Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” is a contributor to WRAL TechWire. Brain takes a serious as well as entertaining look at a world of possibilities for Earth and the human race. He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.“ This story is the second of two parts about climate change – the global risk if not addressed and solutions.
RALEIGH – The climate change scenarios that we have explored in this thought experiment paint a dire picture. What can humanity do if we want to change course and avoid these worst-case scenarios?
This is the first step: Humanity must stop burning fossil fuels right now. Immediately. Today. Not in decades, but now.
The big question: Will humanity be able to do this before major die-offs begin or the feedback loops get rolling so significantly that they become irreversible?
Think back to the Apollo moon missions. How did the United States go from its first astronaut in orbit (1961) to landing astronauts on the moon (1969) so quickly? Because the United States hired and organized 400,000 smart, dedicated people to solve the problem. We did this at a time when the United States population was much smaller than it is today.
Similarly, the United States drafted 10 million people and dedicated much of its industrial capacity to help win World War II. The U.S. population was half what it is today.
Right now, humanity and planet Earth are facing an existential threat from climate change. This threat deserves the same level of intensity to solve it. Even more.
What can we do? The United States and other countries can hire and organize a million smart, dedicated people to put maximum effort into solving the climate crisis quickly. They would:
- Radically increase the amount of power generated from renewables like solar, wind and geothermal sources, along with storage technologies since these renewables can be intermittent.
- Radically increase the production of electric vehicles and batteries, developing new technologies as fast as possible and then scaling them up to industrial levels.
- Radically increase the amount of public transit, so that the world’s population needs far fewer cars.
- Radically increase the production of synthetic gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel, eliminating the need for fossil fuels in existing infrastructure.
- Completely eliminate all coal-fired, oil-fired, and natural gas power plants and replace with renewables.
- Replace natural gas from the ground with synthetic natural gas that is carbon neutral.
- Discover and deploy new ways to create concrete without any fossil fuels. Do the same for bricks and steel.
- Discover and deploy new ways to grow food without any fossil fuels.
- Radically accelerate lab-grown and plant-based meat and dairy alternatives and end traditional meat agriculture.
- Discover and deploy the technology to extract 200 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year.
- Discover and deploy techniques to save energy.
- Discover and deploy geoengineering strategies.
- Find new ways to protect the glaciers in Antarctica and around the world.
- Remove human activities from the rain forests and let them regenerate and grow.
- Discover and deploy new ways to abate ocean acidity.
- Discover and deploy new ways to save, store, transport and create fresh water.
- Discover and deploy new ways to solve the plastic problem.
- And so on…
Use the million smart people to do all these things simultaneously and as quickly as possible. Save planet Earth while we can.
Someone out in the audience is yelling, “That’s impossible! How will we afford this?” Simply ask:
- How did the United States afford the moon missions?
- How did the world afford World War II?
- How can the United States afford to spend $1 trillion+ on its nuclear arsenal?
- How can the countries of the world afford their enormous military budgets?
How do we afford any of these things? The answer is: we make the decision to afford these things. Humanity can absolutely afford to solve the biggest existential crisis that human beings and planet Earth have ever faced.
If we do not take action at this scale, then we will lose it all:
- We will lose the Earth’s equatorial region
- We will lose billions of human lives
- We will lose all our coastal cities and beaches
- We will lose thousands of species in the oceans
- We will lose thousands of species on land
- We will lose the world’s rainforests
- We will lose much of our croplands and thus our food supply
- And so on…
There is so much at stake. Will we lose everything because we cannot make some sacrifices and stop burning fossil fuels? It seems impossible that humanity would choose to lose everything, but this is exactly the path humanity is on today.
It really is this simple: We, the human species worldwide, must allocate the money and people and resources to save our species and planet Earth while we can. We must act now, and we must act aggressively. If we do not, we will watch the climate crisis maximally unfold and engulf us in catastrophe.