Why 2020 to 2050 Will Be ‘the Most Transformative Decades in Human History’

Climate change will force more people to leave their homes than at any other point in human history. Conflict is inevitable.

Eric Holthaus
Published in
7 min readJun 25, 2020


Photo: Aliraza Khatri’s Photography/Moment/Getty Images

The 30 years from 2020 to 2050 will be among the most transformative decades in all of human history. Collapsing ice sheets, the aerosol crisis, and rising sea levels will force more people to leave their homes than at any other point in human history. In some places, that means conflict is inevitable.

A study from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that higher temperatures and shifting patterns of extreme weather can cause a rise in all types of violence, from domestic abuse to civil wars. In extreme cases, it could cause countries to cease functioning and collapse altogether.

This ominous reality of climate change is far from fated, however. A rapidly changing environment just makes conflict more likely, not inevitable. People, ultimately, are still in control. Our choices determine whether or not these conflicts will happen. In a world where we’ve rapidly decided to embark on constructing an ecological society, we’ll have developed countless tools of conflict avoidance as part of our climate change adaptation strategies.

Still, there will be those who choose to live outside the mainstream society who may pose an existential threat to the rest of us. Some groups and a few rogue countries will try to prevent the rest of the world’s transition toward ecological and social justice. They will do this either because of the lingering influence from the dwindling fossil fuel industry, or because of a fascist ideological response to climate change that puts human rights at risk, or out of desperation.

Mary Annaïse Heglar, a climate essayist and advocate for intersectional approaches to racial and environmental justice, is inspired particularly by Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower for an example of how things could go very badly. In the book, Butler describes fire-obsessed cults that spring up in a post–rapid climate change world, craving some sense amid the destruction and chaos they see all around them. Heglar thinks that could be just the beginning. “The future I…