The End of the World as We Know It

Roland Stahl
April, 2019

     Unless you have not been paying attention at all, you are probably noticing that the science seems to be getting more and more conclusive that our planet is in the throes of a major shift in its climate, which will affect all of its flora and fauna (that would be us over here, among the fauna).  Whenever some symptom of the warming planet is mentioned, it seems to be happening six times faster and be six times worse than was previously imagined.  It is easy enough to see what will happen ~ this world and its people, having thoroughly despoiled and ruined the planet, will just watch helplessly as life gets harder and harder for the dwindling number of survivors, as the planet dries out and life dies off.  

     But what if somehow the world were to get it together on some program under which they could make a coordinated effort to restore fertility to the surviving biosphere?  What would such a world look like?  It would have to include a massive planting of trees, of course, but many other aspects of life would never be the same.  The huge burn-off of fossil fuels of the last century, all the while denuding the planet of Her essential tree cover, has left the planet depleted and helpless in the face of this relentless assault.  

     The transition to all electric vehicles can’t happen soon enough, and bicycles will make a big come-back as the most efficient means of transportation ever devised.  As to air travel, both human passengers as well as cargo will have to make other arrangements.  (If you want some Maine lobster, you will have to get on your bicycle and pedal to Maine for it.)

     One of the other arrangements might be super-efficient sailboats that would incorporate huge arrays of solar panels to provide electric power for all of the boat’s systems and also power screw propellers for additional propulsion.  The solar propellers might be more powerful during the heat of the day when the wind may be calm, but then the sails might power the ships during the night.  In addition to sails, wind turbines might also be installed.  Some turbines might generate electric power, and some of them might drive screw propellers by direct mechanical transmission of energy.  

     Obviously, all shipping will become very expensive, adding greatly to the cost of anything imported from any distance.  This will have a big impact on food production and distribution, eating habits, and lifestyle changes.  There would probably be far more family farms everywhere, producing food in situ, avoiding all of the costs of transport.  Local farmers’ markets would probably provide the limits of most people’s access to food, and imported food and other goods would always be very expensive.  Most people’s ordinary locomotion would probably be confined to the limit of what they could comfortably do on their bicycle.  People like Marco Polo would be rare, or they would do it on bicycle.  

     The problem with electric cars and electric trucks and electric busses and trains is that it starts adding up to a lot of energy.  “A few billion gigawatts of energy here, a few billion there, and pretty soon we’re talking about real money.”  And this increased demand for electrical energy, of course, is all happening at the same time that nuclear power plants and coal-fired power plants are all being shut down, and the remaining “fossil fuels” will become much too expensive to burn up as fuel.  Two of the most obvious consequences of all of this will be a large hike in the cost of electric power, and a surge of interest in the development of both solar and wind resources, along with any other technology that offers.  

     One idea I had was to mitigate the effects of a warming planet on tropical storms by mining the energy of the storms.  I envisage enormous armadas of monstrous wind machines, perhaps permanently mounted in the paths of the prevailing winds.  If these turbines were automatically geared to maximize the production of electric power during a storm, they could literally undermine most of the energy out of those storms, turning them from lions into kittens as they hit our climate defenses in the Gulf of Mexico or east of Vietnam and the Philippines, all of which, incidentally, would contribute an enormous amount of power to the energy grid.  

     Yes, it’s the end of the world as we know it, but perhaps life can go on, in one way or another.  In many ways the new energy realities will make improvements to life.  The essential restoration of the family farm, where food is grown on every property, will be a great improvement in the quality of life over those endless tracts of land and houses where there is little or no edible vegetation for mile after endless mile.  It’s not a joke to say that the whole planet has to be cultivated as a garden ~ the problem of soil erosion, the topsoil, the diffusion of toxic waste ~ all of these issues must be addressed immediately if there is to be any hope of rescuing this thin and fragile biosphere from the depredations caused by the folly and negligence of the human race.  

     It is also obvious that there will have to be fewer people on the planet.  I don’t know what the limit of population might be before the stress on the planet be too great to endure, but I am sure we are way over that limit.  The financial costs of bringing another life onto the planet will have to be addressed, perhaps with a simple “baby tax.”  The amount of the tax could be adjusted until the birth rate stabilize.  

     But the whole political and economic structure of the world is in chaos, and all of that will have to be sorted out before much meaningful progress can be made to restore what’s left of the biosphere to fertility.

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