Based on the Time Magazine opinion piece, “What Comes After the Coming Climate Anarchy?”, we may have reached a point where no facts have to be included in a climate fear porn editorial. This is just a short introduction to the piece and the author. I encourage you to read it yourself.
The author is Parag Khanna who Time describes as a founder of Future Map and author of the new book MOVE: The Forces Uprooting Us. According to Khanna’s long bio, he is a “leading global strategy advisor, world traveler, and best-selling author”. He is Founder & CEO of Climate Alpha, an AI-powered analytics platform that forecasts asset values because “the next real estate boom will be in climate resilient regions”. He also is Founder & Managing Partner of FutureMap, a data and scenario based strategic advisory firm that “navigates the dynamics of globalization”. Dr. Khanna “holds a PhD in international relations from the London School of Economics, and Bachelors and Masters degrees from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University”. A quick look at the School of Foreign Service Georgetown core curriculum offers no suggestion of any scientific requirements that could provide a basis for Dr. Khanna’s climate beliefs.
The opinion piece starts out with correlation causation fallacy endemic to the scientifically illiterate and climate innumerate crisis mongers. He notes that in 2021, “global carbon dioxide emissions reached 36.3 billion tons, the highest volume ever recorded” and that this year “the number of international refugees will cross 30 million, also the highest figure ever”. Then he explains the basis for his climate anarchy belief: “As sea levels and temperatures rise and geopolitical tensions flare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that humanity is veering towards systemic breakdown”.
This is just a windup to:
Today it’s fashionable to speak of civilizational collapse. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) states that just a 1.5 degree Celsius rise will prove devastating to the world’s food systems by 2025. Meanwhile, the most recent IPCC report warns that we must reverse emissions by 2025 or face an irreversible accelerating breakdown in critical ecosystems, and that even if the Paris agreement goals are implemented, a 2.4 degree Celsius rise is all but inevitable. In other words, the “worst case” RCP 8.5 scenario used in many climate models is actually a baseline. The large but banal numbers you read—$2 trillion in annual economic damage, 10-15% lower global GDP, etc.—are themselves likely massively understated. The climate bill just passed by the Senate is barely a consolation prize in this drama: a welcome measure, but also too little to bring rains back to drought-stricken regions in America or worldwide.
Then there is this:
Let’s assume that we are indeed hurtling towards the worst-case scenario by 2050: Hundreds of millions of people perish in heatwaves and forest fires, earthquakes and tsunamis, droughts and floods, state failures and protracted wars. Henry Gee, editor of the magazine Nature, wrote in an essay in Scientific American in late 2021 that even absent the hazards of climate change and nuclear war, humankind was heading towards extinction due to declining genetic variety and sperm quality.
He goes on to predict that even in the most plausibly dire scenarios billions of people will survive. He says that current population stands at eight billion but claims as a result of these dire scenarios “the world population would likely still stand at 6 billion people by 2050”. As you read on this opinion piece is simply an infomercial for Climate Alpha and FutureMap. He believes that climate migrations will be necessary for the survivors. His future vision is pockets of reliable agricultural output and relative climate resilience that may become havens for climate refugees.
What these surviving societies and communities will have in common is that they are able to unwind the complexity that has felled our predecessors. They rely less on far-flung global supply chains by locally growing their own food, generating energy from renewable resources, and utilizing additive manufacturing. A combination of prepping and nomadism, high-tech and simple, are the ingredients for species-level survival.
These demographic, geographic, and technological shifts are evidence that we are already doing things differently now rather than waiting for an inevitable “collapse” or mass extinction event. They also suggest the embrace of a new model of civilization that is both more mobile and more sustainable than our present sedentary and industrial one. The collapse of civilizations is a feature of history, but Civilization with a big ‘C’ carries on, absorbing useful technologies and values from the past before it is buried. Today’s innovations will be tomorrow’s platforms. Indeed, the faster we embrace these artifacts of our next Civilization, the more likely we are to avoid the collapse of our present one. Humanity will come together again—whether or not it falls apart first.
In my opinion there are several major flaws in his arguments. Apparently, his projections are based on the RCP 8.5 scenario because he thinks it is “actually a baseline”. Roger Pielke, Jr. has noted that the misuse of RCP8.5 is pervasive. Larry Kummer writing at Climate Etc. explains that it is a useful worst-case scenario, but not “business as usual”. For crying out loud even the BBC understands that the scenario is “exceedingly unlikely”. Relying on that scenario invalidates his projections.
Khanna’s worst-case scenario statement “Hundreds of millions of people perish in heatwaves and forest fires, earthquakes and tsunamis, droughts and floods, state failures and protracted wars” is absurd. He has to address the many examples that show that weather-related impacts have been going down as global temperatures have increased such as those described by Willis Eschenbach in “Where Is The “Climate Emergency?”. The theme of his opinion is climate anarchy so why are earthquakes and tsunamis included? I concede that his flawed climate projections could stress states and prolong wars but I am not convinced that climate is a major driver.
Finally, his argument that climate is a major driver is contradicted by his dependence on the Sustainable Development Index, a “ranking of countries that meet their people’s needs with low per capita resource consumption”. He states that the best performers are “Costa Rica, Albania, Georgia, and other less populated countries around middle-income status”. The fact that Costa Rica is in a tropical region and thus much warmer than mid-latitude Albania and Georgia suggests that warm climates are not a limiting factor for sustainable development.
Khanna may be a leading global strategy advisor, world traveler, and best-selling author but his lack of understanding of the uncertainties associated with climate change are evident in this editorial. Not unlike many of those advocates for climate change action, upon close review it appears that following the money is his motivation.
Roger Caiazza blogs on New York energy and environmental issues at Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York. This represents his opinion and not the opinion of any of his previous employers or any other company with which he has been associated.