A Letter from 2050
By Stephen Tuttle | Jan. 8, 2022
We thought the new year might be a good time for those of us living in the future to explain what is happening with the mess you left us. It's not as if you weren't warned.
Way back in 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius appears to be the first to have predicted increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) could lead to surface temperature increases. In 1938, an English engineer named Guy Callendar proved it.
Everyone had plenty of time to understand increased greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2, were going to increase surface temperature with potentially deleterious consequences. Some of you even studied those possibilities and detailed reports were issued. The warning bells were ringing but the politicians were deaf to an issue that generated few votes and fewer campaign contributions. Big business as usual was more important to you than what seemed like a theory you couldn't really grasp even though the climate was changing all around you.
You should note the predictions were true, and the confluence of climate change, over-population, and our chemical dependency created nightmares from which we hope we are now emerging. Again, you were warned.
In 1962, Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring,” her warning about the dangers of pesticides. It was a telling harbinger of the dangers of lots of chemicals including new and even worse pesticides and herbicides. For every poison you banned, another dozen cropped up; we are still bedeviled by PFAS and other forever chemicals.
Paul Ehrlich warned us about an over-populated world in his 1968 bestseller, “The Population Bomb.” There were about 3.53 billion people on the planet then. There were nearly 7.9 billion at the start of your new year. (Population growth slows, then stops less than two decades from now but not voluntarily.)
If the early warnings on climate change or prescient writings of Carson and Ehrlich weren't enough, there were ample omens of the troubles to come had you just opened your eyes. The records indicate you recently experienced a week in December that saw record snowfall in one area, a destructive wildfire and blizzard at the same time in another, and tornadoes in still another. Did it occur to you all those things happening nearly simultaneously was not normal?
What else happened during the last year? Record high temperatures and a new phenomenon your climate experts called an “instant drought,” more flooding, more wildfires burning more acreage and causing more destruction than before, multiple hurricane landfalls, the western U.S. running out of water, glaciers in full retreat, the Greenland ice shelf at risk ... these events were not aberrations, but the start of a process you could have slowed or stopped but your politicians did little.
So, how did that work out?
By 2030 winter tornadoes were common, hurricanes here and cyclones in Asia battered land multiple times a year with the accompanying flooding killing hundreds of thousands. We reached the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase we were trying to avoid, and further increases were guaranteed no matter what we did. Glaciers receded by another 25% and world famine, which already affected more than 30 people million in 2022, more than doubled.
By 2035 sea levels had risen a foot, all low-lying island chains had disappeared completely as had most of south Florida. They had problems before the permanent flooding, though, as saltwater seeped through the limestone on which that peninsula sits irretrievably adulterating their freshwater aquifer. The water scarcity in the western U.S. had grown from a crisis to a disaster: 40 million Americans had to ration water and 5 million acres of cropland could no longer be fully farmed creating food shortages. The world famine now impacted more than 300 million people. Fifty thousand people, mostly children, were dying every day from malnutrition.
By 2040 lakes Mead and Powell had disappeared completely and Glen Canyon reappeared in all its stark glory, another canyon that is definitely grand. But the western U.S. no longer had any Colorado River water and the greatest internal migration in our history was well underway as people headed where there was still water. Coastal areas around the world were inundated as the Greenland ice shelf collapsed, the entire Florida peninsula and southern Louisiana disappeared under water. Then the pandemic started.
By 2045 world population began shrinking, the result of 200 million pandemic deaths and twice that many from malnutrition, so many deaths most countries made cremation mandatory. Science, technology, and common sense finally began to prevail as new leadership around the world began taking the drastic steps that should have been taken decades earlier.
Now, in 2050, after hundreds of millions of unnecessary deaths and ecological damage requiring generations of repair, we think we're turning the corner you created starting more than a century ago. We're cautiously optimistic.