Saturday, September 17, 2011

''THERE IS NO RETURN FROM VENUS!'' -- Mike Roddy and Dan Bloom discuss climate change, global warming, polar cities and media coverage of vital climate issues


Dan Bloom is an American climate activist based in Taiwan. Mike Roddy is a screenwriter in California. This back and forth chat [audio link] took place online in the middle of September of the year 2011, for those readers looking back in time from the future of say the year 2099 or 3055 AD.

Dan Bloom: Human-made global warming
is at the top of our radar screens now, with James Lovelock and Mark
Lynas and George Monbiot and James
Hansen, not to mention, Al Gore, making sure we don't ignore the
issues. What is your take, Mike, on global warming
and what can we do now to try to stop it from causing devastating
climate chaos in some distant future, say 500 years from now?
Or do you think things will happen sooner than that, sooner than 30
generations from now?

Mike Roddy: The science has advanced in sync with disastrous weather events in the last two years. MIT came out with
predictions exceeding IPCC worst case by 2100, or in the 10 F range. That means catastrophe. Polar cities
will be under construction before the end of the 21st century.

Dan Bloom: For the past 5 years, I have been exploring the concept of
polar cities" as climate refuges for climate refugees in
some distant future, perhaps around the year 2500 AD. But for some
reason, I cannot get the mainstream media in the USA or the UK to report
on my admittedly eccentric and also admittedly "self-appointed visionary"
ideas on this. Why do you think the media is afraid to even
engage with me? Except for one small report in a blog on the New York
Times "Dot Earth" site a few years ago, which was mostly
presented in a humorous, "cute" way --which was fine with me -- not
one newspaper or magazine or website in North America
or Europe or Australia will talk with me. Nobody will interview me or
present my ideas for polar cities, pro or con? Why do you think this
is, this silence about "polar cities"? Of course, I am not famous, and
I have no PHD and am not connected with any university or group,
so I basically do not exist for the mainstream media's criteria since
I am not an "expert." I accept all that. But why can't even one
or magazine or website engage with me about polar cities, as a mere
idea? What are they so afraid of?

Mike Roddy: The two words "afraid of" is the operative phrase. Media outlets are somewhat afraid of fanning
panic, but are far more afraid of losing advertisers, which include auto, fuel, and utility companies.
Media income is in decline, especially in print. TV doesn't lend itself to hard scientific analysis,
and events even a few decades away are too abstract for most of their audience.
Your polar cities idea absolutely deserves a wide audience, not only because it's a good predictor, but
due to its clarification of what life will actually be like. I did a little research here myself- buildings
can already be taken out by an infantryman, with hand held ordnance. Underground living, with either rock or
reinforced concrete for strength, will become common.

Dan Bloom: I envision polar cities serving as climate refuges for
climate refugess in the northern regions of the world around 500 years
from now.
James Lovelock is my teacher here, and I got the idea indirectly from
him, and he knows of my work on polar cities and has even seen my
illustrations and proposals by email. He wrote back to me by email two
years ago: "Thanks for sharing your polar cities ideas and images with
me. It may very well happen.... and soon!"
But I cannot get the mainstream media or any serious reporter anywhere
in the world to interview me on this topic. So I decided to ask a published author in Texas -- with ten sci fi novels already to his credit -- to write a
novel about
polar cities, a trilogy perhaps, but first just one novel, about 250 pages, with a working title now of "Polar
City Story: Arrival" -- to be maybe followed by ''Polar City Story 2: Awakening" and
finally "Polar City Story 3: Going Home." I am
working with a published novelist in Texas on the books, and we intend
the stories to be both entertainment and instruction. I want the books
to be first of all, a very good yarn,
wonderful storytelling and pure entertainment. My ghostwriter -- really the main writer, it is his book, his story, and only his name will appear on the cover -- is working on it now. The stories are set in
the near future, in 2080 AD, when the world population has been
reduced from 9 billion to just
200,000 men and women and children living desperate lives in a few
scattered "polar cities" in the north, from Alaska to Canada to
Russia. And in New Zealand and Tasmania, too.
But the story we want to tell will take place in North America. We don't
want to scare people. We want to first, entertain readers, and then
have the books also serve as an alarm bell,
a warning, about global warming, about how if we do not take action
now to stop climate change, then polar cities might become a reality.
I don't want polar cities to ever become
a reality. Do you think readers -- and reviewers -- will go for this
kind of storytelling, Mike?

Mike Roddy: Sure they will, and I like your idea of telling simple human stories in that environment.
Mammals don't evolve very fast, so we'll be telling the same jokes etc inside our shells, too. The timeframe
for polar cities looks to me to be about 100 years away, if not sooner.

Dan Bloom: Readers often respond to dystopian novels with the thought
of "Oh no, it can't happen here." For example, people
find it hard to believe that anyone could even imagine a novel where a
corporation send a virus through the world via sex pills. They
simply don't want to believe it. Do you think people could be drawn
into a well-told story about polar cities serving as lifeboats, as
saviors of humankind?
Or is all that nonsense to people today?

Mike Roddy: You've got a great idea for a novel or movie. A screenwriter friend in Hollywood is
running with something similar. My own screenplay was a bit too political, but a better one would
be effective and important.

Dan Bloom: I have envisioned polar cities for use 500 years from now,
30 human generations from now, not now. But in our book now in progess, in the novel we are calling a "polar western" -- ''the world's first polar western'', as Scotland-based novelist Hamish MacDonald said to me the other day -- life will be desperate and dystopian. But of course, now life is wonderful. No
need to worry.
Yet, I worry about the distant future. I feel that a novel about polar
cities just might help the media to get used to the idea and maybe
broaching the subject with newspaper and magazine readers. Not science
fiction, but a kind of dytopia fiction, a bit of Mad Max mixed in with
Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." Do you think there are readers out there
who would go for such a book, even as mere entertainment and fiction?

Mike Roddy: Your ghostwriter's novel will find an audience if it's written well, no question. Let me know if I can help.

Dan Bloom: I sometimes call myself  "James Lovelock's Accidental
Student." Because it was a remark he made in an interview in 2006 that
gave rise to
my thinking about polar cities. He said that in the future there might
be "breeding pairs in the Arctic" after global warming had caused
billions of people to die off
in unimagiable disasters caused by climate chaos. He said there might
be just 200,000 people left on Earth, mostly in the north, and they
would serve
as breeding pairs to keep the human species going in the far north. I
said to myself: so where will these breeding pairs live, in what kind
of homes or villages?
And the image of polar cities came into my mind, back in 2006, and I
began furiously blogging about them. But nobody has ever taken me
seriously. Only
Dr Lovelock has replied to me. Everyone else in the field of climate
research and climate studiea ignores me. They think I am nuts. Five
hundreds years from now?
They don't want to think that far ahead. What's holding people back,
do you think?

Most people only care about their present lives, their
families and loved ones and friends now, and their children and
grandchildren of course. But
every few people, and especially politicians who set policy, care
about what happens beyond three generations from now -- or the next
election cycle. This is
what I am up against with my polar cities ideas. Very few people want
to go that far ahead, to my original polar city timeframe of around 2500 AD. Why do you think that is? What holds
people back?
Mike Roddy: The timeline needs to be advanced, so your new decision to set the polar cities novel in 2080 or so is a good one. There are lots of scenarios where only a few
hundred thousand up to maybe a few hundred million people are left in 2100, including melting permafrost, runaway fires, and ocean clathrate
releases. The tropics and most of the temperate latitudes will be uninhabitable. That leaves the poles.

Dan Bloom: Someone asked me once why I care so much about human life
500 years from now. It was actually a newspaper reporter who was
for me for a big story about polar cities three years ago -- until his
editor killed the piece before publication, without any explanation
other than that I was
a nobody and my ideas were pure nonsense -- and he asked me why I was
so concerned about life in the year 2500. I told him that I cared
I am worried that the great human experiment on Earth, our long story
on Earth, might face extinction 30 generatiosn from now if we don't
take action now
to stop global warming in its tracks. That means dialing back in a big
way on our current lifestyles and changing our
manufacture/consume/waste lifestyle
into something that's better for the planet as a whole. Yet, very few
people want to go down that road. I do. I already started walking on
it. I no longer fly
in airplanes, haven't flown since 1983, really. I haven't driven a car
for 20 years. I own a bicycle, that's all. And I care deeply about a
future that I am not going
to be here to see. I had a heart attack two years ago and my days are
numbered now. I could go anytime. Certainly before 2030. So my polar
cities ideas and books
are intended as a cri de couer. i think you understand what I am
saying here, but
why do you think it is so hard to get the mass media to pay attention to
scenarios that may not be rosy but are at the same time anchored in a
climate reality?

Mike Roddy concludes the discussion this way: The media doesn't respond much to people who are
not well-known authors. They are insecure themselves, since so many reporters have been laid off in
the last decades. They reason that if they are going to lose their job, it will be to someone with a
sales track record. Breaking into writing is like becoming a movie actor- expect to be ignored, keep
working, and hope for luck or the right chain of events- which might be personal.

Humans might deserve to go extinct, but we'll take a lot of creatures down with us, making biological
regeneration tough for every species. Hansen believes that if we burn all of the coal and the tar sands
oil- a course we are already on- we will become Venus. That's much worse than Lovelock's prediction.

There is no return from Venus. Nothing will be absorbing carbon, and life will never happen here again.

In that scenario, polar cities are a transition period, on the way to something much worse.



dan said...

Mike Roddy adds:

You should read James Hansen's book, Danny, ''Storms of my Grandchildren''.

If it gets cool, as in Snowball Earth, there are feedbacks- volcanoes, asteroids, weathering, etc. Nothing in Venus can enable life, just
like on the actual planet Venus, where it's something like 700 degrees all the time. This "extinction is forever" scenario- caused
entirely by humans burning fossil fuels- is for real.

Anonymous said...

I will just make 2 or 3 points.

The resistance to looking at the dangers is in-built in all of us; our natural brain tendencies to respond the most to immediate dangers and problems (so helpful in cave man times, but more of a limitation at times now). Freud called this denial (of what seemed less important, and it can be conscious, or more problematically, unconscious). It takes a lot of rational thinking and certain values to look into the future for potential dangers. Now, your future of 30 generations is so far away as to really seem irrelevant. So, I suggest bringing the time back into the lifetime of our grandchildren, or "sometime in the lifetime of someone alive today". In fact, your polar cities idea may already be emerging; I've read on and off about a race to the polar areas for resources and more outposts (maybe the powers-to-be want that to be kept under wraps). Science fiction is great to disarm resistance to the topic.

Hope this helps.

Dr Steve Moffic

Anonymous said...

Trusting ‘green’ science

Jason Lamantia’s recent letter to the editor of the Taipei Times in Taiwan (Letters Page, Sept. 13, 2011, page 8) suggests that the ROC TAIWAN Environmental
Protection Administration (EPA) wants to replace Mid-Autumn Festival barbecues with other activities such as gambling. However, the article he references indicates that it is not the EPA, but rather local governments proposing these activities (“Alternatives to barbecue reduce carbon footprint,” Sept. 12, page 2). Moreover, the agency acknowledges that “the carbon dioxide we will cut is relatively small.”

As for the alternatives suggested by local governments, it is particularly ironic that Kinmen is giving away a cow, in the stated belief that “cattle will not create as much carbon emissions.” Cows do not produce much carbon, but they produce a lot of methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, a cow is equivalent to about 50 percent of a car. A better prize would be to slaughter a cow, thus giving the winner a freezer full of meat, while simultaneously removing a potent source of greenhouse gases.

However, my greatest concern about the letter is reserved for Lamantia’s assertion that “the climate has always changed and so-called global warming is an elaborate hoax whose scientific credentials are nothing short of what used to be called quack science.”

First, the evidence for global warming is overwhelming. Among active climate -scientists, a recent survey found that 97.5 percent agreed that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.”

These are the people who understand the climate the best — if they say climate change is real, then we ignore such warnings at our peril. The Academies of Science from 19 countries, including Canada, the US, Germany and Japan, endorse this consensus, as do such scientific organizations as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The American Geophysical Union, the European Geosciences Union, and the Royal Meteorological Society.

The credentials of these scientists and these organizations are unimpeachable. This is not an elaborate hoax. This is not quack science.

As for historical climate change, yes, the climate has changed in the past. However, the fact that the climate change has naturally occurred is not to say that humans can not exert an influence on the direction of that change, any more than saying that because fires naturally occurred before the appearance of humans, fires can not be caused by humans. The climate changes when it is forced to and it has little regard for whether the origins of such impetus are natural or manmade. Humans have dumped a huge amount of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere over the past 150 years, so we should not be surprised when the climate reacts to it, as it is now doing.

Global warming is real, and it’s manmade. The only question is how we are going to deal with it. Giving away a cow and gambling is not an answer, but then neither is sticking one’s head in the sand.




Anonymous said...

Dear Editor

In fact, Watson was not talking about climate change at all: The quote comes from a November 1991 Forbes article, which makes no mention of the climate. Rather, it addressed: “The mythic image ... of a band of young daredevils hanging off a refinery smokestack or thrusting themselves in the path of the whaler’s harpoon.”

This is contrasted with the reality, which is that Greenpeace is “a skillfully managed business, mastering the tools of direct mail and image manipulation” with multimillion-dollar revenues. The article also explores the role of a successor to Watson in the creation of this media image, which Lamantia would have realized, had he even bothered to find and read the article for himself.

Meanwhile, the report from which Lamantia quotes, by the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research, Warm Words: How Are We Telling the Climate Story and Can We Tell It Better?, merely examined the discourse surrounding climate change. As it says in the preface, this approach was adopted because: “Putting in place effective policies to achieve [climate-friendly behavior] is clearly essential, but so too is the use of effective communications.”

The report also makes clear that “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing mankind this century ... we are emitting greenhouse gases that are warming the planet and changing our climate.”

On the other hand, the facts of climate change, to which human activity has certainly been a contributing factor, are not based on the activity of quote-mining, but have been painstakingly established by experts in the field, as a result of scientific research conducted over the last 35 years or so, the accumulation of which now form a rather weighty body of evidence published in peer-reviewed, authoritative, journals.

No evidence to the contrary has withstood closer scrutiny, and the overall picture thus suggests serious climatic problems in the short to medium-term as a result.

Personally, I prefer to believe the scientific evidence rather than unsubstantiated, even farcical, claims that climate change is a hoax.