Tuesday 6 January 2009

When we Take Over the Weather

I suppose this time of year often sets me thinking down one of my favorite trains of thought.

And it concerns our environment.
We worry a lot about our environment, and with good reason. Though I'm not sure we're perhaps as logical about environmental issues as maybe we should be.

In a sense, our survival and our thriving are linked, of course, to our environment. The survival of any species is linked to its ability to adapt to environments. We, however, have added to that; the potential ability to adapt environments to suit ourselves.

I think sometimes, when I expound my vision of the future the one aspect of it people don't always care for, is that yes, it is a tamed world I look forward to. A world entirely under the control of man. A world where at a fundamental level, everything is under our control.
A world where the weather itself is controlled so that no extremes of climate exist, every portion of the globe is perpetually temperate. There are no real wildernesses, just large areas of artificial wildernesses which exist as parks, where nature can be allowed to exist, tamed, under our control. The numbers of all species will be under our control. No species can become a problem, but no species can go extinct either.

And some look at this concept with horror.

A world where the entire atmosphere and weather are controlled by satellites, almost like a kind of air conditioning system. That one day the UN will actually have responsibility for controlling and maintaining the artificial environment of Earth as one of its functions.

The thing is, of course, the logic that one day this should be so, is overwhelming.

The first point is that organic life has always changed the chemical composition of the environment since time began. The soil our world is built on was created by millions of years or organic life, all of the Oxygen we breathe represents the Oxygen surplus created by the burying under the ground of the Carbon extracted by plants over millions of years in the form of fossil fuels. Animals evolved to survive on a waste product of plants not present before life existed. We live in a world sculpted by life.
And yet, of course, our very existence changes that.

And our overwhelming success as a species, also affects every other life form on the planet. We are only starting to come to terms with what our existence means for every other species, but let's look at the fact.

Large mammals. If you're a member of the Orders Carnivora, Perrisodactyla, or Cetartiodactyla, you're either one of the most successful species ever, or you verge on extinction. And what has been the determining factor in deciding that?

Utility to man.

Pigs, Cows, Sheep, Dogs, Cats, are successful species. Horses, verging on extinction just ten thousand years ago, markedly so.

Tapirs, Tigers, Pandas, in trouble.

Life generally, has taken a new turn. The determining factor in the survival of species now is whether they are useful to man, or at least, don't get in his way.

One can debate the ethics of this forever, but ultimately, it will still remain true that whatever approach we adopt, the facts will be the same. It will depend on our choice.

And one could argue that in fact, the best approach of all, is to maintain an environment most suitable for preserving the conditions in which we ourselves evolved and allows us to fully adopt the role of guardians of life on Earth.

In other words, we cannot help BUT alter the world. What we can do, is use our technology to control that. In other words, rather than asking the question what can we do NOT to affect things, we should ask whether it is possible to counteract those effects. Can we control the Earth's atmosphere. And the answer to that, undoubtedly, is yes. We could regulate the whole thing by satellites. And of course, if we did, there would be the temptation to improve it. To turn the whole world into a temperate zone. No more Sahara, no more Kalahari.
Why would we do that?

Well, pressure. People would start to demand that we did, once they had got used to the idea that the weather was controlled by Man. And besides, once we'd started terraforming our neighbours, people would wonder we held back in doing on Earth, what we did to far fuller effects elsewhere. People would wonder why it was only Earth that had areas that now were uninhabitable for humans.

But there is another, deeper reason why one day we will opt to have the environment of our planet artificially controlled.

Because it could very well happen tomorrow, that the environment we have now- goes.

The last ten thousand years, have been a blip.

We sit here worrying about how our activities are causing global warming, when in fact that's not really what we should be worrying about. In fact, we should be thinking very hard about trying to keep this planet warmer than it would be if left to nature.

We talk about the last Ice Age, as if it was a far off period, a temporary cooling in which Mammoths and Woolly Rhinos roamed and we think of it as another time. And there were other Ice Ages before that, most people dimly know. Periods of extreme cold, between the warm periods.

Not quite.

Since the start of the Pliocene, five million years ago, the world has essentially been in one long Ice Age. The reason for this is unclear. But the NORMAL condition of Earth for the last five million years, has been what most people see, as Ice Age conditions. It's just that every fifty thousand to a hundred thousand years, there's been a little warm spell, lasting on average, five thousand years.

We're in such a warm spell.

And it lasted long enough for agriculture to get off the ground. Indeed we were lucky, it lasted much longer than the average warm spell, we're still in it, and we've built an amazing global civilisation.

But six billion of us exist and we have got used to a world in which large parts of the continental landmasses aren't icesheets or tundra.

What happens when Mother Earth calls time on our Indian Summer and Earth returns to being Planet Narnia?

Because it's long overdue.

Because this won't be manmade change. This will be the world returning to it's NORMAL weather system. And the NORMAL weather system of Earth, is not the one that has existed in recorded human history.

To keep the world the way mankind has got used to it being, will mean defying nature and artificially keeping the Earth warm.
Because it will actually be true, that even on Earth, mankind's civilisation cannot exist in natural conditions.

I must admit, I do look forward to the effect that will have on human culture. Because obviously, we'll opt to go against nature. To preserve ourselves. But from that point on, it will have come to pass that all human environments, are artificial ones. And that will change how we see ourselves.

The day planning the weather for next year, becomes like the annual budget.


Anonymous said...

This makes me think of the character of Malcolm in Michael Creighton's Jurassic Park who warns: "Nature will find a way." I think the hubris of man blinds us to the bigger picture of which we are only a minute part.

Anonymous said...

If we don't kill ourselves first by tinkering with the environment, we'll probably eventually be able to control it. I know I won't be around to see it, and I don't think I'd like it anyway.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a Great idea. Could you arrange a bit of sun tomorrow to dry me pants?

Many thanks in anticipation.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting idea - controling the climate. I think we'll never get there because we won't be able to reach an agreement between ourselves...should it rain or shine today? Six in one hand, half a dozen in the other. It would be akin to the age old question...What's for dinner? What we should have and what we do have are usually two different things.
No one can agree in our house!
Nice concept though. :)

Anonymous said...

Cut down the methane, eat less beans!

Anonymous said...

And some look at this concept with horror

Well, count me in as one who does!

Interesting line of reasoning, though.

Anonymous said...

VR- Michael Creighton! Now there was a man with only one basic idea. Westworld, Andromedas Strain, then Westworld meets Andromeda strain (Jurassic Park).

Have faith in Mankind :)

Charles- Right now, I'm thinking I'd quite like it...
This country can often be a teeny bit too hot in summer, but right now it's bloody freezing. -10 degrees here and they reckon 12 OAPs are dieing every hour.

I've been mugged- You may have to wait a few years.

Sweet Cheeks- I would imagine we'lll work it out annually. How much rain we need, etc.
Weather forecasts won't be forecasts, they'll actually always be correct :)

Nunyaa- That's actually true! Cows are supposed to do more damage to the ozone layer than pollution, some scientists say. We humans have too many cows.

Selena- But wouldn't it be nice to know for sure when it's going to rain?
To lie out in the sun and know it's going to be sunny as long aqs they say it is?

Anonymous said...


We won't even need to worry about the army quelling the revolution.

The greenies will do it for them.

I guess you haven't been exposed to the more militant conservationists as yet.

Anonymous said...

Is that so :)

Thanks for the constructive comment.

I don't mean to be sarcastic, I actually like you, I do, but sometimes...

I have strong opinions myself, I do. They come across in my posts, I'm sure.
But you express yourself quite bluntly. And I must admit I find that a bit disconcerting in some ways. Don't get me wrong- I've been places where people did express themselves that bluntly. But one expected it there, of those sorts of people.

I guess I sometimes feel that you're a highly intelligent woman, quite clearly. And you have a lot more to add than you do.