Hothouse Earth: Beyond tipping point and into the abyss
A time traveler some two hundred years hence will not find the blue planet Earth which Gagarin described from space, instead - a dead Mars-like nightmare
Dust rather than soil, sandy strands where mighty rivers once flowed, brush rather than fields of cereals, water rationing, drinking water delivered in plastic bottles, a massive trade in black-market water, food production wholly carried out by meat factories. Cities like London, New York and Lisbon now offer tourist trips named for instance "The spires of London", or "The Isles of New York" while Lisbon and half of Portugal ceased to exist. The world's population is huddled in mega-cities as close to the Poles as possible - nobody could survive the almost year-round temperatures of 60C-70C at the equator. The year 2118.
Desperately, the time traveler presses the button to get back to Planet Earth 2018, only the violent dust storm with sustained winds of 320 kph has rendered the machine useless. The time traveler dies in 2118 but his last e-journal made it back to base on the morning of that fateful day on August 24.
"Difficult to see how this could have happened but our beautiful Planet Earth, home to so many wonderful spieces, a backdrop of deep-blue sea, light-blue skies and luxuriant green foliage is now as barren as a Moonscape. No dark peaty soil teeming with life, just dust, sand and redness everywhere. Barren. The rivers must have run dry decades ago, the sea has invaded the land. Most animal species are extinct. People live in a permanent state of emergency overlorded by the International Security Agency. Normal life-cycles as we know them have disappeared, survival is the word. Nobody lives, they try to stay alive. If only our leaders had taken things seriously instead of wasting their time on wars. I have to get back, return time set for oh niner niner zero @ 174 decimal 22009 decimal 998 on 2118.08.24".
Only the message arrived.
2018. New York.
"Yeah but come on guys cut the crap, like you guys ain't heard of cycles an' shit? My mother came from Britain and she said her village which was 50 miles inland had chalk cliffs with fossils of sea shells in them. Like how did they appear, think it was the Virgin Mary? Like Hell, these fossils show the sea level was way up there thousands of years ago. And how did the first inhabitants of the British Isles get there, did they swim? The Hell they did, they walked across from what is now the Netherlands!"
"Welcome to the Museum of London. Yes well if you would all care to gather round this map, it shows the average temperature over the last 400 thousand years and as you can see it describes perfect curves stretching over fifty thousand years, fifty thousand low then fifty thousand high... Some say this is represented in the work of Serbian Professor Milutin Milankovich in the 1920s when he linked weather and temperature cycles to the Earth's oscillating tilt, creating ocean currents such as El Niño and La Niña and the ensuing air currents dictating weather..."
"Can I ask you a question, sir?"
"Er...yes, of course".
"Why is there an exponential spike after the year 1750?"
"Bem-vindos a Lisboa, Senhoras e Senhores, Welcome to Lisbon Ladies and Gentlemen, we are happy to present the Columbus Barrier now we all know that Christopher Columbus was actually Portuguese, born in the village of Cuba in Alentejo (murmurs). Designed by Engineer Nuno Guimarães da Silva Monteiro in 2056 after the first Great Flood of Lisbon which swept away all of the downtown Pombaline area of the city, this is a hydraulic structure which channels the water up river and away from the city of Lisbon, pesenting inflatable sealed skirts reaching a height of 25 meters. It has protected Lisbon for the last quarter of a century, although to the detriment of the riverside cities of Almada, Barreiro, Seixal and Montijo on the South Bank".
And while over these years the corporations which control governments through lobbies, pulling the strings of the elected representatives of the people in Parliaments and National Assemblies and Congresses and Senates, have been bickering and using terrorists to implement policy to remove one power group and substitute it with another more friendly to their interests, an invisible storm called Hothouse Earth has taken grip of our planet like a vice. Nobody took it seriously enough, as we can see from above, and those who did were ineffective.
The generally accepted red-line temperature of two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels is a tipping point, meaning that until there, the planet has its own natural cooling systems based upon the resources it has to hand - water courses, soil, forests, the sea, at a certain temperature. Heat the system up, and the sea takes on a different temperature, the water courses dry up.
Where have all our rivers gone?
See how many lakes and rivers have disappeared over the years - many streets in European cities run along ancient rivers. Who has not heard of London's Fleet Street? The old English word Fleot means "estuary" and the River Fleet used to be exactly that, around one hundred meters wide. Paris is famous today for the Seine. But what happened to its sister river, the Bièvre? It also disappeared. In Lisbon, the area now called Sete Rios (Seven Rivers) is today a transportation hub. Where are the seven rivers? Where is Sunswick Creek in Queens, New York City? Where is Tibbets Brook, NYC? And Park River, Hartford, Connecticut? And the Negglinaya in Moscow? And the River Wein in Vienna, Austria?
Bolivia. Let us try to find Lake Poopó. You cannot find it because it has disappeared. There are cracked and decayed boats lying on parched mudflats. Now follow me across the Atlantic Ocean to North Africa, Chad. Lake Chad, once one of the largest lakes in the world, has diminished over the last fifty years from 25,000 square kilometers to 1,300 square kilometers. Thirty million people have lost their livelihoods or the food on their tables. Let us now move eastwards to the Aral Sea, formerly the fourth largest lake in the world. Today it has collapsed. Whole communities which lived from fishing and canning industries have to travel over one hundred kilometers to find the nearest shore, and no fish.
USA, California, Lake Owens dried up in 1926. The Islamic Republic of Iran. Lake Urmia. A dried-up salty mudflat replacing what was once freshwater beaches. Back to the USA, the Great Lakes. One point four average drop in water level, now in 2018.
It has already started. And the felling of trees, the devastation of forests, only compounds the problem. The ecosystem filters around half of the forty billion tons of Carbon DiOxide we spew out into the atmosphere yearly but only until a certain temperature. Pass tipping point, and we go to the map on the wall of the Museum of London where 400,000 years of perfect curves morph into a terrifying spike.
But where is Homo Sapiens Sapiens in August 2018? Fascinated by the Crimea, fascinated by the Venezuelan Bolivar, fascinated by the Trump campaign's electoral expenses, filling the ocean with plastic, dumping toxic waste into the seas around our coasts. Murdering our brothers and sisters, the animals we are supposed to cohabit with on this Planet, without a shred of respect. Bickering, squabbling, fighting. Power games, power play. Posturing. Like any herd of ungulates from the beginning of time. We have not progressed little, we have not progressed at all.
Either Sapiens Sapiens changes, or we will lose this beautiful home and all its inhabitants before our great-great-great grandchildren are born. They will never know us because they will not exist and all we have achieved will become an eternal dustbowl hurtling through space.
The question is, does Sapiens Sapiens have the capacity for change?
My thanks to Mark Leslie Mitchelson for valuable research work.
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2140269
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.