I’m going to talk about the social disruption that will result from global warming and how the power elite will try to maintain the status quo, causing countless unnecessary deaths in the name of them keeping their privilege. But before I get to that, I want to provide you with how I got to thinking about this. You see, recently I was watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You may remember one of the best things about the film is that the opening credits are done in the style of an Ingmar Bergman film, and so there are repeated references to Sweden and moose. But then, the titles are changed to that of a Latin American film and instead of moose, we get llamas.
For example, one of the executive producers is, “‘Ralph’ the Wonder Llama.” And of central importance to us, one of the director credits is to, “14 North Chilean Guanacos (Closely Related to the Llama).” I had to look this up. And indeed, it is true. The guanacos are of the genus Lama — Latin for llama, I assume. They live in southwest South America. And most notably, they manage to live on the western edge of the Atacama Desert — the driest desert in the world outside of the polls. The average rainfall is about a half inch per year. But there are some weather stations in the desert that have never received any rainfall for over half a century.
So how do the guanacos survive in this place? Well, they mostly don’t. They only live near the coast. The cold ocean air hits the hot land and fog forms. This moisture is captured by the cacti and the guanacos eat the cacti. And that is how they survive. So the guanacos can only survive in perhaps 1% of the Atacama Desert. And I thought that was rather a good analogy of what we are doing to the earth as we ignore global warming.
As I talk about all the time, the biggest problem with global warming is almost certainly what it is going to do to rainfall patterns. A warmer world should actually create more rainfall. The problem is that both the models and long-term precipitation-temperatures correlations show that global warming will mostly decrease rainfall where we need it: over land. A lot more rainfall over the oceans really doesn’t help much. Decreased rainfall is going to make areas where there still is adequate rainfall far more valuable. The world will be like the Atacama Desert: plenty of land where we can’t survive and little land where we can.
What will happen then? Well, there have been water wars in the past. And as Shane Harris discussed in Foreign Policy recently, Water Wars, “The new conflicts of the future could be sparked by climate change.” I can see this working internationally and intranationally. I can easily see the United States invading Canada to get its farm land in a century. Of course, it won’t be sold that way. I’m sure The New York Times and other mainstream media outlets will be as willing as ever to spin whatever yarn the government is feeding them about the existential threat those francophiles in Quebec represent.
But also, as always, the rich will take the best land and everything that results from that. And the poor will be pushed to the margins. The argument in favor of private ownership of land is pretty weak. We aren’t talking about something that anyone built. It is literally true that you did not built that piece of earth. So when it comes to natural resources, we really do have a “might makes right” system where whoever owns a piece of land does so because of laws that privilege them.
This situation is bad enough today. But in a highly disrupted system caused by global warming, the situation will be much worse. Since the land that is considered valuable will change, we will see just how much billionaire Americans respect the land rights of poor people who win the geographic lottery. My guess is that we will see that they don’t believe in those rights all that much. At least, they won’t until they take control of the lands. Then land rights will be unquestioned. I only say this because it is how it has always gone.
At some point, every piece of land was stolen. The American obsession with land rights is just a way for the rich to maintain their power. The moment that it isn’t to their advantage, they will simply take what is not theirs. Afterward, they will pretend that their land ownership is righteous. Just like they do today.