Saturday, May 12, 2012

Polar Cities Redux: part 3 -- Polar Cities a Haven in Warming World?

One vision of a “polar city”. (Illustration by Deng Cheng-hong)

Dan Bloom, a freelance writer, translator and editor living in Taiwan, has been on on a campaign to get people to seriously consider a worst-case prediction of the British chemist and inventor James Lovelock: life in “polar cities” arrayed around the shores of an ice-free Arctic Ocean in a greenhouse-warmed world. Of course, in a recent interview with Ian Johnston at MSNBC, Lovelock backtracked a bit on his time frame, saying the shite won't hite the fan until around 2500 AD or so, not 2100 as he earlier "predicted." But Lovelock still believes in climate change and global warming, but now at age 93, he says it will happen much more slowly, glacially in fact, than he had earlier said in 2006.

Dr. Lovelock, who in 1972 conceived of Earth’s crust, climate and veneer of life as a unified self-sustaining entity, Gaia, still foresees humanity in full pole-bound retreat within a century as areas around the tropics roast — a scenario far outside even the worst-case projections of climate scientists. But the time frame has been moved back to 2500 or so.

After reading a newspaper column in which Dr. Lovelock predicted these earlier disastrous warming, Mr. Bloom (a frequent comment poster on Dot Earth) teamed up with Deng Cheng-hong, a Taiwanese artist, and set up Web sites showing designs for self-sufficient Arctic communities. Now he has teamed up with Oklahoma novelist Jim Laughter to produce and package the world's first cli fi novel about polar cities, titled POLAR CITY RED, and written entirely by Mr Laughter himself.

Mr. Bloom told me the New York Times in 2008 that his intent with his PR campaign to raise public awareness about polar cities was to conduct a thought experiment that might prod people out of their comfort zone on climate — which remains, for many, a someday, somewhere issue. Now, with Mr Laughter's novel, POLAR CITY RED, the ideas about polar cities have entered the realm of literature and science fiction, what some call CLI FI even.

Andrew Revkin of  the New York Times interviewed Dr. Lovelock some years ago on his now-recanted dire climate forecast and prescriptions — and also his ultimately optimistic view that humans will muddle through, albeit with a greatly reduced population. There’s a video of the chat with Dr. Lovelock at Dot Earth.

“At six going on eight billion people,” Dr. Lovelock told Revkin in 2006, “the idea of any further development is almost obscene. We’ve got to learn how to retreat from the world that we’re in. Planning a good retreat is always a good measure of generalship.”

The retreat, he insists, will be toward the poles. And it still will be, despite the MSNBC viral interview. Lovelock has not really changed his mind, just the time frame of climapocalypse. So Jim Laughter's novel still stands and still has something important to say. Read it.

It’s a dubious scenario, particularly on time scales shorter than centuries. But — as Dot Earth has  written extensively in recent years — there is already an intensifying push to develop Arctic resources and test shipping routes that could soon become practical should the floating sea ice in the Arctic routinely vanish in summers.

Sensing the shift, the U.S. Coast Guard has proposed establishing its first permanent Arctic presence, a helicopter station in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States.

It’s not a stretch to think of Barrow as a hub for expanding commercial fishing and trade through the Bering Strait.

The strategic significance of an opening Arctic recently made the pages of Foreign Affairs magazine, in an article by one of my longtime sources on this issue, Scott Borgerson, a former Coast Guard officer who is now a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“It is no longer a matter of if, but when, the Arctic Ocean will open to regular marine transportation and exploration of its lucrative natural-resource deposits,” he wrote.

So even if humanity isn’t driven to Arctic shores by climate calamity at lower latitudes, it’s a sure bet that the far north will be an ever busier place. Urban planners, get out your mukluks.

In the meantime, scientists, marathon runners, and others are already making the North Pole a busy place. And Jim Laughter's novel is sure to wake a lot of people up! Read it this summer for sure!

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