Offbeat 04 December 2015

I quite enjoy apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. Dystopian fiction is about societies gone wrong, sort of like Ira Levin’s novel or the current crop of low-quality fiction that has young adults fighting facism. Apocalyptic fiction is about the end of civilisation, often the world, and usually involves zombies, though sometimes asteroids or exploding suns.
I thought a bit about the popularity of these genres. What I estimate is that the people who consume them on a grand scale are sub-consciously recognising their fears and unhappiness. Normally the genres entail a small group of people against the somewhat threatening hordes.
In the case of dystopian fiction, it usually centers on a small group of people attacking the state. In the case of apocalyptic fiction, the storyline usually follows a small group of people isolated and attacked by zombies, which are a convenient metaphor for society. In both these types of fiction, the underlying thought seems to be that the reader feels threatened.
There is a sub-variety of apocalyptic fiction which involves a rekindling of romance or love a few short hours or moments before the meteor strikes. I imagine there are quite a few readers out there who are hoping to find love, even if it is the last thing they do.
For my part I enjoy reading these genres because most days are similar to other days, and a horde of zombies or a meteor strike would really disrupt the routine and liven things up. I’m far too settled to consider revolution or civil disobedience as a recreational answer to my ennui, just in case you are wondering.
As far as an end-of-the-world scenario goes, a meteor strike seems like a good option, if I didn’t know about it or didn’t have to spend a few days or hours bothering about it.
Unfortunately, a new, potential apocalypse has emerged, and I have to live with the idea.
Heat is a boundary to life. If there is too much heat, life dies. So, for instance, the Middle East may become unlivable due to direct heat, or famines brought about by plants that die in the heat and absence of rain, can cause humans to starve or migrate.
Those are both scenarios that I can cope with, because the possibility to move from here to there are implicit to both the scenarios.
Unfortunately this week brought a new, potential apocalypse, which stopped me in my tracks and made my jaw hang.
Phytoplankton, is transpires, can only survive in the ocean, if the temperature rise is limited to about six degrees Celsius. Although humanity might be able to survive a six degree rise with vast amounts of solar-powered air-conditioning, humanity is unlikely to survive without phytoplankton, because it produces about two thirds of the oxygen we breath.
The sickening news that humanity and the species it depends may die of oxygen depletion in about a century comes from modeling done by the University of Leicester, summed up in a paper published in The Journal of Mathematical Biology. Obviously, plants that produce oxygen on land will die off as well. If this theory seems strange, you can look it up. It’s called photosynthesis. You can also google phytoplankton and oxygen to get to the reports.
It seems that the two degree limit is the only answer, but it leaves no comfort as it is arbitrary and an average, not indicative of what is happening locally or regionally, given continuously emerging discoveries of feedback effects and the difficult nature of chaos maths .In other words, the globe will most likely continue heating regardless of measures we can take now, and we may be locked in to apocalyptic suffocation already.
There is no humour in this situation, and the only wry comment I can make is that the only solution appears to be the idea that if you hide under a blanket, you can’t see the monstere, so the monster can’t see you.
The really unlikely solution, taking own responsibility to reduce consumption, and international cooperation on mitigation, seem a bit far-fetched.


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