by Max Barry

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Antarctica and the World

The climate and geography of the modern world is vastly different from what it was eight centuries ago. As the developing world industrialized throughout the 21st and 22nd centuries, the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere reached unprecedented levels, tipping the global climate into a hothouse state the likes of which, according to the geological record, has not been seen in at least 50 million years. Carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures peaked around the turn of the 23rd century, and afterwards began to decline as economic collapse rendered the remaining fossil fuel reserves unreachable. The forested regions of the Earth have been slowly sequestering the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ever since, and today, the concentration in the atmosphere is about 2,900 parts per million, or 0.29% of the atmosphere as a whole. This is high enough to cause a medical condition in some people known as hypercapnia, the symptoms of which can include headaches, lethargy, slowed cognition, emotional irritation, and sleep disruption. Although it is easily treatable with medication in Antarctica, the uncommon and seemingly hereditary nature of the condition has led to hypercapnics being stigmatized and mistreated, sometimes grievously, in other parts of the world.

The global average temperature has risen to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, or 24 degrees Celsius, an increase of ten degrees over the 20th century average. Expansion of seawater due to the higher temperatures, as well as sag and bowing of the land underneath it, has caused the global sea level to rise even further than expected from the collapse of the ice sheets alone. The modern shoreline is roughly 100 meters higher than it was before the climate shift; the exact contours vary from location to location. In the modern world, the weather in nearly every place is characterized by much higher temperatures and greater precipitation than existed 800 years ago, and most of the Earth's deserts and glaciers have long disappeared in the intense heat and humidity of the new climate. Such regions today can only be found in isolated spots where the driest and coldest conditions allow them to cling to existence.

  • Greenland, Nunavut, the Arctic islands, the Tunguska region, the Baikal region, and the Chukotka region are cool-temperate pine forests with humid air. Their summers are mild near the coast and hot inland, and they have cold winters.

  • Most of mainland Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia, the Komi region, and the Yenisei and Lena basins are temperate broadleaf forests with humid air. Near the coast, they are mild all year, and inland they have hot summers and cold winters.

  • Most of the United States, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean region, Kazakhstan, Manchuria, Korea, Japan, and much of Australia are subtropical forests, with humid air, very hot summers, and mild winters.

  • The Rocky Mountain region, the Great Plains, Patagonia, the Syr Darya region, the Gobi, and most of central Australia are subtropical grasslands, with dry air, very hot summers, and mild winters.

  • Most of the Middle East, northern Mexico, the southern half of the Sahara, the Kalahari, the Deccan Plateau, and the Thar region are tropical grasslands, very hot all year with dry air.

  • The Gulf region, the Caribbean, Central America, all of eastern Brazil, all of West Africa, the Somalian coast, the Ethiopian highlands, Madagascar, all of East Africa, southern Mexico, most of India, the Punjab region, southern China, and all of Southeast Asia are tropical rainforests, very hot all year with humid air.

  • The Amazon and Orinoco basins, the Congo basin, and Indonesia are incredibly dense, swampy, towering multistory rainforests, where the sun goes virtually unseen behind endless torrential downpours of rain, which often flood the forest floor into a strange hybrid between land and sea. Before modern times, this kind of climate has not been seen since the Carboniferous period over 300 million years ago. The air is very humid and very hot all year.

  • The Tibetan Plateau and the Altiplano are alpine grasslands. The air is windy and very dry, and the temperature is mild all year.

  • The northern half of the Sahara, the Rub' al Khali, the Atacama, and a small patch of central Australia are true deserts. Cacti and other desert plants still thrive in these arid places, however. The air is very dry and usually very hot all year, but the temperature is highly variable.

  • The Taklamakan Desert is an utterly lifeless, bone-dry moonscape, just like it was eight centuries ago. The towering mountains encircling the basin still block virtually all rain from getting in. Modern humans find it astonishing that many other deserts used to be like this.

In a thousand years, the world in a human sense has changed even more drastically. In the first centuries of the climate shift, extreme heat, desertification, and floods forced the abandonment of many regions around the world. As cities succumbed to the rising sea levels and massive population flows caused racial and ethnic hatred to explode out of control, most of the world's nation-states collapsed into chaos and war, driving the population of the world into grinding poverty. Today, most of the world is covered by a chaotic, unstable patchwork of tiny territorial hierarchies carved out by demagogic warlords and tyrants, which operate on hatred, war, oppression, and exploitation. There are only a few exceptions to this depressing global pattern. In highlands around the world, such as Siberia, Central Asia, East Africa, and the Tibetan, Andean, and Rocky Mountain plateaus, territories last much longer due to the natural defenses provided by mountains. Sometimes, these territories last long enough for idealistic citizens to rise into positions of leadership, setting their territories on the path of freedom, peace, and humanity.

Antarctica is set apart from the rest of the world by its nature as a continent where peace and cooperation are the norm rather than the exception. The continent takes a neutral stance in all foreign territorial disputes, in accordance with Article 11 of the Antarctic Constitution, which states in part that warfare can be waged "under no circumstance save self defense, and for no purpose save the protection of the independence and integrity of the Free Republic from an immediate and objective threat." The existence of self-defence forces is permitted by the Constitution, but for several reasons, no such force exists. Since the Massacre of Grytviken in 2705, the deployment of armed forces to other continents has been banned by Antarctic law, due to the potential for their abuse. The countless tiny territories of the world consider it suicide to provoke a war with the Antarctic continent, both due to the sheer difference in power, and due to their memories of the still infamous massacre. Antarcticans themselves currently desire no defense force either, both due to their own memories of the massacre, and their preference to spend the requisite money on foreign aid and the Antarctic social safety net instead.

Antarctica's interactions with the rest of the world take a variety of forms. The Antarctic population, at a total of 67 million, comprises only a small part of the world's 3.13 billion people. The world's most populous continent, Africa, supports 920 million, and Siberia comes in second place, with 520 million. The rest of the world is a little less populated. China supports 180 million, India 320 million, the Middle East 160 million, the Pacific region 120 million, Europe 180 million, Australia 160 million, North America 340 million, and South America 160 million. The world economy as a whole is severely hobbled by the constant chaos and violence that it has faced ever since the collapse of the nation-states, and most of humanity is still trapped in grinding poverty, with Antarctica making up nearly three fifths of the world's total economic activity. The gross domestic product, per capita, of the other continents comes out to roughly ₹3,000 per year, in dramatic contrast to the Antarctic figure of ₹204,233. Although the income gap is somewhat narrower than this due to a number of factors, including the effects of the Antarctic foreign aid budget, there is still much work to be done to ensure a decent standard of living for all citizens of the world.

As a result, foreign aid is a major component of Antarctic foreign policy. Ever since the Great North American War in 2966, Antarctica has been a driving force for altruism in the world, being the primary source of financial, material, and humanitarian aid to territories around the world. Recently, Antarctica has also provided special cooperation and trade to territories that have liberalized and humanized their societies, and in the years since, several more territories have voluntarily done the same to become eligible for these benefits. Overall, the modern world has yet to recover from the dark age ushered in by the great climate shift, but the situation around the world is slowly improving, and Antarcticans hold out hope that one day the world will recover from its ills and be able to face the future together.

Antarctic immigration laws are designed to be as welcoming as possible within the framework of public safety. Specifically, before any visitor or potential resident is allowed off the boats into Antarctica, they must first pass a background check to make sure they are not likely to cause violence, after which they are eligible to receive a resident identity card. They are then free to stay as long as they like, unless they commit serious or persistent crimes, in which case they may be removed from the country. After three years of good behavior, non-citizens with resident cards are eligible to be naturalized, in which case they receive a citizen identity card and are made legally equal to all other Antarctic citizens. Additionally, anyone born in Antarctica to at least one lawful resident or citizen, or born elsewhere to at least one Antarctic citizen by origin, automatically become citizens, and receive citizen identity cards when they turn sixteen. As a result of its humanistic values and its kind, friendly, and fair-minded citizens, Antarctica always has been and continues to be a destination for people from all walks of life around the world.