CHAPTER ELEVEN – A CENTURY OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Atmospheric Carbon Level – 585-615 ppm
Average Earth Temperature – 67o
Sea Level Rise – + 14 feet
Earth’s Population – 4 billion people
For those wealthy enough to survive in 2090, it was a different world. In China, military rule had been overthrown and chaos ruled the day. Life in Indonesia, in the Amazon rain forest that had become scrub land and in the southern United States that had become a desert, was a quest for food, water, and defense from those who would take it from you. Most farms and ranches in Texas had been abandoned, victim to a climate that resembled the Sahara desert. In London, New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanghai, a fourteen-foot sea level rise had robbed the cities of their financial districts, sewage plants, and water supply facilities. Millions were forced to move inland. Winter, as it had been known for centuries, no longer existed for most of the planet.
As access to material things and the energy to power them declined, the common elements of light, darkness, warmth, cold, fire, water, food, companionship, and shelter had become more dominant. Increasingly, people began to set their schedules to daily and seasonal cycles. Seventy years ago, it had been different. Mobility was rampant as individuals swarmed over the planet in airplanes, cars, and recreational boats. Gourmet beverages, fish, and other edibles from far off countries were readily available if you could afford them. For half of the world’s population, houses were large, comfortable, and numerous. Indeed, the only limit to what you could consume was wealth. Too many had it, and the cries of those that did not were ignored, as were early warnings of a climate gone mad.
Struggling to understand it all, Stormy reviewed her writings. We used up the earth, she had written. It was here for our taking, and we took it. Except for the oil which remains under the Arctic (guarded by nuclear tipped missiles) petroleum reserves are gone. Soils have been ruined, ground water exploited and climate change ignored. In the end, the atmosphere became our weak link to the planet as, filled with greenhouse gases, it turned against humanity, turning fertile ground into deserts and the glacial water supplies of China, India, and South America into barren mountains. The wars over food began in Africa, spread to Asia, then enveloped India and even the Soviet Union as starving Chinese people crossed the border into Russian wheat growing lands. The wars over oil began in the Middle East and spread to the Arctic. Now, in the twilight of humanity, our ecological greed has come back to haunt us. It is a time of vultures calling, of faith repealed, and the ascendance of a terrible TERRA.
Although retired in Canada, Stormy remembered life before climate had changed so many things. One night, as she lay tossing and turning, she remembered the music sessions at the pub with Boothby. But as TERRA impacted the lives of more and more people, fewer musicians came.
“The music is dying, Boothby,” she said aloud in her dreams.
“So it is,” he would have replied.
A smile slowly grew on Stormy’s lips as she recalled how the music throbbed, faded, caught on again and again while outside the storm hurled lightning, winds, and torrential rain against the windows. She remembered how George gave her that loving look she knew so well, and how her little girl that twirled around, hand over her head ballet style, stealing the show. The crowd back then had been born into a benevolent TERRA and did not understand that she could change. It was an expression of the apex of human development, soon to be lost.
Inside the pub, all was well, but when the music died, TERRA remained, ready to strike any and all who would venture out. Over the years, TERRA wore down the inspiration, energy, camaraderie, and love needed for the musical harmony.
Tuesday’s at the pub had become quiet, witness only to the sounds of thunder, rain, and silence. Finally, like most other shop owners on the empty street, Sean’s grandson gave up and hung a “CLOSED FOREVER” sign on the door. TERRA was molding a new civilization.
And Now the News: Dateline 2096
A STRANGE TIME: Seacoast harbors are filled with sailboats, not just the small kind, but larger, trade vessels that have switched to wind power as oil- based fuels became unavailable. Bicycles are everywhere and cars are abandoned on streets, serving as homes but never moving. In rural areas, away from the wretched cities, horses are becoming the dominant mode of transportation, their only fuel being grass that grows where water is available. It seemed that the whole continent has shifted back two centuries in time; a time with less technology. Nights are dark after midnight (pitch black if there is no moon) as the remaining power plants conserve fuel for daytime use.
Reports and social commentary continued to document the worldwide decline of civilization:
ONLY FOUR BILLION PEOPLE REMAIN ON PLANET EARTH
According to reports by the United Nations, the Earth’s population continues to decline. War, disease, and famine have taken their toll. But not only human lives have been lost; along with them has been the technological expertise needed to save the Earth. The underlying cause of these calamities has been the destabilization of the Earth’s climate, which affects everything people do.
THIRD HURRICANE HITS LOS ANGELES
The third hurricane to hit southern California this summer brought devastation and death to the remaining inhabitants. Hurricane Marie, an immense category six storm, added to the stress of a summer-long heat wave and decades-long drought. Only scattered pockets of people remain in the once teeming city, most having left when water supplies failed in 2082.
“I guess you had better not use the name Marie,” said Susana. “People will think of the storm that destroyed Los Angeles when they meet you.”
Stormy didn’t reply. At 99 years of age and dependent on oxygen from a machine, she had experienced a century of storms, each decade worse than the last. She had seen global temperatures rise by ten degrees and personally witnessed the devastation that it had caused. She had seen semi-tropical vegetation flourishing in Siberia, unimaginable storms, and widespread disease. Deserts had spread across the globe as rainfall patterns shifted toward the poles. Coral reefs had disappeared as seas warmed and became acid. The Amazon rain forest was gone, and with it those whose lives had depended upon it. Famine, pestilence, war, and continuing climate change stalked the land as ever increasing numbers of hungry climate refugees spread chaos in every city and town. She had seen sea levels rise 14 feet as Greenland and Antarctica continued to melt more rapidly than ever, the waters beneath great ice sheets having been eaten away from below by warming seas. Cities that had been home to countless millions of people had flooded, permanently. Nations had rallied in efforts to stop it, but it was much too little and much too late. Now, she was ready to die.
The World at War Awards a Prize
Few noticed when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Stormy in 2097. Distracted by the collapse of world stock markets in economies starved of cash by expenditures for sea walls, security, strife, and disease, the event was mentioned between news about mob rule in Africa and Indonesia.
“Congratulations, Mom,” said Susana, “you saved a planet.”
“Nonsense,” replied Stormy. “The world is in shambles. Besides, maybe it was Uncle Pierre and the Climate Posse that saved it.”
Susana gave her mother a grim smile and replied “come on mom, you know it was the Climate Emergency Act and George’s legislation that stopped the rise in carbon emissions. When America finally passed carbon legislation you were able to persuade the rest of the world to cut back their emissions too.Without that, we would be on track to a runaway hothouse and nothing would survive.”
“Well, the scientists tell me you’re right. Even though carbon levels will keep rising, they probably won’t reach 1,000 so the planet should survive. It will get worse for a few more centuries, but eventually carbon levels should begin to decline.”
Stormy found comfort in realizing that her work had been more valuable than she had imagined, but remembered the words of Al Gore before his death. Like the peace prize recipient that had preceded her, she now understood that the forces of TERRA were greater than that which words could convey. Responding to the award, she made a final plea to humanity.
Put aside your differences. This is bigger than all of us, and only a combined world effort can save us. We are all in the same boat, and it is sinking. We are falling, but we can’t fly. Climate destabilization trumps the profit motive, cares not about political differences, and spares neither the poor nor the wealthy. Only by continuing a massive, concerted world effort can we slow the warming that has engulfed us. Only by sacrificing personal pleasure for the greater good can we tame the terror that threatens us.
Sadly, she recognized that these were actions that should have taken place 80 years ago.
TERRA – Finally Limited
Global average temperatures reached 67 degrees, ten degrees more than at the start of the century when TERRA finally began to relent. In the end it was not only the seemingly futile efforts of Stormy, George, and Susana to limit burning of fossil fuels, it was the decline of civilization and its machines that eventually caused TERRA to stabilize carbon and methane levels. Automobiles had all but disappeared; coal plants were rusting to dust; the burning of forests had slowed, air conditioning and indoor heating became limited by shortages of ever more costly electricity and commercial aircraft did not fly. Slowly, the increase in carbon levels began to level off.
But a very different world remained for its inhabitants. Agriculture had not kept pace with the change. Water supplies, governments, commerce, and indeed the structure of civilization had deteriorated and disappeared. The implements of society were gone. In their place, TERRA demanded that people comply with a new climate. Those who did not would not survive. Those who did continued to live with far less comfort, security, and life expectancy than had their ancestors, but they did survive.
TERRA’s rush toward global holocaust subsided and the Venus syndrome was aborted, but it was to be several millennia before she would once again become the gentle, stable, and supportive climate that had allowed humanity to flourish. The human population would continue to decline, reaching one billion souls in 5200, then growing only slowly for another century.
Stormy Dreams – Resignation
As sleep overtook her, TERRA filled Stormy’s mind. In frustration she tried to reason with the force that now gripped the earth, but the only answers were lightning, heat, and unceasing rain. Angrily, she tried to fight, but her adversary was nowhere, and everywhere. She tried to escape, but there was nowhere to go. Like most of the other people on Earth, she was broken, exhausted, and hungry. Abandoning civilization, she focused on survival. Gaunt faces drifted by. The earth became an unrecognizable morass of dead crops, flooded cities, and burned forests ruled by TERRA, who was intent on fulfilling her own destiny. To TERRA, Stormy and each life she took, did not exist. She awoke briefly as the commentator droned on.
In Canada, methane gushing from beneath melting permafrost has ignited a firestorm that is sweeping across the provinces, spreading for a thousand miles from British Columbia to Ontario. Drifting smoke lingers over Scandinavia and has reached as far as Moscow. The fires also brought down power lines and hundreds of Canadian cities are without electric power.
Just as they had when she was born, the lights in Stormy’s home flickered, came back on, and then went out. Deprived of oxygen from the machine that needed electricity, she fell into a deep sleep. Lightning flickered outside and Stormy, witness to a century of climate change, slowly died. Enveloped by TERRA, her remains would join the infinite carbon cycle.
2100 – 5200 and beyond
Atmospheric Carbon Level – 700 in the year 4,000; 420 in 5200
Average Earth Temperature – 69o in the year 4,000; 60o in 5200
Sea Level Rise +14 feet in 2100; +50 feet in 4,000; +75 feet in 5200.
Earth’s Population – 2 billion in the year 4,000; 1 billion in 5200
IN MEMORIAM, Zurich, Switzerland; 2150
IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO DIED AND CITIES LOST IN THE GREAT CLIMATE CONFLAGRATION OF THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY, WE THE LIVING, CONSECRATE THIS MEMORIAL. GOD FORGIVE US, FOR WE WERE UNABLE TO SAVE OUR CIVILIZATION.
Shishmaref, Alaska Coastal Destruction 2002
Somalia, Africa Famine, Civil War 2045
Kabul, Afghanistan Famine, Civil War 2052
New Orleans Hurricanes Nancy & Victor 2056
New Delhi, Karachi Nuclear War 2062
Tuvalu Sea level rise 2070
Barrow, AK Arctic Oil Wars 2042- 90
Washington, DC Hurricanes Bebe, Mariah & Tolbert 2064-72
Sacramento, CA Earthquake, flooding, sea level rise 2074
Shanghai 0.3 meters below sea level 2075
Bangkok 0.6 meters below sea level 2077
Miami 2 meters below sea level 2078
Manila 2 meters below sea level 2080
Las Vegas Desertification 2081
Beijing Famine, Civil War 2085
Phoenix Desertification 2091
Galveston 1 meter below sea level 2094
Mexico City Famine 2095
ARCHIVES OF THE CLIMATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Dr. Richard L. Bailey is a volunteer for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and the Interim Director of the Climate Museum Institute