May 19, 2007

Green the Desert

So the Ice Age didn't completely end 12,000 years ago - there has still been a lot of ice left, which isn't all that common in the Earth's history. But it looks like the Ice Age is going to end in the next 100 years or so.

The Arctic ice melts first. This messes with lots of things: the speed of global warming will be increased by the reduced reflection of sunlight back into space; northwestern European climates will become colder when extra fresh water slows the Mid-Atlantic Conveyor; global shipping will become cheaper if you can go across the top of Canada year-round. But sea-levels don't rise when floating ice melts, so that's not a problem.

Greenland loses its ice next. Sea-levels come up 6 m (20 feet). I personally lose half my ocean-side property, but so what? Other people have bigger problems: all seaports and seaside cities have 3 m (10 feet) of water in their streets; most of Florida, Bangladesh, the Netherlands, etc, disappear.

The Antarctic melts. When an ice shelf collapses, it causes a global tsunami. When all the ice is gone, sea levels are up another 60 m (200 feet). Billions of people have lost their homelands and are on the move. Choose your science fiction scenario for what the world will be like. (My hope is for law, not war.)

So rising sea levels will be a massive problem. Maybe we could pump it back into the coldest middle of Antarctica, and start restoring the icecap even as it melts round the edges...

But think what else we could do with all that extra water! If we desalinate it, we could make it a priority to restore water tables where agriculture has pumped water out and depleted them. More interestingly, we could pump it into the middle of the Sahara/Sahel, Texas, Australia, and create agricultural land to feed (and resettle) billions of people.

Sure, global warming's a problem - but any change always brings opportunities - and the opportunities will be enormous, if we have the UN infrastructure to allow us to utilize them.

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