New research says things are looking super-bad for the future of the climate. But the doom-n’-gloomers won’t get us down.
Outwardly, at least, I am a pessimist. Even while growing up in what could justifiably be described as a seaside idyll, I feasted on novels like Brave New World and 1984 in which the rules that underpin civil society had broken down or been usurped. I saw their themes reflected in my relations with schoolmates.
These days, I relish the apocalyptic fantasies emanating from the publishing empire of Bill Bonner, an American billionaire constantly on the move between renovation projects in Baltimore, Switzerland and somewhere wine-and-cheesy in France.
Bill’s particular brand of apocalypse is financial, and he’s onto a winner. Even the most superficial study of financial history reveals that sooner or later markets crash. Well, Bill knows this better than superficially, yet he peddles the looming disaster as proof of his prescience. It’s a bit like predicting that people are going to die. You can’t really go wrong.
One writer in Bill’s Australian stable, Vern Gowdie, is particularly doomy. Nary a day passes without Vern claiming the latest drop in BHP’s share price is the dawning of The End of Australia, the title of his latest book. The pessimist in me wants him to be right. The optimist bought BHP at $29.
I relish doom-n’-gloom movies, too. The genre really took off in the 70s with the Airport movies (no, not Airplane), The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and the best of the bunch, The Towering Inferno, in which a group of A-grade actors fought to put out a fire in a B-grade tower block.
Enviro-themed apocalypse movies entered the genre when Kevin Costner produced a fantasy set in a world of water, the eminently forgettable . . . something-something. It saved its most dramatic disaster for the box office.
More recently, there was The Day After Tomorrow, a blockbuster cornfest I witnessed with my wife in a theatre somewhere in deepest, sweatiest Asia. Someone had turned the air-con down to ten degrees—deliberately, perhaps.
Clad in but t-shirts and shorts, we shivered through it very much in sympathy with the characters. It didn’t make for a pleasant viewing experience, however, and we emerged from the theatre as grateful for high-thirties humidity as we were for having escaped Dennis Quaid’s acting.
Interestingly, new research suggests that the film’s far-fetched vision of environmental apocalypse may not be that far-fetched after all.
Ricarda Winkelmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research concludes that the burning of all available fossil-fuel reserves threatens dozens of coastal cities—New York, Tokyo and Shanghai included. We can expect the seas to rise ten feet every century for a thousand years, then continue to rise for thousands more beyond that to a top of 200 feet.
In short, we’re in for disruption, devastation and dystopia.
But Hal Wanless and Michael Mann argue that Winkelmann’s model underestimates the speed of the rise. And James Hansen, the scientist who first testified to Congress of the dangers of global warming back in 1988, agrees that multi-meter sea rise could happen within decades, not centuries.
And that ain’t the half of it. Hansen says the intrusion of the cold freshwater into the planet's oceans is shutting down ocean circulation. We can look forward to “superstorms,” or “all hell” breaking loose.
So, to summarise, Winkelmann says the future will bring floods, devastation, disruption and dystopia. And the others? Well, that’s where it gets really exciting for us pessimists . . .
It could be worse.