According to a recent report lead by professors at the University of Cambridge, we need to take global climate change as seriously as we once took the threat of nuclear war. The report, which included experts from the United Kingdom, the United States, China, and India, put forth a number of significant threats to humans, beyond the more obvious changes to weather patterns and impact on agriculture.
Some of the threats outlined include a rapid increase in food prices, which could triple as arable land becomes scarcer, unprecedented human migration that could outstrip the ability of national and international organizations to help those people, and an increased risk of terrorism as states begin to fail. While some of these problems may seem unrelated at first glance, they’re quite serious, and more pressing than nuclear war.
The report points out that, with something like nuclear war, there are numerous political and social factors to consider in threat assessment. With climate change though, the science is more straightforward: we know what is causing climate change, and it’s easy to predict what the effects of that change will be. Take the example of arable land. As the climate continues to change and droughts become longer and more frequent in some areas, while floods become so in others, the amount of land that humans can use to grow crops will decrease. As the seas rise due to melting ice, the same thing happens: less land.
Whether it’s for growing crops or living on, land has been at the core of human conflict since the beginnings of humanity, and that won’t change. As people are pushed out of their homes by development or are forced to leave because their homes are no longer sustainable, they’ll be forced to migrate elsewhere, frequently to already strained cities. As poorer regions become destabilized by these same factors, it’s likely that terrorism and other conflict will increase as well. Disease will spread faster, and all the while, food will continue to rise in price.
Luckily, if we act quickly, we can still mitigate some of the changes.