Due to an accident in the shifting of the Earth’s plates, nearly all our high-latitude land is in the Northern Hemisphere. Thus Mr Smith, a geographer at UCLA, takes as his premise in the book “The World in 2050” that climate change will cause a population and development explosion in the near-Arctic regions and turn the world’s attention north.
Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia and Scandinavia will become a boom belt, and whatever is under the Arctic Ocean will become the subject of tense international competition. This premise is not new. In 2007 I wrote a cover story for the Atlantic Monthly that considered how global warming would cause a rush to the high-latitude lands of the north. I noted, among other things, that countries with high-latitude land.
Nations will vie for the petroleum believed to lie under the northern polar waters and for the sea lanes opened by melting. The permafrost architecture of the far north (including ice roads) will become useless as the north warms, requiring a major construction push. Land speculators may snap up acres in the Laurentides north of Montreal or hectares along the Gulf of Bothnia, at the northern reaches of the Baltic Sea, hoping that the value of such land will rise in a warmer world.
The strongest—and most worrisome—pages of “The World in 2050” concern freshwater. Most population growth, water-stressed regions: China, Africa, the Indian subcontinent. The north, which has plenty of freshwater, doesn’t face runaway population trends. Climate change may increase water stress in areas where the population is rising while adding freshwater to places that already have plenty.
Nearly 98% of the world’s water is salty, the author reports. Of the slightly more than 2% that is fresh “most would be salty” without glaciers and mountain snowpack, which slowly release freshwater that replenishes lakes, rivers and aquifers.
Public debate tends to focus on sea-level rise and scorching summers as the coming effects of climate change. “The World in 2050” provides a convincing argument that shortage of freshwater is the leading environmental danger, while a northward geopolitical shift may have the heaviest impact on society.