1 - Teetering on the Brink - why we need to take the impact of climate change seriously,
what it can do to us, and why things are worse than many people assume.
2 - Powerless - powercuts are often caused by global warming, and have become increasingly
widespread. Dealing with life without power is an essential when thinking about surviving
3 - The Staff of Live - without power we are soon without food and drink. Similarly
floods and other climate change disasters readily make it difficult to get supplies.
When that happens it's essential to be able to find what you need to survive.
4 - Wild Weather - drought, floods, freezing and storms each bring their own problems
and need for action.
5 - Safe and Well - when under pressure from climate change our normal services can
break down. Riots become more likely on the streets. Medical help is harder to come
by. Keeping yourself and those around you safe is an essential.
6 - Keeping our Humanity - there's no point surviving if you don't have any humanity
left. This section concentrates on dealing with the stress climate change throws
at us, being creative about solutions to problems thrown up by climate change, and
using everything from storytelling to music to make life worthwhile.
Most of the book is practical guidance on dealing with the worst that climate change
can throw at us, but the opening chapter explains just why we need to be prepared.
This first sample is from that chapter... later on we see some of the more practical
Living in a greenhouse
The greenhouse effect, which we’ve heard so much about, modifies the amount of the
Sun’s energy that escapes the atmosphere. Again, like the Sun, this isn’t a bad thing
in itself. If there were no greenhouse effect, the Earth would be an unpleasantly
chilly place, with average temperatures of -18 °C, around 33 degrees colder than
it actually is. But living in a gaseous greenhouse can be equally troublesome. The
greenhouse effect is caused by water vapour and gasses like carbon dioxide and methane
in the atmosphere. Most of the incoming sunlight powers straight through, but when
the energy heads back into space as infra-red radiation, some of it is absorbed by
the gas molecules in the atmosphere. Almost immediately the molecules release the
energy again. A portion continues off to space, but the rest returns to Earth, further
warming the surface.
We only have to look into the sky at dusk or dawn when the planet Venus is in sight
to see the result of a truly out-of-control greenhouse effect. Venus is swathed in
so much carbon dioxide (around 97% of its atmosphere) that relatively little energy
gets out. Admittedly our sister planet is closer to the Sun than is the Earth, but
it’s this exaggerated greenhouse effect that results in average surface temperatures
of 480 °C – hot enough for lead to run liquid – and maximum temperatures of around
600 °C, making it the hottest planet in the solar system.
No one is suggesting that the Earth’s atmosphere is heading for Venus-like saturation
of greenhouse gasses, but there is no doubt that the concentration of carbon dioxide,
methane and other gasses that act as a thermal blanket is going up. Each year we
pour around 26 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Around
a quarter of the CO2 we produce is absorbed by the sea (though this process seems
to be slowing down as the oceans become more acidic), and about a quarter by the
land (much of it eaten up by vegetation), but the rest is added to that greenhouse
layer. Looking back over time – this is possible thanks to analysis of bubbles trapped
in ancient ice cores from Antarctica and Greenland – the carbon dioxide level was
roughly stable for around 800 years until the start of the industrial revolution.
Since then it has been rising, and even the rate at which it rises is on the increase
– the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is not just growing, it’s accelerating.
In pre-industrial times, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was around
280 ppm (parts per million). By 2005 it had reached 380 ppm, higher than it has been
at any time in the last 420,000 years. It’s thought that the last time there was
a consistent comparable level was 3.5 million years ago in the warm period in the
middle of the Pliocene epoch, well before the emergence of Homo Sapiens, and it’s
likely that levels haven’t been much higher since the Eocene epoch, 50 million years
ago. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that if we don’t change
the amount of CO2 we generate, levels could be as high as 650 to 1,000 ppm by the
end of the century. The GISS model, one of the best computer simulations of the Earth’s
climate, which reflects the impact of these changes on water patterns, predicts that
most of continental USA will suffer regular severe droughts well before then.
The era of drought
By the end of the century, current predictions are that the tropics will live through
droughts thirteen times as often as they do now. Drought is already on the increase.
A 2005 report from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research notes that the
percentage of land areas undergoing serious drought had doubled since the 1970s.
South Western Australia, for instance, is facing a steady reduction in rainfall,
leading both to potential drought and increased chances of bush fires.
As drought conditions spread, availability of water becomes restricted. Significant
decreases in water output from rivers and aquifers are likely in Australia, most
of South America and Europe, India, Africa and the Middle East. Paradoxically, countries
like the UK are likely to get significantly drier summers with more drought-like
conditions, accompanied by wetter, stormier winters. Across the world, drought will
be dramatic. The 2007 report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
predicted that by the last quarter of the century between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people
will be suffering from water scarcity problems.
Most historical droughts have been relatively short term. Caused by statistical blips
in the climate rather than marked permanent change, they cause devastation and disaster,
but can be recovered from. A long term drought provides no way out. Where these have
happened, civilizations simply disappear. After three of four years, the inhabitants
of the drought area are faced with a simple choice of evacuation or death. A couple
of years later and you have an abandoned region, littered with ghost towns and dead
villages. Drought is no minor inconvenience.
Even where there is not immediate drought, the rise in temperature can push previously
lush areas into decline. Many areas that are currently tropical forests – the Amazon
rainforest has to be the best known example – are predicted to change to savannah,
grassland or even desert as the carbon dioxide levels rise and a combination of lack
of water and wildfire destroy the woodland. The Amazon, long touted as the lungs
of the world, has already become an overall source of carbon dioxide, pumping over
200 million tonnes of carbon from forest fires into the air – more than is absorbed
by the growing forest. If things continue the way they are, the expectation is that
the Amazon rainforest will be just a memory by the end of the century.
This change from carbon sink – a mechanism to eat up carbon dioxide from the air
– to carbon source is not just a feature of tropical forests. In 2005, scientists
in the UK reported that soil in England and Wales had switched from being a carbon
sink to a carbon emitter. As average temperatures rise, the bacteria in the soil
become more active, giving off more CO2. Remarkably, in 2005 this was already proving
enough of a carbon source to cancel out all the benefits from reductions in emissions
that the UK had made since 1990.
Need to keep things cool without power? Here's a handy tip from chapter 2:
If your fridge is getting too warm, you can use evaporation to help keep perishable
goods cool. When a liquid evaporates it takes heat from its surroundings – this is
why sweat cools your skin.
There’s a type of wine cooler that works by soaking an unglazed terracotta pot in
water. As the water evaporates, the air inside the pot cools down, keeping the wine
bottle inside cool. You can get a better and more long lasting effect by taking two
unglazed terracotta pots (plant pots, for example), one smaller than the other. Plug
up any drain holes in the pots so water doesn’t leak out. Place the smaller pot into
the larger one and fill the gap between with coarse sand. Then pour water into the
sand until it is saturated. You will get significant cooling as the water soaks through
the terracotta and is evaporated. Put a piece of wet cloth over the top and items
in the inner pot will soon be chilled. One of these dual-pot systems can run a couple
of days between recharges of water. They work best out of the sun – full sun results
in the water being lost too quickly.
Need some water? There are plenty of ways to get clean, drinkable water in chapter
3, including this:
A large part of the working mechanism of a plant is engaged in searching out moisture
in the ground and pumping it out – in effect, plants are living water pumps that
can work for you: all you have to do is find a way to tap into that water.
If you place a clear plastic bag over a shrub, or the leafy branch of a tree, water
that the plant has extracted from the ground and that is escaping as water vapour
will be trapped in the bag. For a tree branch, use a large bag, tied around the branch,
with one corner of the bag drooping to collect the condensation. For a shrub, either
use a bag tied around the base of the shrub, or a plastic sheet, lifted above the
top of the shrub with a stick. In either case, condensation will run down the ‘roof’
of the bag – make sure there is a plastic lined trench around the outside to collect
the water so it doesn’t run into the centre of the bag and out around the base of