Who's prepared to survive climate change?
If we follow the current, accelerating temperature changes, in fifty years time, no one will be able to survive outdoors in Australia for any significant length of time and the vast majority of its agriculture will be gone.
Many readers may think that because Australia is already a hot place, other regions of the world might survive the worst climate change problems; they will still be able to have normal agriculture in fifty-years time. Unfortunately, other factors are in play. Soil degradation has being going on literally since civilisation began in 4,000 BC (or earlier). This ancient plan of ploughing soil and planting seeds inevitably degrades the soil. Humans have avoided its negative consequence historically by finding more untouched land to farm, such as clearing woodland and draining swamps, or clearing indigenous tribes off prairie-land. More recently, developed countries' massive use of fertilisers, created from petroleum, has offset this degradation but only temporarily. The rate of degradation has been accelerating with population growth and several studies conclude that we have fifty to a hundred harvests left before what's left the soil simply blows or washes away, a fate dramatically demonstrated in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl disaster.
Increasing numbers of droughts and floods will accelerate this soil loss, causing large-scale crop failures. Plants stressed by drought and heat are also more likely to suffer disease, increasing the likelihood of disease like wheat rust and banana fungus. Beyond a certain point of agricultural loss, society will begin to break down, as shown in the conflict in Syria (which occurred after a record drought) and South Sudan. Lawlessness and banditry will take hold, making life very difficult for those still trying to grow crops and sell them to food manufacturers.
Effectively, in fifty years time, the entire global process of growing food in the open air will have been severely reduced and mass starvation and social breakdown will have begun. Ploughing up the ground and planting grasses, such as wheat, was never a good long-term plan and would inevitably have destroyed soil developed over tens of thousands of years, but climate change and population growth have accelerated its collapse. Some readers might think that a warming world will open up new farmland near the poles, but soil takes millennia to build up and the soils of these polar areas are far too thin and nutritionally deficient, due to their historically cold climate, to grow commercial crops.
We are therefore in a desperate situation. If human-kind is to survive, we must start making plans to develop societies that are fed by food that is grown indoors, in an environment that doesn't constantly degrade the medium, the soil, that it is grown in. Fortunately, there has been a lot of progress in this field, both in the science of growing hydroponically (without soil) and growing crops underground. The above picture is of a farm in an old World War 2 bomb shelter in London, that supplies high quality greens to London restaurants. As long as there is sufficient full-spectrum light, powered by renewable energy, food can be grown in large quantities in this way.
But if we are to survive as a species into the next century and beyond, we will need to begin developing very large underground cities. They will be the only way we, as a species, will be able to survive the heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms, along with the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions triggered by glacier loss and sea-level rise, and escape the lawlessness that will break out on the surface as billions of people fight for the remaining food.
In a recent blog post, I put forward one small-scale solution; to create a domed habitat. After further thought, I've become concerned that it will be a very difficult plan to implement. Firstly, it would require a lot of money. Secondly, as soon as the habitat became valuable and useful, people with guns would probably turn up and take it.If the habitat was extremely remote, perhaps it would escape such an armed invasion, but that would make it even less viable, economically, to build. Either way, it seems unfeasible.
A more viable method is to augment existing underground facilities that have either been built to be defended, or are already owned by large communities that are able to defend themselves. For example, many very large underground facilities exist in the United States. A lot of these were developed to deal with nuclear war but some seem to have been planned for other reasons. An internet search of the keyword 'DUMBS' or deep underground military bases yields a lot of alleged information. Phil Schneider talked about the dark extent of some of these facilities, before he was found dead. Allegations aside, there are a lot of openly verified facilities in the United States, enough in total to house a million people. Mount Weather, Cheyenne Mountain and Raven Rock are the most well-known examples. Therefore, with enough funding (which the United States military definitely possesses), these facilities are highly likely to become a future haven.
But there is a problem with the American underground facilities. If they do become havens from climate chaos, they are highly likely to contain people with a very particular attitude, so to speak. Ever since its creation, the United States has been ruled by an Anglo-Saxon religious oligarchy following a Roman-style militaristic, fascist mindset. The Roman and Egyptian architecture in Washington and the designs on the dollar bill were never chosen on aesthetic grounds, they were a statement of intent. If you're in the United States and you don't like that white-supremacist, fascist mindset, or you're not eligible to be part of that group, you're almost certainly not going to get in those bases, or, even worse, you are, but as a slave. This possibility might sound extreme, but it's worth noting that the Nazis created a lot of underground facilities towards the end of the Second World War, in particular the Ebensee facility, which used prisoners and jews as slave-workers. The dark links between the Nazis and some of the oligarchs and corporations in America, before, during and after the war, as described in the book 'Nazi Hydra in America', make this future a disturbing and very real possibility.
Fortunately, there are other places in the world that have underground facilities. For example, there is an enormous network of underground tunnels and chambers under Helsinki, the captain of Finland. As this ABC news report explains:
Beneath Helsinki's surface lies nearly 500 separate underground facilities and 300 kilometres of tunnels that snake their way throughout the city — one of the most elaborate underground systems in the world.
The system was created, out of the granite bedrock, to enable Finns to escape an imminent nuclear attack from the neighbour, Russia. It has power and air circulation systems and food for a lot of Finns to survive for weeks.
As climate change bites, I think it is highly likely that the intelligent and resourceful Finns will extend this system and setup up large hydroponics facilities, renewable power systems and other resources to enable long-term survival, underground. Finland is a Scandinavian country - part of it is in the Arctic Circle - and so it is also one of the best places in the globe to survive in a climate-changed world. Finns are also known to be impressive at defending their land. The Finns' Herculean efforts at resisting the Russian invasion in World War Two, during the Winter War, gave their fighters a near legendary reputation for hardiness, cunning and bravery.
In conclusion, I think my earlier idea of funding a domed city is a big challenge; it could fail under its own steam, or get invaded by gunmen when things get tough. Fortunately, I think the people of Finland and Iceland already have the facilities, technology and resources to have a good chance of long-term survival in a climate-changed world. They also seem like a great bunch of people. I know they can't all be as lovely as Bjork and Rauni-Leena Luukanen-Kilde, but I still would prefer hanging with them when our planet enters full-on survival mode, rather than the people Dick Cheney puts in his underground city.
Fingers-crossed, they will succeed. Onnea!