the top of the chamber into the warm night air, where she waited. Suddenly hundreds of tiny heads emerged from their hidden cavity. They looked about nervously. The full moon’s light reflected upon the indigo sea… The air was still and balmy.

‘Let’s go, follow me.’ she said.

The sand was warm, as they scrambled down the dune towards moonlit water. Gentle waves kissed the beach, as they dove headlong into the open sea, leaving the shoreline behind them. The currents grew stronger as they approached deeper water.

‘Wait for me,’ a voice called from behind her. She turned to see one of her brothers, smaller than the rest, paddling as fast as he could against the tide.

‘Come on, keep up, I’m sure it won’t be far,’ although she wasn’t indeed certain of where they were going. but instinct drove her on.

After several hours, with rose-pink dawn upon the water, a large bed of floating seaweed appeared ahead of them, swaying back and forth in the swell of the waves. The horizon, like a stitched line appeared to join both sea and sky together.

‘Come on, we can rest here,’ she called to the little one beside her and turning, she was surprised to see that the rest of the group had disappeared. Seaweed brushed against their bodies and they rested within its benevolent embrace, its fronds aiding them shelter and camouflage from the eyes of predators.

After such a long swim and hunger gnawing at their bellies, they began to tear small pieces of tasty seaweed with their beaks. As they ate, they were unaware of a large slim shape that lurked below them, also intent upon finding a meal for itself.

Suddenly the silver form of an adolescent shark appeared through the crystal waters. She sensed its arrival and signalled to her brother to remain motionless. Its flicking tail passed them, almost close enough to touch, before it headed off into the water’s azure expanse.

‘That was very close,’ she said softly.’ We’d better be more watchful unless we want to become someone’s dinner.’ He shivered.

Days passed into months and the two youngsters were growing larger. Having outgrown their floating home, they desired a more varied diet and decided to swim closer to the shore. In the distance, they could see a large forest of kelp. Like underwater trees, it towered towards the surface. The water was shallower here, with algae covered rocks that jutted from the sea floor.

Amidst this watery canopy a jellyfish poked its glassy bell like head out from a rocky hole and eased itself from its hiding place. She caught sight of its diaphanous form and intrigued, sped towards it, thrusting herself through the ultramarine waters. Potential food, her sawlike beak, pierced its underbelly, instinctively careful to avoid its circling tentacles. Its rubbery body was unlike anything she had encountered, string-like tendrils protruded from her beak, as slowly the new cuisine, was consumed.

Here the sunlight sprinkled waves, with unflexed muscles, crawled smoothly to the shore, where they lapped on to the flax gold sand. Gulls silhouetted against the cloudless sky, wheeled above in the afternoon thermals. The lazy day idled. Summer languished. Time passed.

Some days they would climb on to a rock and enjoy basking in the sunshine. Here they felt relatively safe as they were now too large to fear becoming a hungry seabird’s lunch and far enough from the water to worry about sharks. Life was good. It was one such a day as this, that she noticed that the sea was full of the many limpid forms of jellyfish. From her vantage point on her sun warmed platform, she could see that these floating creatures would prove an easy catch. She chose her prey, slipped into the water and was upon her translucent meal in no time. It didn’t put up much of a fight as it drifted like gossamer in the current. Its white tentacles were tough and somewhat bland, but she swallowed it nonetheless.

‘The sea here is full of jellies,’ she said as they finished eating. Semi-transparent forms floated just below the surface in the rhythmic pulse of the sea. These gelatinous umbrellas pirouetted, caught in the water’s circling embrace.

The sky above them was cloudless, the sun breathed its sultry breath down upon them and they returned to their rocky terrace to bask once more. Listening to the sound of the lapping waves, they watched as slowly the sun changed its colour from orange to muted gold, that spread across the sea’s surface like an amber veneer.

As the temperature dipped, she turned to her brother and was startled at how strangely pale he seemed. He had a faraway look in his eyes. She wondered what had brought about this sudden change. Slipping into the apricot water, she turned and said. ‘I’m going to eat, are you coming?’

‘I don’t want to eat right now’ he said quietly. In fact, as he replied, she realised that she didn’t feel like eating either. It was as though there were lots of tiny bubbles in her stomach and somewhat alarmed, she found it was becoming difficult to keep below the surface.

Neither of them were now hungry and sluggishly they hung around their sea weed forest, occasionally scraping a little algae from the golden rocks. She was concerned that he was so quiet, although she too had little energy. Wedging herself between two small rocks to secure herself from floating upwards, she fell asleep.

When she finally awoke, her brother had disappeared. In desperation she looked around, as she wriggled herself free from the rocks. Once again the bubbles in her belly forced her to rise and before long she found herself drifting on the surface.

A boat’s bow broke the liquid turquoise.

‘Look’ shouted an excited boy with corn coloured hair, his freckled face smiling as he peered over the side into the blue water. ‘It’s a turtle!’ he exclaimed through a mouthful of sandwich, a plastic bag now empty, still in his hand. A girl with a similar number of freckles upon her sun kissed face appeared and leant over the side of the boat to watch a rather sick and bloated green turtle, flounder in the moving tide.

‘It doesn’t look very well does it.’ she said sadly, ‘I wonder what’s wrong.’ The boy tilted himself over slightly further to get a better look, before a sudden gust of wind, detached the plastic bag from his grasp and deposited it into the water below. He watched the receptacle float away on the tide.

Looking up she watched the seabirds circling, as yet another indigestible synthetic jellyfish joined the plastic sea.


Cohl Warren-Howles is an observer of nature, she captures her thoughts in both rhyme and short stories, across a variety of genres, but has a special interest in Eco-Fiction, She was born in Salisbury, England, near enough in the shadows of the ancient stone circle – Stonehenge, where she spent many an hour drawing for her degree in Fine Arts and Graphics. She writes for a number of magazines worldwide, has published a book, is now completing her second and currently lives in Stratford upon Avon with her husband Saul. They have two children. You can visit her blog  and check out her next book here.