Falter | Bill McKibben

Summary of: Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
By: Bill McKibben


In ‘Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?’, Bill McKibben exposes the grim danger our planet faces due to environmental degradation, climate change, and technological advancements. The summary delves deep into the alarming consequences of our actions, exploring unfavorable scenarios for the future. The significant loss of arable land and the potential extinction of life due to the rising temperature is expounded upon. McKibben also warns about the unintentional threats genetic engineering and artificial intelligence can bring upon humanity. Discover a comprehensive account of how our actions are drastically changing the world we live in, and what we can do to avoid a dystopian future.

The Climate Clock Ticks

The adverse effects of climate change are no longer distant threats; they are already impacting humans and the environment. Rising temperatures, affected animal populations, and extreme weather events are signs that global warming jeopardizes the world as we know it. As seen in Syria and Texas, the consequences of climate change can lead to political and social upheaval, and devastating natural disasters.

Unless you’ve managed to avoid the news for years, it’s difficult not to see the increasing concern around global warming and the damage it’s causing to our planet. The reality is that this threat and its consequences aren’t just potential dangers in the future – they’re happening right now, altering our world with every passing moment.

Over the past three decades, 20 years have experienced record-breaking heat. Climate change is responsible for degrading one-third of Earth’s landmass and significantly impacting its ability to support animal life. In addition, the provision of plant-based energy that sustains these life-forms is under constant decline. Since 1970, the overall population of land-based animals has dwindled by half.

Even if you don’t see the significance of nature’s charm or animal welfare, these alarming realities carry implications for human life as well. Fires, droughts, and fatal heatwaves are consequences of rising temperatures, disrupting the peaceful existence of society.

In the Middle Eastern nation of Syria, a drought-driven economic instability became a catalyst for the Syrian Civil War. This conflict resulted in a mass exodus of a million Syrian refugees finding their way to Europe, causing extreme right-wing political movements to gain momentum among threatened local European populations.

Outside of political turmoil, warmer waters are wrecking havoc on our world as well. Take, for instance, the coastal waters of Texas, where the average ocean temperature rose by one degree Fahrenheit. This seemingly small increase caused a 3-5% uptick in local atmospheric water content. Consequently, Hurricane Harvey struck Texas in August 2017, unleashing 127 billion tons of rainwater and marking the worst rainstorm in US history.

To grasp the scale of that storm, imagine filling 26,000 stadiums with water. The weight of it caused Houston to sink by a couple of centimeters.

It’s crucial to let the magnitude of these facts sink in, and understand that they represent only a fraction of what’s in store for our future. The clock is ticking. It’s time to recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and face the ongoing damage to our planet.

Oceans’ Chilling Revelations

Suppose Earth’s rising temperatures go unchecked, causing ocean life to cease producing oxygen, ice melting to unearth long-buried diseases, and the earth’s crust is bent, reinstating widespread natural disasters. The world’s ecosystem would be severely jeopardized, and every living organism, humans included, could potentially succumb to irreparable consequences.

The narrative of the Earth’s temperatures skyrocketing causing catastrophic damage is not something you haven’t heard before. However, here’s a new angle: if this continues and the ocean’s temperatures soar, by 2100, the phytoplankton may struggle to perform photosynthesis, leading to halted oxygen production. As they provide two-thirds of the Earth’s oxygen, the planet’s inhabitants, including humans, could perish.

Let’s toss in another curveball. You’re most likely aware that ice and permafrost are melting at the Arctic Circle. But do you know what lurks beneath the permafrost? When Siberia experienced a heatwave in 2016, melting tundra revealed a reindeer’s carcass infected with anthrax. This resulted in new infections, including the death of a 12-year-old boy. Anthrax isn’t the sole threat hiding below the permafrost—other deadly microbes and viruses like smallpox, Spanish flu, and bubonic plague exist there too.

Another alarming aspect: the sheer weight of the melting Arctic ice. As more ice melts away, weight redistribution impacts the ocean floors and bends the earth’s crust. This shift leads to natural disasters on the rise, such as earthquakes, volcanic activity, submarine landslides, and tsunamis. The evidence is already emerging in Greenland and Alaska, where seismic activity increases alongside melting ice.

While these represent the most devastating scenarios of an Earth tormented by global warming, other more plausible outcomes aren’t far behind in disastrous impact. The consequences may be less apocalyptic, but still spell doom for humans and the delicate balance of our ecosystems.

Shrinking Habitats, Rising Challenges

In the foreseeable future, we’re faced with a world where habitable and cultivable land will significantly reduce. If the Paris Agreement is successful, planet Earth might still be inhabitable, but the world will be a much more challenging place to live, with shrinking resources and overwhelming societal consequences. Even meeting the Paris Agreement’s optimistic targets can result in severe droughts, desertification, and reduced agricultural yields, quickly transforming our planet into a strained, contracted version of its current self.

As the world experiences the effects of global warming, habitable and arable land will drastically reduce, leading to a challenging future for humanity. Let’s assume we manage to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting the global temperature rise to just 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. In this optimistic scenario, 25% of Earth’s land would still be affected by severe droughts and desertification.

Agriculture is a clear example of the impact climate change will have on our planet. Crop yields in the United States’ Grain Belt could potentially plummet, with a decrease ranging from 22% to 49%. However, this seemingly optimistic future banks on a successful Paris Agreement, which is far from a guarantee. After all, it is a non-binding pact that lacks an enforcement mechanism. Complicating matters further, the United States, one of the world’s leading contributors to global warming, is expected to leave the agreement, making the frightening likelihood of a 4-degree rise in global temperatures more likely.

In such a scenario, our planet would experience even more devastation. For instance, corn production in the United States, the world’s leading corn producer, may drop by nearly half. With corn being the most widely cultivated crop globally, this poses a massive problem for everyone. Moreover, about 2% of Earth’s land area would be underwater, as rising ocean levels submerge coastal regions, including megacities like Shanghai, New York, and Mumbai. These cities alone house 10% of the global population and generate 10% of global economic output.

As people flock inland to escape the encroaching waters, the situation doesn’t become any more lenient. Many inland cities could become inhabitable due to intense summer heatwaves. Disturbingly, the summer of 2016 saw record-setting temperatures of 129 degrees Fahrenheit in major cities of Iran and Pakistan. Over 1.5 billion people from India and other parts of the Middle East face the possibility of similar temperatures in their daily lives.

The implications of global warming are enormous, and its effects are bound to have profound consequences on society as a whole. With diminishing resources and livable spaces, we must prepare for the stark reality that awaits us if our path doesn’t drastically change.

Rising Tides of Climate Refugees

Imagine the impact of the Syrian migration crisis on Europe, and multiply that by hundreds. This is the dark possibility we could face by 2050, with the potential for 200 million to one billion climate refugees, as predicted by the International Organization for Migration. The US military is also concerned about climate-related conflicts, with officials like Admiral Samuel Locklear emphasizing the rapid breakdown of global security due to massive migration. Add to this the threats of coastal megacities sinking, water shortages, declining food production, and increasing heat waves in already scorching regions. The financial cost of managing these climate repercussions is estimated at $535 trillion, not including the immeasurable loss in human lives, suffering, and the basic sense of security. In places like California, where wildfires have become the norm due to climate change, nothing feels certain anymore, and this destabilizing pattern is set to escalate in the years to come.

CRISPR: Blessing or Nightmare?

Imagine a world where the most significant challenge humanity has faced, climate change, has been overcome. What’s next? We’re now faced with another problem – high-tech genetic engineering through CRISPR. This groundbreaking technology has the potential to eradicate genetic disorders but also raises ethical concerns about designer babies and widening the gap between the rich and the poor. A future where a new, genetically enhanced elite class, called the “GenRich”, exists alongside the less fortunate “naturals,” who cannot afford these enhancements, could lead to a divided and possibly irreconcilable society.

While celebrating our victory against climate change might feel like the end of a game, it was only the first boss battle. The next challenge, straight from a dystopian sci-fi movie, is the rise of genetic engineering through CRISPR. This revolutionary scientific tool allows for precise gene editing, providing us with the power to cure genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis and Down syndrome. However, it also presents ethical dilemmas.

Imagine affluent couples accessing CRISPR-enhanced fertility clinics that impart genetic upgrades to their future children. Boosting intelligence, attractiveness, or physical strength is only a matter of money. This technology has the potential to widen the existing economic and social divide when only the well-off can afford such enhancements.

This frightening scenario results in a world split between the GenRich, those with the resources to alter their genes and their offspring’s, and the “naturals,” who remain unaltered and disadvantaged. Eventually, the difference between these two groups could become so significant that interbreeding would be impossible, resulting in separate species.

Although it may not sound like the apocalypse, this division signifies the end of the world as we know it. Humanity would continue, but the game we play would no longer be recognizable. Welcoming the benefits of CRISPR requires us to confront the frightening possibilities it holds and work together to prevent a dystopian future.

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