An Earth alien to humans in 2500 CE

Between 1500 and today, we have witnessed colonization and the Industrial Revolution, the birth of modern states, identities and institutions, the mass combustion of fossil fuels and the associated rise in global temperatures. A team of researchers think that If we fail to halt climate warming, the next 500 years and beyond will change the Earth in ways that challenge our ability to maintain many essentials for survival — particularly in the historically and geographically rooted cultures that give us meaning and identity.

To make their case more compelling they have used their projections and diverse research expertise to inform a series of nine paintings covering a thousand years from 1500 to 2500 CE, in three major regional landscapes: the Amazon, the Midwest United States and the Indian subcontinent.

An image is worth more than a thousand words…

The Indian subcontinent: The top image is a busy agrarian village scene of rice planting, livestock use and social life. The second is a present-day scene showing the mix of traditional rice farming and modern infrastructure present in many areas of the Global South. The bottom image shows a future of heat-adaptive technologies including robotic agriculture and green buildings with minimal human presence due to the need for personal protective equipment. (Lyon et al., 2021), CC BY-ND
Midwest U.S.: The top painting is based on pre-colonisation Indigenous cities and communities with buildings and a diverse maize-based agriculture. The second is the same area today, with a grain monoculture and large harvesters. The last image, however, shows agricultural adaptation to a hot and humid subtropical climate, with imagined subtropical agroforestry based on oil palms and arid zone succulents. The crops are tended by AI drones, with a reduced human presence. (Lyon et al., 2021), CC BY-ND
The Amazon: The top image shows a traditional pre-contact Indigenous village (1500 CE) with access to the river and crops planted in the rainforest. The middle image is a present-day landscape. The bottom image, considers the year 2500 and shows a barren landscape and low water level resulting from vegetation decline, with sparse or degraded infrastructure and minimal human activity. (Lyon et al., 2021), CC BY-ND

Here is a summary in The Conversation. And here is the open-access article in Global Change Biology.

Anthropogenic activity is changing Earth’s climate and ecosystems in ways that are potentially dangerous and disruptive to humans. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise, ensuring that these changes will be felt for centuries beyond 2100, the current benchmark for projection. Estimating the effects of past, current, and potential future emissions to only 2100 is therefore short-sighted. Critical problems for food production and climate-forced human migration are projected to arise well before 2100, raising questions regarding the habitability of some regions of the Earth after the turn of the century. To highlight the need for more distant horizon scanning, we model climate change to 2500 under a suite of emission scenarios and quantify associated projections of crop viability and heat stress. Together, our projections show global climate impacts increase significantly after 2100 without rapid mitigation. As a result, we argue that projections of climate and its effects on human well-being
and associated governance and policy must be framed beyond 2100.

Lyon, C., Saupe, E.E., Smith, C.J., Hill, D.J., Beckerman, A.P., Stringer, L.C., Marchant, R., McKay, J., Burke, A., O’Higgins, P., et al. Climate change research and action must look beyond 2100. Global Change Biology n/a.

3 comments

  1. I think those visions are greatly exaggerated. Of course, it is necessary to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses, but the end of the world is not just behind the corner, at least because of that. Much more dangerous is the proliferation of atomic weapons.

    • Dear Paco and Jose,

      I concur with both of you. There are other highly plausible dystopian scenarios with significant risks for the future of humanity. I often explore the intersections of art and science, of public and private spaces, of the cultural and the technological. Whilst I concede that technology offers enormous unexplored potential allowing emerging artists to express themselves in unprecedented ways, I do have certain concerns and caveats regarding science “reproducing” reality and artists representing it. In a special post, I have endeavoured to give a very good inkling of the kind of society that humans might be heading towards. Looking into the future, here is an entry in my sociology, philosophical anthropology and cultural history journal entitled “🎧 Facing the Noise & Music: Playgrounds for Biophobic Citizens 🏗🌁🗼“, published at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/facing-the-noise-music-playgrounds-for-biophobic-citizens/

      Pushing forward another 50 years or (much) less, we could indeed end up in the scenario as described in my said post. As you can discover in the said post, there will be plenty of far-reaching ramifications in multiple domains of human life, some of which are irreversible.

      Yours sincerely,
      SoundEagle

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