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  • Eric Lim

Climate Change: This Thing Could End Civilization Itself

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

*Originally published on Medium on December 24, 2021



World War I: No one saw that coming either

My climate testimony

I am 27 this year. I’ll admit: until last year, I never really cared about the environment. I used to think it was all a bunch of unnecessarily alarmist, doomsday crap that seemed just too implausible.


Last year, however, I came across this lecture on YouTube that explained how climate change can destroy the global food supply. That video hit me on the head like a hammer. It dawned on me that this thing might be real. So real, in fact, that now I’ve come to believe that climate change has the potential to wipe out civilization altogether.


Weirdly, the reason that I’ve come to fully embrace environmentalism is that I’m a huge history nerd. The coolest thing about history is, it’s full of stories where the inconceivable does really happen. And oftentimes, it happens on a magnitude that would have seemed laughable right until the moment it unfolds. For example, the Mongol invasions: the Mongols really did come out of nowhere to wipe out not just kingdoms but entire ethnicities in a matter of decades. The Conquistadors: within 100 years of Christopher Columbus arriving in the Caribbean, entire civilizations up and down the Americas ceased to exist.


We are not moving fast enough to reverse the chain reaction that climate change is setting off, but that has got to change because it seems more and more likely every year that the inconceivable may very well happen.


What climate change is doing to us

The danger of climate change is not just that the planet is warming but it’s also becoming increasingly erratic and unpredictable. Like the polar vortex in Texas or gigantic wildfires in Siberia this year. Climate change is causing more and more natural disasters and causing them in times and places where they shouldn’t normally happen.


The 2021 Texas Freeze (Image Credit: PQN Studios/Shutterstock)

In 2021, we saw a lethal freeze in Texas, wildfires and floods in the same year in Turkey, and a crazy large flood in central China (like, a crazy large one). I live in LA, and, in the not-so-distant future, the day will come when California will go through a freeze like Texas did this year, with snowfall in LA, the California aqueducts freezing, the water supply to Southern California shut down, thousands of pipes burst, and the state in mayhem.


Political-economic repercussions

What I’m really worried about, though, is not the direct effects of climate change. Humanity is resilient enough to find solutions for the natural disasters themselves. The real trouble will be the political-economic tolls that climate change will exact.


This is how climate change will affect our economy and, by extension, our political life.


1. First of all, climate change will be a never-ending drain on government budgets for all countries. We’re talking record wildfires and floods and hurricanes and droughts that governments will have to deal with on an annual basis. Governments will bleed money, which means we’ll have to cut back on social programs like hospitals, Social Security, education, police, and anything that you can think of (maybe except the military…).


2. At the same time, prices will go up across the board. Climate change will strain all of our resources. Things like water, crops, livestock, fisheries (watch Seaspiracy!) will take a direct hit. Moreover, the pandemic showed us how vulnerable the global supply system really was. At a minimum, climate change will cause just as much disruption as the pandemic did. Prices will go up.


3. Jobs will disappear. As a result of all these things, consumers won’t have money to spend. The global supply of goods and services will be severely disrupted. Countless numbers of people will be displaced from their homes, and businesses will lose access to workers. Companies will shut down; jobs will evaporate.


When governments run out of money, prices rise, and people can’t find jobs, there will be violence and instability — internally, rising crime rates and riots and, externally, conflicts over resources and massive migrations.


The 2015 European migrant crisis could be a precursor of what's to come (Image Credit: Janossy Gergely/Shutterstock)


Civilization itself is at stake

Humanity has had it so good since 1945 that we now take peace and progress for granted. But history wasn’t always like that. Constant progress is a recent phenomenon, a historical aberration. That means, it could very well end eventually.


Advances in technology, healthcare, and culture don’t happen naturally. They happen because we have a stable, peaceful world and because businesses and governments pour trillions of dollars into education and research every year. But when governments go bankrupt and when nations are beset by wars and riots and migrations, we won’t have the universities and research institutions that we have now or the capabilities to recruit talent and tap into their potential.


While this is happening, climate change will throw worse and worse challenges at us. Crime, violence, and instability will become the norm. When the Roman Empire fell in 476, Europeans lost knowledge from classical Greece and Rome for a thousand years. Aristotle and Plato and Pythagoras and all the good stuff that they say is the foundation of European civilization — Europeans lost all that until the Renaissance of the 1400s, because a stable government had collapsed (the Roman Empire), conflict and violence took control, and there was no one left to invest in science, education, and culture.


What do we do

What we truly need is less consumption. That is the only honest answer. We’ll have to do less of everything — less shopping, less meat, less coffee, less single-use plastics, less packaging, less fishing, less ordering on Amazon, less long-distance traveling, less everything. A few tweaks won’t solve the problem (sure as hell, electric vehicles won’t solve them, but more on that later…).


Seemingly implausible possibilities have happened time and time again throughout history. History is littered with nations and civilizations that were ground to dust and scattered to the wind. No possibility is off-limits. We’re already seeing signs of a looming catastrophe, like a tsunami slowly rising over the horizon. So while there is still time, we must get our act together and get ready to make some big changes.

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