It is possible that civilization as humans now know it is ending. Climate change affects people's lives in many ways. One is energy dependency; another is food production and how it will continue. Yet another is human response and attitude about sharing the world and its resources.
There is much news about how climate change affects severe weather, wild fires and drought. Then there is speculation on wars over precious resources like water and arable land. There is further speculation, and some already believe, that in many impoverished nations of North Africa, Asia and India many old tribal divisions are exacerbated by need for food, water and all other resources. Finally, there is the potential for disease and even global pandemic. All of these things, and how people respond to them, have the potential to change human behavior, and thus, civilization.
In the physical world, the energy resource world, and the responsive, human world things are changing. Clean energy sources are sought, and the end of the petroleum age appears inevitable. When the world is out of easy to obtain oil, necessity to continue food production, provide machines for mobility and home energy needs will still require a source of fuel. Sociologists note this will change how society views human needs, wants and resources in general.
There are both dire predictions and hopeful ones. Those who are optimistic believe that people are beginning to take on a global, shared Earth consciousness. If this spreads, the human and socio-economic world values may be changing from the material and cheap to valuing enduring goods, cleaner fuels and connecting interactions. Pessimists predict greater and more damaging effects. Climate scientists often point out that carbon levels and Earth temperatures are higher than any known historical period. They also fear that feedback loops, such as released methane from melted permafrost, could have devastating and possibly irreversible changes.
Nevertheless, it does appear that in much of the world a clean energy revolution is underway. Most researchers and engineers believe that the present approach, not narrowly focused on just one "big fix" is more realistic. They suggest that over time, society adapts to include energy sources from solar, hydroelectric, some biofuels, wind, geothermal and other hopeful technologies. If humanity is able to wean itself off of the more toxic fuels, there is a chance to ultimately reverse climate change, and alter society in the process.
However, pessimists point out there is already much damage done to civilization. The polar regions and glaciers are melting, Oceans are acidifying, species are dying, weather disasters are intensifying, energy and food prices are soaring, vegetation and agriculture cycles shortening and animal ranges are moving. People are realizing that they are utterly dependent upon both nature and community. Responses to storms, fires, floods and droughts tend to cluster people together for both cooperation and protection. Infrastructure projects require much input, knowledge, planning and talents at every level. Agriculture and food production depend upon those insects and animals that sustain pollination and ecosystems. At the same time, it is becoming much more evident to farmers that petrochemical methods, factory farms and erosion that damage soils must be phased out over time in favor of enriching and vitalizing methods of farming. There is also a growing shift in consciousness. Although anthropic global warming (AGW) has been predicted since 1896, it only came to public awareness as the “Greenhouse effect” in the late 1960s and early seventies.
Developed nations consume the majority of resources, but under-developed nations increase population, and therefore carbon footprints. Although there is plenty of blame to go around, the age is unfolding where people realize cooperation produces results and blame just postpones crucial trans-formative progress. Will it mean that global civilization as we once knew it will fade into the past, just as other ages of worn out and played out technology fade away? This is still likely to best be seen in hindsight.
The last two centuries centered on fossil fuels. It was trapped carbon in the form of oil, gas and coal. Just like the stone, iron and bronze ages before them, the age of dirty fuel will fade as it becomes ever more scarce and causes more damage. There are signs that many people do not have faith in older technologies based on fossil fuels. This may in part be due to yet another new technology, electronics. The new world shares world wide news of spills, crashes, mining explosions and other eco-disasters and even political unrest.
Petroleum based resources fueled the most drastic and far reaching implications of any former technology. Having indoor heating, fuels for every imaginable engine and increased transportation drove a world-wide economy into connection. Oil provided cars, then suburbs, then fast food, then an unprecedented demand for cheap, disposable goods. But ultimately, global climate change could not be ignored.
Cultures evolve over time according to their values. It may happen that people change their values to reflect a greater reverence for others and for a cooperative Earth. It is true that computer technology, the newest connecting resource, has changed society forever by linking the world. Now, unlike every other historical era, usually driven by conquest and top to bottom growth, the new era may grow from the bottom up. New technologies are being developed and are affecting a global community, so change to human cultures will happen, in one direction or another.