By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
British-based Forum for the Future, a charitable think-tank, and researchers from Hewlett-Packard Labs, said they wanted to stir debate about how to avert the worst effects of global warming by presenting a radical set of possible futures.
"Climate change will affect the economy at least as much as the 'credit crunch'," their 76-page report study said.
The scenarios range from a shift to greater energy efficiency, where desalination plants run on solar power help turn the Sahara green, to one where refugees are moving to Antarctica because of rising temperatures.
"We still have the chance to alter the future," Peter Madden, head of the Forum, told Reuters. "This is what the world could be like and some of these options are not very pleasant."
Madden said that most reports about climate change focused on scientific findings about carbon dioxide emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, without taking account of psychological or social responses.
"Historians of the future may look back on these as the 'climate change years'," he said. "They will either look back on our generation as heroes or view us with incomprehension and disgust -- as now we look back on those who allowed slavery."
He said the crystal ball survey did not seek to project what was most likely to happen, just some of the possibilities.
It gave the following five scenarios:
EFFICIENCY FIRST - Technological innovation will help solve climate change and spur strong growth and consumerism. The Sahara is green and the eastern seaboard of the United States, for instance, is "protected by eco-concrete wall that generate power from waves and tidal surges."
SERVICE TRANSFORMATION - Sky-high prices for emitting carbon dioxide have led to a shift to a service-based economy. People no longer own cars but use bicycles. "Central Australia and Oklahoma have been abandoned due to water shortages. Athletes stay at home in the world's first virtual Olympics, competing against each other in virtual space with billions of spectators."
REDEFINING PROGRESSS - A global depression from 2009-18 forces people into more modest lifestyles and focus on well-being and quality of life. In the United States, people "do 25 hours of work a week and up to 10 hours voluntary work."
ENVIRONMENTAL WAR ECONOMY - The world has failed to act on climate change, world trade has collapsed after oil prices break through $400 a barrel. Electrical appliances get automatically turned off when households exceed energy quotas. Refugees are moving to Antarctica, with the population set to reach 3.5 million people by 2040.
PROTECTIONIST WORLD - Globalization is in retreat after a poorly coordinated response to climate change. Morocco has been asked to join the European Union in exchange for exclusive access to solar energy supplies until 2050.
(Editing by Richard Balmforth)