While technological change could well change what it means to be human over the next several generations, environmental changes will be just as disruptive and are far more certain. Even if the nations of the world achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Accords, the impacts of climate change, pollution and other looming crisis will profoundly change every country and region on the map. According to the United Nations, 65 million people are currently forcibly displaced from their homes, of those about 190,000 have been permanently resettled. The impact of all of that movement has caused crisis and conflict from Lebanon and North Africa to Europe; from Australia to North America but by the end of this century, the number of people on the move could be 10-20 times as high.
According to NASA, the Earth’s temperature will rise between 2 and 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That will bring with it, increases in extreme weather and flooding of low-lying coastal areas. That alone will cause internal migration within nations and regions as people move to higher ground and away from drought and fire. Those things, as problematic as they are, are the least of the troubles in store for us.
The closer a country is to the equator, the worse the warming temperatures will be. That could mean trouble for agricultural regions of Southern Europe and the Southern United States but it could be devastating for, very populous and already poor countries further south. According to some reports, parts of South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East could be rendered permanently uninhabitable.
Even in lands that are not completely uninhabitable, desertification will claim large amounts of agricultural land and forest. According to the United Nations, about 12 million hectares (almost 30 million acres) of land is already being lost every year. Add to that a decline in fish stocks caused by overfishing, climate change and pollution and global food security is seriously at risk. Both of these problems are likely to accelerate as the planet continues to warm.
The weather combined with shortages of food and water will displace many millions, both within and outside of their native countries, however, that is only the first phase. Unless there are sufficient systems in place to monitor and effectively deal with the mass migrations and food shortages, economic and political instability will no doubt follow. If the world, and most especially the developing world, is torn apart by revolutions, civil wars and international disputes over food sources and water then hundreds of millions more could be displaced, throwing the world into chaos.
No matter how aggressively we reduce greenhouse gasses, these things are going to happen. The only thing that is uncertain at this point is how bad things will get. However, at this stage, we not only have to pursue climate change solutions and fight pollution but also begin to prepare for the inevitable damage that will occur. The better prepared we are for storms, droughts, floods, food shortages, political and economic stability, the lower the risk of everything descending into chaos. People are going to die because of climate change (that is already happening) but the better prepared we are, the more we can save.