This is our final blogpost in a series of three, giving a retrospective look at the horizon scanning project we undertook in 2017.
The time frame? 2030-50.
In summary, our predictions in 2017, scary though they were, were way too optimistic. About 10-15 years too optimistic.
In the previous two blogposts about predictions for 2021-23, and for 2024-30, I’ve moved quickly to the table of drivers, threats and opportunities. But here I’m asking you first to look at the rather dull, unremarkable image at the top of the page.
It came from this tweet by Alan Matthews on 3rd March 2018, exactly five months after an horizon scanning dinner discussion with leaders from across the food sector and the agri-food research community — and less than two months from the beginning of the 2018 summer heatwave in Britain, a heatwave that covered much of the northern hemisphere throughout that summer.
I pondered what featured image to use. I could’ve chosen pictures of people living in dusty desert camps, or some businessman wading chest deep in the Manila floods, his briefcase held above his head. Or locusts guzzling their way through crops.
I chose something closer to home. Less dramatic, sure. But shocking nonetheless, as Professor Alan Matthews says. Especially given what began a couple of months later.
And now for the table, summarising how participants saw a longer-term future, from 2030 to 2050. How much of what we saw then is already happening?
And what did we miss?
Yes, we gravely underestimated the pace of change facing us.
And what’s the evidence for this? An indicator is to take a look at this report from the UK Global Food Security Programme, published in January 2017, ten months before that dinner date: Environmental tipping points and food system dynamics.
The authors put forward five existing or plausible case studies, listed here with my comment below each one:
- Collapse of exploited populations: Newfoundland cod as an example (on page 8).
- See this Natural History Museum webpage of May 2021: Are we facing a sixth mass extinction?
- A tipping point in progress? Salinization of the Mekong Delta (page 9)
- See this Aljazeera article of April 2020: Vietnam’s Mekong Delta: Farmers suffer huge losses and communities struggle amid high levels of seawater intruding into the freshwater delta.
- A tipping point in progress: Drought in California (page 9-10)
- A plausible land tipping point: Soils and an East Anglian dustbowl (page 10-11)
- It is plausible, sure. East Anglia is, after all, entering its third decade of being classed as semi-arid.
- But there are other possibilities suggested by Alan Matthews’ photo and tweet, such as soil erosion and nutrient loss: see pages 6-7 of our paper Global risks to UK food supplies, January 2019.
- A plausible large-scale climatic tipping point: Collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) (page 11)
- See this 2020 report in Nature Geoscience Gulf Stream system at its weakest for a millennium and/or this Guardian article about it here.
The first blogpost in this series is about our predictions for 2021-23.
The second is about our predictions for 2024-30.