While science fiction writers aren't necessarily out to predict the future, every now and then, author Charles Stross sits down and speculates on what the near or far future might hold. This week, Stross has peered into the middle distance, imagining what Earth might look like in 500. He sees a world very different from ours, one that has adjusted to enormous changes in Earth's climate.

Stross rang in 2012 by offering is predictions on a much closer pair of years: 2032 and 2092. He predicted that we would be seeing major effects from climate change in 2092, including mass animal extinctions. In his latest set of speculations, he tries to imagine life on Earth in the wake of climate change. Coastal regions (including many of the world's major cities), would be underwater, forcing an inland migration. Some parts of the world would be uninhabitable to non-genetically modified organisms. Advances in technology would, however, would allow us to radically alter vegetation and change our relationship with animals:

I'd expect to see lots of - to our eyes - odd vegetation. Freeman Dyson's suggestion of GM mangroves that can grow in salinated intertidal zones and synthesize gasoline, shipping it out via their root networks, is one option. Variant food crops that can grow in 50 celsius climates and still make stuff we can eat would be a bonus. Modified animal or bird pest species, re-purposed as agricultural stoop labour? It might be easier to work with the intelligences that nature's dropped all around us rather than trying to design artificial ones from scratch. (Think racoons [sic]. Think racoons programmed to come out at night to harvest and wash fruit because we've invented racoon Heroin™ and trained them to take their fix in payment for crop-picking. Or something like that.)

Stross also shares his predictions for energy (which he imagines would be de-carbonized by then), geopolitics (the US will probably be gone by then, as will the UK and China), and how demographics might change (advances in longevity technology will slow demographic shift, but by no means bring it to a standstill). It's a fairly quick read, but an interesting and thoughtful exploration of where humanity might be headed—one with occasional bouts of raccoon heroin.


Photo by IrinaK/Shutterstock.

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