"Why can't we?" It's a question that nagged at me. Why can't we reset the course of nature, utilizing human innovation and advanced technologies? We have, after all, already bent nature out of shape and aimed it squarely against us. That turnabout largely began with the Industrial Revolution, when we started pluming massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that nature isn't able to soak up and store properly. Excess carbon means extra heat and global temperature rise-and more extreme weather. As of 2018, the annual number of extreme meteorological events had doubled since 1980. It means oceans expand and rise. The rate of global sea level rise had jumped 50 percent in just two decades. It means more droughts and floods. The number of yearly storms and ensuing floods had quadrupled from the average number forty years ago. California experienced its worst drought in a millennium and its most destructive wildfire in modern history. It means mass casualties and entire populations relocating to more amenable geography. As many as one billion people could become climate refugees by 2050.
Reducing carbon emissions, or carbon mitigation, hasn't worked; we continue to overpollute the atmosphere. And in September 2016, we went past the tipping point: Four hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide was calculated to be present in the atmosphere during the month when carbon should be circulating in the air at its lowest levels. Summer vegetation sucks more carbon out of the atmosphere than at any other time, leaving September with the least amount. But 2016 was different. The ceiling of four hundred parts per million became the floor-and we broke through it. That means the effects of global warming are likely irreversible without intervention. The result, if current rates continue, is temperature rise of 5.4¼F by the middle of the century. The consequences of that are more bouts of extreme weather, higher sea level rise, massive migrations from low-lying areas, and endangered global food supplies. The heat might even completely destroy the Amazon rainforest, also known as the Earth's "lungs" because of all the carbon that it takes from the atmosphere and stores. If the Amazon goes, climate change effects will multiply exponentially.
Given this new reality, this hostile environment of the future, we have to opt for a more extreme approach to fighting climate change. We need silver bullets.
Geoengineering is defined as "the deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the Earth's climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming." It's the fighting method we need if we are to stand a chance against nature's wrath.
Many environmentalists, including Al Gore, are opposed to the idea. He and others believe that if we intervene with the climate, we will be addressing the symptoms and not the causes of our human environmental plight; the movement to lower carbon emissions will be abandoned for expediency. They fear that people's preventative environmental actions, such as using less fossil fuel energy, will wane and society will instead count on unproven cures. But the National Academy of Sciences says exploring and funding research for geoengineering possibilities are necessary.
Visionaries such as Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates believe artificial modification has its benefits if executed carefully and responsibly. I'm in their camp. Throughout this book various geoengineering methods are explored, as are ways to better manage the other natural elements we rely on for our survival-land, seas, our freshwater and food sources, and more.
Over the years, I supported the idea that if masses of people took little steps to save the planet, we could do it. That idea was manifest in my 2007 book, The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time. It gave hundreds of simple actions people could take to reduce waste, lower their energy use, and save water.
A year later, in my book You Are Here: Exposing the Vital Link Between What We Do and What That Does to Our Planet, I explored how we affect people, places, and things all over the world by what we do when we waste, pollute, and overconsume. The book called for more environmental education and awareness, and showed how we are all connected by our mutual actions. But a few years later, I realized that what we were doing as environmental activists wasn't working. I then wrote a comprehensive book on climate preparedness-a National Geographic guide for the inevitable effects of an extreme environment.
September 2016 was another turning point for me. If we could no longer slow global warming, if it wasn't enough to prepare, we'd have to take control of nature.
Hacking Planet Earth shows us the world we are in for and what we can do about it with forward-thinking fixes. Fate cannot be left to chance any longer. We have to forge our own way ahead using the one faculty that separates us most from all other living things on Earth: our ability to think, to innovate-our ability to reason. It's only our ability to reason with an increasingly hostile planet-made hostile by our own doing-that will allow us our future.
But this movement won't work at the grassroots level. It is time to turn our collective attention toward supporting industry and encouraging the business community, scientists, and technologists-innovators!-to step up and do what they do best: invent, pioneer, disrupt the same old ways of doing things. Yes, industry, the sector of society responsible for much of human-caused global warming to begin with, has to turn things around and lead the charge to help mend our climate.
For decades, environmentalists have sounded the alarm about the effects of climate change. The plan was to foster demand by the public at large that would compel businesses to change their practices and, in turn, bring about socially positive climate policies and regulations. But that is a pinball game of a plan. It is based on environmental education that incites public action that in turn presses businesses to change and governments to adopt better policies. That plan has failed. We can still press the buttons and ring the bells, but we'll never get the climate into livable shape before irreversible catastrophe. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have only until 2030 to act before unprecedented changes in all aspects of society will occur. Visionaries have changed society quickly in previous eras. Climate change necessitates such expediency-now.
Henry Ford didn't take surveys of horse owners and get consensus buy-in before he built automobiles. If he had tried, people would have thought him mad. Imagine him saying this: "It's a machine, you see, with wheels. It will cost you a fortune, and by the way, you will need petroleum to run it. So, we'll have to drill for that. And then we have to build roads on which to drive. The auto won't go faster than the horse you are riding. And to make autos in mass quantity, we'll have to build huge factories." Nuts. A complete shift in society, urban planning, natural resource extraction, labor force, and infrastructure. But he did it. Bill Gates cut a similar path with the personal computer. Telephony has put phones in everyone's hands. The Internet has connected us. Innovations and individuals forced the world to change-fast.
We need a radical disruption by engineers, investors, and visionaries to break us through the climate hold we are in. We need immediate solutions-far-out, far-thinking, world-changing solutions.
In the following pages, you will meet these solution providers. You will meet scientists and entrepreneurs. You'll meet adventurers and activists. You will travel the world with me, from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara Desert; from the bayous in the Deep South of the United States to underground research laboratories in Switzerland. I pull back the curtain on climate solutions that can save us from an overly polluted and dying world. These are the answers some people fear. These are the so-called moral hazards that it is said will dissuade people from taking steps to mitigate their polluting and abusing ways. I sincerely believe that casting these methods aside and keeping these fixes in the dark is doing the world a great disservice. And that is why I wrote this book. I want to expose what is possible.
I think we can do both: lower our environmental footprints and invest in radical solutions. This is the secret to a reengineered world. We should be celebrating and supporting these innovations and innovators, not fearing or ignoring them. They are what and who will save us.
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it was the villagers who were the evildoers, not the monster. We already live on a FrankenPlanet. We have the opportunity to make it better. There really is no other choice for human survival. There is no going back.
Onward we must go . . .