I must prefix this post with a bit of back story…
A reader in Taiwan, Danny Bee, left a comment on an article I wrote (“Emily Yoffe Learns The Secret“). I had first assumed that the comment was spam, though the suspect spam did not follow my preconceived notions of spam. It had no sales pitch, no links, and no inappropriate words. However, it didn’t exactly fit the article on which it was submitted:
Yoffe captures my concerns about the modern inception of philosophical teachings. Not by coming out and saying it, but by a simple inference from her experiences. I’ll remind my readers that I’m not bashing these teachings, only the glossy cover and Cliff’s Notes by which so many establish their adoption.
…and Mr. Bee’s response:
Polar cities in the far distant future to house remnants of humankind
who survive the apocalypse of devastating global warming? The casual
reader might think I am an alarmist or a mere scare-monger, but I am
neither. I am a visionary.
So like a good blogger, I engaged Danny in some email communications (to verify he was a real person) and tossed out the idea that I write something up on my opinion of his comment. I did check into Polar Cities a bit. Wikipedia has a very brief explanation of them.
Polar cities are proposed sustainable polar retreats designed to house human beings in the future, in the event that global warming causes the central and middle regions of the Earth to become uninhabitable for a long period of time. Although they have not been built yet, some futurists have been giving considerable thought to the concepts involved.
High-population-density cities, to be built near the Arctic Rim with sustainable energy and transportation infrastructure, will require substantial nearby agriculture. Boreal soils are largely poor in key nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, but nitrogen-fixing plants (such as thevarious alders) with the proper symbiotic microbes and mycorrhizal fungi can likely remedy such poverty without the need for petroleum-derived fertilizers. Regional probiotic soil improvement should perhaps rank high on any polar cities priority list. James Lovelock’s notion of a widely distributed almanac of science knowledge and post-industrial survival skills also appears to have value.
As Danny says it, he’s not an alarmist nor a scare-monger, just a visionary. He didn’t rule out cuckoo, though to be fair, zealous may be more apt.
The idea of Polar Cities is in response to doomsday concepts from global warming. Should the ecosystem collapse as a result of a massive build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, then this idea has only rhetorical value. As for the development and planning of Polar Cities for this foreseen eventuality, I think it either a bad plan or at least very pessimistic.
The estimated surface area of our polar land masses seems pretty high – almost 30 million km². Our population is over 6.7 billion at the moment. If you do the math on just those numbers, you get population density of around 224 persons/km². But I think that argument is far too simple. If we assume that 3/4 of the earth’s population dies due to the volatility of the environment, you’re left with 1.675 billion people looking for ocean-front property. I was also being nice by saying that we had nearly 30 million square kilometers of land mass between our two polar regions. If you look at what happens after the ice sheets melt, land rises from a release in pressure, and volcanoes blow, you’re looking at a lot less inhabitable land after all. I’ll cut it in half to 15 million km² because I’m skeptical about our building too close to volcanoes, fault lines, and other natural disasters. I also have to account for the plethora of lake and rivers that would undoubtedly remain on Antarctica – not to mention its steep mountain sides and craggy peaks. Now you’re looking at a population density of around 112 persons per square kilometer. That’s actually not that bad. There are far worse places in the world as far as population density goes.
Now that we have a workable number of people, we can start analyzing what this new homestead would be like.
I imagine a world metropolis at each pole (technically, the Arctic surrounds the pole). All nations and all diversity of people have centralized in two locations of the planet. The central lands of Earth have become desolate and hostile. You can venture out onto them, but survivability is contingent upon resources and exposure. The populations live in high-rise hotels methodically placed in a grid over the available land masses. The fringe area of decent land would be more barren of people than the central, cooler parts. Unfortunately, most people would need to be in Antarctica because of its concentration of land at the pole. Each hotel would be surrounded by land necessary to grow food and raise livestock. Everyone in the square kilometer living unit would be required to do their share of work to earn their food and living quarters. I’m not entirely sure how waste would be dealt with – perhaps pumping it into magma faults would suffice, but it may also be problematic in maintaining such a system. A refinery would probably take up too much valuable land area.
There would certainly be a militant government in place at both polar regions. I doubt anything more than a form of Feudalism would be adopted. With so many different people from different backgrounds, humans would probably resort to brute strength. With anarchy-like crime abound and tough living conditions, citizens would surely profess an allegiance to a “king” for support.
A glimpse into what living in Polar Cities might be like seems more like a good idea for a Science Fiction novel than any reality we should plan for. I can almost see an adaptation of “Firefly” applying to Earth’s new living conditions. While interesting to contemplate, I think time is better spent learning what exactly is happening to the environment, and reducing our adverse impact to it. Then again, if the environmental changes are a natural evolution in planetary cycle, then we humans are going to go through some hard times. I don’t think Darwin’s theory of natural selection comes without its pain. A species must suffer untold losses to survive with its fittest.