On Climate-Proofing Civilization
The climate’s changing rapidly lately, almost certainly due to CO2 emissions, but nothing will be done because the fossil fuels corporations are rich and powerful and (like all corporations) sociopathic. The process will probably go to completion, come hell or high water. (Likely both!)
So the way forward is adaptation. How to climate-proof civilization? We’ll have to rebuild it anyhow, once the seas rise and flood out the coastal cities. So billions will pack and move uphill, but to what?
I propose that we move as much as possible indoors, where we have climate control. In economic terms, this is ‘import substitution’ for the city. Import substitution is pricy but a long-term winning strategy.
Thus vertical farming, hydroponics and aquaponics. This saves on pesticides, herbicides, transportation, and it’s water-efficient too.
Water will be a problem. Too much here, too little there. But there’s desalinization, and there’s pulling water from the air. Neither has been done much; rivers and rain are cheaper; but if those become unreliable or unpredictable, then we’ll just have to pay up. Forced technical evolution.
As long as I’m fantasizing about closed systems, let me put in a good word for the plasma torch. Feed your city’s waste stream into it and zap everything down to atoms. So long dioxin and viruses. Out of it comes ‘fuel gas’ = CO + H2, a feedstock for fuel, fertilizer and plastic. Put the fertilizer into the hydroponics, and that’s a closed loop.
The plasma torch also emits ‘slag’, which is a mix of all the other elements. Nowadays they put this into a clay-lined landfill, but I say we send the plasma through a mass-spectrometer, and get out pure elements, ready for industrial use. How’s that for recycling?
While we’re at it let’s separate out the radioisotopes, for radiological cleanliness and industrial use. For instance, put a pinch of C14 into a glass sphere doped with phosphors, and you’ve got a light that’ll shine for millennia.
All of this is energy-intensive, and we’re running out of fossil fuels, which is forcing climate change. Solar and wind are fine, and getting cheaper, but I cannot imagine technologies more vulnerable to climate change. Also they’re intermittent, and they have a big footprint. The intermittency can be cured by efficient energy storage, but this tech needs invention and investment. The land footprint might create land-use conflicts. Turf wars; how retro.
Old-style nukes have repeatedly disgraced themselves; but I hear good things about LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor). But even nukes are fuel-based, which is not what I have in mind. So I was wondering about deep geothermal. Small footprint, continuous, zero-emission if done right. Can this be done affordably at gigawatt scale? Note that the drilling technology it needs is now being pioneered by the chase after ever-deeper oil.
Put it all together: deep geothermal power, plasma torch recycling, vertical hydroponic farms, water pulled from the air. Put it all under an air-conditioned geodesic dome and voila; a city you can plant anywhere. Climate change? Droughts, hurricanes, high seas, desertification, lethal hot-and-humid heat-shock weather? Who cares? It’s the Anthropocene, baby, get with the program.
Do note that most of these technologies will also be useful in space. Or put it this way; future Earth might become an alien planet. You can’t go home again.
Perhaps you, dear readers, know cheaper ways to climate-proof civilization. And probably I’m missing some necessary techs. And no doubt there will be political effects from all this technological centralization. If it’s heat-shock weather outside the dome, then you don’t want to be kicked out of town.
Not everyone can afford to build a climate-proof city. So how to live low-tech in the Anthropocene?
Comments and suggestions?