Being a doomer is nothing new, people have been talking about “the end of the world” for just as long as we’ve had the language to describe the idea. There was the Halley’s comet panic of 1910, the Y2K millennium computer bug, and more recently the Mayan calendar prediction for the end of the world in 2012. There is even a Wikipedia page devoted to all the failed apocalyptic predictions.
None of these failed predictions included the possibility of mass extinction and collapse of our civilization due to climate change, overpopulation and overshoot. None of these predictions was based on a body of scientific work dating back over 150 years, when the dangers of greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere was first noted in the scientific literature. None of these predictions reference overpopulation, as Paul Ehrlich bravely did in 1968, or overshoot, as William Catton did in 1982. And none of these predictions has real-time evidence that collapse is taking place, right now, all around us. We are living in the days of the sixth great extinction.
Like every other time in history, there are doomsayers of various levels of notoriety who are predicting that the end of the world is coming soon. However, what makes these modern times incredible is that some of these “truthers” have credible science to back up their arguments. Among these, the so-called “Near Term Human Extinction” (NTHE) movement makes the nearest of near-term predictions, putting extinction of all humans on the planet as a certainty by 2030. The reason for their confidence in this prediction is the rarely mentioned issue of massive nuclear power plant meltdowns that they claim will occur after climate and societal conditions make it impossible for these plants to operate or for a controlled shutdown to occur. They argue that a catastrophic release of nuclear radiation from hundreds of nuclear power plants will render the planet lifeless. These eventual meltdowns, preceded by ecosystem collapse, lethal wet-bulb temperatures and crop failures after a blue ocean event, paint a crushingly sad portrait of the global extinction event they say will be completely done and wrapped within 8 years.
Okay, it could happen. In the climate casino, I’ll gladly take the “over” on their bet (I’ve tried — they won’t take my action). In my opinion, their prognosticated death of eight billion humans follows a long string of logical stretches that seems to miss out on the labyrinth of minor catastrophes that needs to happen along the way.
Here are the top five events I predict WILL NOT happen by 2030:
- An ice-free Arctic summer (an entire summer, not just a one-time brief event), cessation of the AMOC or collapse of the Thwaites glacier. In other words, a full-fledged catastrophic humanity-ending climate-induced tipping point will not happen.
- A year with global temperatures exceeding 2°C above the 1850-1900 IPCC baseline. (The current warmest year was less than 1.3°C above the 1850-1900 IPCC baseline).
- Lethal wet-bulb temperatures and famine killing hundreds of millions to billions of humans.
- The catastrophic meltdown of a large number of nuclear power plants killing the rest.
- Resulting in the extinction of all, or nearly all, humans on the planet by 2030.
Okay, NTHE could happen by 2030 — but if it did the cause would be not be any of those events listed above.
Any of these civilization-ending events COULD happen by 2030:
- Global nuclear or biological warfare.
- Global systems collapse.
- Comet or asteroid strike.
- Catastrophic coronal mass ejection or other solar weather event.
- A supervolcano eruption.
A global systems collapse has already begun, from shortages of wheat, water and baby formula, to supply chain and energy disruptions, to failing political, financial and social institutions. Of the five that could cause the rapid collapse of modern-industrial civilization, system collapse is the one that’s most likely. But the sad likelihood is that the end of civilization is going to be much more painful and slow. There is not going to be a quick and tidy end to all things human.
It is comforting to think we are living out the plot of some storyline that will have a neat and tidy ending during our lifetime. The story that some savior from the heavens will rescue those who fire a particular neural pattern. Or the story that some combination of feedback loops together with methane bombs and nuclear meltdowns will bring about a nuclear wasteland. Or the apocaloptimistic story that sustainable growth, GHG reduction targets and green energy will get there just in time. But there is no imaginary friend waiting to save us. And we are not all going to die a horrible radiation-soaked death any day now. And we will not be dancing on our own grave, while “adapting” to an eco-utopian lifestyle, as the sun sets on the “others” who were desperately clinging to their hopeless faith in civilization
Here is my prediction for what is going to happen. Everyone on the planet is going to see a lot of different things get a lot worse. And then worse than that. And then worse. It is horrible. It will be more horrible, then much more horrible. More environmental and social destruction. More hunger and thirst. More fascism. More murders. More wars. More hate. More death. More humans.
Here are the top five events that WILL happen by 2030.
- In ever-growing regions of the planet, people will suffer and die directly from lack of food and water. Hunger will reach 900 million soon, and easily pass one billion by 2030. Meanwhile, in 2030, most first-world countries will still have a local McDonalds operating 24/7 and a convenient Walmart nearby.
- Extreme weather events, including extreme heat, hurricanes, droughts, fires and floods, will destroy the infrastructure, arability and survivability of large areas of the planet that are currently habitable. Large parts of India will be among the first to go. These weather events, together with political instability and famine, will drive a climate refugee crisis possibly involving hundreds of millions of our fellow humans. (I’ll go out on a limb and predict that India will be the source of the first 100M+ climate refugee exodus from a single country.)
- The massive surge of refugees to first-world borders will create border conflicts fought by mercenary hate-filled political extremists fighting alongside national forces. These humanitarian crises will swamp the ability of the first-world nations to cope, leading to the suffering and violent death of huge numbers of these refugees. You will either become a climate refugee or live in a part of the world that is actively fighting against their entry.
- While fascist and authoritarian governments spread in formerly democratic first-world nations, inflation, scarcity, hate and disinformation will accelerate acts of protest, violence, home-grown terrorism and civil wars. Stocks, real estate, crypto and precious metals will plummet in value. Most of those who aren’t already refugees will live in poverty, however the wealthiest individuals in first-world countries will get richer. No place will be safe.
- The planet will exceed 1.5°C above the 1850-1900 IPCC baseline at least once. Methane and CO₂ will continue to reach new record highs each year through 2030. The global agreement at COP-26 to “reduce methane by 30% by 2030” will be long forgotten. People everywhere on the planet will still be driving fossil-fuel powered cars, flying in fossil-fuel powered jets and eating food transported by fossil-fuel powered ships, trucks and trains. We will continue to assault our planet in ways that will accelerate collapse and the sixth great extinction.
And here is my number one prediction for 2030. People, everywhere there are still people, will be creating new people. The population will reach, exceed and be maintained above 8 billion people. Sadly, there will be plenty of humans on the planet, including hundreds of millions of humans who will be born between now and 2030, left to suffer when 2030 comes and goes. As for 2050, I’m not so sure.