Just suppose, if you will, that the world does not stop emitting carbon in the next 10 years. That, in fact, global emissions continue to rise – the reductions made by rich countries more than written off by increases from China, India and their neighbours. Imagine then that the world does not heat by the 2-3 degrees we have already committed to, but by a further degree or more. If I had the finances to invest in a bet on how global emissions play over the coming decade, this would safely sort out my pension worries.
The likelihood of such a scenario unfolding cannot disguise the ramifications for the planet and its inhabitants of this level of warming, however. It would mean an entirely different planet – one for which humans have not evolved the biological strategies to cope. But we are a clever species: we should not be able to survive the Kalahari desert or the Arctic tundra, but we can. Not in large numbers, mind you, just in small populations which are occasionally wiped out through starvation or hostile temperatures.
We have a growing population of nearly 7 billion people on this Earth. The lottery of survival will of course favour the fittest – in this case, the richest, and those who live in currently temperate zones. But what if we were to try and save our species not as a few entertaining examples of humankind (like Lonesome George) but as our population with as many of us intact as possible?
I started to become preoccupied with solving this conundrum a few months ago. And I have begun discussing the question with climate scientists, engineers, sociologists and philosophers. The most obvious logical solution is to move the people where the resources are, and I explore this idea in a recent article. There are other options. How about enforced sterilization of people that have produced one child – this would immediately shrink the population? Or serious development of alternative habitable zones, for instance those in the ocean or on the Moon?
However crazy these ideas may seem from a sociological, political or engineering stance, they are ideas that we will need to give serious thought to. We are facing a world in which vast swathes of our human population could die. From the consideration of such seemingly wacky ideas, a practical solution may arise. I’d love to hear some of your solutions.