Mon
Feb 2 2009 4:13pm
Global Warming is Good for Us!

The Arctic may be ice-free by the summer of 2040. Polar bears are toast. Coral reefs are bleaching and dying. Our engines of progress are exhaling CO2 faster than the surrounding greenery can absorb it. All this is good news for humans.

No, we can’t expect an endless tropical sailing vacation, a.k.a. Waterworld, nor a frosty winter wonderland, as in The Day After Tomorrow. Much better, global warming will train us for a brilliant future in space.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts severe hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, flooding and wildfires in the next few years, plus large-scale food and water shortages, not to mention an end-of-days scenario for a heck of a lot of wildlife.

You’ve heard the old adage: Throw a frog into boiling water, and it’ll jump out. But bring the water slowly to a boil, and the frog, never noticing, will allow itself to be cooked.

Who needs frogs anyway? The point is, as our planet becomes slowly more hostile to life, we’ll develop new technologies to survive. Human ingenuity has never failed us. By the time some neophyte Noah raises his head and yells, “Ark!” our civilization will have invented all the tools we need to live on Venus.

Right, Venus went through its own run-away greenhouse effect some time back. Its atmosphere is now 96% carbon dioxide, and its surface temperatures can reach 477 degrees Celsius. The pressure and gravity are pretty extravagant, too. But we’ll be ready.

Or there’s Mars with 95% carbon dioxide. Its atmosphere is too thin for a greenhouse effect, so we can look forward to cool fresh evenings, down to -80 degrees Celsius. Ahhh. Mars also has global dust storms and corrosive snow. No problem. Bring it on!

When the moment arrives for earthlings to take the next Giant Leap, we won’t need to search for Class M planets. Our own eco-crash will have prepped us for the most adverse climes. No planets will be uninhabitable, not for us. We’ll set up shop on every barren rock and gas ball. We are homo sapiens. We thrive.

24 comments
huh?
1. huh?
uh, why is this posted on the Tor website and not someone's personal blog? is this allowed to be here because outer space is mentioned along with percentages of gases? if so...very lame. who edits the content on this site?
Jer Brown
2. designguybrown
It would be interesting to see if all the future intense climate problems which this article claims will strengthen us (i.e. that which does not kill us, will certainly...) will actually (also) contribute to making us a psychologically and sociologically strong species. I am more likely seeing a fragmented, bitter, and reclusiveness that seems reminiscent of post-Blitz London, Baghdad daily, and Bangladesh during monsoon season. Post-war(ecological in this case) and post-calamity societies are often not that healthy - resilient maybe, reasonably charitable and often even inwardly-neighborly - but thriving, innovative, and dynamic? There are numerous books on 'siege psychology' - sort of a grey, hopeless time of indeterminate length and uncertain conclusion.

My vote is for increased social unrest, diminished innovation, and social fragmentation - perhaps less than ideal for overcoming serious planet-wide chaos and reduced survivability.
Alexander Gieg
3. alexgieg
By the time global warming starts being an economic nuisance, i.e., good climate and such start having economic value, becoming a demand, it'll cause the appearing of solutions to also become economically interesting, thus doable, thus done. This always happens, no exception.
huh?
4. Iain Coleman
I'm sure our brilliant future in space will be a profound source of consolation to all the poor, dark-skinned people who will lose their homes or their lives as global warming takes effect. Per ardua ad astra!
huh?
5. Chris Linoleum
Just because something has "always happened" doesn't mean it always will. Technological innovation is not like the sunrise. And have we forgotten all of the various civilisations that have collapsed utterly throughout history?

And, for what it's worth, by the time climate change solutions become "economically interesting" it will be too late to engage in any effective prevantative measures. Climate change is a "long lag" problem: it's effects hit long after they've been triggered.
huh?
6. Uland K.
This is perfect for this site: The Man-Made Global Warming Theory is in fact Science Fiction...
huh?
7. Killerjello
I think I'll have to agree with Uland K., 8 parts per million of carbon dioxide really hasn't had a huge impact on the climate of our planet. Nor has the Industrial Revolution. Man-made climate change is a hoax. It seems obvious when you think that a single large volcanic eruption can kick out as much carbon dioxide as say, everything humans have produced in the last 150 years. While we can kill reefs, lakes, and poison underground aquifers with toxic sludge; we still can't effect the natural warming and cooling cycles of our wonderful planet. That being the case, it seems less and less likely we'll be moving out of system.
huh?
8. Dr Island
This post is satire, right? Right?

Alexgieg: there is no magic which guarantees that solutions always appear when they're needed. Why on earth would you believe that there is?

Killerjello: may I suggest that you do some basic investigation of the facts? You should start with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's various reports at http://www.ipcc.ch/ and then move on to http://www.realclimate.org. Bottom line: human-made climate change is real. The only people who say otherwise are (i) ignorant or (ii) shills for people who stand to lose money if we make the changes we need to make (in some cases, they're the very same shills who used to argue that smoking wasn't bad for you).
Sam Kelly
9. Eithin
(I'm sorry, this comment is going to be rather long.)

This is rather naive and simplistic optimism, really. If you only think in terms of the grand sweep of history, the OP is quite right that everything sorts itself out eventually; however, the reason that's the grand sweep of history is because it's written by the people who a) survived it, and b) ended up on top with enough spare time and technology to write down history.

As time has gone on, both our successes and our catastrophes have become greater. Nietzsche says "what does not kill us, makes us stronger", but like all Nietzsche quotations that's a misleading soundbite. The important corollary to that is that some things really do kill you, and a lot of the others will give you a nasty cold (or a broken hip, or severe depression, or PTSD) and will weaken you and make you less able to face future challenges.

The other important corollary is that "you" is a single person. It doesn't apply to large populations. For a nation or a species, the equivalent of a nasty cold is a great many dead people, and it's a pretty good guideline to follow that we should avoid killing people whenever possible.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts severe hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, flooding and wildfires in the next few years, plus large-scale food and water shortages, not to mention an end-of-days scenario for a heck of a lot of wildlife.

You do realise, right, that all those things both kill people and destroy a lot of very expensive and time-consuming infrastructure? How do you think we can maintain a space industry if hurricanes keep going across the launch pads? Or if the towns where the people who work there live keep getting flooded or set on fire?

The wildlife is important, too - even if you could convince everyone in the world to go vegetarian, you still run into problems like this. For that matter, there are a great many people who believe that animals have either rights, or value in and of themselves without regard to any use we find for them.

"Large-scale food and water shortages" might sound like an interesting challenge to be overcome, but they're crippling - if you aren't getting enough nutrition, you aren't functioning properly. (Ref. Keys experiments, 1930s.) They also cause wars. Most of the conflicts going on even at the moment are over resource shortages. If we start hogging them so we can keep on doing things that look like expensive, complicated luxury activities, people are going to start getting very cross with us.

A lot of peoples have seen their environments disappear, whether that's because they broke them (with goats, usually), because they were driven off them (eg. the usual view of Australian indigenous people is as desert-dwellers... that's because the incomers took all the good land), or just because These Things Happen. Are they stronger for it?

The global environment is the way it is - and has as much complexity as it does - for very good reasons. (Not teleological ones, I hasten to add - weak anthropic ones.) Something as complex as a human needs complex and varied foodstuffs, a fairly precise mixture of air, and quite a lot of other humans around them. The easiest way to make sure those are always present is to have a self-maintaining and -repairing system which provides them. For a system to be that smart and fulfill that many functions while still maintaining itself, it needs to be really complex - ie. it needs to have a great deal of information & energy locked up in it, to be an extremely strong local reduction of entropy.

What's happening at the moment - the process we call 'global warming' - is that we're busy ripping up all that complexity and setting fire to it. Ice caps are getting more like oceans, land is eroding into the sea, rainforests are turning into deserts, species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate, and the Earth is heading Venus-wards. (Venus, of course, is a much less complex entity, by quite a few orders of magnitude.)

We can't build a life-support environment like that; we aren't even close to knowing how to build one of those, even though we've had one to study since before we learned how to study things.

In order to keep a population of humans going at any sensible level (which, being an educated, privileged fan, I'm going to define as the level at which SF conventions exist) then we'll need a large environment - generation ships are classically portrayed as Really, Really Big for good reasons. We can currently build small, leaky, short-term biospheres, but what we'd need would be something that would support six or eight tiers of production & distribution (the typical amount that goes into keeping someone fed & entertained) while still giving everyone enough variety, free time, & elbow room not to kill each other.

We might be able, eventually, to send tinned monkeys out to other M-type planets, and then unpack & install them there; that assumes that we can find one we can use, and resolve the ethical issues around doing so.

We might be able to turn ourselves into something that can survive without a varied, complex, vibrant ecology around us. It wouldn't be h. sap. sap. any longer, though.

The bottom line, as far as I'm concerned, is that if we're can't get to the stars except on a pile of corpses (and mostly poor black ones at that), I don't want us to go.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
10. pnh
Commenter #1: The masthead of this site reads "Science fiction. Fantasy. The universe. And related subjects." If you don't think an SF author speculating about the future falls into at least one of these buckets, you're probably fated to be permanently disappointed with this site.

My impression of Mary Buckner is that she's a pretty well-informed environmental activist. I suspect this post encompasses a touch of irony, always a dangerous thing. Generally speaking, my own immediate reaction to statements like "We're homo sapiens. We thrive" is to observe that some people thrive, and a lot of people seem to get brutalized and killed. My working assumption would be that Buckner knows this.
huh?
11. Arkady Rose
It would make far more sense to put technology to work to fix the cock-ups we've made on this planet first before coming up with stupid airy-fairy ideas about running away from our man-made messes to go and create them on other planets.
huh?
12. Dr Island
Eithin - very nicely put.
Jer Brown
13. designguybrown
With all due respect:
(and I am not taking one side or the other)
simplistic visions, unrealizable activist agendas, and logical but untenable arguments aside..

in the scope of likely future 'reality' (which i hate to bring up on a specFic blog - but we seem to mix the two up anyway), people's values range from:

i don't recognize a threat unless there is 3-feet of water lapping at my front porch, don't you dare touch my Hummer..
-upto-
OMG that rare lizard on that tropical island will seriously be diminished unless we give up all carbon activities... stop everything now...

but where do the majority fall and how will their influence manifest itself in the next generation or two..
I think what the majority will buy into (pick any G7 majority, i suppose) (i.e. continuing buying, living, and voting for (not saying 'out loud'-for that is never representative of reality)) is:
- a world where we maintain only that bio-diversity that sustains agriculture, national parks, and a few miscellaneous wild places;
- a level of searise that sinks many islands, eliminates most ice levels, and causes hardship for many low-lying non-G7 regions but does not certainly impact many G7 countries' GDP severely;
- a loss of life and property and hardship worldwide which is similar but not much higher than 50%+(or whatever, for lack of a real number) more than some of the worst years over the memory of the generation in power;
and so on...

is this acceptable? of course not. Is there the capitalist will (the democratic and political will does not have that much influence) to change it seriously, soon? not really.

When i retire in 30+ years, i expect to see more disasters worldwide, several weird climatic fluctuations locally, and minimal technological or sociological change. The problem is that this is the new normality which is still within the range of historical disasters, just more often -- ho-hum. people adapt. I am not saying that this is right. Its just that the momentum for serious change is not there. A G7 lifestyle is sacred to many and the type of disaster that has to happen in order to make people sacrifice even part of that is not likely within the regular daily routine of those living now. Am i saying give up the fight? no. Am i saying that things will be fine if we depend on the 'regular' process of improvement? no.
I am just the (hypothetical) doctor saying that these are the symptoms and if you contiue living the way you do (which won't change that much), this is the likely outcome.. take it or leave it.. just don't say you didn't know.

The question is, how do we 'influence/take advantage of/guide a G7 value system that consists of:
- better to risk damage to something in the process of exploiting it and fix it up later, rather than not touching it at all;
- we can engineer our way through anything;
- it is not a threat unless we are already suffering and the symptoms are obvious and substantial; and,
- environmental protection can only be acceptable if it maintains economical systems/level.

The obvious path that accepts these personality flaws in society is to embrace technology, technologically-based visions, technologically-based education, and big-picture priorities. Conservation (retreat), community-based activism(small and dispersed), and financially-punitive legislation(defeats people's desire to flourish) can only be a short-term or small scope strategy - it just doesn't jive with a human being's natural need to improve, prosper, and take on challenge. Well-balanced, future-based, moderation-based strategies are just not hard-wired into humans.
A truly interesting time to be alive.
huh?
14. huh?
pnh - science fiction this is not. nor is this fantasy. the universe? all subjects related? certainly the last two encompasses every single thing and topic that can ever be discussed. what does that even mean "and related subjects".

...i dunno. i would assume that the site would focus on sci-fi and fantasy and the universe as it pertains to media (book, mags, movies, music) and yes, real-life nonfiction science. just seems odd to me that this post is here. but then again, perhaps the post is more ingenious than i think. perhaps the science fiction is in the author's irony, in the naive optimism. hmmm, i guess i just missed it. rereading from a different perspective...
Jer Brown
15. designguybrown
@ huh?

This is the (how is this scifi?) rallying cry heard from a number of members of speculative fiction blogs (io9, scifi wire, cool scifi, sci-fi -o- rama, etc.).

As i understand it, the reality is that 'issues' that cause controversy, hits, and even 'digs' need to be sprinkled liberally in with SpecFic literature, scifi media, and purely SpecFic happenings - why? sponsor ratings? blog editors? webhosts? We should feel lucky, many of the other blogs i mention typically include political/religious debate, news-of-the-day issues, and soft porn. Which are not necessarily bad things - but somehow the dream of a pure hard-sci fi blog site that attracts enough core people to be supportable is not yet there.
Torie Atkinson
16. Torie
@ 15 and @ 14

We publish a wide breath of material not because of some grand marketing strategy but because people have broad interests. This is a site for fans of science fiction and fantasy as much as it is for science fiction and fantasy itself.

Most fans of the genre also have geeky interests outside of the hard-edged lines of the genre itself. I love reading and writing about SF, fantasy, horror, and spec fic. But I also like history, new media, and literature. Speculation on the end of the world, medieval siege engines, social connectivity, and the works of Sir Philip Sidney are all beyond the topical boundaries of science fiction, but are well within the borders of subjects of interest to fans of science fiction.

And that's what we mean by related subjects.
huh?
17. Earl_E
What humans add to CO2 is above and beyond that which is created by a warming earth.

Now that concentrations are above and beyond all historical evidence, Venus and Mars are better science than fiction.

Thus doable, adding more CO2, is done. Now that we recognize the value of stable climate, it is not something that can be un-done simply by removing CO2 inputs.

The time for space migration can only occur when technology exists to make it happen. Fragmented isolations of humanity will be more like the single sperms attempting to fertilize the zero-g egg. 1 out of a billion.
Jer Brown
18. designguybrown
@ Torie:

"... Most fans of the genre also have geeky interests outside of the hard-edged lines of the genre itself..."

well sure. but do you go to the local chinese buffet to get good sushi? no. You go to the specialist - the master craftsman - the connoisseuring shop. It is good to be discerning, particular, and picky sometimes.

I admire the site's ability to bring 'stuff' that is present in some form in speculative fiction and bring out debate and discussion of its relevance, etc., but wouldn't it be a wonderful, wonderful world to be exposed to the deep, insightful abyss of speculative fiction's more specific content. To delve into a shiny (or rusted and abused) macrocosm of literary speculative delight that could most sumptuously be served up by the authors and editors of said genre? it is more work to be sure - and a daily blog probably has stiff deadline requirements, but...
.. perhaps fanaticism, intensity, and obsessiveness are no longer tenable attributes of the writing world - gotta make a buck.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
19. pnh
I don't even eat at Chinese restaurants. I only eat at restaurants that specialize in a single dish.

House O' General Tso's Chicken on Amsterdam Avenue is acceptable, or was until they started diversifying their menu into "Large General Tso's Chicken" and "Small General Tso's Chicken." Sadly, fanaticism, intensity, and obsessiveness are no longer tenable attributes of the dining world.
Ben R
20. sphericaltime
pnh: I don't even eat at Chinese restaurants. I only eat at restaurants that specialize in a single dish.

Hehehehe. Hilarious.
huh?
21. M.M.Buckner
For the record, the opinions expressed were meant as satire/irony.
huh?
22. Iain Coleman
For the record, the opinions expressed were meant as satire/irony.

That being the case, I think you've run into the same problem the Onion encountered in trying to satirise the Bush regime: it's hard to be more ridiculous than the things some people have said in all seriousness.
Sam Kelly
23. Eithin
The Onion, at least, have the advantage that everyone knows who they are and that they never do anything except satire!

Sorry about the knee-jerk reaction - I couldn't see anything on first reading to subvert the bog-standard triumphalism (well, except the date... it's not 1992 any more, at least), and then figured that I might as well keep ranting for the benefit of the climate-change deniers and the yay-hydroponics-and-asteroid-mining brigade. Or at least, not waste a good rant.
huh?
24. huh?
pnh -- that was pretty funny. haha.

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