The river of time flows on, and empires crumble, leaving behind only legend that becomes myth, while new polities arise to take their place. This process of decay and creation is going to receive a boost from “peak energy” and, above all, climate change – which will redraw the maps of power to an extent unprecedented since the end of the last Ice Age. Throughout recorded history, the centers of advanced civilization have seesawed east and west, but remained constrained within a “band of habitability” that did not extend much further north than Oslo, St.-Petersburg, or Harbin. If the pessimistic scenarios of AGW come true, this band will become inverted: the tropics and mid-latitudes will become increasingly drought-stricken, desolate wastelands, perhaps even uninhabitable by 2300, while the Arctic regions, and a thawing Greenland and Antarctica, will become new centers of global civilization.
In this post, with the help of many maps, I will explore what this will mean in more detail than I believe has been done anywhere else on the Web. Needless to say, I am making the assumption that there will be no technological singularity, or other technological breakthrough, that will enable the continuation of modern high-energy civilization. But not will these be any all-out apocalypse. That part of the technological base that does not rely on high levels of energy inputs for its maintenance will survive, that is, railways, electricity generated by hydropower, radios, even elementary computing. So let us venture forth into the brave new world of 3000 AD!
The Rise of the Poles
The first major transformation that I want to emphasize is that people will stop thinking of the world as they currently do.
This would make no sense when population levels in the equators and mid-latitudes plummet due to constant drought and heat stress that actually makes mammalian life unviable during the summer months. Let’s start with basics: temperatures under full humidity cannot exceed the body’s if you want to survive.
Today, the entire world fulfills this basic requirement. The same cannot be said of a world that is 11-12C warmer; at that point, a “belt of uninhabitability” will encircle the world.
As you can see above, life will become impossible within the interiors of the Eastern US, much of the interior of South America, northern Africa, large swathes of the Middle East, India, eastern China, and Australia. It will also get a great deal more uncomfortable almost everywhere else. Note how Siberia becomes as oppressively hot as the Ganges river plain today.
Furthermore, you need a constant source of water to sustain large-scale agriculture. Where this is impossible, as in the US Great Plains or much of the Middle East, there is a reliance on runoff from mountain snow-packs (the Himalayas, for instance, feed the great Chinese and Indian rivers) or fossil aquifers (as in the US Great Plains, or large parts of the Middle East and India today).
The world’s water situation will become a lot worse under extreme AGW, at least until plant life adapts and re-greens the southern regions (but this will take many tens of millennia at the very least).
As you can see from the map above, agriculture will become impossible in most of the world’s current breadbaskets. India will be too hot to survive in, despite its plentiful rainfall. Agriculture will largely be confined to what is now Alaska, northern Canada, Scandinavia, Siberia, northern China, and East Africa (as well as newly deglaciated Greenland and Antarctica).
But what’s more, quite a lot of the newly opened up areas will be flooded due to sea level rise. Below is a map of the effects of all the ice melting.
This shows that two major regions that may have become (or remained) suitable for intensive agriculture will become flooded, such as much of what is now northern Argentina and the West Siberian Lowlands. On the other hand, they may go Dutch and salvage quite a lot of these territories by land reclamation. Also, the Caspian Sea and Aral Sea are obviously not going to expand as shown above, because they are internal and none of the extra water from melted icecaps is going to find its way into them; to the contrary, they will more likely vanish, leaving behind salted, desert wastelands.
But this is not all. A much warmer world will have much stronger storms, such as hypercanes. Originating from locally warmed ocean waters, they feature 800km/h (F9) winds and can traverse the globe several times leaving behind a trail of destruction. This will make civilization in Argentina difficult to achieve, as any dykes the agriculturalists build will be overwhelmed by the 18m storm surges generated by these hypercanes. Same goes for South-Eastern China, Borneo, and Papua New Guinea. On the other hand, the Arctic region will be much safer, because there will not be enough heat energy to sustain the hypercanes that far north; likewise, regions blocked off by mountains, such as East Africa, may also prosper, relatively speaking.
Finally, enclosed sea regions such as the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Caribbean Sea may become anoxic dead zones due to the shut-off of ocean circulation. But presumably any coastal dwellers will have long since left anyway.
All that said, it will be logical that – with the exception of whatever civilization happens to occupy East Africa, Antarctica, and perhaps Patagonia – the peoples of the world will cluster around the Arctic and will come to think of their world as one that is centered at the North Pole.
Indeed, people may no longer even think of world in terms of traditional concepts such as east, west, north or south. They may instead think horizontally (“Let’s go left, to Alaska,” says a traveler in Labrador) and vertically (“I think I want to either go down to see the ruins of Delhi this summer, then go up to the beaches of Novaya Zemlya,” says a rich aristocrat living in a city on the Yenisei flood plain).
What will these post-high exergy, post-AGW civilizations look like? Much will depend on the geographic and climatic peculiarities of the entities in question. Let’s start off by listing the possible centers of powerful civilizations.
- Ob-Yenisei (West Siberian Lowlands between the Purana and the Urals)
- Lena (Central Siberian Plain up to the river Lena)
- Kolyma (maybe includes Anadyr; Kamchatka)
- Amur (plus Heilongjiang, Sakhalin, North Korea)
- Lake Baikal; Lake Balkash; Tian Shan statelets
- Vorkuta (north-east of European Russia)
- Canadian Archipelago
- Labrador (along with Nova Scotia, Newfoundland)
- Hudson Bay
- The Eastern Rockies (to the far north)
- East Africa
- Though they remain cool enough, the regions of North California and the Himalayas will be unlikely to maintain high-level civilizations because they will be in permanent drought.
Below is a map of the Arctic region around 3000 AD, showing risen sea levels and a deglaciated Greenland.
The nature of the states and empires that will come to occupy this Arctic world will depend heavily on specific geographies and the patterns that have traditionally been associated with them. For instance:
- Massive flood plains and land reclamation, as may be expected in West Siberia, are typically pushed through by bureaucratic, authoritarian states (called “hydraulic despotisms” by Wittfogel). They tend to be populated by many peasants living near the edge of subsistence, feeding a religious, administrative, and military class that works to consolidate the country from internal rebellions and outside invasions.
- Bay regions, such as that of the Hudson Bay, and islands, as in the Canadian Archipelago, tend to be more diverse and disunited. Probably no single empire will consolidate them all under its control.
- There is a constant historical theme of conflict between lowlanders and highlanders. This may be resumed, though for different reasons. Historically, nomads frequently invaded and enslaved riverine peasant populations thanks to their craving of their material goods, emphasis on martial values, and protein-rich diets. In the far future, the highland nations in places like Kolyma or Alaska will be far more energy rich than in West Siberia or around the Hudson Bay, because they will have an abundance of the major remaining source of electric power: hydropower. Their populations will also be healthier, having access to more calories and being farther away from the diseases flitting across the tropical lowlands. If they can unite, their power will far outclass those of lowland empires, despite their lower populations.
- The other major historical enmity relevant to this world is that between sedentary people and desert nomads. Unlike the highlanders, the desert nomads will pose only a minimal threat. Nomads do not have manufacturing bases, and in a world in which guns and heavy weapons continue to be used in warfare, they cannot do anything more than harass border settlements.
Bearing these issues in mind, this is what I expect the geopolitical configuration of the world in 3000 AD to look like.
The West Siberian Lowlands between the Ob and the Yenisei, and the regions around the Lena River, will be an empire with resemblances to that of Egypt: heavily dependent on rivers and irrigation for agriculture in a region that would otherwise be desert, and obliged to support a big elite caste to manage said waterworks. These two river basins may well be united under one mega-empire, for the Central Siberian Plateau does not represent a serious impediment to communications between the West Siberian Lowlands and the Lena valley.
Kolyma will be able to sustain another major hydraulic civilization, and likely a more productive one because its hydropower potential relative to the population its river basin can sustain is greater than is the case in Siberia; and because Kolyma’s mineral base will be exhausted later than Siberia’s because it won’t be exploited as soon due to its remoteness. Kolyma will probably have hostile relations with the empire(s) to its west because of its logical desire to secure the Lena River. Separated from them by mountain ranges, Kolyma is probably unlikely to be united with smaller mountain states such as the ones that will appear in and around current-day Anadyr, Kamchatka, and Magadan.
Most states to the south of Kolyma will be poor, being landlocked deep within Eurasia. The major exception is the the Amur region stretching to the origins of the Lena river, and including Sakhalin and modern-day Heilongjiang, which I expect to form the foundations of a respectable Great Power.
We may expect smaller entities to form around Lake Baikal, and the Altai Region, and what are now the countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. They have adequate rainfall, and can raid Siberia’s underbelly for food and slaves. A major Power is unlikely to appear in the Himalayas. It is predicted to be a drought-stricken area, and under catastrophic AGW the mountains will lose all their snow, so irrigation agriculture will also be impossible. Crops may find it hard to grow at such high altitudes.
Already being somewhat settled, any resources in Scandinavia will have long since been depleted in Scandinavia by 3000 AD – with the possible exception of the Kola Peninsula, which has one of the world’s greatest concentrations of Rare Earth Metals. What is North-East Russia will also be similarly exhausted, and in addition will be buffeted by hypercanes coming up from the Atlantic and racing over a flooded northern Europe: not shielded by mountains, as are the West Siberian Lowlands and much of Scandinavia, they will bear the brunt of these fearsome tempests.
Once it thaws, Greenland will have a geography to die for. Multiple awesome harbors? Check. Internal lake massively lowering internal transport costs, allowing for ease of capital accumulation? Check. Secure from external threats? Check. Many mountains that will provide hydroelectric power (and block hypercanes)? Check. Full of minerals that will take a long time to start exploiting? Check.
I fully expect whoever gets Greenland to develop the Arctic world’s most developed economy and navy, and perhaps even become its predominant superpower.
Alaska will presumably go much the way of Kolyma – a set of states, possible competing, possible confederating, all of them rich in relative terms because of the plentiful rainfall, mountains, and resources that will only start getting exploited late in the world’s history. There may be naval skirmishes between Alaskans and whoever wants to challenge them for control of the Bering Strait from the Kolyma side.
Canada will be a relatively poor set of competing entities, divided primarily into four groups: (1) the Rockies states centered around the great Canadian lakes, which try to eke out an existence by whatever they can dredge from any mines still bearing lodes (their north will be buffeted by the remnants of hypercanes billowing through Vorkuta and across the Arctic, and their south will be harassed by nomadic raiders from the desertified Great Plains); (2) the disparate collection of sultanates, slave plantations, foreign naval bases, and pirate strongholds that will claim control over the Canadian Archipelago; (3) the competing lowland states clustering around what is today the Hudson Bay, with no resources or sources of energy, their trade strangled by pirates from the Archipelago and their border settlements attacked by southern raiders; and (4) the state that will appear in Labrador. This state, which may or may not also include what is now Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, will have rolling hill-lands and will likely be the only respectable Power on the American continent apart from Alaska.
Elsewhere, the only region I expect to have a chance of becoming powerful is what is now Antarctica once it melts; however, contacts with the Arctic region will be difficult, passing through a world of desert wasteland on land and sea, so it may technologically regress to a greater extent than is the case in the northern hemisphere. Regardless, despite its formidable extent and industrial potential, it is hard to imagine Antarctica playing power politics in the Arctic from the other side of a long-deglobalized world.
The only two other regions outside the polar regions that may continue to support advanced civilizations are East Africa and, perhaps, Patagonia. However, they are both isolated, and unlike Antarctica, do not have the territorial extent to constitute their own world empires. They will fall far behind, and most of their energies will be preoccupied by the single imperative of arresting civilizational collapse.
In a very real sense, catastrophic AGW truly will create a new world. And it will not necessarily be uniformly apocalyptic in the style of Mad Max and Waterworld (though there’ll be plenty of that). Some regions may prosper, like Kolyma or Alaska, and a few, like Greenland, may even offer their citizens a quality of life comparable to 20th century standards. Others will be populated by peasants eking out a subsistence existence, as in West Siberia and much of Canada. As one goes further south, civilization fades away, and as one ventures into what is now modern Afghanistan or Spain or south of the Great Lakes, even survival becomes impossible during the summer months. Away from the Arctic, civilization will live on live on in isolated pockets if that.
Whereas it is possible to make some informed deductions as to the geopolitics and political economies of certain regions in a warmed world, this becomes an almost purely speculative affair once we move onto national specifics, such as culture, language, ethnicities, or religion. Presumably, the descents of today’s Americans, Europeans (especially Anglo-Saxons and Germanics), Russians, Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese will be relatively well-represented. The same cannot be said of peoples now living in the Middle East, India, or Africa. Even if the northern Powers let in their climate refugees, it is hard to believe they will give them an equal footing with the indigenous inhabitants; more plausibly, today’s ethnic Russians and Canadians will become the aristocrats or military and priestly castes of countries transforming into hydraulic despotisms on the backbones of southern immigrants exchanging survival for serfdom.
It is at this point that futurism ends, and fantasy begins.