Termination Shock

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Using geoengineering to mitigate climate change has a long pedigree. Here's something I wrote about it back in 2006, which references a Reason article that Gregory Benford on the topic back in 1997. Yes, a quarter-century ago.

My insight then—and now, for that matter: geoengineering is something we're only going to get better at doing as technology and climate modeling improve. But we've all had the arguments about setting our home thermostat. Imagine the issues of setting the global thermostat: multiply the arguers by a billion or two; recognize that they are devoid of familial love; give many of them armed forces and nuclear weapons.

I'm not saying that Neal Stephenson reads my blog, but… yes, this idea makes for a pretty good plot device.

It's set in the near future, when global warming is starting to bite. Down in Texas, "earth suits" with self-contained refrigeration are standard attire for venturing outdoors in the day. Catastrophic flooding and nasty hurricanes are common. Into this messy situation flies (literally flies) Frederika Mathilde Louisa Saskia, Queen of the Netherlands. Saskia to her friends, "Your Majesty" otherwise. Her incoming jet is diverted to Waco, where its landing is disrupted by a stampede of feral hogs onto the runway. That stampede is (sort of) caused by Rufus, who is on a Captain Ahab-like quest for revenge against a particular feral hog, deemed "Snout" for his unusual facial characteristics. Revenge for…? Well, it's much worse than a missing leg, be assured.

But that's pretty much over by page 40 of this 706-page monster. Rufus and Saskia join up forces to get her to Houston to meet the colorful billionaire T. R. Schmidt, aka "T. R. McHooligan" or "T. R. Mick" to those frequenting his chains of restaurants and truck stops. He has an audacious scheme, which involves taking Saskia and her accumulated retinue to the Flying S Ranch in the remote Chihuahuan Desert above the Rio Grande, where… well, you get a pretty good idea looking at the book's endpapers.

Also in a separate (but evenutally intersecting) plot thread, there's a Canadian-Indian young Sikh named "Laks". He seeks Sikh fame and fortune by volunteering for combat along the disputed India/China border, moving the so-called "Line of Actual Control" based on the combat with (I am not making this up) sticks, rocks, and snowballs. This brings fame, but unfortunately also misfortune, which sets him up for an eventual confrontation with… see above.

I'd like to think of this as Stephenson's funhouse mirror take on Atlas Shrugged, with T. R. Schmidt as John Galt, Saskia as Dagny Taggart, Rufus as… I dunno, one of those other guys? It's been well over fifty years since I read Atlas Shrugged.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 4:00 PM EDT