Simon Tisdall, columnist and assistant editor for The Guardian, has written a wide-ranging, thought-provoking analysis of who may dominate the future. Only thing lacking is any consideration of the possible impacts of the climate crisis on the overarching political and economic structures taken as a given since at least medieval times: the nation state and capitalism. When an existential crisis is truly global, sovereignty may have to bend. Likewise, capitalism may have to accept some constraints on its profit-making freedom of action. Brazil should not be allowed to burn down the Amazon rainforest. Canada should not be permitted to develop the tar sands of Alberta. Russia (and Exxon) should never exploit its huge North Sea oil reserves (removal of the sanctions against which were the unspoken quid for Russia’s electoral help to Donald Trump). Australia shouldn’t be able to give permission to the Adjani mines to dig up and export billions of tons of coal to China. Indonesia and Nigeria have oil deposits they are aching to develop, and even Saudi Arabia’s Aramco wants to expand its already world-leading oil production capabilities.
Quite simply, the climate crisis is real, it is existential, it is global, and it is imminent. To analyze future big power politics without giving due consideration to its probable effects is to ignore the 900-pound gorilla in the room. If we don’t start curbing the emissions from burning fossil fuels now, by mid-century, just 30 years from now, global temperatures will rise by 3-5°C (5.4 – 9°F), sea levels will have risen enough to cause flooding every full moon in coastal cities around the globe, resulting in major migrations to higher land both within and across national borders, displacement and failure of many businesses, and sharp falls in coastal real estate values. Extreme weather events will become more frequent and more extreme. Heat waves will be hotter and last longer. The poor, the elderly, the infirm, and infants will be most affected. Some will die. Droughts will be deeper and last longer. Food yields will fall, prices will rise, trade in staples will be restricted, many people will be hungry and some will starve. People will protest these conditions, government responses will be deemed inadequate, and some governments will fall. Societies will break down. Civilization could crumble.
Before that happens, however, there will be at least one, but probably several attempts to forge new institutional structures to modify, supplement, or replace the ones developed at Bretton Woods after World War II, to forestall a complete collapse from happening. Just as nation states succeeded feudal fiefdoms in the early Middle Ages, a shift to a new form of social and political organization is indicated. It is not inevitable, but if humankind fails to achieve at least a nascent form of supranational, all life-oriented, equitable, and sustainable modus vivendi, then our grand multi-millennial experiment will fail, and we’ll go the way of the dinosaurs.