Europe and Eurasia

The prospect of a new ice age in Europe caused by the Gulf Stream's collapse is not an element of the severe climate scenario that serves as the basis for this chapter. But there is enough bad news for Europe in the scenario as it stands. Severe climate change will threaten every major port city in Europe and the United Kingdom. This will translate into huge economic costs at the national level and will prompt demands for EU intervention that are likely to exceed both its economic and its political resources. The Netherlands will be a particularly wrenching problem: a society at the core of European culture, which physically exists by restraining the sea, will be threatened by inundation. How will Europe share the costs of redesigning an entire nation?

Environmental pressures will accentuate the migration of peoples in numbers that will effectively change the ethnic signatures of major states and regions. In Europe, the influx of illegal immigrants from northern Africa and other parts of the continent will accelerate and become impossible to stop, except by means approximating a blockade. There will be political tipping points marked by the collapse of liberal concepts of openness, in the face of public demands for action to stem the tide. As the pressure increases, efforts to integrate Muslim communities into the European mainstream will collapse and extreme division will become the norm.

The beginnings of these trends are present already, but severe climate change will cause them to become far worse. One of the casualties of this process may be any prospect for the cultural, much less the political, integration of Turkey into the EU. Even if Turkey were to be admitted, the increasing reaction of Europeans against Islam may alienate the Turkish people, thereby destroying the hoped-for role of Turkey as a bulwark against radical Islam. At severe levels of climate change, civil disorder may lead to the suspension of normal legal procedures and rights. The precedents for dealing with large, unwanted minorities have already been set in Eurasia under fascism and communism. Under conditions marked by high levels of civil confusion and fear, political leaders and movements will emerge who might not resist these solutions.

In parts of the Russian Federation the Slavic population will continue receding while immigration from Asia intensifies. At some point these tensions may accumulate to the point where Moscow and Beijing collide over matters each believes to be vital to its own political stability and to the survival of its regime. Growing Asian settlement in portions of the Russian Federation will also result in increased friction, specifically with Russia's rapidly growing Islamic population.

The Russian core of the Federation will certainly not respond to these developments by shifting to liberal democracy. On the contrary, the antidemocratic legacy of the Putin period will be reinforced. Russia will return to its roots—to a czarist-type system in all but name, with the wealth of the country divided among members of a new "boyar" class as payment for loyalty. This regime will anchor itself ideologically in Russian nationalism and economically in the country's dominant energy position, which it will exploit aggressively. These trends are established already. Severe climate change will intensify them under Putin's successors.

Rising sea levels and accentuated storm systems will threaten China's industrialized coastal regions. Chinese economic growth will suffer as a result of the accelerated loss of land fertility resulting from the salinization of river deltas, which will compound the loss of arable land that has already occurred because of urbanization. Decreased rainfall will accelerate China's already critical shortage of water, not only for drinking but also for industrial purposes. This will also cancel out the promised effects of massive hydro-engineering projects such as the Three Gorges Dam.

There will be significant environmental pressures arguing for an inland shift of economic activity. China might be better able than other societies to accomplish this kind of transition, but the western reaches of China are water- and resource-poor. China will also find itself in direct confrontation with Japan and even the United States over access to fish, at a time when all major fisheries will likely have crashed as the result of today's unsustainable fishing practices, combined with the ongoing worldwide decimation of wetlands.

All this can place tremendous additional pressure on the national concept and on the Chinese political system. That system is already under stress; witness tens of thousands of clashes each year between the populace and local authorities. Political reform and liberalization of government control may be the necessary response to this kind of discontent, but severe climate change is much more likely to push China's central government, as well as the provincial governments, in the opposite direction.

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