Natural Disasters Are Becoming Man-made Disasters

               With an alarming rate, natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes are occurring with more frequency and severity. There will always be natural disasters, it is part of being on a planet which is always evolving and changing. Earthquakes will always occur and may increase volcanic activity, which in turn creates another disaster. It is only with the spread of human civilization to almost every nook and cranny of Earth have natural disasters become a catastrophe which garners media attention and elicits a human response to help others in need. I’m sorry dinosaurs, but I’ve seen enough Jurassic Park movies where I’m thankful the asteroid helped eliminate you from the planet.

               How can we help reduce the severity of natural disasters? It is a simple question to answer, with an easy solution, but the implementation of said solution would be very difficult to carry out. There have always been natural disasters, very few which had global consequences or impacted hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of people at one time. That is until the spread of humanity to all the habitable continents of the globe. By spreading our wings, we have made certain almost every severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado, torrential rainfall from a series of storms or a hurricane with storm surges, can cause havoc and extreme destruction of our cities and infrastructure.

               I live in Nebraska, born and raised. And currently we are going through flooding which is slowly receding, which has caused at least a billion dollars in damage and lost revenue – though it is too early to know full extent of the damage and financial impact. Current estimates put just the agriculture damage at a billion dollars, including dead livestock, crop storage wiped out, and the possibility of not being able to plant crops for current season. Today’s disasters effect everybody, when California was facing severe drought, it strained the system because a large majority of America’s fruit and nut crops are grown in the Golden State.

               The impact of natural disasters will only grow as more people call Earth home, and our cities and towns expand horizontally. Climate change is the biggest disaster, one which is slowly unfolding. The biggest impact from climate change will be the rising of sea levels, which threaten every coastal city and billions of people. A temporary solution to battling the effects of sea rise caused by melting ice caps is to create massive sea walls to protect our cities and other areas. This is a massive feat and one which is unprecedented on a national scale, let alone a global scale. The other solution is to abandon or relocate cities which will be impacted by rising sea levels.

               I’ve written a lot about creating a new set of cities, a cluster of buildings called Sky Cities together, capable of housing a minimum of 40,000 people, schools, hospitals, businesses, and residents. These cities within cities will help locate humanity into a much smaller presence on Earth (and maybe other planets we eventually inhabit). The idea about mitigating impact of natural disasters is helping our species survive – and reducing the enormous cost of rebuilding and the emotional toll of losing family and friends. The task of creating these enormous Sky Cities is difficult.

               First, the technology to reliably build these megastructures needs to exist, we are getting close but have not quite reached the ability to build structures a mile high or taller. Possibly when graphene is mass produced, then we can conquer the first step of mitigating natural disasters and the man-made disasters of climate change. Secondly, finding geographic locations where the risk of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions are as low as possible. Though, it may be a moot point if we have the technology to build structures one to two miles high, we may have the technology to create buildings which do not crumble or sustain damage from earthquakes, tsunamis, and are resistant to molten lava.

               Once these buildings are built, the human challenge takes into shape, getting people to live in these new cities, one which I have briefly covered before and is also alluded to in my novel, Within the Grasp of Ordinary. There are a lot of elements which are controversial in getting peoples into the cities, and I’m not advocating for them – even though I thought of them. That is part of being an author, thinking outside of the box even if it does not fit your view/beliefs – you have to be open to new ideas and thoughts, even if they make you uncomfortable. Forcing people from their homes, like what happened in the story’s universe, is uncomfortable and highly unethical, but it occurred under the mantra of saving humanity from itself.

               In Within the Grasp of Ordinary, the mega structures which house humanity have a trade-off. The risk of natural disasters is small as humanity has technology evolved to make structures capable of withstanding disasters, moved away from areas vulnerable to rising sea levels, flood plains, earthquakes, etc. The risk comes from terrorist attacks, where when one Sky City structure is destroyed, the death toll is in the tens of thousands. Putting it bluntly, terrorist attacks like natural disasters will always happen but terrorist attacks right now are easier to prevent or foil through due diligence by law enforcement. Natural disasters aren’t preventable, but we can mitigate our risk by transforming the way we live.

               I’m no expert but I believe the current method within this country of denying climate change and its effects will only make us worse off. Tens of billions of dollars of damage are done every year in property to American cities and families, that’s not mentioning the emotional damage from the loss of loved ones. If we do nothing to change our behavior and mitigate our risk to natural disasters, we are stupid because we have seen countless film reels of destruction hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc. Natural disasters will always happen but humanity’s folly does not need to contribute to the innate destructive powers of Mother Nature.

Climate Change, What if we are too late?

               Right now, most scientists predict that 2030 is close to the point of no return, where by then the damage to our polar ice caps and glaciers will be irreversible. The amount of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and the more damaging methane) are at the highest parts per million in recorded history – though we know Earth had more carbon in earlier stages of development. For an excellent explanation of the effects of greenhouse gasses, here is a paraphrased example from Cosmos. Imagine on a scale of 1-6, the lower number being no greenhouse gases, the planet would be an ice world. At the highest number, Earth would resemble Venus. Either case, life as we know it would not flourish on the world we call home. Right now, Earth was about a 3 on this scale, but we are slowly increasing upwards, a slight increase is probably manageable, but turn the notch up to a 4, 4.5, or 5, who knows dire the effects will really be.

               Currently, there is a good framework offered by the Paris Climate Agreement in cutting back greenhouse gas emissions and generating energy from renewable sources. Under the leadership of one of the most uninformed and curiosity-challenged executives, the United States withdrew from the agreement because it is allegedly hurting America. The argument it is hurting America is bullshit, because climate change will hurt America, it will destabilize other parts of the globe, which will in turn threaten American interests and strain current humanitarian aid, and possibly draw us into more armed conflicts. The point of this writing though isn’t to argue how misguided withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement is, it is to ask the question: What if we are too late in in acting to mitigate the direst effects of climate change?

               If we are too late, it doesn’t mean we should cease efforts to further mitigate climate change. If the sea level rises only ten feet, it is better than twenty feet. If sea levels dramatically rise, the coastlines of all the continents will be altered, some greater than others. Asia will suffer the worse, with tens of millions in low-lying areas, especially in Bangladesh. More islands, some have already disappeared, will be claimed by the sea. There is no telling how many humans may lose their lives – and what kind of economic impact it will have on their nations and the world. Highly populated areas tend to have a higher means of production, and the loss of these areas would be devastating. A lot of clothes Americans wear are manufactured in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Taiwan, which would be greatly devastated by rising sea levels.

               Millions may die and tens of millions being relocated, especially in a short timeframe, would be devastating to areas not directly impacted by rising sea levels. The infrastructure like accommodations, food, drinking water, electricity demands, healthcare, etc. are something that takes a lot of planning to pull off successfully, and on a short notice there will be dire consequences. The mass relocation of people, without proper planning, will cause further strain on systems which are already under strain, and potentially a catastrophe of epic proportions. There is no guarantee that even a disaster of this scale, caused by climate change, will make the numerous deniers change their thinking or ways. Change is not easy but in terms of grappling with climate change, it will be necessary.

               But what if nothing is done, and we cross the threshold, the point of no return. What will need to be done to save our species? What changes will we have to make to ensure Earth remains the primary home of the human species? What about animals, insects, etc.?

               This is something I’ve thought a lot about, because I wrote close to fifty pages of a backstory exploring the world which led up to my novel’s premise 200 years in the future. In Within the Grasp of Ordinary (the book), the events of the backstory are referenced several times to its main character, David Ross, and the actions he took as In the Night They Came. It is best to describe the events as:

               The many nations of the world have strived to meet their greenhouse gas reductions goals, reduction in pollutants, and renewable energy targets, the polar ice caps, and Greenland ice sheet continue to melt, and sea levels rise. Businessman David Ross, a billionaire (really a secret trillionaire), along with a group of like-minded partners have come up with a plan to save the human species from itself. In remote facilities they begin fabrications of humanities new homes, and the implementation of the world’s biggest migration project. After working their way into the halls of power in the world’s most industrious and mighty nations, David Ross and his group launch the world-wide coup.

Slowly reports begin to air on major television news of the murders of prominent climate change deniers. Then an entire broadcast is dedicated to the construction of massive new structures, reaching a mile or higher into the air, called “Sky Cities”. Most of the parts of these structures have been pre-fabricated and then are erected within three months, and have areas dedicated to businesses, schools, hospitals, homes, gardens, etc. These structures, on top of being durable, are constructed with material which acts like a solar panel and has wind turbines. At first, people voluntarily move into these new Sky Cities which are constructed in metropolitan areas.

Soon though, people from smaller cities, towns, and villages are forcibly relocated into the expanding number of skyscrapers. A second revolution begins, as the smaller population areas are relocated, the old places of human habitation are demolished. In some cases, Mother Nature is allowed to reclaim the land. In other cases, the massive hydroponic farms are created to feed the population with fresh produce. In labs, genetically-modified animal fats have been used to create “meat” which tastes, smells, and cooks like meat from an animal. Our dependence on massive number of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc., which only help exacerbate our greenhouse gases problems (mostly by methane emissions), is eliminated.

The third step in David Ross’s plan is the final relocation of the world’s big cities. Over a twenty-year period, billions of people are relocated from millions of villages, towns, cities, into 200 metropolitans consisting entirely of Sky Cities. There is space between each structure, the ground level serving as areas for recreation, open space, etc. The need for cars has been eliminated with public transportation available from structure to structure and from one metropolitan area to the next. A drastic change in the way humanity lives has occurred, and it wouldn’t be our first. Initially we were all hunter-gathers, slowly coalescing into villages with the development of agriculture. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, we have formed denser and highly populated cities, most of the world’s population now lives in areas urban areas. David Ross’s vision is fiction but one which while science fiction, may someday become science fact.

The plan I imagined is fictional and I am aware of the very high cost it asks of people, uprooting their lives, often at gun point. Several characters in the story, Within the Grasp of Ordinary, and the in the works sequel, reference the enormous costs and tragic consequences. In this fictional universe, the defenders of Ross’s actions argue the end (humanity saving itself from climate change) justifies the means (brutal relocation, planetary exiles, etc.). In the real world, the result rarely justifies the means and I think we need to act now to prevent the worst possibilities of climate change. The Green New Deal, and Paris Climate Accord may not be enough, but it is better to aim for the stars than not to even try at all.

Sustainability

            The world we currently inhabit is not sustainable. Our recycling efforts though far improved from years before, are not enough. Non-governmental organizations, government at the local, state and federal level need to step up and heavily encourage recycling and better sustainability projects. An old professor of mine stated, he was prohibited from catching the runoff rain from his gutters. Him and other like-minded citizens succeeded in getting the local regulation overturned.

            Plastic bags are everywhere and though few cities and one state, California, has banned them, here in the Midwest they are still widespread. On a few occasions, I can see plastic bags dangling from trees of roaming across the plains like a tumbleweed. California in 2016 handed out 13 billion single use plastic bags – the national average is 100 billion. More information: www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/expect_more_bag_less/facts.html.

            Plastic bags are not recycled or widely reused. I will admit to using plastic bags for my groceries, which then are used to store my lunch. After my lunch is consumed, the plastic is put into our recycling bins at work. Plastic is not the only thing we are terrible at, batteries, electronics, furniture, food. A lot of food is thrown out because people believe it is bad after a subjective “sell by or best by” date. There are quite a few people I know who are not a fan of leftovers, though the it helps with keeping the food budget low and reducing food waste.

            Being sustainable and environmentally friendly is a worthy endeavor because there is no other planet we can flee to. There is no reset button or imaginary figure who will wisp us away because we believe in them. In Within the Grasp of Ordinary, one of the ways sustainability is dealt with is removing ourselves from plowing acres upon acres of land for new urban sprawl, rather the cities have gone miles high rather than miles wide. Land which was once occupied by cities has been reclaimed by nature. Oil and coal do not power the future. Rather the Sky City structures which Philip, Tristan, and the rest of humanity live in are constructed with a very durable material which also acts like a solar panel.

            In the present, there is much more that needs to be done. We need to set aggressive goals to get more of our energy demands met by solar, wind, and geothermal sources. We need to reduce our food wastes. We need to be better stewards of the planet we all call home. It is the only home we have now, the only home we have in the near future, and in the future, we still must maintain preserving our planet.