For fans of The Drowned World and World War Z , this “sobering and scary (and fascinating) novel—a look at where we’re going if we don’t quickly get our act together” (Bill McKibben, New York Times bestselling author) regarding climate change—unveils our potential terrifying future. 2084: Global warming has proven worse than even the most dire predictions scientists had made at the turn of the century. No country—and no one—has remained unscathed. Through interviews with scientists, political leaders, and citizens around the globe, this riveting fictional oral history describes in graphic detail the irreversible effects the Great Warming has had on humankind and the planet. In short chapters about topics like sea level rise, drought, migration, war, and more, The 2084 Report brings global warming to life, revealing a new reality in which Rotterdam doesn’t exist, Phoenix has no electricity, and Canada is part of the United States. From wars over limited resources to the en masse migrations of entire countries and the rising suicide rate, the characters describe other issues they are confronting in the world they share with the next two generations. “If the existential threat of climate change keeps you up at night, James Lawrence Powell’s The 2084 Report will make you want to do everything in your power to elect leaders who will combat global warming and save our planet” ( Marie Claire).
Release date: July 20, 2021
Publisher: Atria Books
Print pages: 240
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James Lawrence Powell
THE CLIMATE SCIENTIST
Today I talk with Robert Madsen III, who, like his father and grandfather before him, is a climate scientist.
Dr. Madsen, I have come to you with a question that people in the second half of this century are compelled to ask.
Those of us alive today are haunted by the question of why, back in the first few decades of this century, before time had run out, people did not act to at least slow global warming. Was it because there was not enough evidence, because scientists could not agree, because there was some better theory to explain the warming that was obviously going on, or something else? Surely our grandparents’ generation had a good reason for letting this happen to us—what was it?
Well, I can tell you that this will not be the longest chapter in your book, because the answer is short and simple: They did not have a good reason.
Even at the turn of the century the evidence for man-made global warming was overwhelming, and it only grew stronger until it became undeniable to any rational person—that is, anyone who used reason as their guide. A friend who had trained as a lawyer once asked me whether global warming had been supported by a preponderance of evidence, or beyond reasonable doubt, the higher standard in a criminal case. I answered that global warming had been beyond reasonable doubt, as certain as any scientific theory can be.
If you were to go back to the 2010s and judge the collective opinion of scientists on the basis of what they published in peer-reviewed journals, you would find that by 2020 they were in 100 percent agreement that humans were the cause of global warming. That’s not just a round number I plucked out of the air, but the result of a review of nearly twenty thousand peer-reviewed articles from that period.
Hard as it is to conceive, the global warming deniers had no scientific theory of their own to explain the evidence. It would be one thing if people in the tens and twenties had allowed our world to be destroyed because they bet on the wrong theory. But there was no alternative theory. Temperatures rose, wildfires grew worse every year on every continent, sea level went higher and higher, storms got worse, and on and on. Those who denied that humans were responsible had no curiosity about what was causing this extreme weather, but they had decided what was not: fossil fuels.
All right, that is short and simple. But even deniers without a theory had to have some alternative way to explain the data that convinced scientists. How did they attempt that?
For a while they said that global warming was a hoax, that conspiring scientists had faked the data. Those who deny science always get to the point of claiming conspiracy eventually, for the only other choice is to admit that scientists are right.
If you had been around in those days, how would you have responded to those who claimed that man-made global warming was a conspiracy?
Well, I would have urged people to ask themselves a few simple questions. How was the conspiracy organized? Those twenty thousand articles would have had roughly sixty thousand authors from countries all over the world. How could the hoaxers have kept everything straight? They would have had to use email. But back in the first decade someone stole and published a trove of emails from prominent climate scientists—almost a million words as I recall. Not one word in those emails ever gave any hint of a conspiracy.
Why then did no conspirator ever get caught, write a tell-all memoir, or make a deathbed confession? And why would they have conspired in the first place? In America, the deniers’ answer was, “Because they were liberals.” But more than half the scientific papers were coming from other countries, where that label did not apply.
But of course, by the 2010s, the deniers did not ask themselves these sorts of questions. To them, that global warming was false was so obvious that the reason scientists would have mounted a hoax no longer mattered.
By the 2020s, lies had come to replace truth not just in regard to science, but in many areas. People preferred to accept a lie that supported their prior belief rather than a truth that undercut that belief. This allowed countries such as Australia, Brazil, Russia, and the United States to elect science deniers to lead them.
Even as late as the early twenties, warming could have been limited to 5.4°F [3°C].1 But the nations of the world could not bring themselves to even try. By the time they did, even 7.2°F [4°C] was no longer an option. We don’t know how high the temperature may go. It’s a strange thing: We humans pride ourselves on being ruled by reason, yet with human civilization at stake, we chose ideology and ignorance.
If people thought scientists were so crooked as to fake global warming, it must have been hard to trust scientists on anything else. Did that attitude have an effect on the status of science itself?
My grandfather was a scientist and inspired me to become one too. He told me how, by the late tens, science deniers occupied the White House and the top tiers of nearly every government agency. They cut research funding not only for climate science, but for anything having to do with the environment, endangered species, industrial pollution, and so on. The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation did not survive the 2020s and overall federal funding for science fell to the level of the 1950s. Grandad said that to him and his colleagues, it almost seemed like “science” had become a dirty word.
Most university scientists back then depended on government grants and had to give up their research programs. Large universities had gotten one-quarter to one-third of their overall funding as overhead on research grants. One of the first things they did was reduce funding for science departments and lay off faculty. Students, seeing no future in studying science, voted with their feet to take classes in other subjects. Science enrollment dwindled, justifying the elimination of more science departments and faculty. Science journals, whose main customers were universities, also fell victim, as the volume of research plummeted and as funding for university libraries dropped and then disappeared. Of course, without research funding and journals, the many science societies also had to close their doors.
In my grandad’s book collection, I found a well-thumbed volume titled The End of History and the Last Man. We may not be at the End of Science, but you can see it coming.
1.Throughout, I show measurements in both F ° and C ° and in both metric and U . S. customary units.
MOROCCO IN SWITZERLAND
Christiane Mercier is the longtime global-warming correspondent for the French newspaper Le Monde. In this interview, she speaks to me from several different locations in Europe. Our first conversation in the series took place at the former Swiss ski resort of Zermatt.
I am making this tour to take stock of what global warming has done to different locations in Europe. I’m standing at the heart of the former Swiss tourism industry, where skiing is no longer possible. Zermatt once had world-class ski slopes and a fabulous view of the Matterhorn. As I look around now, there is no snow to be seen anywhere, not even on the summit of the Matterhorn itself.
To prepare for this interview I did some research on the history of global warming in the Alps. Even fin de siècle, there were ominous signs. In those days the snow line extended down 9,940 feet [3,030 meters], but in the deadly hot summer of 2003, for example, it rose to 15,100 feet [4,600 meters], higher than the summit of the Matterhorn and almost as high as the summit of Mont Blanc, the highest peak west of the Caucasus. The permafrost that held the rock and soil on the Matterhorn melted, sending debris tumbling downhill. You can still see the debris piles resting against, and even inside, the shuttered ski lodges and restaurants.
I could give the same report from Davos, Gstaad, St. Moritz, or any of the once-famous ski resorts in Switzerland, France, and Italy. The Alps have not had permanent snow and ice since the 2040s. I understand that the Rocky Mountain ski slopes have met the same fate.
Meteorologists tell us that the climate of Southern Europe today is the same as it was in Algeria and Morocco when the century began. As measured by temperature and precipitation, Southern Europe is now a desert and the Alps are well on their way to resembling the Atlas Mountains of those days.
Several weeks later Ms. Mercier was in Nerja on Spain’s Sun Coast, once host to expatriates and seasonal visitors escaping the cold winters of Germany and the United Kingdom.
Looking south from the waterfront at Nerja, spread before me is the vast, blue Mediterranean. Looking north, stretching seemingly forever is a sea of abandoned buff and ocher condominiums, thousands, tens of thousands—an incomprehensible number, most of them decayed and crumbling. It is not hard to understand why: The countryside is parched and dead. At 2 P.M. in the afternoon in front of the ruins of the Hotel Balcón on the Nerja waterfront, the temperature in the shade is 124°F [51°C], and there is no sea breeze to be felt. I seem to be the only person about, and I do not plan to be about for long.
On the way to Nerja from Córdoba and Granada, I saw the charred remains of tens of thousands of olive trees, the monoculture that used to dominate southern Spain. As the region warmed, olive trees dried out, making them susceptible to fire and disease. Today, olive growing has shifted from Spain and Italy north to France and Germany and even England.
From Nerja, Ms. Mercier traveled to Gibraltar.
I had a great deal of trouble finding transportation to get down here and back. What used to take half a day’s drive took me four. Gibraltar used to be one of the British Empire’s crown jewels, guarding entrance to and exit from the Mediterranean. But only a few miles away by sea lay Morocco, a proximity that made Gibraltar a natural mecca for climate migrants.
In my research preparing for the trip, I found a report from the 2010s noting that migration to the EU had already risen due to increasing heat and drought and the social disorder that resulted. One study projected that the annual number of migrants would rise from the 350,000 of the tens to twice that by 2100. But this study, like so many from that period regardless of topic, projected the future based on the past and the past was not a good guide when there was a “new normal” every year or two. These projections almost never took into account global warming and its ancillary effects. Now, no one knows how many migrants have managed to arrive in Europe from Africa, the Middle East, and what we used to call Eastern Europe, but certainly the number is in the hundreds of millions, maybe half a billion. And still they come.
By 2050, so many migrants had swamped Gibraltar that England announced it was ceding the territory to the country that had long claimed it. Spain then made a half-hearted effort to govern Gibraltar. But when the desalination plants on which it had depended for water failed, Spain was in no position to replace them. In 2065 it gave up and declared Gibraltar an open city. Since then it has been known by its original name: Jabal Ṭāriq, Mountain of Tariq.
It was clear to me that Gibraltar is a hive of smuggling and other criminal activities and to go there is to take your life in your hands. I had to enter disguised as a man and accompanied by armed mercenaries. I did not stay long—but long enough to see that when some said global warming would bring hell and high water, they were not far off.
When next I speak with Ms. Mercier, she has moved up the Mediterranean coast to the Spanish province of Murcia.
From Jabal Ṭāriq I hired a boat to take me northeast to Murcia, stopping at places on the way that my captain said were likely to be safe. If you had visited Murcia in the early years of the century, you would have passed fields full of lettuce and hothouses of ripe tomatoes. You would have seen the new vacation homes and condos springing up everywhere. On the way to the beach, you would have found it hard to avoid passing a green golf course. In such a dry land, where did Spain get the water for all this?
As you know from my reports, before I visit an area, Je fais mon travail—I do my homework. I study the history of a city or country so I can understand what I am seeing. Murcia is a case study in how impotent people and governments were to prevent this tragedy of the commons from ruining their lives and their land.
Murcia was always dry, but a lack of rain did not prevent people from behaving as though there would always be plenty of water. If water did not fall from the sky, people found it underground or transferred it from distant snowfields. At the turn of the century, they refused to believe that the day might come when none of these strategies would work.
Until the latter part of the last century, Murcia’s farmers grew figs and date palms and, where they had enough water, lemons and other citrus. Then the government arranged to transfer water from less-dry provinces, which allowed the farmers to switch to thirsty crops like lettuce, tomatoes, and strawberries. Developers built as fast as they could, and every new building had to have its own swimming pool. Vacationers needed villas, condos, and enough golf courses so they did not have to wait to tee off. Keeping each of Murcia’s golf courses green took hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day. Someone figured out that to allow a golfer to play one round took 3,000 gallons [11,356 liters] of water. Today, golf has gone the way of hockey and skiing and sports generally.
Had Spanish officials taken global warming seriously and studied Murcia’s temperature records, they might have been more cautious.
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