The Information Age is over...

SUBHEAD: The Climate Age will define the next age of humanity.

By Ashaman on 27 June 2009 in the Daily Kos
image above: Detail of sign for Space Station Gas & Liquor. From 

 Human history is best thought of in Ages. An Age is somewhat tied to the prevailing technology of the day, but also defined by how that technology is used, where our attention is focused. We started with the Stone Age, where our first pieces of technology were stone blades.

We then followed with a series of ages named after the best metal we could produce, Copper, Bronze, Iron, Steel. The early part of the 20th century is often considered the Industrial Age, and the late 20th century marked the beginning of the Information Age, based on computer technology.

But I can see the future, and the Information Age just ended. When historians look back at the beginning of the 21st century, they'll draw a line and say: "Here lies the beginning of the Climate Age." But 'climate' isn't a technology, you can't name an age after it! Ok, fine, give me a better name then. I'm serious. 
But what else are we going to call it? For the next century or so, mankind is going to be increasingly focused on two simple tasks: preventing additional climate change, and dealing with the damage to our society caused by climate change. Those tasks will dominate our lives, and the lives of our children. 
We are going to essentially rebuild everything, and it's not going to be just shinier and more expensive. Our entire energy infrastructure is going to be replaced. By the end of the century, the very idea of burning coal or oil for power will seem absurd, given the dozens of clean alternatives. Solar and wind farms will pop up everywhere, geothermal wells will get dug, and the movements of rivers and oceans will all be tapped for their energy. Not a single power line standing today will exist by mid-century, they'll be replaced with a high-efficiency smart grid. But we won't stop there, we can't.
 Our homes will also get rebuilt, refurbished, or replaced. Building codes will demand much higher levels of insulation. We'll all have inert-gas filled, reflective-film covered, triple-pane windows. Building designs will all contain passive solar heating and cooling, and our roof lines will host a variety of active solar and wind driven generators. 
Our plumbing will be re-worked, you won't have just 'clean' water and 'sewage', but there will also be pipes for greywater and captured rainwater, and cisterns for both. Water drained from your shower will flush your toilet, and nobody will waste purified drinkable water on something as mundane as watering flowers.

Industry will rework itself as well. Heavy industry will capture not only polluting gasses, but waste heat from their processes. The materials we use today, concrete and steel, will either be reformed to take less energy to create, or replaced with new materials entirely. Agriculture will completely change, and this is where it starts to get ugly. There will be stronger movements for organic processes and local food, so the nature of the crops planted, and the methods for tending those crops, will adjust. 
But more importantly will be dealing with the constantly changing climate. Higher temperatures will cause drier soils, requiring more hardy plants or irrigation. But frequent droughts will make irrigation increasingly expensive, and total regional crop failures will become far more common. Heavy rainfalls will interrupt those droughts, causing erosion of increasingly scarce topsoil.

It will become too hot to grow wheat or corn anywhere in the United States, so the breadbasket of North America will move into Canada, where the glaciers left all those big rocks behind. Invasive species of plant and insect will migrate to brand new regions, and farmers will constantly be worried about the newest unexpected threat. 
Low lying regions that are used for rice crops will begin to see rising oceans invade their fields, making them useless for anything but salt-tolerant species. Overall, agriculture will be hit with so many different problems that it can't keep up, and total food production will probably have peaked just after peak oil. In the wake of decreasing agriculture, people will turn to the seas. 
Already over-fished regions will be decimated, and entire populations of fish will disappear. But basic chemistry will also be working in the oceans: increased CO2 levels in the air will translate into more absorption by the oceans, and carbonic acid will form. This is probably as big a threat to the biosphere as simple warming, and it's called ocean acidification. The direct consequence is that many ocean creatures won't be able to fix the calcium they need to create their shells.
Fundamental pieces of the food chain will collapse, further reducing the availability of fish for human consumption. Rising oceans and storms will begin destroying coastal real-estate. We'll start by trying to protect big cities, like New Orleans and New York, with increasingly larger walls and dams. By the end of the century, every large city on the coastline will have a massive engineering effort to defend the expensive areas, while smaller cities or suburban zones will simply be moved or abandoned. 
Once a decade, a major engineering effort will fail, flooding a city and causing great loss of life and property. Insurance rates will climb everywhere, and there will be multiple trillion-dollar bailouts of the entire insurance industry. Populations will begin to move. The areas we once considered to be hospitable to our civilization will have changed. 
People will have to move away from the coastlines, but they'll also have to go to places where agriculture is still functioning. Immigration battles will become a nightmare as hundreds of millions of people try to relocate across the globe, and local populations will resist the arrival of outsiders, especially as resources get scarce. Both sides will have guns. 
By the end of the century, I don't think overpopulation will be an issue anymore. There will be starvation, there will be wars, there will be pandemics, there will be genocides, there will be yet more wars, and there will be fewer people wanting children in an increasingly harsh world. The human population on this planet will have decreased by the end of the century. 
While I can see the future dimly, I can't quite tell how painful this population decrease will be, how fast or how violent. This transition is inevitable, it can't be stopped. Planetary climates have massive inertia, and we've gotten ours moving. It'll take multiple centuries of hard work to bring it back to the comfortable levels that we experienced in the 20th century. 
But we still have some control over how bad it'll get, and how fast it'll get there, and how long it takes to fix the damage. We can act sooner and it'll be easier, or we can act later and the cost will be a hundred times higher. But we have no choice, we have to deal with both prevention and damage for the next century or so, to one degree or another, and this will essentially define the next Age of Humanity. The Climate Age has arrived. Are you ready?

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