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bring back the wolf

Went to see The Day after Tomorrow yesterday, thinking it would probably be less depressing than my first-choice film that night (a lesbian S/M sex comedy). Required watching for the apocalypse watcher, with wow-shots drawn from the golden age of J G Ballard covers, gleeful orgies of iconic landmark destruction and a genuinely chilling moment as Ian Holm watches the disaster beginning on an inadequate computer in an underfunded research centre miles from anywhere. Then a storm surge somewhat implausibly engulfs New York and we're back on familiar territory with a thump. Only America could make a jolly, optimisic film about a mass extinction event. Through the forest of estranged fathers, shy young lovers and cancer children there's the occasional glimpse of the loss of life and world-as-we-know-it, but casualties are mostly glossed over so chirpily that the occasional corpse just looks embarassing. Meanwhile the main characters flirt with (but don't experience) loss while plot-driven threats, stupidity and wild exaggeration try desperately to make it look as if they are in danger. They aren't, of course (this is Hollywood) and the stupidity just gets annoying: you don't have to ignore a dirty 30cm gash to die of blood poisoning, you don't burn books if you have bookshelves, people can easily freeze to death without the help of supercooled air (!) from the Troposphere, and three scrawny wolves escaped from a zoo are hardly a credible threat. Cold-weather portrayal/survival looked TV-movie sloppy, too, in close up. Some of the long shots, though... I would have swopped any number of cheesy CGI wolves for a tidal bore sweeping up the Hudson River, fleets of trawlers disappearing into a massive low pressure sink, or a real rainstorm, the sort that's blinding. Still, until the next blockbuster it's got everyone debating and/or denying the dangers of climate change, so, good enough.

Poll #308722 pick your own climate apocalypse

With all this on my mind, folk of the internet, please pick your climate apocalypse scenario. Of the five options, one is only moderately apocalyptic, one is unlikely to be much of a bother to anyone except the wandering jew, and at least one is arguably already happening, but which do you adhere to? You may pick your favourite, or the one you think is most likely.

Chaos will out: Bigger, more terrible storms, increasing in severity, frequency; areas of serious weather danger like Tornado Alley and Andra Pradesh increasingly uninhabitable; chaotic weather pushes the world into permanent disaster.
6(23.1%)
Linear projection: Increase in temperature continues or increases; fight against desertification becomes a failing rearguard action; forests brown, plains become dustbowls; world collapses into food crisis, forced migration and species extinctions.
8(30.8%)
Tidy correction: An environmental effect (e.g. melting ice dumping into ocean currents) triggers a mini ice age, giving us the chance to experiment with frost-resistant crops, wear fashionable mittens and reintroduce the wolf to N. Europe.
8(30.8%)
Sudden collapse: The world gets suddenly hotter; increase in carbon dioxide and water vapour triggers a positive feedback loop; after a very brief interval to wonder what went wrong a runaway greenhouse effect extinguishes all life on earth.
3(11.5%)
Normalisation: Our climate becomes more stable as the planet gradually cools over time; there will be no more ice ages; over the millenia, weather will become more stable and boring, until it finally loses momentum and stops altogether.
1(3.8%)


If you want to run this experiment in a more measured fashion, climateprediction.net are running a Seti-type "large ensemble" experiment. Download one of two climate models and see where the world is going.

Comments

applez
16th Jun, 2004 10:15 (UTC)
Donning 'former-spert' hat
I voted for "Linear Projection" ... but here's what I think:

"Increase in temperature continues or increases; fight against desertification becomes a failing rearguard action; forests brown, plains become dustbowls; world collapses into food crisis, forced migration and species extinctions." Yes, with the caveat that 'desertification' is more land-use driven than climate driven per se. But also a simultaneous increase in frequency and severity of storms, especially hitting both more-traditional areas (Bangladesh, Mississippi River) and less-traditional areas (Central Europe, Montreal Ice Storms).

It follows that with greater heat trapped, there should be greater energy intensity flowing through the climate system, changing patterns and pushing extremes.

But, ultimately, on a geological timescale, there will be another Ice Age ... and we may have to actively seek a carbon-intense burn strategy those 6,000-10,000 years from now to 'manage' the climate to protect our species - assuming we're still around then, and that is a gross assumption.

On a scale of 1-10 for probability, I would assign a value of 1.5-2.0 for the possibility of rapid climate change - bringing on disasterous heating & choas in as little as a decade (or less! TM). And 0.1-0.5 for a rapid climate change leading to a new Ice Age.*

*Frankly, whatever the storminess and the damage that does, it's going to take quite a lot of time to build up the polar ice - and all current trends point in quite the opposite direction. Moreover, taking that geologic timescale in mind, another ice ige might prove a boon for greater living space and cultivation area as seas recede.
cleanskies
16th Jun, 2004 14:54 (UTC)
ah-ha!
I was wondering if anyone would complain that they wanted to combine the disasters. They are, of course, as combinable as lego.
cleanskies
17th Jun, 2004 04:24 (UTC)
desertification is land-use driven, certainly
... but don't certain climatic situations make environments more vulnerable to it? Deforestation and aggressive overgrazing do a lot less damage in temperate zones, so contraction of these and expansion of hot/dry will make any fight against desertification harder ...

applez
17th Jun, 2004 06:42 (UTC)
Re: desertification is land-use driven, certainly
... but don't certain climatic situations make environments more vulnerable to it? Deforestation and aggressive overgrazing do a lot less damage in temperate zones, so contraction of these and expansion of hot/dry will make any fight against desertification harder ...

Actually, I have to disagree. Take Britain alone as a temperate land-use model...much of the herding & forest-clearing over the centuries has reduced vegetative cover to such a point that present day biotic productivity is historically low, with elevated soil erosion to boot. Not to put too fine a point on it, but bits of the Yorkshire had far less rock visible, and substantially more heather.

Granted, Britain is no Sahel where this land-use 'thinning out' of biotic response options is more extreme. Ultimately though, regardless of given climate or geography, these land uses do make the terrain more vulnerable to climate effects, I'll give you that. (Hence my 'per se' statement from the beginning) But I would argue that in the absence of human land-(ab)use, these ecologies would stand far better chance of adapting to climate change...which indicates to me a stronger role/driver for/from human land-use decisions.

cleanskies
17th Jun, 2004 06:51 (UTC)
bring back the wolf - get rid of the sheep
I didn't say no damage, I said less damage (I was thinking about scottish mountains -- where there ought to be forest, there is now only sheep) but perhaps I'm just falling into the trap of thinking some (any) vegetation is better than none.
applez
17th Jun, 2004 07:10 (UTC)
Re: bring back the wolf - get rid of the sheep
perhaps I'm just falling into the trap of thinking some (any) vegetation is better than none.

No, you are generally correct - but the reality on the ground probably defies any easy general statements. :-)
applez
17th Jun, 2004 07:12 (UTC)
Re: bring back the wolf - get rid of the sheep
Also...

Much of the Sahel, for an extreme example, has rough scrub vegetation (as well as some forms of trees) btw...