In light of Freeman Dyson’s skepticism of the dire effects of global warming (See his recent profile on the New York Times Magazine), I thought I would list in order what I thought would be the worst possible things that could happen as a result of global warming and also the worst possible things if we do something about it.
Worst possible outcomes of global warming
1. All life on earth goes extinct
2. Most life on earth goes extinct, including humans
3. Most life on earth goes extinct, but humans survive (depending on your philosophy, you may swap 2 with 3 in terms of priority)
4. Oceans become so acidic that ocean life goes extinct
5. Most arable farm land turns to deserts, eliminating civilization
6. Much arable land turns to desert, leading to mass starvation and wars
7. Ocean level rises by 30 metres flooding all coastlines and many low lying nations, requiring relocation for billions of people
8. Ocean level rises by a smaller amount leading to migration for less than a billion people
9. Climate drastically changes, leading to more droughts, more megafires, more massive storms, etc.
10. Gulf stream ceases putting Europe into a mini-ice age. (If you live in Europe you may swap 9 and 10)
Worst possible outcomes for acting
1. Increased cost of energy makes food production impossible and everyone starves to death
2. Increased cost of energy makes food production almost impossible and most people starve
3. Increased cost of energy plunges most of the world into extreme poverty and ends civilization
4. Increased cost of energy plunges most of the world into poverty including India and China
5. Increased cost of energy confines developing world to poverty, but India and China continue to grow
6. Carbon sequestration underground causes massive earthquakes
7. Terrorists take over laser fusion facility and turn it into a weapon of mass destruction
8. Increased cost of energy lowers everyone’s standard of living and changes transportation structure
9. Increased cost of energy makes air travel prohibitively expensive
10. Increased cost of energy makes suburbs and car culture obsolete (Some would say this is a good thing)
Personally, I’m actually not sure which of these scenarios will happen. I’m certain that global warming is occuring but I’m not sure of the consequences. It could be that none of these things happen on either of the lists and it wouldn’t make a difference if we acted or didn’t act although we will eventually run out of fossil fuels so we will need to switch to renewables at some point.