I have big plans for my future that involve a cute house on the water, a corner office in the headquarters of a prestigious magazine, and not being at risk of dying at any moment. But what should I, or any one of us, really be planning for? Should I be learning to hunt and skin deer? Should I be stockpiling bottled water and saving up to build a bunker? Should I just give up and accept that if there’s some catastrophic hurricane or forest fire in my future I likely won’t survive it?
In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the impacts of climate change and how we can adapt to them. The report includes some scary graphics of the world in 2081-2100 with a lot of the world coloured in red and captions like “Extreme weather events.” What they mean is the temperature is going to rise (this is starting now and will likely be spiralling out of control by the middle of the century), the ice is going to melt, the air is going to get harder to breathe, and as it does, we’re all probably going to see a lot more “Praying for [insert developing country]” posts on our newsfeed until suddenly it’s other people that are praying for us.
Here are some of the things we have to look forward to, according to the IPCC report:
- Risk of death from storm surges, coastal flooding, sea level rise, inland flooding of cities, and extreme heat.
- Extreme weather events leading to the breakdown of services like electricity, water, healthcare, and emergency services.
- Food insecurity because of warming, drought, flooding, and extreme variance in precipitation.
- Loss of marine and coastal ecosystems and biodiversity.
There are, of course, different extremes we can take this to. The IPCC report contrasts two possibilities in their graphics: Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 2.6 and RCP 8.5. RCP is an estimate of greenhouse gas concentration in the year 2100 relative to pre-industrial levels. In my opinion, RCP 2.6, which predicts our future if greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2010-2020, is a highly-unlikely daydream. In RCP 8.5, emissions keep growing throughout the rest of this century and we’re really screwed — there’s a lot of purple in these graphics, purple is worse than red. The report also discusses two intermediate RCPs in which things would still be scary but not quite as purple.
In a recent New Yorker article, Evan Osnos catalogues the doomsday prepping of the highly rich and elite. Basically, after getting us into this mess, wealthy capitalists want to make sure they survive it. Part of me hates these people with their underground dental clinics and perpetually gassed up helicopters. But part of me keeps thinking, I kind of get it, I really don’t want to die either.
My dad came to visit me for reading week. He lives on a sparsely-populated island near Victoria, BC. After apologizing for fucking over my generation, my baby-boomer father told me I’m welcome to come live with him on his island home when the world implodes, which is already equipped with solar panels, rainwater collection, and an electric car. His house is on the water, but it sits up high enough on a cliff that it won’t be Atlantis anytime soon. Of course, when the big earthquake hits the west coast, we’ll only have about 10 seconds to run up the hill to avoid getting washed away by the ensuing tsunami, but you win some, you lose some.
It doesn’t sound too bad. I think I could get into the lifestyle of hunting deer and growing vegetables in my dad’s yard, maybe fishing at East Point, and wandering through the woods with my dog. But then my dad and I started talking about how we would communicate if, you know, there was a “breakdown of infrastructure networks and critical services such as electricity, water supply, and health and emergency services.” I would somehow need to get myself from wherever I was, Edmonton (I hope not), Montreal, New York, Paris, to an island with already scarce ferry access, sans electricity. How will I let my dad know I’m on my way? How will I even let him know I’m alive?
It’s usually at this point I tell myself to calm down, that this isn’t going to be an issue for a long time, that someone is going to swoop in Buffy Summers style and seal the Hellmouth just before it opens and swallows up the world. But I’m haunted by memories of watching footage of New York City flooded and Fort McMurray in flames. At least the people affected by those disasters had somewhere to flee and people to help them, but will we?
I’m still trying to find a way to balance what I know about the science of climate change’s inevitability with the optimism that I need to hold on to. We don’t need to be heading into a RCP 8.5 world. If we curb the fuck out of our greenhouse gas emissions, we could still live in the nicer, RCP 2.6 reality of our dreams. So, instead of putting all of our energy into preparing bunkers in New Zealand, let’s put our energy into fighting for a safer, less purple future. And if you ever find yourself caught in an extreme weather event, just send a carrier pigeon to Saturna Island. The more the merrier.