A grizzly-polar bear hybrid is stark evidence that climate change is real, but it is not the only factor shaping our future.
Four major forces have shaped our history—population demographics, demand for resources, globalization and climate change, according to UCLA Geography Professor Laurence C. Smith. Using scientific analyses and global modeling, Smith paints a picture of what the world will look like in 2050 in his book, “The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future,” which was published in 2011.
Smith will discuss his book March 18 at 6 p.m. in the McCrory Gardens Education and Visitor Center. The event, which is part of the Virginia and J. Edward Holtry Distinguished Lecture series, is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by the SDSU Department of Geography and the Geospatial Sciences Center of Excellence.
“I strove to take a balanced, neutral approach and let the readers make up their own minds,” Smith said. “These are all complex issues and I hope people can benefit from this presentation to decide what kind of world we want.”
In 2007 and 2014, Smith’s research was part of the Fourth and Fifth Assessment Reports of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He became a fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2015.
In his book, Smith describes biological evidence that animal and plant species are migrating north. Big game hunter James Martell, for instance, shot a bear that documented the first evidence of a cross between a grizzly bear and polar bear in April 2006. An offspring of this hybrid was shot in spring 2010.
“Grizzlies are pushing north into polar bear territory,” Smith said. This is part of a general mass migration of species to higher elevations and latitudes due to global warming.
“On average, plant and animal species are crawling north at a rate of 5.5 feet per day—these are very fast ecological transformations,” Smith pointed out. He compared the northward march to stepping outside each day to find your lawn has shifted 5.5 feet toward your neighbor’s lot.
From a phenological perspective, plants are budding and animals are giving birth earlier each spring. “It’s like your birthday arriving 10 hours earlier than it did the year before,” Smith said.
A trip through what Smith calls the Northern Rim Countries—Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the northern United States (Alaska and states along the 45th parallel) helped prepared him to write his book. He anticipates this area will become increasingly important during the next three decades.
“The northern quarter of the planet will experience increased human activity, higher strategic value and greater economic importance,” Smith said. “If current global trends in resource demand continue, we can anticipate growing pressure to develop the region for mineral and hydrocarbon resources.”