Living in the Future

The other day my librarian friend told me that 2020 is equidistant from both 1990 and 2050.

I had to let that sink in for a minute. The 90s seem so close to the present day, while 2050 seems as though it’s ages away. Strange how our minds work.

The other reason it’s weird to turn the calendar to 2020 is because, during my scientific career, most of our modelling of the future response of environmental systems like glaciers to climate change focused on the years 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050. So we’re now living in the timeframe of the experiments I was doing for my PhD, when 2020 still seemed so far away. Even as recently as 2012 we published a paper that looked at streamflow in the North Saskatchewan River Basin in 2020 and other future scenarios.

It makes me feel like the future is coming up on us, hard and fast, and we’ll be bulldozered by the change if we don’t hang on and take it in stride.

I’ve already seen a change in society since the 1990s: lots of people in my neighbourhood have Tesla electric cars (and other, less expensive, models like the Chevy Volt or the Nissan Leaf). There’s a revolution in the number of people riding electric bikes. There’s a push for plant-based meat in the local fast food restaurants and even in the local grocery store. So much more is done online – banking, social networking, citizen science, newspapers, etc.

We talk more about climate change and what we’re seeing in our own communities as the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise. Here in the Cowichan Valley we talk about summer drought and low streamflows for fish and other river water users. Last year we also had a winter drought, which was a bad combination with our summer conditions. The last few weeks have been pretty wet, though, so hopefully we’re coming out of a deficit and filling the aquifers.

2019 was the hottest year on record, with 2016 following close behind. The five last years have been the hottest on record, and 2010-2019 was the hottest decade since records began.

The catastrophic wildfires in Australia coincide with record high air temperatures, and we know that climate change is a culprit in many of the fires, although several have been attributed to arson.

What would be cool is if we could pull all the papers that predict conditions for 2020 and compare them to what things are like now. Climate predictions, sociocultural predictions, stock market predictions. It would be a good exercise in testing how well our models work in predicting the future. I’m sure there must be something like that already out there – if you know about it please post it in the comments!

Note the featured image is by cea+ and is used under a CC-BY-2.0 license.

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2 thoughts on “Living in the Future”

  1. “2020 is equidistant from both 1990 and 2050″….what a profound and scary thought!

    I’m working for a couple of months in New South Wales and it’s worth pointing out that the “fires are caused by arsonists” narrative seems to be a driven by those who are trying to undermine the evidence that climate change is causing the fires to be stringer and more frequent and extensive than ever before. More here:

    • Isn’t it a weird thought? I really had to think about it. Yes I saw the issue with arson vs. climate change on the news. I think climate change is a key factor but you can’t ignore that some fires are caused by arsonists. Which is terrible in its own way.


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