Introducing 'Year 2050,' Our Guide to Surviving the Next 33 Years of Climate Change

How much will our world change after three decades of rising temperatures?

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Jan 13 2017, 5:35am

Illustration by Corey Brickley

We don't know what the world will look like 33 years from now. By the the Trump era, uncertain as it may seem from our vantage point, will become the stuff of history textbooks—or more likely, of history VR experiences. No one can say whether drones will be a fondly remembered fad like pogs, or whether huge flocks of them will fill the skies all the time like passenger pigeons. Some of our pop stars will have died, and new ones will have taken their place. Video games will probably be cool as hell.

But one thing we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the planet is getting warmer, and that there's no going back. Warming trends in the present are most likely caused by greenhouse gas emissions from anywhere from six to 30 years ago. In other words, the emissions causing temperatures to rise today aren't from your most recent unnecessary airline flight, but from things like the George W. Bush-era giant SUV craze.

So even if tomorrow the world makes a sudden switch to sustainable energy (and it won't), some of the effects of our past and present greenhouse gas emissions are inevitable. Thousands of species are going to go extinct. Sea levels will rise, and major US cities will be flooded more often. Ocean ecosystems like coral reefs will be decimated.

To examine some of these consequences in detail, every two weeks in 2017 I'll be talking to the scientists and scholars best equipped to show us a small window into the year 2050—a time when most millennials will still be alive, but much of what we take for granted about our world will have changed. Each entry in the Year 2050 series will be the best educated guesses we can find about things like future consumer habits, where we'll choose to live, how we'll eat, and how we'll get around. I'll also find out how the next 33 years of atmospheric change will affect political and sectarian conflicts, famines and other humanitarian disasters.

I don't want to say Earth in 2050 will entirely be a Hunger Gamesstyle hellscape, since humanity is taking steps to deal with climate change, and that means we already know some of the most frightening predictions of future climate (known as "business-as-usual" projections) probably won't actually come to pass.

But make no mistake: We will be living in a world that's uglier, less biodiverse, and generally crappier than the present in a lot of ways, and this series aims to identify those downsides, without resorting to hyperbole. If we can get our shit together by 2050, maybe my future self, on the verge of retirement at that point, will write another series of articles about a world in 2083 that's slightly less bad. (Or maybe by then, I'll have had all my optimism drained out of me.)

But in the meantime, we're going to have to deal with the consequences of the choices our species has already made.

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.

Follow illustrator Corey Brickley on Instagram.

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