Climate Refuge in Polar Cities?


By Stephen Leahy

Jan 2 (IPS) – Dan Bloom thinks it’s time to figure out how to build self-sustaining cities in the polar regions because climate change will eventually make most of Earth uninhabitable.

These polar cities may be “humankind’s only chance for survival if global warming really turns into a worldwide catastrophe in the far distant future,” Bloom told IPS.

Bloom isn’t a scientist or any other kind of expert. A U.S. citizen in his late fifties living in Taiwan teaching English, he’s lived all over the world as a reporter-editor, teacher-translator and author. And now Bloom wants to shake people out their everyday indifference to the great emergency of our age: climate change.

“Life goes on as usual here in Taiwan. No one is doing anything and they don’t want to talk about it,” he says.

And sadly inaction begets inaction.

“The inactions of others can make us underestimate threats to our own safety,” writes Camilla Cavendish in a recent issue of the Times of London newspaper.

Cavendish cites studies that suggest a kind of herd mentality. If climate change is a problem, then people would be doing something about it. Since they’re not, then there is no problem. However, once people are aware of this dangerous tendency to follow the herd over the cliff, we can break away and forge our own more sensible path, she says.

polar-cities-interior-view.jpgBloom wants people to realise that the world is on a path that could possibly lead to a future where just a few hundred million people survive in specially-designed cities in the Arctic. Originally he imagined this might happen 500 years from now. But scientists tell him it could happen far sooner than that.

Bloom has contacted scientists, experts, reporters, and many others around the world about his polar cities idea. A few months ago, a Google keyword search for “polar cities” would have produced no results. Today, there are nearly 3,000 sites that feature or offer comment on Bloom’s idea, including one with a series of polar cities illustrations.

Plenty of the comments are from Bloom himself, in a one-man-who-doesn’t own-a-computer attempt to spread the word. Suffice to say he spends a lot of time in Tawianese internet cafes.

His Quixotic quest began less than a year ago. Having heard various conflicting news reports about climate change, Bloom decided to research the subject as thoroughly as he could. The genesis of the polar cities idea came from a dire op-ed by the eminent British scientist James Lovelock in January 2006 in the Independent newspaper.

Lovelock wrote that the Earth will heat up far faster than any scientist expects due to many positive feedbacks such as melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice. “… Before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable,” he wrote.

polar-cities-greenhouse.jpgLovelock’s viewpoint was widely criticised as excessively pessimistic fear-mongering by many experts. No stranger to controversy, Lovelock first proposed the “Gaia Hypothesis” of Earth as a single highly complex organism in the 1970s. Last October, with many leading scientists listening, he reiterated his claim that “global heating” is progressing very fast and was likely to produce an apocalyptic six-degree C. rise in the global average temperature before the end of this century.

“At first I was depressed, but I am an optimist,” Bloom says.

To read full article see Northward Ho?

9 thoughts on “Climate Refuge in Polar Cities?

  1. Thank you, Stephen, for your very well written report. You are the first print journalist to have taken the idea of polar cities seriously, and I really appreciate that in itself. Because this is an idea that alot of people still do not want to read about, or talk about, or see images of. Of course, as I explained, part of my ongoing project is a non-threatening (I hope!) thought experiment just to raise the alarm, sound the alarm, get people thinking who still need prodding, to think about the real issues of climate change and global warming. So your article, the first to ever break through into print and online, is a pioneering effort, and let’s see where it takes us. Keep up your good and insightful reporting on climate change, from Bali to London to Africa, wherever life takes you on your reporting beat, God bless and Godspeed, and may the Force be with you, sir!

  2. Danny has highlighted the fact that needs must when the devil drives. His concept of polar cities is useful. Of course the North Pole will need a floating city.

    I expect we we need them polar cities will be for the wealthy. I dread to think what will happen to the poor. We they end up living deep underground in caves, holes nad mines?

    Robert Kyriakides

  3. Robert we do face a major equity challenge. As I wrote in my new year’s entry, Welcome to Global Warming Year 2008:

    “Adapting to climate change means difficult moral choices.

    Are we going to focus our efforts in the developed world to buffer ourselves from the impacts and build walls to keep climate refugees out?

    Or are we going to focus on helping those who will be most affected by a world-changing problem that the developed world caused?”

  4. Stephen,

    You wrote: “Are we going to focus our efforts in the developed world to buffer ourselves from the impacts and build walls to keep climate refugees out?”

    I feel this is going to be the major issue of the next 500 years, beginning, as you so well put it, Global Warming Year 2008…..Alot of the email I get about polar cities says that…. “only rich, white, VIP power families will be allowed in to them and all others will be kept out, so why bother?”

    For example, a blogger in the UK wrote to me today:

    “Hi Dan

    I know you are heavily promoting your idea on the internet, but who exactly
    is going to live in these “polar cities”? I’ll tell you who: rich, white
    people with power and weapons. Not ordinary people, not even people who
    deserve to survive; the people who will take the survival strategy will be
    the people who don’t care about letting everyone else die. That sounds like
    business as usual to me, and if you are comfortable with that thought then I
    wish you luck with your idea.

    For my part, I’m going to do my best to make sure we never need polar

    — Danny

  5. A blogger who doesn’t like my idea of polar cities, and that’s cool, I like to hear from everyone, pro and con, told me:

    “Danny, my cynical-humor muscle is maybe too fatigued, but I really don’t buy your pitch. There are just too many truly absurd ideas out there being pitched by serious (if badly educated or insane) people that polar cities only makes me angry. Cynicism is easy, producing real information and useful ideas is hard. You’ve got time on your hands, go for the latter.”

    It’s interesting, how different people react to all this.

    By the way, Dr Lovelock, who is mentioned in Steve’s story above, recently emailed me with a short note, after I sent him Steve’s story and the images from my blog of what future polar city might look like, and the he told me: “Many thanks, Danny, for your thoughtful images. It may well happen and soon.”

  6. Steve
    a new idea, as project evolves. since many people around the world are confused by the world POLAR in polar cities, they think these cities are only at the POLES, and no, they could be anywhere in northern regions, such as Vancouver mountains, Juneau mountains, Oslo countryside, etc… now i come come with this acronym for POLAR cities:

    polar cities = P.O.L.A.R. cities = a new way to frame this debate:

    > Population
    > Optimal
    > Living
    > Adaptation
    > Retreats

  7. Stephen

    I have just picked up your comment. I don’t think the moral choice is difficult, because the morality is clear, but doing the right thing is difficult when it involves making sacrifices. I cannot see the developed world rushing to aid the underdeveloped world; at the moment the developed world is rushing to places its pollution in the underdeveloped world; out of sight out of mind?


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