Sunday, March 30, 2008
Polar Cities a Haven in Warming World?
The New York Times, in a blog written by environment and science reporter Andrew Revkin [in photo above at the North Pole], posted a nice introduction to the polar cities project today, in a blog post titled "Polar Cities a Haven in Warming World?"
Noting that the project, with illustrations by Deng Cheng-hong, a Taiwanese artist, is a [non-threatening] thought experiment, it will be interesting to see the kinds of reactions the blog post provokes, both pro and con. I am all ears.
Mr Revkin noted:
Danny Bloom, a 58 year old American freelance writer from the Boston area living in Taiwan, is on a one-man campaign to get people to seriously consider a worst-case prediction of the British chemist and inventor James Lovelock: life in “polar cities” arrayed around the shores of an ice-free Arctic Ocean in a greenhouse-warmed world.
Dr. Lovelock, who in 1972 conceived of Earth’s crust, climate and veneer of life as a unified self-sustaining entity, Gaia, foresees humanity in full pole-bound retreat within a century as areas around the tropics roast — a scenario far outside even the worst-case projections of climate scientists.
After reading a newspaper column in which Dr. Lovelock predicted disastrous warming, Mr. Bloom teamed up with Deng Cheng-hong, a Taiwanese artist, and set up blogsites showing designs for self-sufficient Arctic communities.
Mr. Bloom, a 1971 Tufts graduate, told me his intent was to conduct a thought experiment that might prod people out of their comfort zone on climate — which remains, for many, a someday, somewhere issue.
I interviewed Dr. Lovelock two years ago on his dire climate forecast and prescriptions — and also his ultimately optimistic view that humans will muddle through, albeit with a greatly reduced population. There’s a video of my chat with Dr. Lovelock on my blog.
“At six going on eight billion people,” Dr. Lovelock told me, “the idea of any further development is almost obscene. We’ve got to learn how to retreat from the world that we’re in. Planning a good retreat is always a good measure of generalship.”
The retreat, he insists, will be toward the poles.
It’s a dubious scenario, particularly on time scales shorter than centuries. But — as we’ve written extensively in recent years — there is already an intensifying push to develop Arctic resources and test shipping routes that could soon become practical should the floating sea ice in the Arctic routinely vanish in summers.
Sensing the shift, the Coast Guard has proposed establishing its first permanent Arctic presence, a helicopter station in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the United States.
It’s not a stretch to think of Barrow as a hub for expanding commercial fishing and trade through the Bering Strait.
The strategic significance of an opening Arctic recently made the pages of Foreign Affairs magazine, in an article by one of my longtime sources on this issue, Scott Borgerson, a former Coast Guard officer who is now a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“It is no longer a matter of if, but when, the Arctic Ocean will open to regular marine transportation and exploration of its lucrative natural-resource deposits,” he wrote.
So even if humanity isn’t driven to Arctic shores by climate calamity at lower latitudes, it’s a sure bet that the far north will be an ever busier place. Urban planners, get out your mukluks.
I sent a note back to the Dot Earth blog that reads:
Thank you for posting this nice introduction to the polar cities
thought experiment. Am looking forward to reader reaction pro and con.
We talk alot these days about mitigation, and we need to. And
geo-engineering ideas are also very important. But "adaptation"
strategies, if worst comes to worst, will also be vital.
Below is the exact sentence from Dr Lovelock's oped piece that started
me off in this direction more than a year ago. It was his "breeding
pairs" remark that jolted me awake. Deng Cheng-hong in Taiwan, the
illustrator who made a series of computer-generated "blueprints" using
the SketchUp software, deserves special mention for visualizing what
was at first just a very rough black-and-white sketch that I drew on a
"We are in a fool's climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and
before this century is over billions of us will die and [*the few
breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic*] where
the climate remains tolerable." -- (James Lovelock)
Mr. Deng's images have now been tracked across the Internet in posts
that have appeared in English, Japanese, Spanish, French, Korean and
Chinese. I hope these are just the beginning of many other conceptual
drawings of what future Arctic habitats might look like in the far
By the way, while Dr Lovelock says "at the end of the century, meaning
2100 AD, and in recent interviews in the Guardian and Daily Mail in
the UK has mentioned the dates of 2020 and 2040 as when this will
occur, my own (more naive) thinking dates these polar cities as being
inhabited around the year 2500 AD. So we have 30 more generations to
start thinking about these human population retreats, planning them,
designing them, siting them and even pre-building them.
One possibility is our own generation, now, is to build a model polar
city with funding from someone like Sir Richard Branson or the Google
people and letting volunteer "residents" test it out during summer
months in a place such as Norway or Iceland or Alaska, mostly as an
educational tool and public awareness vehicle. But 2500 is a long way
off, so there's plenty of time.
By the way, humor is important, too, as always. Some observers have
compared these polar city illustrations to Habitrail tubes for
hamsters and gerbils, and one wit titled his blog post "Shall the
future be lived in Gerbil Cities?"
To see what a variety of top scientists have said to me personally
over the past year, in emails in which I am keeping their names
private, you can check the pro and con statements that they have made
privately to me here:
Lastly, I also sent an email to Dr Lovelock earlier this year, to show
him the images that Mr Deng created, and the very next day I received
an email back from Dr Lovelock saying: "Thanks for showing me the
images. It may very well happen and soon."
For Dr Lovelock, "soon" might might be the yaer 2100. But naive
youngster that I am, I still say not until the year 2500. But it's
getting later earlier and earlier.
Posted by DANIELBLOOM at 2:28 AM