Saturday, January 14, 2012

Northward Ho? American novelist Jim Laughter pens climate fiction 'wake-up call'

By Staff Writer

Just about four years ago, I wrote about an American climate activist named Dan Bloom who said he ''thinks it's time to figure out how to build self-sustaining cities in the polar regions because climate change will eventually make most of Earth uninhabitable."

These polar cities may be "humankind's only chance for survival if global warming really turns into a worldwide catastrophe in the far distant future, say 30 generations fom now in 2500 or as early as 2300," Bloom told me in an interview
in 2008.

I noted then that Bloom wasn't a scientist or any other kind of expert, but that with his polar cities campaign, he wanted to shake people out their everyday indifference to the great emergency of our age: climate change.

"Life goes on as usual and only a few people are doing anything about climate change and most don't want to even think or talk about it," Bloom told me four years ago.

Fast foward to 2012.

Bloom has found someone, a novelist, who is talking about polar cities in print -- in a new novel titled ''POLAR CITY RED'' that is set in Alaska in 2080, not so far away from
today. His name is Jim Laughter, and his book is the first novel ever to delve into the idea of polar cities for survivors of climate chaos in the future. Sure, it's just a story,
a good old-fashioned yarn, science fiction, climate fiction, and Laughter, like Bloom, is no scientist. But the two men seem to be on the same page
regarding the perils of global warming, Bloom, 63, with his Polar Cities Research Institute blogs and Laughter, 60, with his new cli-fi novel.

Bloom told me in 2008 and tells me again in 2012 that he hopes people will realise that the world is on a path that could possibly lead to a future where just a few hundred million people survive in specially-designed cities in the Arctic. Originally he imagined this might happen 500 years from now. But scientists tell him it could happen far sooner than that.

Bloom has contacted scientists, experts, reporters, and many others around the world about his polar cities idea. A few years ago, a Google keyword search for "polar cities" would have produced no results. Today, there are nearly 300 sites that feature or offer comment on Bloom's idea, including one with a series of polar cities illustrations.

Bloom's Quixotic quest began in 2006. Having heard various conflicting news reports about climate change, Bloom decided to research the subject as thoroughly as he could. The genesis of the polar cities idea came from a dire op-ed by the eminent British scientist James Lovelock in January 2006 in the Independent newspaper.

Lovelock wrote that the Earth will heat up far faster than any scientist expects due to many positive feedbacks such as melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice. "... Before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable," he wrote.

Lovelock's viewpoint was widely criticised as excessively pessimistic fear-mongering by many experts. No stranger to controversy, Lovelock first proposed the "Gaia Hypothesis" of Earth as a single highly complex organism in the 1970s. In October 2007, with many leading scientists listening, he reiterated his claim that "global heating" is progressing very fast and was likely to produce an apocalyptic six-degree C. rise in the global average temperature before the end of this century.

If catastrophic climate change was a very real possibility, why not start now to prepare sustainable polar retreats just in case. More importantly, simply imagining that polar cities may be needed one day for the very survival of the human race might wake people to the threat climate change poses, he says.

"We're really in an emergency - we can't go on normally," Bloom argues.

But polar cities is an idea that many climate change experts refuse to consider. Most of the climate scientists that I contacted for this story in 2007 and 2008 declined to comment, and it's more or less the same in 2012. Those who did respond said that imagining such a future is not productive when humanity needs to focus on "how the world can drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions".

"It's silly to think 200 or 300 years into future, it's more useful to think 20 or 30 years out," said Ross Gelbspan, a former Washington Post-Boston Globe reporter and author of several books on climate change.

Gelbspan has done a great deal of thinking about the near future as the impacts of climate change take hold. There is no stopping the future deaths of millions of people from climate change, he believes. The only question is how many millions. His future scenarios range from a totalitarian nightmare in response to climate-driven mass migrations and social chaos to real world peace. His best guess today is we will see those extremes, and everything in between.

"We need to start talking about the kind future we want to have," Gelbspan told me in 2007.

Talking to young people is especially important, since it is their future. And it's important to offer alternatives and solutions. Wind farms, for example, could easily replace all of the U.S. energy produced by coal and oil, he says.

"What's the resistance to widespread use of renewables?" Gelbspan wonders.

In the U.S., he says the answer is to get the money out of politics. Oil, coal and other industries make major financial contributions in a country where presidential candidates spend tens of millions of dollars to get elected. As a result, the next U.S. president is unlikely to make the necessary drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Bloom doesn't have answers. He knows there is a serious problem that we aren't addressing.

"Life on Earth is very fragile but we're screwing things up," he told me in 2007 and repeats again in 2012. "I'm going to spend the last years of my life pushing this idea of polar cities to wake people up."

But now he has found Jim Laughter's novel ''POLAR CITY RED'' to help spread the word about polar cities and the very real possibility that humanity might need them to survive
the coming Long Emergency, to use a term coined by futurist James Howard Kunstler. I'd order your copy of the book today if I were you. It's that good -- and prophetic!

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