Excerpt: 'The Future of Everything'

Can we really tell what the future has in store?

That's the question David Orrell investigates in "The Future of Everything," in stores Dec. 28, 2006. By looking back at how scientists have predicted the future in the past, Orrell puts forth visions of what the coming years may be like.

Read an excerpt of "The Future of Everything" below:

Consulting the Crystal Ball

Our World in 2100

But what have been thy answers, what but dark Ambiguous, and with double sense deluding, Which they who asked have seldom understood . . . No more shalt thou by oracling abuse The Gentiles; henceforth oracles are ceased, And thou no more with pomp and sacrifice Shalt be enquired at Delphos or elsewhere, At least in vain, for they shall find thee mute. -- John Milton, Paradise Regained

Let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. -- Isaiah, 47:13

Forecast 2100

So now that we have all those theoretical points and disclaimers out of the way, we can ask how things will really look in the year 2100. While researching this book, I came across a variety of ideas, scenarios, predictions, and concerns. Most are based on the output of GCMs, coupled in some cases with models of physical, biological or economic systems. Others are speculations based on what appear to be credible scenarios. The most plausible are listed below.

The average global temperature will rise by about five degrees (C or F).

Droughts in places such as Spain, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, and parts of the United States will make it difficult to grow traditional crops.

Wheat yields will improve in Canada and Russia.

Sea levels will rise by a metre or more.

Summer monsoons in Asia will be more variable, with increased risks of floods or droughts.

Three million cubic kilometres of ice in the Greenland ice sheet will begin a long and unstoppable melting process.

The West Antarctic ice sheet will also begin to melt.

Glaciers worldwide will continue to recede.

The Arctic will have ice-free summers, impacting on ice-living animals, birds, and northern indigenous peoples.

Much of the tundra in northern countries will disappear, releasing its stores of carbon.

A combination of fires and pest outbreaks will severely damage boreal forests in China and other countries.

Huge dust storms in the Gobi and Sahara deserts will cause respiratory problems worldwide.

Local warming and rainfall reduction will cause parts of the Amazonian rainforest to collapse and die, releasing their stores of carbon.

Wetlands such as South America's Pantanal will dry out, impacting species such as migratory birds.

Storms and hurricanes will dramatically intensify. 338 Future

Areas including France, Germany, and the northwest United States will experience increased heat waves, like the one that hit Paris in the summer of 2003.

Coastal erosion will displace hundreds of millions of people, destroy prime farmland, flood entire island nations, and result in huge costs for cities such as Alexandria, Amsterdam, Manila, Calcutta, and London.

The thermohaline ocean circulation will slow or stop, causing the U.K. winter to go Canadian.

Warmer oceans will result in quasi-permanent El Niño conditions.

Exhausted fisheries will not recover.

Coral reefs will turn white.

Losses in species diversity will result in widespread ecosystem collapse.

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