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Climate Change on Old Earth
UK flood levels
Image from Steve Bowers
With a two-metre rise in average sea levels, many densely populated regions were inundated, including parts of the UK and France
The climate change crisis on Old Earth began even before the Information Age, peaked during the Interplanetary period, and finally moved to resolution and an eventual return to historical temperatures, first due to the efforts of the Terran population, and later under the auspices of GAIA.

Beginnings

The first steps toward the climate crisis that would eventually engulf the Earth began during the ancient Industrial Revolution that set humanity on the path toward a high technology civilization. The combustion of large quantities of carbon-based fuels, along with deforestation, soil erosion, and animal agriculture, produced a sharp increase in the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This gas, in combination with other byproducts of industrial civilization such as chlorofluorocarbons, began in turn to trap more and more solar heat in the planetary atmosphere, causing an overall rise in temperatures, and disrupting weather, climate, and environmental patterns across the globe.

The Interplanetary Age Climate Crisis

By 230AT (2200CE), the climate crisis had reached its peak. Average global temperatures had risen by 4 degrees Celsius, mostly at the poles, while sea levels had risen by an average of 2 meters. Ocean currents were disrupted by the melting of icecaps and glaciers (the Arctic Ocean became ice free and navigable in summer), and increasing water temperatures, combined with deoxygenation and acidification, resulted in large losses of both marine life and habitats.

At the same time, the climate itself became more extreme. Stronger and more frequent storms had begun in the Information Age, with a concomitant increase in property damage, injuries, and death. But the storms of the Interplanetary Age were stronger and more disruptive still, while across the world as a whole wetter regions saw increasing levels of precipitation and drier regions became ever more arid. Simultaneously, plant growth patterns began shifting significantly North and South, allowing the farming of fruits, vegetables and grains in areas where such had not been viable before - but more importantly leaving what had been the largest and most developed farming areas of the planet either barren or having to scramble to adapt to both new growing conditions and new pests, parasites, and diseases that came with them.

Impact on the Biosphere

The combination of warming oceans and warming atmosphere had a devastating impact on the biosphere. Everything from the general biodiversity of the planet to ocean-based food supplies was threatened. Fueled by the various environmental changes, the Great Dying accelerated, threatening or causing the extinction of massive numbers of plant and animal species. Almost as damaging was the impact of the many species that not only survived the Dying, but went on to thrive and breed at unprecedented rates once their various competitors and predators had succumbed.

Some of the most notable examples of biospheric disruption from the period included:

  • The invasive population boom of jellyfish into the depleted fish habitats of North America and Asia.
  • Mass plant die-offs (most dangerously impacting staple food crops) due to pollinator extinction and,
  • The rapid desertification of equatorial and tropical regions, most famously characterized by the near total disappearance of the rainforests of Brazil and the Congo.

Impact on Mindkind

While civilization did not fall due to climate change, the resulting disruptions varied from significant to severe. Mass migrations, driven by rising seas or drying climate destabilized or depopulated entire regions, often radically altering yet other areas as refugees clashed with local populations. Governments fell, and several polities became extinct as a result.

Turning the Tide

Despite the environmental and civil upheavals wracking the planet, a growing wave of changes, both great and small, first slowed, and then gradually reversed the climate crisis.

Changes in Society

Across the varied societies of Earth, new habits of behavior and cultural norms began to reduce the impact of mindkind on the planet. These included, but were not limited to:

  • Changes in eating habits and food production to more sustainable practices, ranging from the use of more efficient plants (natural and gengineered), to the consumption (and consumer acceptance) of insect based protein across most of the planet.
  • The eventual near total acceptance of gengineering as a tool and method to address a wide range of challenges. Eventually this would lead to the creation of several of the first Tweak clades, adapted to live more comfortably in the new conditions prevailing on Earth (and eventually other worlds discovered or engineered to have similar conditions).
  • Increasing urbanization, leading to decreasing environmental impacts per capita through economies of scale. This trend actually reversed itself in later centuries, as the implementation of other technologies to combat climate change also reduced the advantages offered by increased urbanization or even rendered them superfluous.
  • Comprehensive environmental policies utilizing real-time surveillance driving the adoption of green technologies and behaviours.

Changes in Technology

At least as important as the changes in Terran social structure, were the varied technologies, some new, some known about for centuries, that were put into operation to first stabilize and then repair and reconstitute the planetary biosphere. This included:

Energy Generation and Transport

  • The use of commercial fusion power, with the first commercial reactor coming online in 2057 CE, and additional reactors being added to the grid every 3-5 years thereafter.
  • A combination of new and renewable sources being added to the planetary energy mix, including wind, ground and space-based solar, and micro-nuclear and hydropower installations. Taken together, these systems did much to both diversify and localize the energy grid, providing a powerful secondary source, even as fusion retained a dominant role.
  • Durable low-cost, high-temperature (liquid nitrogen) superconductors were invented in 2043 CE, allowing energy to be more efficiently transported from remote solar and wind power installations to population centers. As use of green energy increased, fewer fossil fuels were required. The invention of room temperature superconductors in 2238 CE only accelerated this process.
  • Using the new superconducting technologies, everything from cars to airplanes was eventually electrified.
  • Increased use of telepresence, virtual reality, and telecommuting to reduce the amount of travel that took place.
  • Use of automated cars, trucks, and buses to transport and deliver food, raw materials, finished goods, and sophont passengers, reducing the number of vehicles in use, and incidentally the number of accidents.
  • Increased use of bicycles, scooters (often self-driving and self-balancing), and public transit.

Manufacturing and Materials

  • The growing use of molecular manufacturing allowed the creation of advanced materials, lighter and stronger than anything available before, reducing weight and increasing efficiency.
  • Fabbing and early nanomanufacturing systems allowed many goods, and even some foodstuffs, to be created in people's homes or at local production centers, reducing or eliminating the need for transportation systems to deliver them.
  • Advanced materials resulted in the creation of such tools as Vacuum Insulated Membranes, drastically reducing the need for heating and cooling in buildings, and the energy consumed thereby.
Bio Arcology
Image from Anders Sandberg
The Berthelot Arcology, a major biotech city grown north of Sardinia, one of many climate remdiation measures. The grass-like covering provided photosynthetic energy and absorbed CO2, while the many shafts and canyons provided both air and sunlight to the apartments. Deeper inside lay geothermal generators, internal parks and immune nodes.

Infrastructure

The new materials and manufacturing techniques, combined with advances in automation, including ever increasing numbers of ever more capable robots, made the creation of massive new projects both practical and economical. These included ecologically-optimised arcologies, air-conditioned Aysee Tents, efficient Vac-Train networks, and various carbon-sequestration, land reclamation, or climate modification systems (such as the so-called 'diamond trees,' bot constructed dikes and seawalls, and fleets of semi-autonomous cloud-seeding ships).

Envirotech

The need to repair, replace, and maintain the damaged or lost ecosystems of Earth led to the rise of the first envirotech systems. While primitive by the standards of later eras, they often represented the best of cutting edge technology for the time. Envirotech systems included such tools as:

  • Synsect pollinators used to replace the many insect and bird species lost or endangered by the Great Dying.
  • Biotech fields and forests full of non-replicating gengineered plants designed to alter the atmosphere or soil, initially used to reduce global CO2 levels or as a prelude to reintroduction of native species, although eventually this became an end in itself as first biotech and later nanotech manufacturing came to be seen as a superior use of the reclaimed land.
  • The use of exo-wombs to rapidly breed endangered species back to more sustainable levels. While used in a few cases, the technique never became sufficiently economical or widespread to do anything more than slow the impact of the Great Dying.
Taken together, the combination of social and technological changes Terragens undertook in response to the challenge of climate change would be the greatest project the children of Earth had ever undertaken. And in the mind of many, would eventually come to be seen as one of the cornerstones of the star-spanning civilization that they would eventually become.
 
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Development Notes
Text by Todd DrashnerInitially published on 01 November 2016.

 
 
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