Years ago I asked an archeologist friend of mine, who occasionally comments on this blog under the nom de plume “Bob”, how long it would take for nature to overrun our motorways, completely, if they were utterly abandoned? He thought the process would be about a century long, although, as he pointed out, the shape of the cuttings and bridges would persist for much longer. I was angry at the wanton destruction of our remaining greenery by the then increasing motorway network. The thought of all that concrete being gone in one hundred years calmed me.
These days we all agree that we pump far too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which warms the planet and will make our life impossible. Practically all scientists agree about this and most people trust science more than opinion (thank God, whoops). There are, of course, people who don’t agree with these prophecies. These people fall into two main camps. Firstly, there are the so-called climate change deniers. These people are not scientists and have no basis to deny anything but they have a clear interest in none of it being true. They tend to be funded by car manufacturers, mining corporations et cetera or are old people who have been very consumptive in their lives and can’t deal with the guilt and the like.
Secondly, there are a big bunch of people who just don’t want to think about the problem because it makes their lives too scary. Instead of thinking about it, they find it so much easier to chuck a whole load more coal on the fire etc., This group doesn’t really have a name, so I’ll make one up. Let’s call them the Fearful No Thinkers. It’s a crap name. Clearly we need a better one. The fearful no thinkers are well aware of the problem but almost all have children and want their kids to have the same sort of materially based heavenly upbringing that they had themselves, regardless of whether it is appropriate to the next generation’s well being.
The scientists also generally agree that we have a small window which closes in about five years time to fix the problem, otherwise we’re fucked. If that’s true, then there’s little point in all us Green Party activists bothering the deniers or fearful no thinkers any longer with our irritating facts. The only way we’ll know if its true is by reference to the soothsayers of today, the scientists.
There is a third group who accept that climate change exists, agree that by conventional methods we’ll only have these next five years to deal with it but remain hopeful that science itself will dream up a solution to the problem. They place their hope in technology, to cure the crisis. Broadly speaking, these technicians various proffered plans are called geoengineering. There’s a lot of different approaches. None of these schemes have been tested on a large scale and when reviewed by scientists using their computer modelling they all fail to deal with the problem. However it seems likely that our society will have to employ some of these methods because the chances of us waking up to the emergency facing us in time to rescue ourselves seems very slim. When you’re at a great party do you leave it in time to make the next day’s work feasible or do you have that extra drink and dance with the pretty girl/boy a little longer? Yup, you take the drink and suffer the consequences…
Here’s a list of the various ideas which loosely fall under the name geoengineering:
- solar radiation management – to reduce the net incoming short-wave (ultra-violet and visible) solar radiation received, by deflecting sunlight, or by increasing the reflectivity (albedo) of the atmosphere.
- carbon dioxide removal – to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and thus tackle the root cause of global warming.
- heat transport – to mix cooler deep water and warmer surface water.
Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere naturally. The problem is that they can’t keep up with the rate at which we produce it. They just work fast enough! Wallace S. Broecker (a climate scientist) and Robert Kunzig (a science writer) have proposed covering the world with artificial trees which scrub the atmosphere more efficiently. Klaus Lackner (a researcher at the Earth Institute, Columbia University) is developing such a tree. There are unverified claims that his artificial trees will soak up the unwanted carbon a thousand times faster than regular trees. The idea is that the carbon is then stored somewhere useful. Perhaps inside pencils?
This is where Swindon comes in. Everyone agrees that it is a nasty place, even the people who live there. Its name is a combination of old Anglo-Saxon words meaning pig hill. Much of central Swindon was originally designed for pedestrians but when the motor car became popular, the inhabitants gladly abandoned their wide pavements in favour of more lanes for cars. The result is a ghastly experience for people and not much better for motorists. The Swindonians’ devotional attitude to cars was underscored by their local authority’s decision in October 2008 to ban fixed point speed cameras. It is also the only place I have even been spat on whilst hitchhiking. Can there be a better candidate for the planet’s regeneration than Swindon? The costs of resettling the lost souls of Swindon would be moderate because domestic property there is cheap compared to household income. The people should compensated for the loss of their crappy lives, encouraged to settle elsewhere and then we can use this unwanted, unproductive land as a giant test bed for the artificial trees.
The Swindon Tree Park won’t solve global warming, it won’t stop us wanting to party on forever but it will give the UK post-apocalyptic green economy a head start. Successive governments have been unafraid of upsetting the Christian moralising lobby when deciding to allow stem cell research or the animal rights lobby when deciding to approve animal experiments. The time has come to upset the Swindon diehards in the name of positioning ourselves for the time when other countries will be crying out for more efficient trees and a good supply of pencils. We have nothing to lose, except Swindon!