January 23, 2019

Zombie Viruses, Climate Change, and a Safe Blanket of Sulfide Gasses Under the Sun

By Chris Struble | Feb. 10, 2018

On April 16, Cape Town, South Africa, is slated to become the first major city in history to officially run out of water; climate change and the worst drought in a century are considered the primary causes.

The devastation mankind has been able to inflict on our oceans, forests and fresh water supplies should be more than adequate evidence for each and every one of us to recognize. The unprecedented, non-cyclical warming, or climate changes, and resulting catastrophic stress on our environment is a direct result of man’s substantial overconsumption and contamination of the earth’s resources — and is compounded by a lack of concern for any form of sustainability.

Michigan, once hailed as the “underground forest” for its seemingly infinite expanse of virgin lumber, was all but clear cut in a matter of just 20 years in the late 1800s, leaving millions of acres near-barren wastelands. In addition to the carnage suffered on land, our Great Lakes that represent 21 percent of the earth’s fresh surface water are today full of heavy metals, asbestos, mercury, and other toxins. Globally, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic makes its way into our oceans every year, inundating even the most remote areas and affecting hundreds of species. And still, we continue to use both salt and freshwater as virtual dumping grounds.

While I have become accustomed to the January thaw over the course of 50 winters spent above the 45th parallel, I do find it very disconcerting when, within three weeks this January, we witnessed the mercury fluctuate from as low as 26 degrees below zero to nearly 60 degrees above here in Petoskey. Australia, on the opposite side of the globe, was at the same time experiencing the hottest temperatures on record in over eight decades. 

The good news is, we probably don’t have to worry about the next coming Ice Age that we were all terrified about as kids, or the African Killer bees of the ’70s and ’80s. Instead we now are faced with the possibility of the “Zombie Viruses!” The melting ice shelves in several countries bordering the Arctic Circle, including Alaska, are exposing ancient ice-burial grounds. As thousands and thousands of often perfectly preserved corpses of humans and animals from centuries past arise, so too does the debate as to whether the viruses and diseases encased within these forms are still able to infect. Currently there is a case of an archaeologist diagnosed with “seal finger,” a virus obtained by handling seal remains, which in this instance are said to be hundreds of years old. If this is indeed the source of the infection, wouldn't the same be possible for other viruses and plagues, including those as deadly and widespread as the Spanish Flu of 1919?

The success of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer Act, an international treaty that phased out ozone-depleting substances is prompting more proposals aimed at reversing the current warming trend. I encourage you to take a few moments and do some research on the two forerunners — and see if you can guess which one is more likely to start a fistfight within the scientific community:

Stratospheric aerosol injection: Proposes utilizing planes to continuously release sulfide gasses into the atmosphere, creating a layer between the sun, which in turn would hopefully have a cooling effect.

Co2 carbon capture and storage: Proposes burying vast amounts of Co2 — harvested from the atmosphere in various stages of gas, or solids — in any remaining areas where we have not already contaminated the aquifers, soil, and the like with everything from human to nuclear waste. Either of these proposed options should be more likely to conjure up the image of the animated scientist from an episode of The Simpsons, rather than one of Einstein deep in thought.

If we can finally acknowledge the indisputable damage that we, the inhabitants of a mere one-third of the earth’s surface have managed to wreak upon our environment just three centuries — a geological blink of an eye — the obvious next step is to move toward practical and efficient solutions that will hopefully provide generations to come a happy, healthy planet, without the need for a mass exodus from our homes here on the third stone from the sun. 

As George Carlin was fond of saying, “The earth is fine! It has endured for billions and billions of years. We’re the ones that are fu#%ed!”

Christopher Struble is the president of The Michigan Hemingway Society, owner of a small local business, a historian, and avid outdoorsman residing in Petoskey.



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