WHY we haven't achieved world peace.
HOW we achieve it.
WHAT we should expect once we get there.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

According to Mark Lynas', Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet

“In constraining carbon through rationing, we might soon find that we were building a different sort of society, one emphasizing quality of life before the raw statistics of economic growth and relentless consumption. I have no grand plan for how this society might look, nor do I pretend that it would be some kind of utopia. Life would go on, with all its trials and tribulations—and that, after all, is precisely the point. Unless we do constrain carbon, life will very largely not go on at all.” Mark Lynas, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., 2008, p. 302. The next few paragraphs (ending in a grim list with a few addenda of mine) are my summary of this vital global warming primer. Read them and weep.

Picture God as a senile old coot, once lauded as the master artist of his time. Having lost his eyesight these last few years, he has reduced his worldly pallet to four colors: tans, grays, the purest aqua blue and cloud white. Gone all the icy white, erased without mercy from equatorial mountains (one degree), from the Arctic Ocean (two degrees), then from the Alps, the Rockies and the Andes (three degrees), and finally from the mighty Himalayas, even Greenland and the Antarctic after a mere five degrees of increase in average world heat. Gone forest green, tropical or temperate, since the ice’s life-giving rivers would no longer flow so dependably in summertime; gone the dark browns of good soil, either washed away by floods or turned into dustbowl by drought. In the heat engine of a hotter Earth, rains will conform to the following biblical scheme: “For to those who have much more will be given, but for those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” No more fallow fields, no woods, no living coral reefs and no fish.

Gone all the port cities, flooded no matter how they fortified themselves; gone the bioluminescence of human cities by night, a few remaining smudges of survival luminosity closed up against polar shores, if they could get away with it. Instead, bright lights flash out to sea, where once-frozen, now thawed methane hydrate froths up from square miles of continental shelf and detonates in titanic explosions that will interrupt the occasional Force 6+ hyper-hurricane with massive tsunamis. The oceans are the purest aqua blue because there is no oxygen in the water and therefore no life. The remaining biomass is inedible scrub and mangrove swamp, and not much of that; all induced by a mere five degree rise in average world temps. Six degrees and forget human bioluminescence for at least a few centuries while the climate stabilizes from the equivalent of the Permian-Triassic die-off when the world almost became a barren ball of rock. A few humans might survive, reproduce and rebuild, in good time. An equivalent drop of six degrees would glaze the entire planet in ice, perhaps all the way to the equator.

To avert this fate, we would have to start scheduling ‘wedges’ or statistical pie slices of saved energy and reduced greenhouse gas (each wedge would reduce CO2 emissions by 1,000 metric tons per year by 2050), this according to Robert Socolow and Stever Pacala of Princeton University. If we ‘insert’ enough of these wedges into our lives, say 13 of them, and do so quickly enough, we may perhaps avoid the most deadly of these heat death phenomena. Some of the wedges to pick from, to discard as too noxious, or to duplicate several times, include:

• Double every automobile’s fuel efficiency
• Halve every automobile’s yearly mileage
• Halve the number of autos on Earth (Should I lead by example and drive my VW Bug over the nearest cliff so no one else can use it?)
• Make as many (?) habitations as possible energy-neutral
• 700 one-Gygawatt nuclear power stations (look out for those that go Pop!)
• Two million one-Megawatt wind power or water power turbines
• Five million acres of photovoltaic solar panels (27 square feet per person on Earth; should I lead by example and go broke lining the roof of my house with solar panels?)
• Massive reforestation (? million acres of replanted trees) and bury those trees once they’ve matured
• End all clear-cutting and massive burns of tropical forests, as of yesterday
• Devote 618 million acres to biofuel instead of food (arm yourself against the famine-struck)
• Sequester 1,000 metric tons of liquid CO2 underground
• Artificial photosynthesis (biomechanical, in vertebrates, in humans?)
• Genetically engineered coccoliths (plankton) producing calcium carbonate by the thousands of metric tons
• Orbiting mirrors, spray the sky with shadow-inducing nitrates?
• Orbiting solar power plants beaming power back to Earth (look out for unforeseen atmospheric effects)
• A massive ‘cull’ of humanity: one Plague or several (natural or weapon grade) or an Apocalyptic disaster that would painfully but conveniently subtract 25%, 30% or more of humanity, and probably us, too, between now and as soon as possible (the Celts feared nothing except that the sky should fall on their heads…)
• ?... (Any other ideas: good crazy, bad crazy or otherwise?)

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