The impact of global warming is going to be like a war, a world war. It is going to overwhelm all other considerations. All of the things you are worried about right now – Black Lives Matter, election integrity, environmental concerns, resource concerns, energy, transportation, infrastructure, immigration, health, crime, international relations – all of these concerns are going to be overwhelmed by the need to respond to the impact of climate change.
Most of them will be made worse, made more immediate, by the effects of climate change. International relations, immigration, refugees, wars over water, wars over food – all of these and more will be increased by the effects of climate change.
In the United States, and in every other country, internal migration will become a big problem. As parts of the United States turn to desert, as water supplies dry up, as wild fires and floods and coastal flooding and heat waves become worse and worse; as these become yearly occurrences, parts of the United States will become literally unlivable. And the people who live there will want to move to other parts of the country, and these moves will be emergency moves. These will be internal refugees, and the cost, just the economic costs, but also the social costs, the political costs, the personal and emotional costs of dealing with these internal refugees will put tremendous strain on our country.
But this emergency will be different from a war. World War II lasted four years for the United States. We just ended our longest war at 20 years. But climate change cannot be solved in 20 years. If we act immediately, climate change will go on for a century or more. Imagine being in a war for existence for multiple lifetimes. And as time passes and as climate change becomes more extreme, the changes, the impacts, and the actions required to deal with those impacts will change. They will get worse, and they will move to different areas and they will impact different parts of our world. This will be the new abnormal.
As history looks back at us, the political dysfunction in the United States of the last 25 years, the last 50 years, will be seen as causative facts, as we ignored the reality of the danger of climate change. This underlying and overwhelming problem has been ignored for the last 50 years. People in the future will wonder how we could ignore such a huge problem. How could we not agree to take simple measures at the beginning of a problem to avoid the terrible consequences? But those days of possible action to forestall the danger are long gone. The momentum of climate change is already so strong that we cannot escape it. We can only reduce its terrible consequences.
© Bruce Merchant 2021