Energy Blog: Alternative Approach to Climate Change Negotiations

UNFCCC Treaty nationsby Andy Silber

This winter leaders from across the world will meet in Paris for the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the objective to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations of the world. I predict that they will fail. The Pope, Ban Ki-moon and Bono could get on stage with the ghosts of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Jesus imploring for us to take action and still nothing would happen.

“How do I know nothing will happen” you might ask. Well for one, it’s been 21 years and nothing has happened. The other is that there are two fundamental forces at play. On one side are the developed countries (e.g. USA, Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan) who are willing to act, but don’t want to cripple their economies. These countries want the baseline to be current emissions (“We’ll reduce our emissions by 20% from 2010 level by 2050” offers the representative from some random rich country), but that the poor countries should also make reductions, though not as drastic. On the other side are the less developed countries (e.g. China and India), who won’t agree to a treaty that locks in poverty for their people. These countries also feel that the problem was created by the rich countries, so they should pay for fixing it. These countries feel we should look at emissions on a per capita basis and not use historical emissions as a baseline. Otherwise the rich countries benefit from their past pollution.

The Obama administration is unlikely to agree to a treaty that is fair to the poor countries and even if they did, it wouldn’t be able to get it through the Senate (I doubt Obama could get a bill stating that “clean water is a healthy beverage” passed, but that’s a different issue). The Chinese and Indians are unlikely to agree to binding emissions targets that puts their economies at a disadvantage to America’s. And the representatives of countries like Bangladesh, that face serious climate impacts but didn’t have anything to do with creating the problem, are unlikely to agree to a treaty unless it helps them mitigate the impacts to changing weather and rising seas. I don’t mean to say there’s no hope, only the approach we’ve been taking for 21 years is going to continue to fail.

Here’s an alternative approach that might have more success (we wouldn’t know until the year 2035 if it’s as bad). Rather than try and set a different binding limit for each country, we agree to a few policies that are applied in every country.

  • No subsidies for fossil fuel extraction or exportation. That doesn’t mean you can’t drill for oil or natural gas, but that it can’t be subsidized by tax dollars or extraction allowed on public land without charging fair market value for that right.
  • Every country implements a carbon tax at an agreed upon level (of course higher carbon taxes would be allowed). This level would start out low (say $20 a ton) and increase by a moderate amount each year (say 20%). The bulk of the money raised by the carbon tax would stay in the country and could be used to improve mass transit, hire teachers, reduce other taxes or any other use that the local government chose.
  • A fraction of the funds raised by the carbon tax (say 10%) would go to fund an international effort to mitigate climate impacts in the developing world and to support climate refugees.

One interesting advantage of this approach, is that you might be able to achieve most of this (other than the international fund) via the WTO. It’s possible that the EU could impose tariffs on incoming products from countries that don’t have a carbon tax, claiming that not putting a cost on carbon is an illegal subsidy. If they won that case, it would quickly create a huge impetus to get all countries on the same page, rather than fight a trade war on the right way to add a cost to carbon.

Let’s look at how this concept would impact three countries:

  • USA: The carbon cost would accelerate the death of coal. No new coal plants would be constructed anywhere, so the already struggling effort to export coal would also die. Since natural gas has less carbon, this market would be less severely impacted, but the rush to build gas-fired plants would slow. Depending on the price set on carbon, the LNG export market might be impacted, but natural gas is so cheap here compared to world markets it would probably continue. I expect that most of the revenue from the carbon tax would be used to reduce other taxes and not go into large public works, but I’d love to see some of the revenue used to rebuild our electric grid to support more renewable power.
  • China: Since they’re already putting a cost on carbon this might not have any impact in the short term. China is already making huge investments in renewables. The biggest change might be to increase the efficiency of the operating coal plants. It would also probably increase the investments in nuclear power.
  • Bangladesh: Since the electricity production per capita in Bangladesh is 2% of what it is in the US, their carbon tax would be pretty small. On the other hand, since most of the arable and populated land in Bangladesh is near sea-level, they will be in need of the kind of international support that the carbon tax will fund. In net, they should come out ahead in this proposal.

I’d love to hear from someone with some knowledge of WTO rules if this is possible.

Energy Blog Author Publishes ‘Dinosaurs Last Roar’ on Kindle, 1st Published Here

DinoLast-SilberKindleSustainable West Seattle member and Energy Blog author Andy Silber recently wrote a fiction story about the impact of climate change on Planet Earth and humanity’s attempts to colonize Mars.

Andy has taken the story much further and has published a longer, more involved version on Kindle.  Click here for the Amazon link to the longer story.  Andy is charging 99 cents ($.99) for this more polished version.

The story was first serialized here on the SWS website (see Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2025: Warmer, Higher Sea Level, Fusion Power for the beginning chapter or click Energy Blog in the What Are You Interested In? section to the left to find all 9 early chapters.

 

Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2095: Mars Doing Well, Earth Recovering

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 9 – by Andy Silber
Approaching Earth
November 11, 2095

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 10.04.51 amWe’re on our way to board the Spaceplane to take us from The Ark to Earth’s surface. I just hope it can make it through Earth’s atmosphere. It did fine making it from the Martian surface to The Ark, but our atmosphere is thinner and we were moving a lot slower on the way up from Mars than we will be on the way down to Earth. This plane spent 25 mears in a hanger, but at least that protected her from the wind-blown sand for which Mars is so famous.

In my 19 mears (a Martian year) this is by far the most exciting thing to happen to me: Mars is actually quite boring. That’s why I volunteered for this mission, to break up the monotony of living on Mars.

[see author’s note at end][read Chapter 8]

I was born on the 5th day of Goddard in the year 7, one of the first true Martians. The new calendar had just been adopted a few mears earlier. They realized right away that a new calendar would be needed, but our government has a fairly direct democracy and anyone who wanted to be on the “Sub-Committee for time” could be. It took 3 mears to create the calendar. A day (we still use that term) is made up of 1000 millidays or millies, each of which is about 90 earth seconds. A mear is about 669 days and is made up of 18 months of 37 or 38 days, with an occasional leap day in the month of Earhart. Rather than naming our months after Roman gods or dictators, our names come from real people who helped bring man to Mars: Verne; Schiaparelli; VonBraun; Bradbury, Gagarin; Armstrong; Asimov; Rutan. The basics of the calendar were agreed to in about 2 months, but they spent mears arguing over the names of the months.

I’m a doctor and that’s part of the reason I was accepted on this mission. That, and I’m single, which is fairly rare on Mars. There’s a lot of pressure to be fruitful and multiple. My mom would say to me “Do you want humanity to die out?” as if my lack of maternal instinct would single-handily doom the human race.

After 25 mears of separation, this is our voyage of re-connection. The problem is, we’ve been so isolated from Earth, it’s not clear we can survive there: the germs; heavy atmosphere and gravity; the chaos.  There are only about 40,000 of us on Mars; Earth’s population has shrunk since the MEP program closed, but 2 billion people still seems like a lot to us.

On Mars I just deal with the scrapes, broken bones, cancer, but no infections diseases.   When we told the Earthlings that we wanted to come for a visit, there was a lot of concern that we would bring some space virus with us, but the other way around is so much more likely. During quarantine we’ll be getting every vaccine known to Earth, so hopefully our immune system will do better with what is found floating around today than the Amerindians managed small pox.  Our blood and tissues will be scanned, poked and prodded until everyone’s convinced we can’t get them sick and we won’t keel over. Eventually we’ll be let out and get to travel the Earth. If we don’t get sick, most hope to catch the next passage of The Ark in a year. I, on the other hand, hope to stay.

We’re good guests, we do come bringing a nice gift for our hosts: 500 pounds of Neodymium, which is used to make the magnets used in fusion generators. It was mined from the remains of some of the planetesimals that have been striking Mars since before I was born. Our hope is to develop trade between the planets. We can use seeds, fusion generators, and other manufactured goods. Some of the few remaining Earth-born are asking for grape and hop seeds and yeast, plus as many bottles of wine and whiskey we can fit in the Spaceplane on our return. By the time I was born all that we had brought with us was gone and we didn’t have the right kind of yeast to make more.

Part of the reason to come now is that Earth finally seems to have recovered from The Great Reset. We’re landing on a dry lakebed in California, part of Cascadia, which now is larger than the former United States of America. It includes all of Canada, except Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces and all of the USA other than Texas, Hawaii  and most of the Southeast, which is now  “The Second Confederacy”. We’re told “The Second Confederacy” is a basket case. From space we see no signs of civilization.

There are similar governments like Cascadia covering most of Earth: one based in Bahía Blanca, Argentina for South America; Blantyre, Malawi in Africa; Oslo, Norway in Europe, and Chang Mai, Thailand in Asia. They claim to all have grown the same way: peacefully. From space, who can tell? When we talk on the radio to the different countries, they’re all very polite about their rivalries, but I guess that’s in part because it’s an open line. Everyone has agreed that we can travel freely once quarantine is lifted, so hopefully I’ll get to see first hand.

Our arrival seems to hark of a new age, the Anthropocene, the age of man. Humans have left a mark that will survive in the geological record: mass extinctions; changes in sea level and chemistry; fires and floods. The Earth is healing, but its destiny is forever changed. Scientifically, the Anthropocene began centuries ago, but I feel in my bones that the true age of man begins now. We were but children playing with toy dinosaurs. We’ve survived a very troubled adolescence. Hopefully our college years will be filled with learning and something the old timers call “keggers”. There’s still so much to do, and hopefully there always will be. As a race, we don’t deal well with boredom.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2085: Cascadia, Mars Colony Are Thriving; Elsewhere on Earth, Not So Much…

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 8 – by Andy Silber
Tokyo Harbor, Japan
September 15th, 2085

I’m so glad there’s a sign of life, of society, of civilization on the shores of Tokyo harbor. Forty of us sailed across the Pacific in the fusion powered hydrofoil Kobayashi Maru and it looks like we’re going to be met by someone. It’s been about twenty years since anyone from North America visited Japan. Our crew includes linguists, anthropologists and two Japanese, one Korean and three Chinese born and raised team members. This voyage was years in the planning, training and building, but only took six days to actually reach our first destination. We’re the third of the “Voyages of Rediscovery:” the first headed north to reconnect with the Russians, the second headed south to reconnect with Latin America. Both of those voyages plan to circumnavigate the Americas or possibly cross the Atlantic to connect with Europe and Africa. While both of those voyages are staying close to land, this was the mission these ships were designed for. As far as we know, these are the first ocean going ships built in decades. The team at the shipyard did an amazing job. Cruising speed of 50 knots, range unlimited. We’re stocked with communications gear, sensors, and a medical bay. Our navigation gear is old school – sextants, charts, and astronomical tables – since the GPS satellites stopped working long ago.HighSpeedHydrofoil

[see author’s note at end][read Chapter 7][read Chapter 9]

The voyage north met up with an outpost of Russian, Mongolia and Chinese who had settled in Siberia to harvest the peat bog. When the freighters and trains stopped coming they took advantage of the warmer weather, thawed land and copious amounts of peat to begin a farming community. The voyageurs were the first outsiders they had seen in almost ten years. None of them had seen a doctor in a dozen years, so they were happy for the portable clinic we setup for the week of our visit. In exchange we were given fresh food and a farewell party that is already the stuff of legend among the Corp. The fabled Northwest Passage is wide open, with nary a polar bear in sight. The Inuit villages are gone. There were some ghost towns that were setup by prospectors before the Great Reset. No money makes investment in mines a challenge. They’re now in New England taking their time along the Maine coast. The fish stocks have recovered enough for subsistence fishing to supplement farming.

The voyage south has been even sadder. Hurricanes have battered the Pacific coast from San Diego to Panama, their current location. The remaining villages are small and the buildings are little more than lean-tos made out of palm fronds and bamboo that can easily be reconstructed after a storm. A team traveled inland to Managua, a city of over a million people before The Awakening, and found maybe 10,000 people living amidst the rubble in Iron Age splendor. The locks of the Panama Canal are either stuck open or closed, but in any case the canal is impassable. They’ll continue south, but don’t expect to see much until they round Cape Horn and head up the Atlantic Coast to Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.

This project is a testament to how Cascadia has grown. It now reaches south to the old US-Mexico border, north to the artic ocean, and east to Chicago. Texas and the southeast show no interest in joining, but I suspect New England will be part of the country before my return. The rules to joining are simple: you must be contiguous with our current border; have a functional democratic government; accept our constitution; and conduct a locally run plebiscite monitored by the Cascadian government. After that, if your citizens want in, you’re in. We have a unicameral Parliament. The size and shape of each riding is decided every ten years after a census based upon three constraints: the number of ridings equals 400 (so that Parliament doesn’t get unmanageably large); the number of people in each riding is the same; and the total perimeter of all of the ridings combined is minimized. This gives each MP (Member of Parliament) good reason to think about people in neighboring ridings, since they may be in his riding at the next election. Elections are conducted by instant runoff voting, where voters state their preferences and all votes are counted eliminating the candidate with the fewest votes until one candidate achieves 50%. This form of election favors moderates, which is what we need to rebuild our country. States and provinces still exist, but are totally ignored at the national level. We are all Cascadians.

Rather than taxes, the federal government has a monopoly on certain industries, mainly the manufacture, sales and distribution of heavy-hydrogen fuel. This provides an easy source of income without the hassle of taxes. They’ve done a good job supplying what’s needed to this point with no evidence of corruption, so no one is complaining. In general, corruption and crime are rare, in part because every financial transaction is recorded. There are privacy concerns, but no one can access the information without a subpoena. We all remember what it was like when we had no money at all, so this doesn’t seem unreasonable.

A major effort has been to rebuild schools, from preschool to Universities. The University of Washington is one of the few that survived the Great Reset. Depending on where you lived and when you were born, you might have never gone to school. Finding qualified teachers is a challenge, but a critical one if we’re going to rebuild civilization.

In addition to reconnecting with the rest of the world, we’ve reconnected with the Mars colony. The Emissaries let us know what frequency the Martians were monitoring, so we gave them a call. Boy, were they glad to hear from us. They could tell based on telescopic observations that there were still cities and electricity, but they couldn’t tell much more than that. Their population has continued to grow, along with the oxygen levels. They actually need nitrogen more than water or oxygen now, so the planetesimal harvesting system is focused on gathering ammonia ice. It was always among the desired molecules, as it’s also a greenhouse gas, it’s just that water was preferred. They’ve also established contact with the Ark. The on-board systems have continued to maintain the transfer orbit between Earth and Mars and all systems continue to be operational. It’s possible for someone to meet it as it flies by Earth or Mars and catch a ride. They do have a wish list from Earth, including seeds and a couple of new fusion generators. As the colony is growing, they are having trouble meeting the demands for power. They have built a few generators as well as a fuel extraction facility, but they can’t keep up with demand. Until we build a spaceship to get into orbit, it’s all academic. The Emissaries have let us know that they do have the designs from before and are happy to share them if we decide to try and return to Mars.

Time to board the skiff and see how things have been in Japan.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2073: Some Regions Thrive; Trade Disappears

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 7 – by Andy Silber
Vancouver BC Cascadia
June 20th, 2073

I can’t believe my parents aren’t here. I know there was no way they could come, but it just doesn’t seem right. A girl, even a girl of 33, wants to be given away by her father at her wedding. She wants her mother to see how happy she is and to be impressed about how handsome the groom looks. A wedding is supposed to be the merger of two families. Ben’s family is all here, but the only person representing my side is the other Emissary, Christopher.

For someone who spent her first 15 years underground and never went more than 100 meters from her home until she was 22, I shouldn’t complain. Most of my friends from the base are still toiling away underground, hoping that someday they can rejoin humanity. I was lucky enough to be selected for the Emissary program, and even luckier to be assigned Cascadia. When it was decided that Christopher and I would stay in Vancouver while the Deuterium/Tritium (also known has heavy hydrogen) facility was being built, I was quietly over joyed. I think if they knew how happy I was, they’d have pulled me off the assignment. Arrangements were made for the two of us to share a two-bedroom apartment in North Vancouver, near the site of the facility. Back at the base I think they were hoping we’d become a couple. That might have even happened, if not for the fact that Christopher was gay. He was having a grand old time in Vancouver. We both agreed that in our reports and rare trips back to Yucca Mountain, we never said anything to dissuade them from their mistaken beliefs. We had a true affection for each other, so it was easy for our bosses to see what they wanted.SONY DSC

[see author’s note at end][read Chapter 6][read Chapter 8]

Once the fuel plant was complete, I was afraid that they would pull us out of Cascadia. By that time I had a serious boyfriend, Ben. He was wise enough not to ask about my past or our future and just enjoy the present. He was a scientist working on the heavy-hydrogen facility and was just my type. I didn’t know I had a type until we met, but once we had I was sure he was it. He was funny, cute and loved introducing me to the myriad of things I had never experienced, like walks in the woods, goat cheese, and sailing.

Luckily for Ben, Christopher and me, back at the base they had designed a new fusion reactor that would double the electricity output and improve the reliability of the generators. Christopher and I returned to be trained in 2070 on the new design so we could support the construction of the new manufacturing plant to build these generators.

One of the interesting things about being on the base was getting news from outside of Cascadia. For instance, as far as I know the Mars colony is all but forgotten everywhere on Earth other than the base. The Martians’ broadcasts slipped from weekly, to monthly, to annually. Not because of any problem, but because no one ever answered. We were listening, but did not respond because of fear of giving our existence and location away. The logic of that escaped me once the Emissaries became public, but I was in no position to raise a fuse.

The most recent broadcast was on December 31st, 2070. They said

martian mining“All is well on Mars. Population 21,436. Average atmospheric pressure is 254 millibar. Oxygenpartial pressure is 12 millibar. Average temperature 5 degrees Celsius. Planetesimal harvesting system at 73% of peak capacity. We will continue to monitor this frequency for broadcasts from Earth and will broadcast an update at this time in one Terran year.”

Other news was not so rosy. At the time of the Awaking the population of the US was about 375 million. Our best estimate is the current population is no more than half that, of which a quarter are refuges from Latin America. Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, LA and Denver are doing ok. Anchorage was doing quite well supporting the peat bog harvest and enjoying their mild winters, which has improved agriculture there. When the peat bog harvest was complete in 2068 things took a turn downward, but Alaskans are used to a boom and bust economy. The resurgence of the KKK and the fighting between well-armed rural Klansman and the urban population of Atlanta has destroyed that city even more completely than General Sherman. No city in the old Confederacy or Texas has escaped these conflicts. After losing several Emissaries in this region, we pulled everyone out and our only intelligence is from drone flights.

Cascadia is without a doubt the bright spot in North America. California from Redding north, Idaho and Montana west of Bozeman have joined. Greater San Francisco is in discussions to join as well. The fuel plant is a very attractive reason to join the country. Seattle script is starting to be accepted for trade outside of Cascadia the same way that US dollar used to be the closest we had to an international currency. Canada is doing fairly well, enjoying the mild winters.

Both of the original North American plants extracting heavy hydrogen from sea water are still functional, but at reduced capacity. The LA plant is producing enough to keep the local grid functional as well as powering San Francisco and Anchorage. Power demands have increased since originally built, due to ever increasing need to de-salinate water and power air conditioning in the ever increasing heat. The Boston plant is also doing OK and has been able to keep the lights on as far away as Chicago.

China Electric gridWe have very little view into what’s happening in the rest of the world. From the little we pick up on shortwave radio and satellite imaging, Europe is doing worse than North America because of the weakened Gulf Stream. Britain and Ireland are actually colder than before, while Eastern Europe is hotter.  There’s no sign of modern civilization in Africa except a few small pockets in South Africa. Western China still has a grid, but that’s about all we can tell. Intercontinental trade and travel has completely stopped.

I loved seeing my parents, but otherwise I loathed every minute at the base. I promised myself that I would never return. I didn’t say anything, but I think my parents sensed something was going on and hugged me extra tight when we said good-bye.

Christopher, Ben and I moved to Beaverton, outside of Portland, to build the factory. Ben and I moved in together and Christopher lived on his own. When I got pregnant we decided to get married. I was against it at first, but Ben is old fashioned. Traditionally you travel to the bride’s hometown, but I can’t imagine much of a party in the caverns of Yucca Mountain.  I haven’t told my family or anyone at base. The only person I invited is Christopher, who was my Dude of Honor. Ben still doesn’t know where I come from, and I don’t have any intention of telling him. But maybe someday the world will change enough that he can meet my parents.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2065: Local Economies Arise; Nation States

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 6 – by Andy Silber
Capitol building (formerly Seattle City Hall)
Seattle, WA
January 20th, 2065

CascadiaCapitolIt’s hard to believe that in one hour I’ll be sworn in as the first Prime Minster of Cascadia. I’m certainly not a revolutionary by temperament and much more likely to be leading a county than a country. When I was elected King County Executive I thought I had the perfect job and would have been happy to retire from that position after serving for many years, but the high-levels of CO2 also forced a change in the political climate. When the great awaking of 2023 happened after the Southern Greenland ice shelf collapsed, Seattle, where I live and work, had a moment of “I told you so”. We had created climate action plans going back to the 2000s (and even followed up with some action); our electric utility boasted about emitting zero greenhouse gases (GHG) since 2005; hybrid cars sold well here, until they were replaced by electric cars; in 2023 our GHG emission per capita was less than half of the national average and on a downward trend even as our economy boomed.

[see author’s note at end][read Chapter 5][read Chapter 7]

But the “I told you so” moment was short. We realized that even in the Evergreen State we had a lot of work to do. I had recently been elected to the state legislature with the slogan, “No one is greener than me.” It played on my political inexperience (I had just graduated from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in Urban Planning) and desire to deal with climate change forcefully. Once the awakening happened, everyone wanted to get on the climate bandwagon. Since I had run on a green platform and the Port of Seattle was in my precinct, I got a seat at the table. We worked on further reductions of our GHG emissions and I got money for the Port to make the changes necessary to remain functional as the sea level increased. Our plan, unlike many other ports, assumed that the Greenland ice sheet would all flow into the sea, which seemed like the worst case at the time.

SeaLevelRiseExplorer

Twelve years later I successfully ran for the position of Executive for King County. My platform was to greatly increase local food production. This was something that many groups, like Seattle Tilth and Sustainable Seattle, had been working towards for decades. It was already clear that the food system was highly stressed and we needed to move towards self-sufficiency. We set up programs to help local farmers get their goods into grocery stores more efficiently so they could focus on farming, not retail. Lawns were turned into gardens across the county and chicken coups were in most backyards. We even arranged to be one of the ports that received the northern bog fertilizer when that started. There were other places that needed it more, but we were closer and had a good port. If the ships couldn’t keep up with the peat harvest, the quick turn-around made it worth stopping in Seattle rather than heading all of the way to Africa. We also worked with the MariFu Company to set up kelp farms to supply a factory here. I’m particularly proud of the effort I led with local chefs and the company to improve the flavor and texture of MariFu and create a cookbook of palatable recipes. My personal favorite was stir-fried Chard and MariFu with garlic and black bean sauce.

Then the refuges stated coming. At first, most of those who came had friends and family who helped them get settled. Since the refugees were coming from the southeast, especially Florida and Louisiana, they usually found a place to call home before they got here. Even still, more came than we could easily handle, so we built camps in North Bend to house those who needed a place. We just couldn’t build proper housing fast enough. The camps had food, water, basic sanitation, medical clinics and schools. As bad as it was, the residents there told us it was better than “out there.” Requests for help from the federal government went nowhere. We were told that our situation was much better than elsewhere and to keep doing what we were doing.

We did two critical things at this time and hoped that would be sufficient. Our regional transit agency, Sound Transit, was expanding our rail system at a rate of about two miles a year. We tripled that. In addition we relaxed the zoning laws, removing any height restrictions and all parking requirements for buildings within 500 meters of a rail station. Our plan was to look more like Hong Kong, with islands of high density around rail stops and people living car free. It’s not how we envisioned Seattle when I was young, but it beat the model of Cape Town, South Africa; a beautiful city surrounded by the squalor of the Cape Flats.

LakeMeadLevel

Elevation of Lake Mead, the water source of Las Vegas

When Vegas collapsed due to the lack of water, many from there headed to Seattle and Portland. Word had gotten around that we were doing relatively well and hadn’t taken our share of refuges. By then the construction boom we had unleashed started showing results and the camps didn’t get much worse. They didn’t empty out, which was our intention. All of these years later, the camps are still open and occupied. So we ended up with the density of Hong Kong plus the squalor of the Cape Flats.

Then the Great Reset happened. The dollar collapsed, the stock market closed and the federal government did nothing. We militarized the sheriff’s department to protect our borders. To enter the county, you now needed paperwork. Refuges were sent to the camp initially for processing. If they had family or friends who were willing to sponsor them or critical skills like medical or construction then their entry was expedited. If not, then there was a lottery to allow people in as space was available.

When we set up the border control, I’m guessing we had ceded from the USA in some sense. In retrospect, refusing entry to American citizens was a revolutionary act, but that wasn’t our intent. No one in DC complained and I don’t know if they even knew. Anyone caught inside without permission was ineligible for the lottery or accommodations in the camps. Given what life was like elsewhere, that was a pretty strong impetus to play by our rules. Literally, no one made a Federal case out of it (not much of a risk, since the Federal Court in Seattle didn’t meet).

At first refuges not allowed entry to King County headed south to Tacoma in Pierce County or north to Everett in Snohomish County. Very shortly both counties wanted to join us with common borders and entry requirements. We organized a common defense and refugee camp structure and easy passage and trade across the three county region. In many ways society was reminiscent of feudal Europe, with castles (Seattle, Everett, and Tacoma) guarding and supporting the surrounding rural areas.

We also started to issue our own money, which was nicknamed Seattle Script. It was basically a debit card with heavy encryption. At first it was only accepted in King County, but almost immediately it grew to be accepted across the region.

Soon after the formation of the tri-county confederation I was visited by The Emissaries. No one knows how they got on my schedule as “Bob and Jane Doe.” They wouldn’t say where they were from, but they looked and sounded American. Clearly bright and articulate and about 25-years old, but if they had a sense of humor they kept it to themselves. They looked sharp, though extraordinarily pale, in their matching uniforms. In the meeting they presented gifts. The first was a new flu vaccine, including directions on how to make more and the science behind it. The scientists at the University of Washington studied it and said that it was at least a decade ahead of state-of-the-art. Given that the flu had killed over a thousand people the previous year, this was very much appreciated. They also provided me with a radio and said that in time of crisis I could call on them for help. They said that what we were doing was critical and they wanted to help and that they would be back.

As the power in Olympia and Washington DC declined, more counties wanted to join us. We created more arrangements and we expanded the influence of the Seattle-based government. Within a year, the capitol of Washington State had moved to Seattle. The new state government was more a confederation of counties with the state supporting transportation, security and dealing with refuges. I was elected Governor by a wide margin. Refuges continued to be settled in camps until there was space for them in the urban areas. Farmers and ranchers in rural areas were supported as best we could, though there were still many raids on outlying towns.

We were pretty happy with the status quo, but then just like other counties approached King county, other states approached Washington. Following their own paths, Oregon and British Columbia had ended up in a similar place. They were more interested in ties to the local Washington than to the distant and failing one on the other side of the continent.

CascadiaSealFirst conceived of in the 19th century, it took a totally collapse of the US government and a near collapse of the government in Ottawa to make the nation of Cascadia a reality. The Emissaries returned and helped negotiate a constitution for the new country. It combines the federal concept of the US constitution with the parliamentary approach familiar to Canadians. Of course, there’s no King or Queen. We’re keeping the Pomp and Circumstance to a minimum, which is fine by me.

Tomorrow I have my first official duty as Head of State. I’m going to Vancouver for the ground-breaking of a new Deuterium/Tritium fuel extraction facility. Our last shipment from the LA facility took 6 months of negotiations and a freighter full of MariFu to get 18 months’ worth of fuel. The new extraction facility design is from The Emissaries, who are having their first public appearance as representatives of “the company” that created the design. In exchange for their design and support, they get 5% of the fuel. If their projections hold out and this plant produces twice the fuel as the LA plant does, that’s very cheap. We’ll be exporting fuel to the surrounding states and provinces, which should increase our wealth and influence.

The next day I’m back in Seattle for another event. I’ll be the first official passenger of the West Seattle to Ballard monorail.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2055: World Economies Collapse, Island Escape

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 5 –  by Andy Silber
Isla del Buitre
August 14th, 2055

islandNice to not have the ground moving. Just because I own a 54-meter fusion powered yacht and I lived on it for a year, doesn’t mean I like being on a boat. In prep school the jocks rowed crew or sailed, but that just wasn’t my thing. It cut into my drinking and partying time. Especially crew with their 5 am practices. Who does that without a court order?
I’ve always been able to time my exits well, whether it was a relationship that was getting too serious or an investment that had been wrung of all of its value. But my timing on leaving America a year ago today will go down in history (if there’s anyone around to write it) as the most perfect of all. I saw the writing on the wall and decided to pull a John Galt. Inflation was 25% in 2023 and when I left in August of 2054 it had already increased to 4% in just that month. The high rate of counterfeiting guaranteed that there was no way to keep inflation in check. It was only a matter of time, probably months, until the US dollar collapsed. That’s the thing about a fiat currency, it only has value because people believe it has value. Once confidence is lost, it’s just paper. So I decided it was time to dump the investment my family had in the US for 5 generations.

The tool company that my great-grandfather had founded and had been the foundation of our family’s wealth, had just signed a contract to supply a critical part for the latest fusion generator design. I let the board of directors know that I was going to retire and, rather than hand off the company to Jerry, my only son who’s worth a pile of wet spit, I wanted to sell it. My son was upset; he had worked at every job in the company, from mailroom to VP of Development. He had an engineering degree and an MBA and led the team that won the fusion contract. He felt he was entitled to inherit the company and was an honorable man, so I didn’t trust him with the truth. He’ll forgive me, I hope. I would have preferred to sell to some private equity firm, but they were all doing what I was, getting out of Dodge. So I sold it to the employees, who thought they were getting a good deal in light of their years of service. Suckers.
In addition to selling the company, I took out loans that were secured by assets of the company. I guess I should have disclosed that before the deal went through, but I’m now on an Island that I own and I’m not going to extradite myself. As I boarded the yacht, I liquidated all of my US assets, so they have nothing to go after through the US courts. Even if they find me, there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. Another nice trick I pulled is that I arranged pay my capital gains tax at the end of the year. Of course, I have no intention of doing that. All of my assets went into buying this yacht, the island and building a compound on the island that can house 250 people indefinitely. It’s stocked with food, medicine, weapons, gold, gems. We have solar, wind and fusion power. The water supply is more than enough and the wild boar and fresh fruit will be a nice supplement to our pantry.

island homeIn the time between when I left America and today, things have gotten much worse. Inflation grew to 8% a month after I left. Within 3 months the barter economy was bigger than the cash economy. Credit card companies started charging interest from the date of purchase and it’s not a fixed amount, but the rate of inflation + 2% per month.   Wages are renegotiated on a monthly basis and strikes are becoming common. Why work when the purchasing power of your pay isn’t enough to get you to the office? Retirees saw their life savings become worthless. The stock market was fluctuating wildly, because no one had any idea what a company is worth. Within 6 months the economy collapsed. I don’t mean Great Depression, I mean collapsed. It’s not that people didn’t have enough money: there was no money. It’s not that stocks dropped in value: the stock market closed. And it’s not just the US. Across Europe, Canada, Japan Korea and China the industrial world has ground to a halt.

Hiring staff has been tricky. They have to be loyal. My biggest concern is that some Gilligan will realize there’s no reason to continue to take orders from Thurston Howell III.  Everyone will be here with their families, so they have an impetus to keep things working and not rock the boat. All of the natives were removed when I bought the island, so everyone here owes their safety to me. Hopefully that’s enough.

Three months after I left, my children and their families all received a gift of an all expense paid trip to Venezuela. They thought it was a vacation, but when I met them there they learned that there’s no turning back. There’s nothing left for them back home. I even invited the mother of my children to join us. Her response was that she’d rather starve to death than be stuck on an island with me and my “trophy wife”. I suspect she may get that wish. All alimony payments have stopped and inflation has devalued whatever savings she might have had.

Time for us to start our life away from the chaos of a world falling apart. Maybe someday we’ll be able to rejoin the world. Maybe Jerry will help rebuild it when the time comes. Maybe it will be one of Jerry’s kids. I doubt I’ll ever leave this island, but there are worse places to live out your days. At the moment, it’s hard to imagine any better.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2055: Distressed Earth, A New Mars

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 4 – by Andy Silber
March 4th, 2055
Yucca Mountain, Nevada

I love when it’s my turn to do security detail, especially when my shift falls at night. I get to come outside; see the stars and the mountains silhouetted against the moonlight, breath the fresh mountain air. There are always three security guards up here, as befitting an abandoned federal facility, it’s just not always the same three people. Not that there’s anyone to watch us, except maybe a Chinese satellite. We’re surrounded by a hundred miles of desert in every direction. Even the nearest city, Las Vegas, is a shell of its former self. I guess everyone finally realized a city with no access to water just wasn’t a great idea, though there still is a market for “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, maybe even more than when that slogan was created before I was born.

[see author’s note at end][read Chapter 3][Read Chapter 5]

Yucca Mtn

We had volunteered for the MEP, and we knew that meant living in caves for the foreseeable future, but there’s something different about living underground on another planet (an adventure) and living underground in Nevada in holes meant for nuclear waste (a drag). In retrospect, I wish I had never learned that part of the MEP mission was to hide the development of this base; recruitment and procurement were folded into the MEP not to raise suspicions. Bill and I were doing great in the training for Mars and they loved his engineering background. I thought my background, a PhD in political science and history, was pretty lame. When halfway through the training we were called into an office we had never seen to talk to people we had never met, we thought we had washed out. In fact, they loved my background and the fact that we were both only children and our parents had passed on (fewer people to ask questions when we disappeared). I suspect that we were slotted for this program before we even were accepted into the MEP. We were only told that it was a critically important mission, very secret and if we went forward with it, then it was for life with no way out. So we bit and we were whisked off to a new site to continue our training.Inside Yucca

Putting the base at Yucca Mountain was a flash of brilliance. There was already all of infrastructure here, just waiting to be used. By design, it was a place far from habitation, allowing the base to remain secret. The biggest concern is that there would be a change of heart about storing nuclear waste here as the fission reactors were mothballed, having been made obsolete by the fusion reactors. A group was funded to push for dry cask storage at the site of the decommissioned power plants or regionally, the argument being that most of the risk was during transportation and that dry cask storage is a fully developed technology and allows us to mine the nuclear waste for valuable isotopes at a later date if so desired. Everyone now has bigger fish to fry, but I do worry that some of this waste will be mishandled and end up creating an enormous mess as things fall apart.

Containment VesselWe’ve been here for 20 years, and I’m still not entirely sure what our mission is. Are we one of those monasteries at the edge of Europe that protected the books and knowledge of classical Greece and Rome during the dark ages? Are we mission control? If so, what’s the mission we’re controlling and to whom are we giving orders? We’re connected to all of the major fiber connections, but they’re becoming less reliable due to almost non-existent maintenance. What communication that remains is either satellite or more likely AM or shortwave radio. Ham radio geeks are suddenly in big demand. We monitor all of these channels with receivers across the country to understand what’s going on. There are a few people who come and go and bring back first hand reports, but I expect that most of us will spend the rest of our lives here. In a way, we’re even more isolated than the Martians.

I’m part of a large team that pours over all of those feeds and tries to understand what the political status of the USA is. Where is the power, who has control of what territory, where is the government weak and where is it strong. The Greenland ice sheet only lasted four years after the ICE3 project shutdown, less time than anyone expected. With seas now 10 meters higher than mean sea level in 2000, every coastal city was at risk. When hurricane Rodolfo hit DC at high tide and overwhelmed the sea walls in 2051, the federal government nearly collapsed. The importance of states and especially the cities has been growing in that vacuum. Most of the rural areas in the southeast are in anarchy, ruled by mobs and malaria. The country has become a weak confederation of city-states. I think back 40 years to the Tea Party; that this is their ideal, with everyone more self-reliant (or dead) and no fear that the government is going to take away their guns. No one is complaining about federal taxes, since they aren’t able to collect. The federal government still has some income fromRacks of Containment Vessels leases and fees, but it’s about as close to bankrupt as could be, without filling any paperwork. And who could they file with anyway. Grover Norquist’s dream to be able to drown the federal government in a bathtub has been realized. I just hope they have a chance to decommission all of the nuclear weapons before that actually happens.

All of this chaos out there, does make me glad to be here, safe and sound, in our underground prison. Bill is busy creating an encrypted, high-efficiency, long-distance radio. I believe the signal skips of the ionosphere, or something like that. Our daughter Cecily just turned 15 and is your normal teenage girl. She’s moody and wants to rebel, but life here is so regimented that there’s very little space for that. She’s never known a life other than the base, and for that I feel constantly guilty. But when I read the reports from elsewhere, I’m not sure we didn’t do the right thing. She’s smart, but artsy (I have no idea where that came from) in a world with very little beauty. I think she feels it’s her job to paint an ironic bird on everything. Doubly ironic, since she’s never seen a bird.

The reports from Mars make me very jealous for those who got to go. Life is hard there, but they now have a thin oxygen environment. Not enough to go without a rebreather for more than a few minutes, but it is amazing progress in just over 20 years. The population is growing and there’s talk of relaxing the one-child policy, but that probably won’t happen until the atmosphere is thick enough to live on the surface full time. Even then they’ll need solar-storm cellars, since the lack of a planetary magnetic field will always make Mars a dangerous place to live, even with a thick atmosphere.

My shift is almost over. I take as deep a breath as I can. I’ve already requested to do my next shift, in three months, with Cecily. It will be her first time above ground. She’s seen photos and movies, but her eyes have never focused on infinity. I can’t imagine what that will be like for her, but I want to be there and see the world through her eyes. She pretends to be blasé about it, but I know she can’t wait. There’s a whole big, scary world out there for her and I can’t imagine what the future has in store for her. In the meantime, I go back down into my hole to pour through radio transcripts and satellite feeds.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2047: Earth & Mars On Different Paths

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 3 – By Andy Silber
August 24th, 2047
ICE3 Station, Greenland

Greenland harborToday the ship has come to pick us up. For over two decades I’ve been here keeping the glaciers from flowing into the ocean. The press release talked about the cost and better ways to spend our resources, but we know the real reason. Once the rains came, it was hopeless. At first we only had to deal with the melting ice and refreeze whatever made it to the ground. That we could do and keep the water from lubricating the glaciers and speeding their path to the ocean. Once a year or so, a pipe would break and need to be replaced. Once the rains came, we could only turn the water to slush, which lubricated the ice and there was nothing we could do to slow the inevitable march to the sea. Now our pipes are breaking every month. It’s just a matter of years, maybe a decade, until Greenland is ice free. It actually doesn’t matter whether the ice melts or not. Once it is floating, rather than resting on land, the seas go up.

It seems like it was a lifetime ago that I was in the NOAA Corp and I told one of the researchers I was interested in glaciers. He suggested I volunteer for the Greenland Ice Dam project. I was here when the power line came in from Iceland, when the drilling started, when the fusion reactor went online. I’m the only one left from those early days. I’ve spent half of the last 20 years on this rock, 10 days on, 10 days off.

[see author’s note at end][Read Chapter 2][read Chapter 4]

After growing up in Akron, who would have imagined I would have spent half my adult life in Greenland and the other half in Iceland. I’m not quite ready to retire, but I’ve been too busy to think about what’s next. Maybe I’ll make up for being away from my wife, Emelía, and stay home and putter in the garden. I could write a book about the history of the ice dams, in the spirit of “My Life in Kenya” by Lionel Hardcastle. Sara is in college in Rejevik and Aron is busy on his aqua farm, so it would be quiet, but not as quiet as Greenland.

When the fish stocks crashed, Iceland was one of the most impacted countries in the world. Only 1% of the country is arable, so much of the food has always come from the sea. Modern sea farming was born in Iceland, out of necessity. Aron loves tending his kelp and sea grass and harvesting the fish who live there. Fishing has become like raising cattle or sheep: tend the land; harvest the animal. One funny thing is Iceland is one of the few places where our accessible land is increasing. Rising sea levels have been compensated by melting glaciers. Of course, none of that land is suitable for farming: it’s just rock that’s scraped clean of anything resembling soil.aquaculture

Maybe the ice dams have bought us enough time. Dikes have been built, people have migrated uphill or inland. The glaciologists estimate that the ice dams bought us at least five years and maybe ten. That sounds like a good investment to me. Now that the glaciers are moving.

At least a boat came to pick us up. When the MEP closed up shop, we left the Martians on Mars. The terraforming is going well, so maybe that’s for the best. Once a week they broadcast a status report and it’s the highlight of my week. I guess I connect with them, since we’re both on a barren, isolated rock. The difference is I get to go home to the “lushness” of Iceland every month. On Mars the algae is doing well, the asteroids continue to bring them water and there’s even a patch of grass thriving in Ylla. You can’t walk around without a rebreather, but they have hope. The population was 8,500 when the Ark stopped coming, now it’s 9,200. Those children are the real Martians; the ones who have never lived on Earth. They’ve even started building things that they can no longer count on getting from Earth. Raw materials will be the easy part: they’ve already sampled the meteorites from the terraforming effort and they’ve got enough metals, including rare-earth metals, to keep them busy for generations.

I can’t help but feel that the closing of MEP is part of a bigger, scarier development. The progress of civilization has been about an expanding sense of Us as opposed to Them. First it was family, then clan, village, town, city, country. The Mars Exploration Program was the ultimate realization of that: every country in the world sent people to Mars, expanding Us to including not only everyone on Earth, but also everyone on Mars. I believe that this was the pinnacle of human civilization. Since then it’s been nothing but contraction. International trade has dropped, since many ports have shut down due to the rising sea level. Travel is less common, both because of cost and fear of spreading diseases. Our focus has turned inward and it seems to become more closed every year.

The harvesting of the northern bogs for fertilizer has reduced the fires and been used to halt the desertification that was happening as rain patterns shifted and the globe heated. It’s slow going, but it has already reduced the fires enough that atmospheric CO2 levels have started to drop for the first time in about 250 years. At this rate, in 30 years we’ll be back down to 400 ppm.

Irish bog farmingOur ship is in port. All of the critical materials have been loaded on board. Most everything is being left behind. The fusion reactors have been decommissioned and we’re running just on the HVDC line from Iceland. Given my veteran status, I’ve been given the dubious honor of throwing the switch that turns everything remaining off. It’s like pulling the plug on the life-support on a loved one: it’s painful, but you know that the time has come and it’s the right thing to do. Good-bye old friend.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2035: Terraforming and Colonizing Mars

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 2 – By Andy Silber
September 11th, 2035
Space City, New Mexico

Orion_docked_to_Mars_Transfer_VehicleI take my last breath of REAL air. Sure, I’ll still be breathing nitrogen, oxygen and trace amounts of most everything else. Eventually it will be made by plants. Or we all die. But never again will I breathe “Earth air”. Never again to see an Earth sunrise or sunset or an ocean. I doubt I’ll even see a lake, but there is some hope for that.

I board the space plane to take us to our home for the next 6 months. The Martian Exploration Program (MEP) calls it the Orbital Transfer Vehicle, but everyone else calls it The Ark. But no animals, though later trips will be bringing eggs and maybe even live animals. Just humans for now, 2 by 2. Mating pairs. Chosen based on our skills, genetic makeup, diversity yada, yada, yada. Oh yeah, political connections and money don’t hurt. We’re supposed to be the best of the best, but many of the most impressive people in the training program just disappeared. One day they’re part of the program, the next they’re gone.

[see author’s note at end][read Chapter 1][Read Chapter 3]
It is amazing how quickly this all happened. When the northern bog fires started in 2027, we all realized how bad things were going to get. We cut CO2 emissions to near zero, but the atmospheric levels didn’t drop. If we put out the fires, then we’d get methane, which is worse, so we let them burn. But the more they burn, the warmer they get, the more the methane thaws and the more the world heats.

Then the jellyfish took over the oceans. Fish stocks collapsed. The GMO kelp and plankton has reversed the trend, so we’re not going to suffocate. The kelp is processed into something resembling chewy tofu called MariFu, which is only a slightly better name than what everyone calls it: Soylent Green. The pH levels in the ocean are slowly returning to normal and we are all hopeful that healthy oceans will return. But for now, the oceans have stopped absorbing CO2. That’s part of the reason atmospheric levels aren’t dropping.NA with ice melted

Ever since humans finished colonizing Earth we have dreamt of moving to Mars. Venus is too hot, the Moon too small, but Mars, there’s hope there. We just have to terraform it: create an atmosphere we can breathe, or at least walk around in short sleeves. The CO2 that has caused such wreckage on Earth would be perfect for the job. Too bad we can’t just carry half of our atmospheric CO2 and methane with us.

Then someone had a brilliant idea. We were already mining asteroids for precious metals; how about water, a powerful greenhouse gas, for Mars. We might get some methane as well. A robot fleet was sent out to the asteroid belt to nudge icy planetoids onto a collision course with the Red planet. Three have already struck and two more should hit before we land. The humidity in the air has increased from near zero to that of Antarctica in the winter, the lowest found on Earth. By the time we arrive, it should be close to Katmandu in the winter. Still no oxygen, but warmer nights and more comfortable “space suits”. From this point on, the meteors will all strike on the unpopulated side of the planet. Some day we might want to mine the minerals from them, but for now we’re just happy to have the water.

Our settlement is named Ylla, though some of the geekier among us call it Terminus. They’ll be 500 of us living in temporary structures while we dig a more permanent home. That’s what I’ll be working on. I think troglodytes might be a better name for us than astronauts. The Martian rock will protect us from the cold and radiation. Since Mars has no magnetic field and a thinner atmosphere than Earth, the surface gets much more particle radiation from the Sun than Earth.

There is lab equipment, shelter, food, water and fusion reactors there already. Solar power isn’t great on Mars since the solar irradiance is one-quarter of Earth’s. We’re bringing enough fuel for 30 years with us. By then we should figure out how to get more locally.

TerraformedMarsGlobeRealisticOur underground village will have greenhouses for air and food and to treat our sewage, research labs, bedrooms, communal kitchens, and a medical clinic. It will also have a nursery. No kids for now, but once our warren is complete, we’re expected to breed.

I’m not sure how I feel about raising kids in a cave, but I know I don’t want to do it here. Over the last 10 years people have been moving to higher ground. Refuges are everywhere. Some places are pretty horrible, like the mountains between Bangladesh and India or Egypt. The most interesting are the 2nd wave Afrikaans, refuges from The Netherlands welcomed to South Africa by the black government: one side gets capital and highly educated workers; the other a home above sea level. Since the US has large amounts of land above sea level, we’re doing OK, but the maps look funny with Florida missing. The food system is highly stressed. The North American breadbasket has moved north, the Sahara desert has expanded south. Scotland is an up and coming wine region, though the melt from Greenland is weakening the Gulf Stream and that is likely to reverse to warming trend in Europe.

Once our village is complete, we start working on the home for the next wave. The plan is 500 more colonists every year, until…who knows. An interesting thing we’re bringing is a constitution. For the first five years we’ll be run like a forward operating military base with command being MEP headquarters in Lima. For the following five years we transition to self-rule and a Parliamentary system with a preferential voting system. It’s assumed that at some point we’ll have to be totally self-sufficient, no one knows when.

A critical mission is figuring out something, probably a GMO algae, that can live on Mars and make oxygen. That’s where my wife, the biologist, comes in. She was part of the team that worked on the GMO plankton. I know she’s why we’re on this ship. The hope is they can create one that can spread across the globe and form the basis of an ecosystem. Then they’ll focus on something that can eat the algae plus other plants. I’m hoping we quickly get to a grass or something a cow can eat, because I’m not wild about the idea of being a vegetarian for the rest of my life.Blue-green_algae_cultured_in_specific_media
Dam safety briefing. You’d think after 18 months in the training program we could skip the safety briefing. Has anyone in a space plane every used their seat as a floatation device. We’re taking off from New Mexico and headed east. By the time we’ve over a body of water bigger than a pool, we’ll be10 miles up and moving at Mach 3. Time to buckle up and head to our new home.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber