I was recently assigned a story about the U.N. Climate summit in Paris this December. Admittedly, I hadn’t yet grasped the dire importance of this particular summit. Regardless, as a journalist it’s not my job to know the answers — it’s my job to find them, so I started digging. What I found was profoundly ominous and deeply unsettling. Like the canary in a coal mine, I was uncovering a glimpse of calamity. I’d previously been looking too close; I couldn’t see how climate issues would manifest socially and politically. When I stepped back the frightening pieces fell into place. This story was not about melting ice caps and clear-cut forests; it was about a global environmental collapse — the catalyst for a third world war.
We foolishly believe that the ramifications of our past will manifest in the lifetime of our grandchildren. This is overly optimistic, wishful thinking — they don’t have one, because this all happens in ours.
At the current rate of carbon emissions, we are set to reach a pace of global warming inside 20 years that locks us on an irreversible track, a global temperature rise of two degrees by mid-century. A two-degree rise in the global temperature sets off a biblical chain of events so cataclysmic we won’t even have hope. Mexico and South America essentially dry up and die. The Chihuahuan, Sonoran and Mojave deserts expand, rapidly rendering food production a fruitless endeavor for thousands of miles on either side of the equator.
Fleeing famine, drought and desperate for survival, roughly 300 million people migrate north to the United States — and that’s a conservative number. The U.S has two options: accept the tired, poor, hurdled masses with open arms and allow the population to double, or seal off the border, which is, less affectionately, the realistic option. The trouble is, in order to do that effectively the U.S. Border Service would have to be willing to use lethal force in preventing those attempting to cross illegally.
This means the U.S. Marine Corps, 20 per cent of which is, by this time, comprised of Latino Americans, firing on masses of distant relatives to keep them out of a country that is now one quarter Hispanic. The United States unravels into mutiny and Civil War.
This is not a concept that has been overlooked by the Pentagon. In November 2014, the US Department of Defense released the Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, a chilling acknowledgement of things to come — a worst case scenario guide to reality. The statement describes climate change as a “threat multiplier” of national and global security. Plainly stating that “rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees, resources and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”
A rise of just two degrees sets off a collapse of the international grain market as more and more land available for food production gets sucked into the global dust bowl. We’re familiar with this scenario. The worst drought in Syrian history, which scientists have now linked to human influenced climate change, preceded the 2011 uprising that propelled ISIS to the world stage. This is not a phenomenon, it’s not a coincidence nor a theory — it’s a fact.
An uninhabitable global south drives half the earth’s population into forced migration. Countries in the Northern Hemisphere, already exhausted by feeding their own populations on rapidly depleting resources are overwhelmed by millions of desperate climate refugees. Dozens of previously self-sustaining nations multiply into a hectic network of failed states and violent factions at war with themselves and each other. Those that somehow manage to keep their borders intact are not much better off; crucial to the survival of 1.2 billion people in India and a further 196 million in Pakistan, the sacred Ganges River (which is fed by swiftly deteriorating glaciers high in the Himalayas) shows signs of fatigue. Further exasperated by the collapse of the global wheat market and fearful of major water shortages, India begins damming the Ganges, securing resources for its own population but cutting off the vital waterway completely to downstream Pakistan. Faced with drought, famine and economic collapse, Pakistan and India, both of which have nuclear weapons and a bitter past, go to war.
The environmental state of the earth, now completely overlooked, crumbles. For better or worse, the ocean ingests a third of the Earth’s carbon emissions, which cause it to grow increasingly acidic. Like a tooth disintegrating in a can of coke, so too do the ocean’s crustaceans at the bottom of the food chain and when that bottom falls out, the entire marine eco-system fails. The planet’s oceans, which have been quietly saving us till now, give way to critical mass and turn on us, emitting generations of carbon into the atmosphere. Global warming now spirals wildly out of control, temperatures rapidly reaching six, seven, eight degrees and climbing. The Earth smolders and grows too harsh to sustain animal life, including us.
We tend to think, foolishly indeed, that world wars are only fought between political superpowers for global supremacy. This notion, like our atmosphere, is expiring. The next world war will be a desperate and hopeless one, a world at war with itself. World War III will be a climate war.