"A global polycrisis occurs when crises in multiple global systems become causally entangled in ways that significantly degrade humanity's prospects. These interacting crises produce harms greater than the sum of those the crises would produce in isolation, were their host systems not so deeply interconnected"
Synergy is the word. The combined effect being greater than the sum of its parts.
In the 75 years since independence from Britain, IIRC there has been only one major famine in either India, Bangladesh and Pakistan taken together, the 1970 famine in Bangladesh just prior to the 1971 war. Green revolution has been a great boon.
Doom and gloom about an overpopulated South Asia is common. On the other hand, perhaps the reason why the region is so populated is that it has historically been very conducive for human habitation even using very low technology.
Where I believe most predictions have got it wrong is the ability of humans to adapt. I hope with John McCarthy, that science and sense will be able to overcome such dire crises. 
Energy is the critical thing. We don’t have space for wind mills and solar panels. I’d love to see Pan-Asian cooperation on nuclear. Regrettably, I think all that will have to happen through alignment with China. The west is captured by Malthusian thinking, and their solution is “less brown people,” not “more energy, more infrastructure, more production.”
It's been almost 200 years since Malthus's passing and the human population has octupled since then, so you'd think that most people would give him less credence, but you're right those ideas seem more popular than ever.
I keep on repeating on this forum that the way out is through, with better technology allowing us to consume more energy per capita, not less. There is no freezing or turning back the clock without the suffering of billions.
Malthus's thinking was objectively correct up to the time of writing. He just made & recorded the observations at almost exactly the wrong time, right before the trend reversed, during the industrial revolution.
I'm not claiming that we have reached a new era where - once again - growing population = worse living conditions.
But there are a lot of good arguments WRT to limits on fossil fuel extraction, physical limitations on technological progress, etc...
Light bulbs can't get much more efficient. Neither can electricity transmission. Energy generation still has a healthy amount to improve. Maybe there's enough progress left to be made for the population to double again.
But the idea that the population could be near infinite on this planet and that would only lead to more progress and better living conditions is laughable.
There's clearly some limit.
My crystal ball isn't working. I don't know if we've passed it, or are even close to it...
This is especially important in poor rural areas. Build somebody a natgas generator and they're dependent on you for fuel. Build them a nuclear plant and they're dependent on you for experts. Give them a solar panel and now they independent.
I'm always amused when people talk about a decentralized grid as though it's a positive. It's a liability, since energy demand is centralized.
> There is no freezing or turning back the clock without the suffering of billions.
Do you believe developed countries with below-replacement fertility are suffering? Or does "turning back the clock" refer to something other than population shrinkage?
Yes. Life in parts of the western world where below-replacement fertility has really taken hold is lonely, atomized and self-centered. People anesthetize themselves with entertainment and distractions. I love Germany and Japan, but in some ways it makes me a bit uncomfortable. They're societies that will be much smaller 100 years from now than they re today, and they know it, and it is kind of awkward. Closer to home, I visited Garland, TX, during the pandemic. The contrast from DC, where I live, was remarkable. Garland was alive! DC was dead.
Sadly (or ironically?) the solution might be "less people" through "more energy infrastructure and production." I.e. development for whatever reason seems to drive population growth down, to the point where most of the west is losing population.
Ironic then that brown people is the only group still growing in the west then:
America’s white population declined for the first time [..] Meanwhile, there was significant growth among minority groups over the last decade. - https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/aug/12/us-2020-cens...
Not sure why you believe this. Antinatalist and child-free movements have exploded in popularity in the west.
While I understand that the climate change will hit India hard, (I witnessed it this summer personally), I still think we should not be quick to jump to assuming the destitution of millions as if it was a simple matter of statistics.
I have faith in science, human resilience and ingenuity and I tend to believe that the future doesn't have to be so grim and humans will find a way.
I agree a lot of these scenarios are 'doomsday', but the risk is real and hard to plan for / budget.
You're effectively fighting history (Indus Valley and its history with climate change), and human biology -- you cannot be outside when wet bulb > 35 C even if you're fully healthy. For older / less-well people, > wet bulb 31 C can be a problem. And India will be very middle-aged by 2040 with an increasing older population.
You're also fighting greed. Bangalore was told, repeatedly, that building apartments in flood plains wasn't smart. The message was ignored. Heck, even after the recent floods, it's unlikely this policy will change. India has a construction boom right now -- this is happening elsewhere too.
Managing these within budgetary constraints and the large population impacted will be challenging. It's not doomsday by any means -- e.g. the Konkan coast will probably be fine. But what happens when Vidarbha (already relatively poor and home to extremely cruel summers) gets worse -- can we stop people from migrating en masse? How will you stop millions of people internally migrating in a country with no border controls?
How this gets worse: Forget about en masse migrations. That's doomsday you say. Okay. But even a small uptick in migration figures will have massive consequences for already-overstretched Indian cities.
> I have faith in science, human resilience and ingenuity and I tend to believe that the future doesn't have to be so grim and humans will find a way.
Faith is great, but India hasn't invested in good urban planning or healthcare (the scenes in small-town India in early 2021 come to mind). To be fair, many other countries haven't either.
So the pessimist in me says that a Katrina-style or 2022 Pakistan-style floods event can be especially traumatic for such countries.
The next decade and a half, with the rise of authoritarianism and populism, and the clear and miserable failure of the Grand Experiment — that openness and trade would bring liberal democracy to authoritarian states like RUS and CCP — merely make it even more obvious that governance is forked, and not in a good way.
Overall, it looks like the technology trend is from 1) barely possible, to 2) scaled up and dirty, to 3) scaled up, efficient, clean, and sustainable. We're sort of moving from Stage 2 to Stage 3.
But, can we get there in time? The disaster is already upon us, faster than expected, and there are a number of tipping points and feedback loops just starting to come into play (e.g., lower reflectance at the poles, melting permafrost set to release gigatons of stored methane which is ~22x more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, etc.).
The politics are obviously decades behind where they need to be, and the VC money is only beginning to see the opportunity in clean energy after focusing for decades on worthless internet trends instead of real hard innovation. Will it still be enough for some breakthrough as the mountain we must climb becomes even steeper?
It's a crappy solution for many different reasons but it does seem to be the direction we're heading.
Afaik, for healthy humans, staying outside > 35 C (not 36 C) for even long durations is physiologically impossible. Even healthy humans have trouble from 31 C (87.8 F).
I don't have access to historic wet bulb data, but Houston appears to be in the mid-70s.
Places which have wet bulb temps > 35 C essentially shut down outside. You can use air conditioning indoors, but unless you have a Fremen-esque suit for outdoor workers, you can kiss outdoor activity goodbye in the daytime.
In reality this mean the place essentially shuts down during the day. E.g. in Pakistan last year. Being interested in history, I'm particularly mindful many historians speculate that climate change was responsible for ending the earliest known civilization in this area.
Two things stand out from the article you shared.
> it is an agricultural hub fed by irrigation canals.
John Jacob used his civil engineering skills to build the Begaree canal which made this possible. It was an arid semi-desert landscape before that for centuries.
> The region sits on the Tropic of Cancer, meaning the sun is close to overhead during the summer.
So do Bikaner, Agra, Aligadh, Lucknow etc along with half of India, but they've never had a wet-bulb scenario in history like Jacobabad had. I will search for the data, but so far nothing comes up.
I understand the threat of climate change is real , but I would love to see more data that supports this wet bulb theory in the subcontinent.
E.g. the number of Indian cities inching towards high 40s (Celsius) is climbing. Heck, New Delhi this year saw 49 C air temps, which was unheard of. But re wet bulb temps, the trend is troubling.
Plenty of Indian cities are crossing wet bulb > 31 C, which puts the elderly and infirm at risk when they're outside. Yes -- going from here to > 35 C is a big leap, but if you say it cannot happen that's ... a "hope for the best" mindset.
Who knows, nothing might come out of it, but if the climate change models are correct, there's more pain ahead.
Let's take a midpoint scenario between 'absolute best' and 'absolute worst' and assume summer wet bulbs increase slightly over time, not enough to breach 35 C. That's still temps in the 31...34 C range in major Indian cities, that basically makes it hell for the elderly and infirm. What are the social costs of that? Bear in mind, despite India's progress, it still has a fair number of people with limited means. And the number of elderly in India will grow over time as its "youth bulge" tapers off.
It's the wealth of Houston that makes this possible. Pakistan and India will adapt it as soon as they're wealthy enough. It'll come at a lower wealth point than Houston because their problem is more severe than Houston's.
I think it's a little different. Houston by your account struggles in the afternoons today -- similar to parts of Spain and Portugal, but it's only at peak wet bulb ~75..76 F going by ASHRAE data. Wet bulb 88 F is much worse, and 95 F is really when the human body gives up.
Again, this is wet bulb, not air temperature.
But if anyone has peak wet bulb data for major US cities, please share! It'd be an awesome resource.
 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, https://www.ashrae.org/
It's also well suited for solar power, and the price of solar power has dropped 90% per decade for the last 5 decades, and that trend looks to continue.
Getting air conditioning to most Indians is a difficult problem, but it's an easier problem than solving climate change or accommodating 1.3 billion climate refugees.
Unfortunately, if humanity wants to prevent that outcome, we would have to start doing massive changes now.
Relying on "humanity will find a way to work around in 30 years" is foolish, simply because when the expected progress doesn't happen in this time frame, humanity in 30 years is going to have to commit much more effort and resources than if current humanity would start now.
A lot depends on the rate at which migrants arrive, and where they go. If the migration is towards northern Asia, spread out over 100 years, with only a few tens of thousands arriving each day, Russia will probably be able to manufacture bullets in sufficient quantity. If 1.5 billion Indians descend all at once, nothing will be able to stop them.
These are extreme outcomes. There are so many other possibilities that could be negotiated. Perhaps India will gain economic leverage through exporting solar power, and be able to strike a deal to resettle some of its migrant population elsewhere.
I understand temperatures are already within a few degrees of the point that proteins in rice and wheat pollens get denatured (cooked, effectively).
Maybe new heat-tolerant strains have been developed since I looked, but I doubt much could withstand 55 celsius throughout flowering.
I’m very much starting to think we may, but I’m at least hoping they may be able to save themselves from catastrophe via nuclear energy & engineering.
I'm not seeing India fielding the cost. Those already well-off would manage anyway... But the rest, which is the majority, is the problem.
(And as other countries are also hit, they don't go much for charity or building other's infrastructure, it's "every man/country for himself").
To put it simply: when things go to shit is not the time when new infrastructures are built.
You can already see this happening in parts of Africa.
That's the current best estimate for warming in the time period you are suggesting.
India has a bigger problem with feeding it's population which is likely to be the biggest in the world by that point.
To suggest to the most populated place in the world in 2050 will have no people is hyperbolic.
The gates foundation has the best estimates on this topic and their estimates also suggest growth in the region.
While the mean temperature rises, e.g. by 1 centigrade, you have to account for variance increasing too.
India might become unlivable not because the mean temperature rises, but because extreme, deadly events will become standard during certain periods of the year.
You are agreeing with it not on the merits but on the premises.
Get a heat pump or an air conditioner and move on.
Yes, electrification is a solved problem. Look how quickly the US electrified rural America, and that’s when it was a new concept. For a more recent example of using known technology, look at how quickly China electrified from the 80s-00s.
We can't air condition the crops and our animal stock. We probably can't even air condition all the humans in every location. Texas can barely keep it's grid going right now.
I appreciate not everything grows in hot conditions, and there is a point where nothing will grow, but i would assume india would still be in the range where some things will grow, even if it sucks for humans.
We already see this too, depending on whether or not we choose to blame climate change there have been a number of weather events impacting the supply and price of various farmed goods. Lettuce became somewhat of a luxury commodity in Australia due to recent flooding, for just one example. That sort of thing will become more frequent.
Anyway, my two examples were Boston and Phoenix, which are on more stable major grids.
You are trying to change the temperature in an insulated apartment-sized block of space in an effectively infinite ambient environment which is either 0 or 110, while one or more 100W heaters is moving around in it. There's conduction and radiation and convection, all helping out or hindering.
People don’t live in perfectly insulated boxes and even the best insulation that is actually livable (doesn’t suffocate you) will let through more than the 10MJ a person gives off through the course of the day. For context, a plug-in space heater is 1500 watts and that struggles to maintain the heat in a well-insulated 300 sq ft shop when it’s under 40F.
Humans shouldn’t be living in the cold if you care about energy consumption. It’s just so normalized and we figured out how to burn wood so long ago that nobody thinks twice about it.
I wonder if the farm reforms which was later revoked could have made it much easier for India to handle the food crisis. It was one of the most significant reforms enacted, but Modi was forced to back down. But looks like there'll be no choice left but to push it through if the situation worsens.
How? If anything liberalised agriculture would have incentivised growing crops other than rice and wheat.
Maybe there's some context like "1/3rd of the bits where people live is underwater".
Like, my country is roughly the same size as Germany. But the relevant context is "but 90% of our landmass is hills or mountains, so only 10% of our land is actually inhabited"
So yeah, 1/3 of what...
I had expected Tooze to also write about it, after all the book that made him famous, The Wages of Destruction  (which I heartily recommend, I've just finished reading it), touched heavily on the Nazis' quest for energy resources. This time around Europe decided to cut itself off from said energy resources out of its own volition, never read of anything like that happening before in the context of a war.
The core of Europe is not suffering from extreme political dysfunction and crippling inability to export enough to pay interest on foreign debt. Yes,it has had heatwaves, droughts, and floods, but not on the same scale as South Asia's.
Europe's crisis is food and fuel prices, not famine, epidemic diseases, and transport and industrial paralysis (anecdotes notwithstanding). Not nearly the same.
The polycrisis is poly because it combines economic, political, physiological (medical/food), environmental, and infrastructural (power, transport fuel) crises.
That's it. A power grid cannot be allowed to fail and no financially credible projects to store the required amount of energy (minimum, tens of TWh) exist, so renewables in such an environment have left us wholly dependent on gas. Nuclear fuel can be stockpiled, wind simply cannot, again at the required scale. If you think it can be within the next 30 years you're an idiot, a liar or a data scientist, it's that simple.
And yes, I've been to engineering conferences in EU where almost the entire topic now is "how do we minimise the damage from unreliable power". It takes zero financial acumen to realise the capital cost of the plant is not decreasing, the output is, and the best case is a reduction in output proportional to the interruption in power. That is the best case, much more frequent is a far greater loss of product. Quite a few people, myself included, were visibly on the verge of crying, because the writing is on the fucking wall. Quite honestly, the Energiewenders do not seem to give a shit, nor do they seem to about Germany's reversion to coal, a move that permanently make's Europe's position on the world stage re climate change laughable.
This is not a Russia-induced crisis - comedy shows were mocking the certainty of Putin using gas as a weapon fifteen years ago. This is entirely self-induced.
The problem is that the EPR is a fundamentally flawed design that led to serious time and budget overruns wherever it was attempted - Flamanville, Olkilouto, Hinkley Point C, Taishan all have fallen victim to that.
Additionally, you are completely ignoring that nuclear plants need cooling - and the lack of said cooling water is what has been impacting France and Switzerland as well over the last weeks.
> A power grid cannot be allowed to fail and no financially credible projects to store the required amount of energy (minimum, tens of TWh) exist, so renewables in such an environment have left us wholly dependent on gas. Nuclear fuel can be stockpiled, wind simply cannot, again at the required scale. If you think it can be within the next 30 years you're an idiot, a liar or a data scientist, it's that simple.
There are alternatives: Pumped hydro for storage, battery parks for ultra-short-term demand smoothening (like the Tesla battery park in Australia), bio-mass/bio-gas as fuel for burner plants (think of cow dung, sewage sludge, household bio waste and the likes), electric cars as distributed energy storage units, or simply a massive overbuild of renewable electricity generation and trans-European UHV distribution networks to get, say, wind power from the Portuguese coast to the German industry in the Ruhrpott - China already does similar distances ffs.
Additionally, it's high time to make the demand side smart as well: big consumers like aluminium smelters or parts of the chemical industry could be converted to dynamically react to the power available on the grid, extremely large consumers could be placed on seasonal holidays (e.g. during winter), and large consumers could also finally take the money in their hands and invest into energy efficiency so they don't need as much energy any more. A shocking amount of industry equipment is three decades or even older!
And finally: Right now the European electricity grid has almost zero real-time visibility. The "smart meters" we have are bullshit, they're just used once a year and all "advantage" they have over the old Ferraris wheel meters is that they have an LCD - for a truly smart grid, grid operators need a live feed of who is consuming or producing what amount of energy and what the exact load conditions of grid-side equipment like sub-district transformers are.
No, it's restrictions on river temperature. https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/warming-rivers-threa...
Not to mention nuclear plants can be cooled by sea water or by waste water.
I don't think you appreciate the scale of energy storage. The world uses 2.5 TWh of electricity every hour. And electricity is less than half of total energy use. And as countries develop these figures are going to rise, not shrink.
If your solution involves shutting down industry because of insufficient energy production, then that's going to have a cascading effect of making good more expensive, and making products using those gooda more expensive. It may very well be that nuclear is cheaper than renewables when the cost of economic shutdowns due to insufficient energy are taken into account.
- They're not just making themselves independent from Russian gas & oil, they're making themselves independent of American and Middle Eastern gas & oil too. The resulting price stability will provide massive benefits down the road.
- Wind & Solar energy costs up front but has 0 fuel cost and little maintenance cost. Energy at essentially 0 marginal cost is going to pay dividends for a long time...
- The Ukraine crisis has united Europe like hasn't been seen since the end of WW2.
This winter will suck, but if Europe can stick together until spring, they'll be well positioned for the future.