Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’ op-ed piece in today’s paper discusses a report, “Impacts of Climate Change,” composed by futurist Peter Schwartz’s consulting group, Global Business Network, for a U.S. government intelligence agency he does not identify. From the GBN:
Climate change is a real and growing problem for the United States and for the world. As urgency around the issue continues to grow, so too does the scientific consensus that changes to Earth’s climate will enormously affect the planet’s future and the futures of all who inhabit it. Anthropogenic climate change is now widely considered to have the potential not just to cause perturbations in the weather, but also to create major discontinuities in many complex natural and human systems, including ecosystems, economies, human settlements, and even political institutions.
What Schwartz discovers with his stress-testing makes climate change even scarier: The world already is precarious; the networks that maintain political and social order already are fragile, especially in urban areas; the dividing line between civilized life and anarchy is frighteningly easy to breach, as the daily news from Iraq reminds us. We look at the behaviors of butterflies and migratory birds as harbingers of climate change. But what about early effects on human beings? “The steady escalation of climate pressure will stretch the resiliency of natural and human systems,” writes Schwartz. “In short, climate change pushes systems everywhere toward their tipping point.”
Think you’ll escape it? Think you’ll coast through it? That’s what the residents of New Orleans thought before their own private 9/11 on August 29th, 2005. Again from the GBN:
If a climate change-induced system disruption reduces of the ability of the government to deliver political goods (Katrina being an obvious example), it also reduces political legitimacy and halts economic activity, thus driving local populations to rely upon primary loyalties (families, neighborhoods, religious organizations, gangs, etc.) for daily survival. This dynamic in the political system is often (and will increasingly be) played out in urban settings—physical spaces that require intensive external flows of goods and services to survive, and that are also highly (and increasingly) interconnected and networked via transport and telecommunications infrastructure. Collapsing civil order within urban settings will offer extreme economic rewards in the form of smuggling and black markets; indeed, these may be the only functioning markets, making virtually everyone in these spaces a “bad actor.” Those unwilling or unable to profit from the chaos will radiate outward through refugee flows, exporting social conflicts to adjacent locales. Finally, because of the sheer complexity of megacities, they will be very difficult to reorder once destabilized, and may continue in chaos until they depopulate themselves.
Enter the Road Warrior.