How the world will change (part two)

Does humanity’s future lie in a “semi-global” north? Arctic and sub-Arctic regions will become a magnet for migration, argues Trausti Valsson in the second excerpt from his book How the World Will Change With Global Warming.

The current warming of the globe means that various weather patterns will change in the next few decades, but past changes can inform us about the possibilities of what this will mean.

Changes in weather patterns lead to changes in the patterns of the natural world, as well as changes in the patterns of human habitation – on a local as well as on a global scale. […]

The form and the topology of the space in which people live greatly influence physical functions and activities as well as social systems and people’s perceptions, not only of the space in which they operate but also of themselves. As we start to study the centre line of the ribbon of habitation, we discover that its central location has many advantages in terms of physical functions, for instance in terms of transportation, because it is located at the heart of the settlement area. The outer borders of the ribbon, the periphery, on the other hand, are obviously spatially disadvantaged.

The form of the ribbon also translates into something similar in terms of social functions and human perception; the areas at the centre of the ribbon are of greatest social importance, in terms of the global community, with people out on the periphery perceived by the people in the middle as inferior and uninteresting. […]

Before we start to review the characteristics of the spatial system of a global world – which has already started to evolve with the activation of the Arctic – it is important to examine the characteristics of these two contrastive systems, the ribbon world and the global world, in such a way that their nature and their consequences, in terms of how areas and people operate here on Earth, can be compared and understood in the best possible way.

In addition to the present studies of geometric characteristics of world views, the shift from today’s world of two “islands” — the Americas and Eurasia — and the future world that is characterised by a circular form of a landmass that surrounds the future “Middle-of-the-World Ocean”, the Arctic Ocean, should be mentioned. […]

A profound understanding of the two spatial global systems is absolutely essential for being able to understand what consequences the gradual shift from a ribbon world to a global world is going to mean in terms of how the world society is going to function within the emerging new spatial system of a global world.

Let’s now start this description of the spatial system of the emerging global world with a correction: The world of the future – practically speaking – will not be global but rather semi-global, that is, a world of the northern hemisphere. There are several reasons why this will be so.

First and most important is the fact that most of the land mass of the Earth is located in the northern hemisphere. Secondly, the linear centre of the globe, and therefore the most important areas of the globe for humans, is located in the northern hemisphere. Third, the Arctic will warm much more than Antarctica, and the Arctic will – for several reasons – be of far more importance than Antarctica in the future development of human activities. Fourth, excessive heat in the central regions of the world will mean that this belt around Earth will be of diminished global importance and will eventually function as a separation between the northern and southern hemispheres, which will further enhance the importance of the North and be a considerable disadvantage for the South.

These four reasons – together with an activation of the Arctic with shipping and resource exploitation — will mean that the world of the future will – practically speaking – be a semi-global world of the northern hemisphere. 

This world of the future, with its semi-spherical shape as a stage, will function in ways that are very different from the ways activities and interactions function on the cylindrical ribbon of today. […]

[Presently] the centre of the globe runs in a linear belt around the globe, situated in the middle of the ribbon of habitation. The two polar areas are of absolutely no importance, and the North Pole, even though it is not far from being the centre of the whole land mass of Earth, is the point on the globe that is politically and socially, as well as geographically, furthest from the linear centre of Earth as it is, and functions, today.

[… In contast, there is] the semi-global world that will come to exist with the activation of the Arctic. Here the Arctic region is the centre of the world, with today’s linear centre relegated to the periphery!

How long the shift from the ribbon world of today to the semi-global world of the future will take depends primarily on how fast the Arctic warms. If the warming stops by, say 2100, it will not have warmed enough for a total shift to an Arctic-centred global world to have taken place.

Until this shift happens, the world population will live co-existing in two spatial systems that in many ways will be competing for influence. This state of coexistence, and undoubtedly a resulting competition, will, of course, be the state that will begin to emerge as the Arctic starts to become warmer and more activated in the next few decades.

If global warming continues beyond 2100, and if the warming becomes excessive, the Arctic will bask in a very benign climate in the 22nd century. With this same rate of warming, the whole central region of the world could become almost uninhabitable because of excessive heat, desertification and lack of water.

In this case, the world population will understand how lucky it is that the Arctic region exists because it will be the area where people can escape to from the excessive and devastating heat of the world’s central regions.


Trausti Valsson is a professor of planning at the University of Iceland. He holds a PhD in environmental planning from the University
of California, Berkeley, and is the author of How the World Will Change With Global Warming (University of Iceland Press, 2006) and 11
other books.

Copyright: Trausti Valsson

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