I’ve recently been reading in the media that we have 12 years to save ourselves before climate change really kicks in and leads to a Hothouse Earth (think: Venus). This is both a pathetically misleading and laughable notion. I hate to say it aloud, but that ship has left the harbor perhaps several dozen years ago.
Much like if you ask a physicist if humans really have “free will,” and they will hem and haw, and try not to make eye contact with you, and then, when pressed, they have to tell you that, actually, there is no such thing as free will (that’s an entirely different topic), scientists who deal with climate change and virtually any type of Earth system (atmospheric, oceanic, energy, etc.) will tell you that it’s too late already. We are locked in to so much more warming of the planet, which is akin to a ticking time bomb, that it’s beyond hope. Throwing out a tiny life raft of hope is almost cruel, to be honest, which is why I stopped writing a few years ago.
It seems like a waste of (my) time and precious resources to have even spent so much for the years I did write, all to no avail. So why am I even bothering now? First, let me say that we have the ABILITY and know=how to save ourselves from extinction. We always have. And with the avalanche of published data and research on such topics, it’s really an abundance of riches in what and how to proceed. Hell, we have thousands of people working to get at least SOME of us off the planet in the crazy ass hope that humans can not be totally extinct. Colonizing ANYTHING seems easier than shutting up climate change deniers, science deniers, and the fossil fuel industry in order to save our damn selves. How lame is that? People like Elon Musk are driving themselves batshit crazy working trying to colonize freaking MARS because that seems easier than just repairing the damage we’ve done to our home planet. We are quite literally almost too pathetic to even save, except for the fact that we are quite possibly the only intelligent life in this entire universe.
If you think aliens are out there who are going to swoop in and either save us, or, alternately, enslave us and harvest our resources, I’d ask you to just sit and observe your cat, dog, rat, or any pet you may have at your disposal. Hell, even your goldfish. Now think about how lunatic and hysterical we humans would be if we actually found something 1/100th as “intelligent” as any of those animals on another planet. It would be the End of Days for many, and the military budget would quadruple overnight. But I’m here to tell you that my cat, who I adore and who I generally think of as being a little intelligent, cannot even open his food bag when he’s hungry. So, “intelligent life” is a misnomer at best.
But I digress.
I think we are worth saving because, as physicist Max Tegmark says, and I paraphrase, if we weren’t here to be astonished by how amazing our universe is (thus, no one else was), wouldn’t that just be an enormous WASTE?
With that said, I must preface my ideas for having a chance to even save some of us by saying, again, that things are really bad. Like, our situation is so tenuous that I literally don’t worry about having to eat cat food in my old age (I’m 55 years old now) because, well, this is not going to be my main problem. Some people may have seen the hysterical headlines (which also concurrently feel obligated not to start widespread panic, which would be actually appropriate, by including terse statements that there is NOTHING to worry about. No. Nothing to see here, folks) that the poles are moving and shifting TOWARDS RUSSIA. I can hear it now. “Oh no. Putin, and the Kremlin and sound waves and…”
But the reality is much, much worse. As I have mentioned before, we humans are literally changing the gravity of the planet by melting tons and tons of ice sheets and glaciers. Just even this one thing is changing things in ways that we are not going to be able to fix by all driving electric cars. And no one really knows how this is going to pan out. If we start to make things wobble too much, then it’s game over for everything on this planet and WATCH OUT to the other planets and moons in our solar system because it’s going to be like pinball out there. That’s all I’m saying (I’ll put a link in the Further Reading section at the bottom for a scientific article about this). It would serve us right, except that we will be taking out everything else with us.
To get a sense of the kind of timelines involved with the carbon dioxide and heat we’ve baked into our Earth’s energy system, look below at what I call the “Archer Diagram of Misery” (which is probably not what he calls it) which concludes that AFTER we finally hit the peak carbon levels that are already “baked in” to our planet’s “system,” and which are slated to hit around +1,400 parts per million (we are at roughly 400 parts per million now), ONLY THEN do we get to “enjoy” the long tail of it, which will continue for around 100,000 YEARS. No worries, though, because most life on Earth will have been baked to a crisp by then.
So, put another way, all of you who work to preserve a neighborhood, monument, archive, macaroni art (fill in the blank), there is NOTHING that is going to survive Hothouse Earth aka Venus. Nothing. Should there actually be intelligent life somewhere, or, in many millions of years into Earth’s future, if some sort of intelligent life (smarter than your pets) evolves and tries to figure out “what came before them,” here on whatever they call this beautiful planet of ours, there will be no trace of us left behind. Maybe not even melted down remnants of all the plastic crap we’ve created. Not even cockroaches. Nada. And for those who think a luxurious bunker deep underground is going to see you through the bad times…dream on. Or should I say nightmare on.
As the saying goes, “nature bats last,” and by “last,” I mean there will be nothing left except maybe viruses and possibly some weird and mutated bacteria. When is this shit going to hit the fan? Literally any time now. We have crossed so many “red lines,” so many real tipping points, that once a few more get scratched off the list, there may not even be time for the lunatics to launch millions of mirrors into space to reflect the sunlight and decrease the temperature – they can kiss their asses goodbye too (good riddance, imo). For a cinematic take on the geoengineering-gone-wrong trope, I’d suggest the 2013 movie “Snowpiercer.”
Here’s a nifty little graphic on the potential “order” in which things might go badly, but keep in mind that no one really knows. And, curve ball alert: we might just as likely be thrown nearly-instantaneously into a new Ice Age, which isn’t going to be pleasant either (for those who just endured the Polar Vortex – an abrupt Ice Age will be like THAT, But for the rest of your life). This is scientifically more complicated than can be explained in a few sentences, but for a Hollywood-ization of what that might be like (except with a happy ending) watch the movie, “The Day After Tomorrow.”
In the graphic below, the Ice Age part of a looming “tipping point” appears as the orange circle that says, “Thermohaline Circulation.” And a sudden, abrupt swing into an Ice Age has happened before, at least once, in Earth’s history. If too many ice sheets collapse, which appears to now actively be underway and is irreversible, the Earth’s “conveyor belt” is disrupted, which can actually throw the planet into what is called Snowball Earth within only a few years (!), not like an adaptation-level thousand years.
Also from that same paper which has what I refer to as the Cascade of Doom (my name for it), we have (below) another graphic which illustrates the chute we are currently headed down which quite possibly has no off ramp:
We don’t have 12 years. We have more like minus 50 or 60 years, and you can thank the likes of ExxonMobil and all the rest who knew it decades ago, but buried that message from the gas-guzzling public, and just kept drilling anything they could get their grubby hands on. I still have no idea why they think all the money in the world is going to help when you’re incinerated, but whatever.
Why am I Bothering Now? My To-Do List for Billionaires
There are now a lot of rich people in the world who seem to want to do good but who understandably get bogged down in things like the non-profit circle-jerk. There are even some rich people here in the US who think they should enlighten everyone by running for president. Some of the super wealthy are even under the misguided notion that they can just build their own little bunker, hire future guards and farmers and teachers and their own military, etc. They seem to have fooled only themselves into mentally creating what they’ve been led to believe will be their own personal life raft. The expensive and lofty notion they’ve been sold of their own private concierge service that allows them to sleep at night while things are still somewhat “good” leaves them feeling all “panic-roomed.” I’m not sure this is breaking news to the rest of us, but I suspect that most rich people, if they’ve given it even a little thought, already know deep down that none of that is going to even remotely work.
Ditto for the idea that anyone, upon being notified that life on Earth is really about to become unbearable, gets launched into orbit or to a safe house on Mars. Even with $50 billion dollars worth of ass kissers telling you they’ll serve you until the bitter end, that’s just not going to happen. In fact, the lucky ones will be the first to go, so unless the super rich have a concierge person to administer the lethal injection once human civilization begins sliding down that Cascade of Doom above, irreversibly and with no sign of an off-ramp, they are no better off than the average Joe, except that tonight’s Ambien-fueled sleep may be slightly less full of nightmares. Kim and Kanye and every other rich person cannot buy a big enough fire hose for their employees to save them.
No livable planet = no amount of money will save anyone, even Beyonce
However, I do have a plan that might, possibly, with but a sliver of a chance – avert catastrophe. I say that with a grimace because I mostly know it’s too late, but, hell, maybe it’s possible. And when I say this, I think of all we’ve done in outer space. What we humans have done to this planet only negates our exceptionalism elsewhere. Billionaires should pull the plug on all their philanthropic stuff and, like an a la carte menu, choose what they can actually do on a global scale. Actually DO. Not research and beta test. We are way past that. Will there be unintended consequences? Without a doubt, but we are at the Hail Mary – All Hands on Deck – Your Kitchen Is On Fire stage of this situation, and everyone knows it.
Don’t worry about tax deductions, media coverage, public opinion. Nothing. It’s too late to care and the remedy and the path to “Stabilized Earth” in that diagram above is going to be imminently fugly. Unpleasant, bumpy, violent and unfair, but we did this to ourselves with help from the fossil fuel industry and the rapacious greed that is capitalism, dressed up and renamed “progress.”
So as I said, this is an a la carte menu of things to buy and do. We are WAY past the community-level version of any of this. If we can’t do this on a HUGE and global scale immediately, we have no chance. None. And let’s face it: America is the problem here. We are the ones who over consume, and over drill and over “everything,” which has fed the beast that is income inequality and lopsided-ness everywhere. We do not need more research. Not more R&D (I know that’s redundant). We don’t have the time for micro grants and to “incubate” nifty concepts. Fuck that. It’s too late. We have dithered and hedged our bets all the way to literal hell at this point. Future generations, if they exist, will curse us. And Richard Branson need not apply to any of this. I’d almost rather be extinct than have to deal with his bullshit and fake everything.
Here are things that CAN be done by the super wealthy who are inclined to do something to save themselves (and, by extension, many other living things:
1) Someone needs to buy Fox News and either kill it completely or make it about the climate. Someone PLEASE buy Fox News and run it 24/7 with carbon level updates and information about nothing but the climate. Everyone is anxious and knows we are deeply in trouble. People are desperate for actual information. Fox News actively and deliberately impedes action on sensible things like action on the climate and gun control. They disseminate bad information to people who cannot and will not seek the truth and they will stop EVERY single action needed for our survival. Someone buy Fox News. Now.
2) Pass out birth control pills like they’re water bottles at a summer concert. We MUST bring our population down. Birth control pills need to be passed out like Pez candy everywhere on Earth. News flash to men: women would gladly choose not be constantly pregnant if given the chance to take responsibility for their own reproduction. The ONLY ONES who will get in the way of this are men. 100%. And they will cloak it in religion. Birth control. Under the skin, in pills, do it.
3) Acquire drilling rights, and any and all land that might be drilled. Everywhere. Buy anywhere that is going to be mined for oil and gas and coal. And then hold onto it, enlist an army of volunteers or employees (a jobs program, for sure) and plant so many trees. We desperately need more carbon sinks. By acquiring the places that are to be skinned alive and THEN planting and reforesting, you keep it in the ground AND create carbon sinks to absorb the carbon. The oceans can’t do more and they are about to burp it all out, either via methane hydrates or in other similarly unpleasant ways, which is a HUGE tipping point.
4) Buy forests acreage and large swathes of lands, here and especially abroad, that are about to be deforested, and stop that action from happening. Then, plant trees like your life depends on it, because it does.
5) This one is more complicated to explain, but what has to happen right away in order to prevent more positive feedbacks from kicking in (which are actually a negative/bad thing, despite how it sounds) is that the albedo level on Earth needs to be radically increased. Ice and snow have a high albedo (they reflect much more solar energy back out into space than, for example, the oceans which are dark and which absorb and retain the heat. I have written about cool pavements before, but what needs to happen, like in parking lots, air strips, streets, on roofs — everywhere there is tarmac, dark and heat absorbing surfaces like asphalt (again, perpetuated by the fossil fuel industry to diabolical extremes) is that they need to be reflective. I know how to do this and where the nano technology exists. It is too much to put in this bullet, but if you are a billionaire, you know what to do and it has to be everywhere. There are lots of abandoned lots and buildings…buy them, and paint them. The albedo (reflectivity) can be measured from space (if you want to know if it’s working). Otherwise we are going to have people launching stuff perpetually into the atmosphere trying to reflect light, and, again, millions of stupid mirrors are going into space to reflect the Sun’s rays – that’s geoengineering and it is the final straw on the camel’s back of our extinction.
6) We have to do global-scale Carbon Capture and Storage right away. Yes, it’s being done in small scale operations, but there is no money in it. Not to beat a dead horse, but all the money in the world is just about to not matter. There is a very promising plant in Edmonton, Canada, for example. This needs to be scaled up to a global level ASAP. Rich people need to replicate that system all over the world and put it into action – not small scale. No more R&D. It’s “go time.” We need to suck the carbon OUT of the atmosphere. Imagine trying to to stop the Titanic on a dime. It’s not going to happen. We have locked in so much more warming than we are experiencing right now. We need to radically reverse that trend before the rest of the baked in carbon is emitted. Example: things get warmer, or just stay as warm as they are right this minute and BOOM – more permafrost melts, burping out gigantic amounts of carbon dioxide and even worse (initially) is all the methane that gets released. This is, again, a positive feedback, because the more warm it gets, the more this permafrost is being melted and the more greenhouse gases are being released. Carbon Capture and Storage is not going to vacuum up the excess carbon in the atmosphere, but it IS going to pump the brakes as we get nearer to that proverbial cliff.
This is a short and incomplete grocery list of things that rich people who want to do something to save our species can do. There are many more things which must be done, but they are less centered around what one, or even a few, people can do alone and QUICKLY. For example, we need to stop building with cement. We need to have every building equipped with solar panels. Every office building should power itself. We already have ALL of this technology. It’s being R&D’d to death because there is no money and TONS of pushback to actually just fucking do it. The money is in grants to keep researching it (again, until it’s stomped into the ground for nothing). The pushback is huge and that’s where the Fox News stuff is key.
For every logical and smart action we could have taken and should have taken, there are 100 better funded and better broadcast HORRIBLE and wrong movements to make sure nothing changes. Until it does. Which it will. Of this, I am certain.
FURTHER READING AND REFERENCE
This is what it’s going to take to save humanity, Schatzie’s Earth Project, June 12, 2015;
Why are rooftops and streets black? Schatzie’s Earth Project May 9,2016;
Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, Will Steffen et al, PNAS, August 14, 2018;
Climate-driven polar motion: 2003-2015, Surendra Adhikari et al, Science Advances, April 2016;
The Cautious Case for Climate Optimism, David Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine, February 4, 2019;
Planting trillions of trees could cancel out CO2 emissions, Jon Christian, Futurism, February 17, 2019.