The Earth Blog is a collection of personal thoughts, ideas and solutions in search of a future for this planet.
It only contains original work. These essays provide many of the tools needed to allow people to make a better world for the future - a world worth living in. Please take some time to read them.
We only have one world - let's treat it well.
Keith Farnish, Earth.
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I can see the waves lapping slowly along the road, the silt creating pools of alternately transparent and opaque water, occasionally revealing yellow and white lines where cars and trucks once parked. Personal vehicles were eventually replaced by buses and bicycles, the new rules that controlled the carbon making our air once again fresh, free of choking fumes. Children could go out into the street and play without gulping in lungfuls of sulphur dioxide or being encircled by the restless sea of traffic. The buses don’t run any more. Cars remain rusting in garages.
The town holds its breath waiting for the next tide, full of arctic water that shed itself from the last remnants of the great northern ice sheets pushing the seas higher, and people further from the low shores that once teemed with human life - now only fit for mangroves and salt marsh. But marshes don’t survive where storms keep driving the sea fiercely against the land. They wash away, leaving us exposed, naked. Waiting to be taken.
This year, 2030, was meant to signify the hope of a new future, something realistic to aim for. Hope faded when we realised we couldn't make things better, despite all our best efforts.
We learnt to call 2018 the year of divergence. Carbon dioxide production peaked in 2014. The USA had pushed hard for a low-carbon economy years before, and by 2012 had achieved the impossible dream. Carbon emissions dipped below 1990 levels and kept going down as we learnt the value of the "off" switch, that we didn't have to drive to be human, that oil and gas - which had all but peaked 2 years earlier - were not going to come back for thousands, if not millions of years.
China, the great Threat in the East, vilified in the very early part of the 21st century when its carbon emissions exceeded that of the USA, had also listened, though not for the same reasons. After countless deaths caused by chronic lung disease had become public during the Beijing Olympics, the only option had been to embrace clean technology, and push back the seemingly unstoppable growth that coal was allowing. The great wind farms and solar arrays that China boasted could be seen from space, unaided, powered a less energy hungry economy, and other nations followed - India, Brazil, Russia.
As the carbon emissions dropped, and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remained below 450 parts per million, the temperatures kept rising, far faster than had been predicted. At first it was written off as an anomaly, like the anomalies that the climate change sceptics wrote off in the first 5 years of the 21st century. Then the graphs of temperature and carbon dioxide diverged dramatically. We realised the scientists had got it so wrong. Suddenly, it wasn't our fault - the atmosphere and the Sun was toying with us, as it had with life for billions of years, and there was nothing we could do. The media brimmed with gleeful articles written by formerly rogue scientists, and comments from columnists who said they had known it all along. The skeptics were overjoyed…for a while.
Those that could afford to fled inland, to higher ground in the remaining cool parts of the world. The rest - the majority - were left to fester by the stinking shoreline that moved ever further inland, while the scorched lands near the tropics pushed countless millions north, to wherever sanctuary could be found.
I can only sit in my cramped apartment, watching the rising horizon, up and up, building and rolling inexorably, dreamily rolling towards the formless coast. I close my eyes but still the image plays on. My final tide, funnelled by the estuary walls, raised by the shallowing sea floor and pursued by the relentless wind. I hold my breath, wishing to pass out before the great rush of water takes me.
I am under water…
…I am awake.
The bright light in the clear morning air is harsh against my bloodshot, teary eyes. As I step out of the bed I feel only dry wood against the soles of my feet. The low but distinctive rumble of a hydrogen bus causes tiny ripples in my water glass. Children shout as they walk to school.
People brought up in the "developed" world before 2007 were ingrained with a blissful sense of guiltlessness. Ever since we could listen we had been taught to think, "it's not my fault". The teachers were the tobacco companies, the paranoid anti-Communists, the oil multinationals, the ambulance chasing lawyers. We were sold the finest quality blinkers, with inbuilt television and surround sound. We no longer knew how to criticise what we had created.
Then someone wrote something that shook humans out of their collective, ill-conceived state of sensory deprivation. It was our fault that the climate started changing faster than any animal, including ourselves, could adapt to.
Even in 2015 when the Dow Jones and the FTSE was abandoned in favour of the Sustainability Index.
Even in 2020 when we stopped manufacturing herds of cattle - methane machines - for our own purposes.
Even in 2025 when both the area and richness of the Earth's forests exceeded those of 50 years before.
Even now, in 2030, when we have finally managed to stabilise carbon dioxide at a safe level. The threat of global disaster didn’t come to pass only because we, as a species, recognised the problem that we had created. We worked together as a global community, making it possible for future generations of humans and the multitude of other species on this planet to thrive.
It is still our fault - our responsibility – but as long as we can remember that, then we still have a future on Earth.
The Earth Blog’s “What If…” articles are thought experiments. The situations proposed are never likely to occur, but it is sometimes essential to go to extremes to see what kind of difference extreme situations could make to the planet.