Effects of Global Warming and Useful Measures for Survival

An Immediate Problem

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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Photo courtesy of Elan Sun Star

Some of the problems brought on by global warming are here now, and much greater ones are pending right now. The matter is far more serious — and urgent — than has been let on about in public, even by alarmists. Things we need to be doing right now bear heavily on whether we survive these next few years, individually or as a nation and civilization.

Why you haven’t heard the main issues

To function as a scientist, one has to avoid being seen too far outside the limits of professional and public expectation. To be a scientist, one must do science; to do science these heavily capitalized days requires a large and unwavering flow of money and support. For any of our scientists to tell the full story would effectively mean the end of his or her career. Here is an example of what that situation has done to the news you receive:

Summary of Greenland ice-melt effects

The amount of ice still locked up in Greenland’s ice cap at this time, if melted, would release enough water to raise ocean levels 23 feet all over the Earth. Yet, what you’ve heard are predictions of anywhere from three inches to three feet by the end of this century. By when?

The Northern Hemisphere has a geologic history of sudden ice-cap collapses. Greenland’s melting has accelerated, and accelerated badly, and could well collapse into the sea within 8-12 years. Greenland’s ice cap gone into the sea would raise ocean sea levels 23 feet within that 8-12 years — not by the end of the century but between 2014 and 2018. If this happens, multiply the New Orleans floods of 2005 by some 700 times. A majority of the human race would have to be evacuated.

In the Northern Hemisphere, 15,000 or so years ago the ice cap over the British Isles suddenly collapsed, flooding the Mediterranean Basin.

A little later the ice cap over Scandinavia collapsed, lifting ocean levels another hundred feet or so.

Over central North America, we saw a recurrent situation where the ice cap built up and suddenly collapsed out through what is now the spectacular Columbia Gorge and basin. These were abrupt floods, with little or no warning.

Now it transpires that melting has accelerated in Antarctica as well, not only in Greenland. I don’t know what the geological record is in the Southern Hemisphere, especially as regards sudden collapses of ice caps, nor do we know when; but simple measurements tell us that if the ice cap there goes, oceanic sea level will increase by 200 feet.

In the Northern Hemisphere, we have had an impressive geological history of suddenness, not only of warming and ice-cap collapse, but of sudden freezes. The onset of the last Ice Age was so sudden that it caught all those animals across Siberia, including woolly mammoths, so suddenly that they were perfectly preserved all these thousands of years later, even with the food in their stomachs.

I don’t know enough to say whether similar suddenness holds in the Southern Hemisphere. So far as I know, geologists thus far can only speculate about the mechanisms which made for such sudden changes in the Northern Hemisphere. But we can see some of it in action with ice caps melting faster and faster, seemingly a runaway cascade.

Even if it were only the Greenland ice cap by 2015 or so, it’s not just New York City that would have to move. Three-fourths of our greatest cities are seaside and near sea level; two-thirds of the human race would suddenly have to move (to where other people are now living!), with food supplies badly interrupted, not only the economy disrupted.

From the scale of just these sea-level change effects, you can see why no practicing scientist wants to tell the whole story and lose his job. Three inches in a century! — it would be pitiful or absurd, except that timidification of science has badly misled the public and so further endangered the planet.

Storms, droughts, chill and heat where they ought not to be

You have heard accurately that our planet’s increasing warmth is starting to inconvenience the economy and agriculture — not only through the spiraling number of great storms which cost the Gulf Coast so severely in summer 2005, but through a greater incidence of floods and droughts, great wildfires, late frosts, and freezes.

More and more it is becoming the case that people no longer know where, when and how to plant crops or hunt fish. We still have food on the tables and shelves and even some in surplus storage — in what are now the more favored regions of the Earth — but that can change in a year or two. That will change when the changes in climate escalate, as they abruptly will if the Greenland cap goes, unless we take certain steps to anticipate and offset these effects.

When the Greenland cap goes, suddenly the whole basis for global climates will be very different. It will take decades for oceanic currents to settle into their new patterns and, until they do, weather fluctuations will be extreme. At the very time that most of our people and most of our cities abruptly do a New Orleans, our economy will be massively wrecked and our food supply profoundly interrupted. Without key steps taken now, this is not expected to be a very jolly time.

There may be still further effects

One might think this is enough to be concerned about, but Mankind’s reckless warming of the planet has pointed us toward new territory for which geology is unable to show us precedents.

What we do know is that even if we stopped adding CO2 and other greenhouse gases to our air today, Earth would continue to warm further over the next century or so.

We also know that in the geologic past, there have been periods when the Earth was as much as eight to ten degrees warmer than it is now. Life survived and continued through those intervals.

What we do not know is the point in temperature where the oceans are warm enough to start releasing CO2 instead of absorbing it and turning it into carboniferous rock deposits safely removed from the atmosphere.

Some night, look up at the beautiful Evening Star or Morning Star, that high point of brightness we call Venus in the deepest blues of the verges of night. It’s not so beautiful closer up, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead, an atmosphere of carbon dioxide laced with sulfuric acid. The words “desert” and even “Hades” are inadequate to describe Earth’s twin sister.

Venus is even hotter today than Mercury, which is so much closer to the sun. Scientists today believe Venus once had oceans and a temperate climate similar to ours. Many scientists privately express their concern that the Earth may, once the oceans are warm enough to start releasing their carbon dioxide instead of trapping it, be trapped in a runaway heat-build-up trap that can only end the way our “evil twin,” Venus, has.

Playing with fire

The earlier-cited effects can end a civilization. The later effects — after the economic base for any heroic countermeasures has long since collapsed — if allowed to reach that tipping point, will mean the end of our species and the end of life on Earth altogether.

If we find a way to rein in today what we are doing to cause our one and only home in the cosmos at present to warm up, we probably will stop the warming trend at or just short of the high point that Earth has reached several times in the geological past. That has been short of the point where the oceans would have started giving back their CO2 to our atmosphere. But each day that we let our present emissions continue carries us inexorably toward, through and beyond that point. We don’t know how much margin we have left. Each day that we don’t correct our emissions problem, we are playing with fire.

I would much, much rather be writing about positive matters, which usually I am. There are a lot of them. But this has to be dealt with. The people to whom we’ve given the responsibility over our lives and our well-being have not dealt with this responsibly — rather the reverse. If there are things which you and I can do to head off or even ameliorate these very serious matters, these should have our immediate attention and deliberation.

I should very much like for all the things I have striven for, that you have striven for, the goals we have worked toward, the good things we have managed to do, the stakes we’ve been trying to build, not only toward our future lives but toward those of our children — I should like for the mistakes learned by and paid for, the great arts, the great scientific discoveries, the great and uplifting ideas that have lit our past and present like flares released over a midnight forest — I should like for all of that to have meaning, and to not have it end in a spatter of sulphuric acid in a 200-mile-an-hour 800-degree-Fahrenheit wind blowing over a semi-molten barrenness.

What Can Li’l Ol’ Us Do?

The following is a simple brainstormed list of what “we” can do.

Some of these are things we as individuals can do to survive the most immediately pending effects now bearing upon us. Other measures reflect what communities can do, what corporations can do, what nations can do and even the global community, not only to survive the effects of global warming but to stop global warming in its tracks or even turn it around.

Instead of the feelings of apathetic hopelessness which pervade now, it turns out there is a great deal that can usefully be done…..

I have not sorted out which “we” applies to each of the following entries because they are pretty self-evident. The list of options is still growing and changing. You yourself can add to it, and I certainly hope that you do.

Each viable option increases somewhat the chances that “we” — as individuals, as communities, as corporations, as nations, as a civilization, even as a species — can continue to survive and even thrive.

How we, and civilization, can survive when the oceans rise
— measures now to ensure survival then

Prevention is best in the first place, but there is no indication anyone will do that. So here are some other ways to contend with global warming and/or its effects:

  • Cool the globe by putting Mylar sunshades into orbit — arrays with solar-powered cesium ion motors to maintain station, and/or computer-trimmed solar sails for that purpose.
  • Now that we are beginning to develop a technology for moving asteroids around to prevent their collision with Earth — extend that to towing one or more comets into orbits between Earth and the sun, so arranged as to be in position between us and the sun for extended periods of time as a diffuse sunshade. It would be quite a few years before each comet would “wear out” from the effects of the sun.
  • Delicately baffled ocean currents to encourage re-accumulating snow and ice at poles and on Greenland and mountain glaciers elsewhere. The baffles do not have to be massive metal and masonry affairs. They can be bubble curtains, similar to those mentioned just below and described for oceanic fish farming at Hurricane Stopper and at Beachbuilder.
  • Use our “blue revolution” bubble-up to create a surplus of oceanic fish farms. The catastrophic shortfall of agriculture is the worst threat to civilized, even human, survival over the first few years of the oceans’ rise. The proposed fish farms would be easy and relatively inexpensive to create, could immediately and greatly increase the world’s food supply and protein supply, and could, if already in place, easily and immediately offset any failure of food supply coming from land-based agriculture during climate change.
  • Very strong marketplace incentives to cut greenhouse emissions, invest in appropriate technologies, mostly through tax credits and taxes.
  • Advance planning for evacuations and humanitarian assistance.
  • Advance planning for new inland cities and urban areas with a re-arranged rump economy. Have things ready to go, and ready to go up, for when we suddenly have millions of displaced human beings and enterprises needing to get productive again quickly.

Other food-related steps to take
  • Corporations should begin to shift their headquarters to inland cities. Perhaps a slight tax credit could help spur that process along.
  • Households and even corporations should stock up on long-term survival goods. To be adequately effective, this also may need to be encouraged by tax credits, whether through local communities, states or nationally.
  • Expand, protect, and in many instances relocate agricultural surpluses by government and by private enterprises.
  • Adjust curriculum of agricultural science in colleges and universities to reflect anticipated changed climates.
  • Set up agriculture-related research stations in high-latitude and tundra areas destined to become arable once the climate has changed.
  • Set up careful land-grant systems in high-latitude and tundra areas expected to become arable once the climate has changed.
  • Open up curricula around oceanic farming, by whatever methods.

Other measures to take
  • Replant trees and grasses in and around the great deserts, now!
  • Research the resources of the Sahel and other marginal lands which are not quite deserts; prepare emergency contingency plans for their rapid industrial and agricultural development.
  • Put a light but increasing tax on all non-port, non-seafood, non-ocean-farming-related uses of land and facilities below 200 feet above sea level, to gradualize the dislocations. Provide a temporary exemption from such measures for seasonal recreational uses, pending further development of data.
  • Develop surplus electric power capacity, all in installations well above 200 feet altitude above sea level.
  • Create tax credits to private industry for planning and anticipatory adjustments, to likewise gradualize the dislocations and to keep a viable economy going during the transition.

Still other kinds of steps to take
  • National Guard and other branches of military to develop contingency planning to assure smooth continuance of public order during transition, despite massive migrations of dispossessed people into and out of local police jurisdictions.
  • Land will be scarce and at a premium after the oceans have risen. Preliminary surveying to determine which lands can be salvaged or even saved from the sea by some judicious planting of dikes — perhaps by bulldozing some hills together and planting them with trees.
  • The transition especially is likely to be a time of great storms. A major effort to plant trees and windbreaks could save a lot of damage.
  • Private incentives to writers and screenwriters who popularize the issues, problems, and possible solutions of the pending flooding, to get the public better acquainted with what’s coming and with how to survive it.
  • Contingency government plans for temporary nationalizing of key agriculture-related, industry and transport operations during the worst parts of the transition, with built-in sunset and restitution provisions.
  • Tax incentives toward new technology for floating cities, with land about to become far scarcer and costlier.
  • Cultivate especially warm relations with Canada, Russia, and Scandinavia whose northern tundras and highlands will become main sources of food supply, and with Peru and Chile and Mongolia, whose high-altitude deserts are likely to become well-watered as ocean currents change.
  • Rewrite treaties so that other countries besides Argentina can peacefully or cooperatively colonize Antarctica if and when the ice cap collapses.
  • The great national libraries will have to be moved or duplicated. Likewise such of the great museums as we wish to preserve.
  • Shipping, shipping-related industries, marine recreational enterprises, all must prepare to move, as must all enterprises below 200 feet elevation. The problem is most acute for shipping and marine-related enterprises, though, because we don’t know how rapidly the waters will advance toward their final levels. Other industries can simply relocate in highlands, but not so the marine-related enterprises.
  • Meanwhile, put a lot more monitors on the ice caps, north and south. If they slide suddenly into the sea, we’d experience not only sudden sea rise but tsunami. People should have at least a few hours’ warning. Tsunami are much less likely toward the end of the transition than at or near the beginning, so that sea-related damage is likely to remain mostly within the projected 200 feet of immersion.
  • Prepare for having a lot of icebergs coming into the shipping lanes — with stormy weather masking visual sightings.
  • Prepare for plagues and pests and diseases which move around in the changing climate. We in the USA don’t have much experience with tropical diseases or much resistance to them.
  • Tax credits for vacation/second homes in the mountains. In fact, tax credits for locating new homes and business in higher elevations generally.
  • Make enterprise super-zones out of Appalachia and the Dakotas.
  • Survey river valleys even above 200 feet elevation, for potential flooding backups.
  • Not only in deserts — plant a lot of trees now throughout most lands above 200 feet elevation. These can help hold the land during the time of storms, and then serve as badly needed building material once things settle and people set out to remake their lives. So, install major tax credits for planting more trees now.


One of the first questions we may have to resolve is whether to focus on trying to save our cities or on easing the transition and saving lives. We may not have enough resources, even if our society became aroused to these matters, to accomplish both.

If we try to save our cities by building levees, that is an enormously expensive undertaking. It might conceivably protect against a Greenland collapse, but against an Antarctic ice cap collapse we don’t possess the technology nor the economics.

Yet to let our cities be inundated wipes out most of the economic and industrial base from which we need to cope with other effects of the transition and with other issues, including the emergency that will have developed in agriculture and food supplies. If our cities were intact, roof gardens could spell the difference that prevents mass famine. But an attempt to save the cities by levees which fail means billions of lives lost in the aftermath.

A further difficulty is that a Greenland ice cap collapse derails the Gulf Stream. Once this occurs, it may require several decades for any kind of stable oceanic regimen to re-establish, and longer still for any kind of stable climatic pattern which would allow large-scale agriculture to resume.

The best cost-benefit perspective points toward marshalling attempts to partially re-freeze the planet. We may not be able to impose, soon enough, Draconian-enough measures to even level off the rate of increase of the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, much less reduce them. What seems to be left to us as an option in this direction is to increase the albedo — the reflectivity — of the Earth. This can be done in small ways by periodically spray-painting white or reflective silver on the black lava wastelands of tropical and semi-tropical deserts, creating credits against (property) taxes for more reflective rooftop areas, etc.

The main thing, though, has to be either to sow our own upper atmosphere with reflective matter or to design and put into Earth orbit a series of sunshades.

  1. Whether with a compound tailored for the purpose, or with a mist of sulphur dioxide like that spewed by volcanoes with their cooling effect, the big problems with sowing our own upper atmosphere are:We would have no margin for error or for last-minute adjustments in a field full of unknowns. Once the chemicals are floating up there in the upper air, they are there until nature brings them down through attrition at her own slow pace.
  2. The reflective sunshades would have to be maintained in position, either by solar sails or by high-efficiency ion propulsion units. Very large sunshades, made of the same mylar as used in some of our high-altitude balloons, could be spaced in such a way as to reduce the overall amount of sunlight reaching and heating the Earth, while minimizing to a degree changes in the incidence of where on the Earth the sunlight falls. That will minimize, but not entirely avoid, climate effects and damage to agricultural production.The advantage here is that of a system which can be controlled as needed and, if for reasons not now known, things with the system were to go wrong, a system which can be undone.
  3. A balloon-supported sunshade system in the upper atmosphere is another possibility, with similar advantages of control and reversibility. However, how to maintain its component shades in place? Tethering the balloons would represent a cost and possibly a navigational hazard. Putting propulsion units of some sort on the components will be an expense like that of the space-born shades. Propulsion systems can be energized by abundant sunlight in the cloudless upper atmosphere no less than in cloudless space, but ion drives need a vacuum to work in. A sunshade system in the upper atmosphere would need periodic refueling.

On the whole, then, the most realistic system for short-term cooling of the Earth, to stave off the collapses of ice caps and to save our cities and our economic base, would be what had seemed the most exotic of the three options — putting a sunshade system into Earth orbit. Our agriculture is still going to take a hit from changing climates, but it doesn’t have to take the all-out catastrophic hit which now appears otherwise inevitable. Millions and billions don’t have to die.

Action step for now

If even a few people begin to discuss this matter rationally; if even a few of us could exchange ideas, if even a few of us could begin to use some of the problem-solving methods found throughout the Project Renaissance website to generate more and better ideas and possible solutions — and especially if even a few of us could begin to feel empowered to influence this situation instead of sitting around feeling helpless and apathetic — you and we could begin to improve this situation. Our posterity might stand a chance, instead of becoming part of another deadly Venus landscape.

If it’s not up to us to take it up, who? If not now, when? Can we wait to find out when? Respectfully, I propose that this matter is worthy of our attention.

This article originally appeared on the Eye2theWorld website,
Issue No. 15, April 21, 2006. Editor, Joe Rueff.

UPDATE! — August 2007 — New Mexico Scientist: Plankton Could Counter Climate Change
A New Mexico Tech scientist believes he has found a way to head off dangerous climate change. Oliver Wingenter said the idea is simple — fertilize the ocean so that more plankton can grow. Read his full article.

Win Wenger comments:
Until now I was sadly convinced that conservation measures regarding CO2 would be too little and too late to meaningfully affect the outcome. Wingenter’s observations regarding production of dimethyl sulfide by plankton changes my mind on this. My system for oceanic fish farming also, necessarily, very much enhances conditions for plankton to flourish, and has the advantage that we don’t have to dump chemicals and substances into the ocean in order to fertilize the plankton. The dead waters offshore of Texas and Louisiana could be similarly treated and brought into plankton productivity, without being used to fishfarm because of the chemicals which killed all life there in the first place.

In other words, the combination of my proposal for fish farming, with Wingenter’s proposal to boost production of plankton and therefore the Earth-shading effects of dimethyl sulfide, with even fairly mild versions of the proposed CO2-conservation measures, may be enough to restabilize Earth’s climate and food supply, even while boosting food supply for billions now starving.

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