In the Year 3013, when school kids study ancient history – how much play do you think the 20th and 21st Centuries will be given in their syllabuses?
Consider how humanity’s most indisputably important achievements such as agriculture, domestication of animals, the invention of pottery, metallurgy, writing, money and the wheel all get compressed into a 10,000 year era we call “ancient history”.
This “compression” of time happens as we journey further away from it, so it’s sobering to consider what will be the noteworthy events and peoples from our tiny sliver of history.
Who will be the Plato, Caesar or Cleopatra, who roll off students’ lips in 1000 years time? Hitler’s a big chance, unfortunately. Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, favourites. Joel Madden? Not so much.
Two world wars, the invention of atomic energy and the internet will probably still be of note, as well as the mapping of the human genome. Quantum physics and nano-technology will also surely have transformed the future in ways we cannot even comprehend.
What I absolutely guarantee is every person, issue and perhaps even institution mentioned on this website today, will be forgotten by people in 3013, except for one: Climate change.
“Climate change is to the 21st Century as total war and nuclear weapons were to the 20th,” says independent journalist and military historian Gwynne Dyer.
Our struggle to prevent global nuclear destruction seems largely to have been won. Culturally, we understand World War III means “bye bye humanity” so we’ve done our darndest to avoid it.
What is still to sink in to our thick heads is the accelerating threat posed by climate change – probably because it won’t kill us, but it will kill folks we haven’t even met yet.
Dyer spent two years talking to the scientists who understand the dangers of climate change but, more significantly, he interviewed military leaders who are already preparing for what he terms “The Climate Wars“.
Make all the disparaging, dismissive and ultimately delusional comments you like about “climate science” but don’t kid yourself an organisation like the US Navy is mapping out battle plans based on climate change, just for a giggle.
Admiral Denny McGinn retired a few years ago as Deputy Chief of US Naval Operations for Warfighting Requirements and says: “The military has to deal with not so much politics as the reality of mission … [which] in this case is to …. respond to the failure of nation states on the very edge of sustainability and the pressures of climate change with attendant natural disasters, drought or crop failure.”
He’s one of a dozen three- and four-star military officers who’ve been involved in studying and planning for what happens when regions as diverse as southern Europe, Mexico, north China, northern India and Brazil start starving to death through droughts and floods.
“The military get it that climate change is going to be a cause of much more instability,” says Admiral McGinn, because history has proven people raid and invade before they starve.
If you were born after 1980, there’s a very good chance you’re going to be alive to see these events begin to shape our world. How we respond to them now will also shape how those history students in 3013 judge us.