The View from the Thirty Second Floor

Today is Blog Action Day, and the topic is climate change. This is something I think is very important. Every time I hear someone lecture on the subject, the more important I think it is.

Yesterday, I was stuck in a lift for nearly an hour in a tall tower in Canary Wharf with thirteen other people. It got very hot. Once I was trapped there, I wished I had walked down the thirty two floors, but obviously that wasn’t really a viable option – and I’d never have walked thirty two floors up.

Once more, I was reminded how fragile life is.

From the thirty second floor, there was a superb view of London Docklands and the Thames: there is lots of dense building there, residential and commercial. Much would be flooded if the level of the Thames rose much – a metre or so, and these stately skyscrapers and lowly dwellings would be unuseable.

The building – and its lifts – depend on electricity: it couldn’t function without an easy (and possibly cheap) source of power. Without it, there’d be no lifts to carry people up and down; no air-conditioning to keep the people (and their lifts) comfortable; no computers for them to use and to control the building (and those blasted lifts – when it stopped, and remained stopped, I wanted to tell the engineer to switched it off, and switch it back on…); no electric lights; no tube trains or DLR to bring people in and out.

There would be no Canary Wharf.

Not just Canary Wharf: without electricity, I can imagine much of London would become uninhabitable.

This may sound catastrophic, but at least much of Britain would remain habitable – unlike many of the low lying island states which would be at risk [PDF] if the sea level rose by a appreciably. (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest a rise of a metre or so is likely.)

Perhaps we should be planning for such catastrophes, like the people at the Institute for Collapsonomics is trying to do.

It sometimes feels like we in the west are living in a curious age, a narrow Panglossian time squeezed between pre-industrial hardship and post-industrial chaos.

It might be a strange, strange future.

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