Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” – takes his weekly Doomsday column in a different direction today: Space and aliens. Think H.G. Wells and “War of the Worlds” – but a much different kind of invasion. “The Day the Earth Stood Still” comes to mind. Marshall 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.” Brain has written several posts recently about the threat of climate change. His exclusive columns written for TechWire are published on Fridays. This column is a repeat. Marshall will return after the holidays.
Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
RALEIGH – Next to an exchange of nuclear weapons, climate change is the worst global threat that planet Earth and humanity are facing. Unless humanity addresses and solves the climate change problem quickly, the collapse of civilization and the collapse of the biosphere are approaching. There are so many facets to the climate change problem that will attack us:
- Rising global temperatures
- Increasing extremes in droughts and flooding
- Crop failures
- Water shortages
- Species extinctions
- Millions of climate refugees
- Habitat destruction
- Rainforest collapse
- Degradation and then collapse of the oceans through heating, acidity, overfishing, pollution, plastics, and other assaults
- Blue Ocean Event in the Arctic
- Catastrophic sea level rise
And many more. [See Note 1 below]
Humanity’s current response to these threats from climate change is so tepid that it is astonishing. Every intelligent human being can see exactly where climate change is heading. The basic concepts and processes of climate change are easy to understand. The idea that humans would largely ignore what is happening to the planet’s climate and willingly oversee a sixth mass extinction event, along with the eventual collapse of human civilization, is shocking. It is impossible to believe given what is at stake. This video describes our situation: https://youtu.be/c_wF3_Y5a9E?t=30
This video contains three quotes that are immensely important to the future of humanity:
- “More than half of all the emissions we have put into the atmosphere in the entire history of humanity, we have done in the last 30 years. This means we are doing this damage in real time and in the space of a generation. So the speed is really overwhelming.” The point being that we are making the climate change problem worse and worse every day.
- “In the big picture, the science itself is terrifying. Every finding the scientists come up with every day makes the world look bleaker.” The reason it is looking bleaker and bleaker is because the leaders of the world are failing spectacularly right now. They are doing so little in the face of impending catastrophe.
- “The U.N. says that to avoid catastrophic levels or warming, we need a global mobilization at the level of World War II.” Humanity is doing nothing of the sort right now.
We are facing an existential crisis. Therefore, we must ask, “How would we declare war on climate change? What should humanity be doing if we want to save ourselves and planet Earth? What would a WWII-style mobilization actually look like?” Here are 12 steps that humanity should be taking immediately, in a massive and war-like effort to save the planet and ourselves.
Step 1 – We should immediately ban beef cattle
There are more than a billion beef cattle on planet Earth today. Because of the way they digest their food, each one burps and farts out an amount of methane that makes one beef animal equivalent to approximately one car on the road. Therefore, if we ban beef cattle on planet Earth and eat all of them over the course of two or three years, it would be the rough equivalent to eliminating all of the greenhouse gases from all of the cars on planet Earth in one quick stroke.
This is by far the easiest thing that global leaders can do to reduce a meaningful percentage of greenhouse gases being emitted on our planet. It costs zero dollars to implement this change and the effect is nearly immediate. See this article for details. A huge side benefit is that banning beef cattle is a huge win for the Amazon Rainforest in Step 9. [See also Note 2]
Step 2 – Ban coal power plants planet-wide over the next 8 years
Today, the most significant use of coal can be found in numerous coal-fired power plants scattered all over the globe. This fantastic map shows every single one.
The article that goes with the map states: “The way coal’s next chapter unfolds is key to tackling climate change. Global unabated coal use must fall by around 80% this decade if warming is to be limited to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures.” Unfortunately, we are currently headed in the opposite direction.
The only way to reach the target is to:
A) Stop all construction of new coal-fired power plants,
B) Either close all the existing plants or convert them to green natural gas as described in Step 5,
or C) Replace them with renewables like wind and solar along with grid scale energy storage as described in Step 4.
Imagine the world’s leaders assembling and making the decision together to close all of the planet’s coal power plants in this decade. If we have declared war on climate change, it makes complete sense. It would be a huge win for the planet and for humanity. In addition, it is the obvious economic thing to do because renewables now cost less than coal in most places. The article puts it this way: “In a report published in March 2020 it found that more than 60% of the world’s coal plants are generating more expensive electricity today than could be supplied by building new wind or solar plants. It says this figure will rise to 100% of plants in the world’s major markets by 2030.” It’s a win/win situation to abandon coal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kzQob3LfDg
Step 3 – Massively ramp up solar cell and wind turbine production
During WWII the world massively ramped up the production of weapons: war ships, war planes, tanks, guns, ammunition. In addition, the United States funded the whole top-secret Manhattan Project at gigantic expense. The article puts it this way:
“The project expenditure through 1 October 1945 was $1.845 billion, equivalent to less than nine days of wartime spending, and was $2.191 billion when the AEC assumed control on 1 January 1947. Total allocation was $2.4 billion [about $40 billion in 2022 dollars]. Over 90% of the cost was for building plants and producing the fissionable materials, and less than 10% for development and production of the weapons.
A total of four weapons (the Trinity gadget, Little Boy, Fat Man, and an unused Fat Man bomb) were produced by the end of 1945, making the average cost per bomb around $500 million in 1945 dollars. By comparison, the project’s total cost by the end of 1945 was about 90% of the total spent on the production of US small arms (not including ammunition) and 34% of the total spent on US tanks during the same period. Overall, it was the second most expensive weapons project undertaken by the United States in World War II, behind only the design and production of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.”
The Manhattan Project’s cost was enormous. But as seen here, it was tiny in the grand scheme of wartime spending. We need to be spending like this to fight climate change. This is what the U.N. means by, “we need a global mobilization at the level of World War II.” Solar Panel and Wind Turbine production needs to be increasing by an order of magnitude in order to think about replacing all of the coal power plants. And then there is so much additional capacity that is needed as described in these other steps. The Inflation Reduction Act represents a start, but it is a drop in the bucket given the size of the challenge we face.
Step 4 – Massively ramp up electricity storage solutions
We all know the big problem that renewable sources of energy create: they are intermittent. A coal power plant can run 24×7, but the sun can only produce power for six or so hours a day when the weather cooperates. Therefore, we need a way to store power at grid scale to make it through the hours when solar panels produce zero electricity.
The good news is that there are dozens of new technologies emerging for storing electricity at grid scale. Here are five of them to give you a taste:
- Why Rust Batteries May Be the Future of Energy – Iron Air Battery Technology
- Grid Scale Energy Storage 30x cheaper than Lithium-ion! How do they do that? ThermoPhotoVoltaic or TPV technology
- How the CO2 battery could be the future of energy storage?
- How salt and sand could replace lithium batteries
- The Future Of Energy Storage Beyond Lithium Ion
Again, the key is money and the engineering talent it can buy for research, development, and deployment. We need to prove out inexpensive, reliable, scalable grid storage alternatives and then quickly deploy them at scale in the real world. Once we crack this nut, then it is possible to produce all of the world’s electricity with renewables. The world’s leaders need to fund this effort immediately.
Step 5 – Replace fossil natural gas with green natural gas
Natural gas is a big part of our climate change situation for two reasons:
- We need to stop burning natural gas from fossil sources and replace it with green natural gas made from green hydrogen. We need to do this because there are so many factories, power plants and home appliances that currently use natural gas. If we can create green natural gas in sufficient quantities to replace fossil natural gas, then we do not have to change any of our existing equipment and infrastructure.
- Natural gas is a great way to store and transport energy. Germany, for example, already has enough storage space to hold three months’ worth of natural gas at a national scale. Unfortunately, Germany is currently storing fossil natural gas. Switch it over to green natural gas and it becomes a form of solar battery. In the same way, a liquified natural gas tanker can efficiently transport millions and millions of kilowatt-hours of solar electricity.
Here’s one way this might work. We build enormous fields of solar panels in places like the Sahara Desert, the Mojave Desert, etc. We use the electricity from these panels to create green hydrogen. Then we use the green hydrogen along with carbon in a chemical process (one of which is called the Sabatier reaction to create methane, AKA green natural gas. This green natural gas can flow through existing natural gas pipelines that lace across all developed countries, or it can turn into Liquified Natural Gas for shipment via LNG tanker ships. This video is helpful: https://youtu.be/zOfGEDGdCxs?t=14
With investment, the world’s leaders can accelerate the deployment of this technology, which will then pay for itself.
Step 6 – Replace liquid fuels like fossil jet fuel with green jet fuel
In the same way that we can make green natural gas in Step 5, there are ways to make green liquid fuels that rival the cost of fossil fuels. This video shows one company that is on a path to make green jet fuel at a very reasonable price: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5_vrdA4uCg
The world’s leaders can provide the funding to accelerate the development and deployment of these technologies.
Step 7 – Immediately implement a global fee for all remaining carbon emissions
If we eliminate all the coal power plants in Step 2, and replace fossil natural gas with green natural gas in Step 5, and replace fossil jet fuel with green jet fuel in Step 6, then much of the carbon dioxide that once flowed into the atmosphere due to fossil fuels has been eliminated. But there are still many places in the economy that emit carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, for example steel production and concrete production. It will take time to eliminate everything that burns fossil fuels.
During this transition period, charge everything that still uses fossil fuel a fee, and use this fee to fund carbon dioxide removal technologies.
For example, the fee should be around $1.25 per gallon of gasoline. When someone buys and burns a gallon of gas, this fee will cover the cost of removing that gasoline’s carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. This video shows one way to do the removal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rf7pTfCxNW4
In this way, human activities around the globe can become carbon neutral very quickly, so that there are zero new carbon dioxide emissions entering the atmosphere due to fossil fuels that humans use.
Step 8 – Extract all the legacy carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere
With Steps 2, 5, 6 and 7 we can eliminate all the new carbon dioxide flowing into the atmosphere due to fossil fuels. But there are another 1.5 trillion tons of carbon dioxide that humans have already pumped into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution started.
To solve this problem, humanity will need to begin extracting this legacy carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. The video in Step 7 discusses how one method of Direct Air Capture technology works. There are several other technologies in development as well. With funding from a war-like effort against climate change, we can rapidly scale up a variety of technologies for Direct Air Capture (DAC).
There is also a well known and guaranteed-to-work way to extract carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere – trees – as described in Step 9.
Step 9 – Reverse the destruction of the Earth’s rainforests by eliminating human activities there and letting the forests regrow
This video shows how areas like the Amazon Rainforest are being destroyed, and contains this devasting quote: “At this rate, 60% of the Amazon Rainforest is projected to disappear by 2050” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4eLTYUcj7k
The problem is that a rainforest represents a symbiotic system, where the forest itself pumps moisture into the atmosphere so that it falls again as rain. Once we cut down too many trees, this cycle collapses and rainforests collapse, turning into grassland or desert.
The problem with rainforest collapse is that it will release hundreds of gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is a triple whammy to the Earth’s biosphere:
- We lose the entire rainforest ecosystem
- Millions of species go extinct
- Hundreds of gigatons of carbon dioxide enter the atmosphere
It would be utter insanity for humanity to allow this to happen.
The alternative is to eliminate human beings and human activities from the Amazon Rainforest and the planet’s other rainforests. Then we allow the rainforests to regenerate from the destruction that has already occurred. In the process, the new trees can absorb many gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow during regeneration. See this article for details: Doomsday, shrinking rain forests and us – why we must turn the tide.
In addition, we can plant billions of new trees across the globe, absorbing even more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Imagine the world’s leaders assembling and agreeing to reverse the collapse of the Earth’s rainforests, and also agreeing to plant billions of new trees. It would be a monumental day for humanity and planet Earth.
Step 10 – Stabilize the Thwaites Glacier and Western Antarctica to prevent catastrophic sea level rise
These three articles discuss the utterly gigantic catastrophe that will occur if humanity allows the Thwaites glacier and other glaciers in Western Antarctica to collapse:
- Climate change & doomsday: Irreversible tipping points may mean end of human civilization
- The Doomsday Glacier is a global risk
- Doomsday warning: It’s time to start moving coastal cities to higher ground – here’s why
One prediction from scientists is that the Thwaites Glacier could start collapsing over the next five years. Once it collapses there will be no turning back, and humanity’s coastal cities will be destroyed.
Given the catastrophic nature of this threat, the world’s leaders must act to prevent this disaster. It might cost $100 billion to hire thousands of engineers and scientists to research and implement solutions to the Thwaites Glacier problem. And even so this will be a drop in the bucket when compared to the trillions of dollars in destruction that will occur if the world’s leaders do nothing.
Step 11 – Secure the world’s food supply from the coming crop failures
In Step 1 we talked about banning beef cattle and replacing them with lab-grown meat. Lab-grown meat has huge advantages compared to traditionally farmed cattle, including:
- Much less land is necessary
- Much less water in necessary
- Much less energy is necessary, especially with respect to agricultural fuels
- Food used to feed the animals can instead be fed to humans, reducing pressure on rainforests and agricultural land
- All the methane emitted by cattle is eliminated (see Step 1)
- Far less vulnerability to weather instability
These advantages are so significant that the world’s leaders should be banning beef cattle and running toward lab-grown meat as fast as they can.
Now think about all the grain crop failures that happened in 2022, including:
- The heatwave in India
- The flooding in Pakistan
- The droughts in Kansas, Europe, and Africa
- The war in Ukraine curtailing farming in a major breadbasket area
- A global fertilizer shortage
All these problems expose a huge vulnerability for humanity. A number of similar factors could combine to create an enormous and insurmountable grain shortage in 2023 and beyond, with the potential to starve hundreds of millions of people.
There is a solution to this problem if the world’s leaders would act. Humanity does not need to depend on traditional farming techniques to produce grain crops. Instead, humanity can turn to lab-grown flour. These two articles can provide an introduction to the topic:
- Lab-grown food will soon destroy farming – and save the planet https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/08/lab-grown-food-destroy-farming-save-planet
- Towards an Artificial Carbohydrates Supply on Earth
The first article puts it this way:
“Because it will be brewed in giant vats the land efficiency, the company estimates, is roughly 20,000 times greater. Everyone on Earth could be handsomely fed, and using a tiny fraction of its surface. If, as the company intends, the water used in the process (which is much less than required by farming) is electrolysed with solar power, the best places to build these plants will be deserts. We are on the cusp of the biggest economic transformation, of any kind, for 200 years. While arguments rage about plant- versus meat-based diets, new technologies will soon make them irrelevant. Before long, most of our food will come neither from animals nor plants, but from unicellular life.”
As mentioned for many of the prior Steps, the world’s leaders should be funding the massive acceleration of these technologies so that humanity can: 1) make the planet’s food production much more reliable, and 2) significantly reduce the amount of land needed for food production, and 3) reduce humanity’s vulnerability to weather problems like heatwaves and drought.
Step 12 – We should save the Arctic Ice Cap by whatever methods are required
In the scientific literature there is a concept of a Blue Ocean Event in the Arctic, also known by the acronym BOE. A Blue Ocean Event will occur when the Arctic ice cap has melted. And currently humanity is hurtling toward a BOE:
- The Arctic is heating up nearly four times faster than the whole planet, study finds
- The Arctic Is Warming Four Times Faster Than the Rest of the Planet
- The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world
This video shows how bad things will get with a BOE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo3cznpfIpA
As with the situation in Antarctica (see Step 10), it is impossible to believe how little action global leaders are taking to prevent a Blue Ocean Event in the Arctic.
Multiple ideas have been proposed, including:
- Dyeing the Arctic Ocean a bright yellow color
- Using hydrogen sulfide in the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight
- Spreading reflective glass beads on the ice
The world’s leaders should spend several billion dollars researching the best solutions and deploy them. In addition, deploying the previous 11 steps will also help to keep a Blue Ocean Event from happening in the Arctic.
Bonus Step – Humans must act to save the other species on this planet
The following heartbreaking article appeared right as I was finishing. It must be included:
This quote from the article is horrible to any thoughtful person:
“Earth’s wildlife populations have plunged by an average of 69% in just under 50 years, according to a leading scientific assessment, as humans continue to clear forests, consume beyond the limits of the planet and pollute on an industrial scale.”
Another reason is climate change. Last year, a billion marine animals cooked to death in a Canadian heat wave. There were also the massive wildfires in Australia that killed off 3 billion vertebrates. Don’t forget all of the intentionally-lit fires in the Amazon Rainforest killing off so many more creatures. And so on.
All this death and destruction is going to create the planet’s sixth mass extinction event. It is impossible to believe that an intelligent species like human beings will allow a mass extinction event to occur, but we are watching the catastrophe unfold right now as we speak due to a lack of leadership. The world’s leaders must act.
Can humanity stop climate change from destroying the planet? Yes, absolutely, with a concerted effort and a significant investment of money. We can prevent catastrophic collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem and mitigate many effects that are coming if we do nothing. Let’s review the 12 steps described above:
- Step 1 – We should immediately ban beef cattle
- Step 2 – Ban coal power plants planet-wide over the next 8 years
- Step 3 – Massively ramp up solar cell and wind turbine production
- Step 4 – Massively ramp up electricity storage solutions
- Step 5 – Replace fossil natural gas with green natural gas
- Step 6 – Replace liquid fuels like fossil jet fuel with green jet fuel
- Step 7 – Immediately implement a global fee for all remaining carbon emissions
- Step 8 – Extract all the legacy carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere
- Step 9 – Reverse the destruction of the Earth’s rainforests by eliminating human activities there and letting the forests regrow
- Step 10 – Stabilize the Thwaites Glacier and Western Antarctica to prevent catastrophic sea level rise
- Step 11 – Secure the world’s food supply from the coming crop failures
- Step 12 – Save the Arctic Ice Cap by whatever means necessary
If the world’s leaders would take all of these steps, it would make a huge difference to every living thing on the planet.
Why must the world’s leaders act now? Simply look back at everything that has happened in 2022, including:
In 2022 humanity has received a taste of what is coming, the tip of the climate change iceberg. Things will get far worse from here if we do not act at a massive scale described in these 12 steps. Either the leaders of the world declare a real war on climate change, or we are doomed.
Note 1 – After last week’s article was published, this question came in: “Can anyone, human or otherwise, do anything to really stop climate change from destroying the planet?” The answer is yes, and the purpose of this article is to lay out 12 important steps that would make a huge difference.
But the key variable here involves the leaders of this planet. Will they actually gather together and take real action? Will they actually implement anything like the 12 steps described here?
Note 2 – How do we ban beef cattle? The leaders of the world get together and sign a global treaty banning beef cattle. Then they create an enforcement system. Then humanity eats a billion beef cattle and they are gone. This one is so easy. In addition, lab-grown beef is emerging and accelerating at exactly the right moment to replace beef cattle with lab-grown beef.
Humanity bans things all the time and it is not a big deal. Example: right now, many jurisdictions are in the process of banning single-use plastics to try to save the planet’s oceans from a plastic apocalypse. Humanity’s leaders should go one step further and universally ban single-use plastics globally. Banning beef cattle falls into the same category. It is an easy thing to do.
- https://youtu.be/c_wF3_Y5a9E?t=30 – Why climate change is an ‘all-encompassing threat’
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ui6wWzxCrQ8 – Why Rust Batteries May Be the Future of Energy – Iron Air Battery Technology
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn7pfYKB7DA – Grid Scale Energy Storage 30x cheaper than Lithium-ion! How do they do that?
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vobMl5ldOs – How salt and sand could replace lithium batteries
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoTVtB-cSps – The Future Of Energy Storage Beyond Lithium Ion
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSzh8D8Of0k – How the CO2 battery could be the future of energy storage?
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5_vrdA4uCg – Artificial photosynthesis turns CO2 into sustainable fuel | Freethink
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rf7pTfCxNW4 – Direct Air Capture of CO2 from the Atmosphere | Carbon Engineering
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4eLTYUcj7k – Our Forests | Timelapse in Google Earth
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo3cznpfIpA – Blue Ocean Event : Game Over?