I have noticed that, besides the general feeling of inevitability, no one ever really lists all of the causes which may lead to a collapse. Therefore, I wanted to create a realistic timeline for the predictable things that we could expect to happen in the future.
As a disclaimer anyways, I am not omniscient, so I can’t predict every natural distaster, international conflict, unforeseen catastrophes, or any other incredibly important catalysts that could accelerate the decline in our standards of living. I will try to briefly touch on these issues, but it is enough to just be aware that these things could happen at any time, unpredictably.
And with that out of the way, lets start shall we?
~2020-2030: The Near Future
The Actic Ice extent reaches historic lows semi-regularly (possible BOE)
The Northwest Passage becomes a common navigable summer/fall route for shipping
Permafrost melt will continue to visibly accelerate, as the unusual arctic warming caused by the rising CO2 levels continues to get worse.
Due to this unusual arctic warming, the polar vortex will start to break down and become unstable, which will cause an increase in the severity and regularity of extreme weather fluctuations.
The Brunt Ice shelf breaks off of Antarctica, as does other unstable ice-shelfs which have not yet started to noticeably crack.
Coral reefs worldwide undergo yet more annual rounds of bleaching, destroying many habitats and potentially wiping them all out.
Red tide comes again to the east coast of the USA, which will more than likely become a new common phenomenon that occurs. The red tide zone may also expand into neighborhing regions, and humans may for now step in to prevent the worst outcomes
Dead zones in the sea becomes ever the more larger, as anoxic water, phosphorus/nitrogen rich waters, plastic, and other contaminations kills the ocean wildlife.
As well, the pecentage of plastic content in our oceans becomes ever the more larger and noticeable. The rate of pollution does not slow down.
Hurricanes will begin to be seen as consistently common events to be expected, rather than a once in a while catastrophe
Regions which never experienced hurricanes before will now get to experience the fun of deadly weather (such as the Mozambique hurricanes this year)
Droughts, floods, and other erratic and unusual weather systems will be noticeably commonplace in regions which had never before experienced it. -Wildfires becomes an annual occurrence in regions which are wooded, and are now prone to droughts. Over time, these forests will be destroyed by the fires, and for now, humans will step in to contain the worst outcomes of uncontrolled fires.
The destruction of forests for pasture/farm land will also continue. Many of these forests also effect the environment that they’re in (such as the Amazon Forest’s cloud seeding), and this deforestation will have unforeseen consequences for the environments around them.
Water shortages will start to become uncommon but noticed, and humanitarian efforts will for now eventually step in for the worst affected regions. Conflicts may arise, but they will not be the tragic life or death struggles that we will see in the future
The Ozone layer will continue to deplete if the current uses of it doesn’t stop.
More species will die due to human activities and climate change, but humans will only be subconsciously aware of the lack of wildlife that are around them, and the underlying ecosystems will not unravel just yet.
A probable recession, or depression, catalyzed by international politics.
Wealth inequality only worsens, and unless new governments are voted in to fix these issues, societal stresses to the lower classes will increase
The increasing use of cyber warfare through social media campaigns, intelligence gathering, and the building of resentment amongst citizens to destabilize competing nations.
Possible conflicts may have already arisen for natural resources such as water, arable land, or oil by the end of this period.
A growing number of climate refugees, combined with unforeseen war time refugees and economic refugees, may cause politics to shift even more to the right as citizens becoming increasingly frustrated with open borders (as seen during the Syrian refugee crisis).
Unless something radical occurs, protests will continue to become increasingly common place (think of the Yellow Vest protests, the Arab spring, Charlottesville, the 1% movement, extinction rebellion, the list goes on). Regardless of the specific messages behind the protests, it’ll all be fueled by a percieved disenfranchisment, wealth inequality, and a growing sense of resentment amongst nations (internal and external).
Terrorism that never really stops, but becomes increasingly normalized as governments try to combat a fight which they can’t win (i.e. without becoming authoritarian).
In response to terrorism, western nations will lose more freedoms in the name of safety, but this loss of freedom will not yet be used maliciously.
Other nations, such as India, China, Russia, etc, will not tolerate extremism, and will swiftly deal with terrorism using the force of action (forshadowing how they will deal with the upcoming climate crisis).
Global awareness for an “impending catastrophe” (without the knowledge of exactly what) will be mainstream. Denialism will of course still exist, but they will start to be seen as ‘fringe’ due to demographic changes (i.e. older people dying).
A growing polarization of politics, as tensions around the world increase from a mixture of all of the above points.
~2030-2040: The Distant Future
Many of the things that happened during the Near future will also occur in the Distant Future (increasingly erratic temperature fluctuations, the death of coral reefs, an increasing red tide, anoxic waters, an increasing amount of plastic pollution, floods and droughts, desertification, water shortages, terrorism, etc). The effects of these are very likely to be worse than before.
The arctic ice, if it has not melted yet, would have almost certainly experienced at least one Blue Ocean Event by now. If it has not, at the very least the older ice within the Arctic would have almost all melted, with only the thinner, newer ice remains.
Due to the warming arctic, the Northwest Passage is now navigable for most, if not all, of the year. It now becomes cheaper to ship stuff from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Yay!
However, because of this loss of ice, Arctic ecosystems start to fail, and many species are irreparably lost. Boo!
The northern hemisphere experiences even warmer temperatures as the polar vortex becomes destabilized. Europeans/North Americans will recieve the worst of the warming (as seen by the record breaking temperatures recently).
Desertification continues in the already existing deserts (Sahara, Gobi, Atacama, the American deserts etc). New areas which, due to climate change, experience frequent droughts may also start the process of desertification.
Depending on how bad the arctic melts are, the polar vortex may form a di/tripole system, meaning arctic warming intensifies.
Permafrost, if it melts in large enough quantities may engage a process called a Clathrate gun. I’m not sure when this will occur, however, but the possibility is always there.
Antarctica will continue to melt increasingly faster. I would assume that it will take a while to melt completely, but it will nevertheless consistantly raise the levels of the oceans as time goes on.
And with that, the sea level will indeed continue to rise, possibly flooding the lowest laying islands. Certain island nations may now cease to exist due to a lack of land above water.
Depending on how bad the ice melt is, the North Atlantic Current may start to slow, or break down. The consequences for this is still yet unknown, but many theorize that Europe may cool down. However, I disagree with this, since that scenario implies that the Arctic ice is actively cooling down the European continent. Once the arctic ice melts, I believe there will be no temperature gradient between the arctic and the equator during the summer (due to the tilt of the earth, the 24-hour arctic sunshine, and with no ice to reflect all that energy). This implies the desertification of southern Europe, tropical conditions in northern Europe (without healthy ecosytems due to a failure for plants to rapidly adapt), stronger hurrcanes which reaches further north than what is possible today, and unusually severe continental weather in Eastern Europe/Russia (i.e. record breaking highs during the summers, and moderately cool/warm temperatures throughout the winter). For North America it’ll be similar, with the same severe continental weather that will similarly hit Canada and the US. All of these combined will cause..
Crop failures. They will start to become commonplace, but for now at least, humans have the upper hand. GMO’s, chemicals, and other technologies will save us from a complete famine (excluding the third world, which depending on each countries circumestances, may experience unrest/famine).
Certain agricultural products which, if available at all, may become scarce in the first world.
Farmer subsidies begin to grow even more, and people wonder what will happen to the crops that they need to eat in the future.
Depending on how many flammable forests are still left, wildfires may still be occurring annually.
Ocean dead zones become even larger, and clearly noticeable to humans
Ocean fish stocks plummet where over fishing occurs, and certain seafoods become expensive/scarce/extinct.
The increasingly warming oceans will produce even stronger hurricanes, and in unusual places. A few record breaking hurricanes will have probably occured by the end of this period, but hypercanes and other super storms will not quite yet be a rare occurance.
Nations (specifically island nations) which experience devastating hurricanes annually may have already collapsed.
The Holocene extinction becomes even more noticeable as a good number of insects, birds, large predators, and other forms of life which can’t adapt as fast as their changing environment, die.
At least one (probably two) worldwide depressions/recessions should have occurred by the end of 2040, and so the unforeseen consequences that goes along with it would have become widespread and noticable.
Many theorize that peak oil may have occurred by this time. This would mean an increase in oil price, the scarcity of oil, a breakdown of international supply chains, and conflicts within regions with abundant oil. However, I believe this will occur in the Far Future.
Conflicts over natural resources, if nothing has yet occurred, will probably be seen as inevitable in their near future.
Incoming climate refugees becomes an international crisis again, as socio-economic supply chains becomes strained under an increasingly hostile world. Nations which can’t themselves become self-sustainable (or at least, not starve) will inevitably fail. Migration from these states that are not blessed with stability (such as we now see right now in Syria and Venuzuela, but globally) will spill over into neighboring regions.
Nations which are authoritarian will swiftly deal with refugees using carrots (assimilation) and sticks (genocide).
Other, more morally responsible nations, will continue to struggle with incoming climate refugees. This, combined with wealth inequality, and the increasing scarcity of resources, will inevitably spark conflicts amongst the lower classes.
The freedoms in western nations which were taken away in the name of safety will continue, as well as newer restrictions (possible media censorship, a further decrease in internet privacy, water/food rationing, etc). This will be normalized under the generations which will be born, and raised, under these new ‘normal’ conditions.
At the very least the world will become a bi-polar world by now, between the United States and China. Depending on how well India can deal with the upcoming climate crisis, and depending on how integrated the European Union can become (and how they deal with refugees), and depending on how successful Brazil is , there is a strong likelyhood of a multi-polar world developing in the near future.
A new cold war between major nuclear powers (regardless if the world is multi-polar, or bi-polar).
Neo-colonialism will have become rampant. As unrest and famine occurs within the third world, and indeed increasingly so in the first world, many desperate peoples will have no choice but to work for foreigner companies in order to secure a steady pay, a full belly, and security for their families.
Depending on the severity of climate change up to this point, the resiliancy of each state, and individual circumstances, certain nation states may have already collapsed, with others filling the power vacuums left behind.
A ever more growing polarization of politics, as tensions around the world incresse even more from a mixture of all of the above points.
~2040-2060+: The Far Future
I will preface this period by admitting that predictions mean very little here. It’s almost certain that any sort of unforeseen consequence would have occured by now (I’m sure you guys can use your imagination). I’ll just list the obvious things that I can think of.
Many of the things that have occurred in the Near to Distant future will probably continue to increasingly worsen in the Far future.
The arctic ice will have been long gone by this point, and the arctic will have been ice free all year round (at the very least, semi-regularly) This will be catastrophic to the stable temperatures that we depend on to grow crops, and without the temperature gradient between the equator and the arctic to power the vortex, this will be the canary in the coal mine for some sort of collapse.
The implications for an ice free arctic can not be overstated, since without any ice, the current climate maps that we use can just go out the window. No longer will Northern Europe, Canada, Russia, and Alaska be anywhere near as cold as it is right now, because, why would it?
Permafrost collapse (and the clathrate gun hypothesis) becomes fully realized.
There is a huge amount of carbon stored in permafrost. Right now, the Earth’s atmosphere contains about 850 gigatons of carbon. (A gigaton is one billion tons—about the weight of one hundred thousand school buses). We estimate that there are about 1,400 gigatons of carbon frozen in permafrost. So the carbon frozen in permafrost is greater than the amount of carbon that is already in the atmosphere today.
Desertification spreads northward due to droughts combined with record breaking temperatures that happen annually across the equator. Those who are living in the affected regions will not have a good time.
As ocean temperatures rise, it is unlikely that fish will continue to thrive. There is a chance that certain species may be able to survive in a warming ocean, but overfishing/plastic/pollution will make their success short lived.
Extreme weather events become even more extreme (wet bulb temperatures, fatal heatwaves reaching 55c+, deep freezes, etc), as these systems scour the earth with which human need to grow food on, and to live on
Many places that are temperate nowadays will be radically changed. The individual weather systems are too complicated to predict, however, the effects are the same (changes which happen to fast for nature to adapt to).
Ecosystems collapse worldwide due to a variety of reasons like the death of insects from pesticides, the inability for creatures to adapt to hostile weather, a lack of food, habitat loss, ocean acidification, etc, etc.
Crop Failures have become normal due to extreme weather fluctuations, and farming subsidies are no longer working due to the decrease in GDP growth (for nations which are not blessed with stability, and even so, for some nations which are ‘stable’)
Product shortages become commonplace in the global market place, as a mixture of climate change, crop shortages, and state conflicts over finite resources occurs.
Famine becomes an international crisis. As the global poplulation increases, and as erratic weather patterns decrease the amount of usable arable land, there can only be one logical conclusion (and this time, GMO foods won’t be the silver bullet). Unless human can grow the food they need, a global famine is inevitable.
This world will be a much different place than the one we inhabit today, and without going into the specifics, I will try to talk about the general trends which may occur.
Peak oil will eventually occur once the known reserves run out. However due to new extraction methods, newly found sources, and the possibility for carbon capture, Peak Oil will probably occure late into the century (60/70s)
Neo-colonialism is now the only way to procure resources, since due to the nature of a multi-polar world (assuming Mutually Assured Destruction stays true, and if everyone hasn’t blown themselves up), conflicts will inevitably arise in a finite environment. Likely this will be in the form of proxy wars by the Great Powers, and civil/conventional wars for minor powers. Conflicts will be over water, arable land, precious metals, oil, and other resources.
By now, while noting the decline in global stability through the rejection of the western-backed United Nations by rivalling major powers such as China and friends, it is possible that a nuclear exchange could have occured by now (most likely from Pakistan/India over water). I am unsure what this will exactly entail for the international community, but nonetheless, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) would die.
Wealth inequality, if never addressed, is the worst it will ever be for those who are disenfranchised. If the current trends do not change, then indentured servitude is the only option for those who face starvation (due to the finite amount of food available).
The number of incoming climate refugees will regularly reach all time highs, as certain areas which were a home to millions of peoples become inhospitable. This would be from a mixture of reasons like sea water flooding coastal cities, regular floods and droughts, extreme temperatures, crop failures, diseases, etc.
The number of climate refugees on the borders of certain nations will become unsustainable. I am uncertain about the exact scenarios that may occur, but the effects are the same; people will flee regions which a great number are dying in, and the nations which can’t handle the number of incoming refugees will choose between genocide and collapse (because, in a world of scarcity, will nations want extra mouths to feed?)
So there is my list of easily predictable things that could occur. Even though I still feel that it is too simple in this complicated world that we inhabit, I do believe that I have touched upon, at least broadly, most of the topics which are commonly discussed today. I could go on and on, adding, edited, and fact checking myself into oblivion, but i wanted to take a breather or see if anyone in this community had additional causes which they believe may occur. I may post an updated version once I feel happy with the results, but this isn’t a thesis paper, and I’ve done quite a bit so far.