You thought the Dark Ages are well behind us? Think again. As we speak, the world is getting darker. One day, we might even perish in a frozen, depressing shadow world. In fact, 'global dimming' may have killed hundreds of thousands of people already.
It’s some decades later. Things on Earth have gotten out of hand -- totally. Our planet has turned into a cold, terrible place. Outside, a dark gray ceiling of clouds permanently covers the sky. The Sun hasn’t shone for many, many years. It’s twilight out there, always. And it’s cold: a devastating ice age has come upon the planet.
Trust us: you don't want to live here. In the eternal night outside, people die by the millions. Those who survive, have turned into pale, sickly, depressed, lost souls who could do with a sunny vacation. In isolated bands, they stumble about through the darkness, cuddled together, clinging to life as good as they can. The stuff we call ‘culture’ has all but slipped away from them; the world's economy has long collapsed. Today, men live much like our ape-like ancestors did, always hungry, and always looking for food. They feed on a disgusting diet of slimy funguses, insects, rodents and mosses -- the only edible things that survive.
And frankly, without sunlight, mankind doesn’t stand a chance. Oxygen levels will drop, and food will get ever scarcer. In the end, we’ll die a horrible death, one man after the other, one community after the next. Probably, we will have forgotten what kind of a lush, sunny planet Earth once was.
Sun go out: Without sunlight, no crops
Still, out there, above the clouds, the Sun is shining as bright as ever. It’s the thick clouds, that are causing all the trouble. They bounce back the sunlight into space, preventing it from reaching the Earth’s surface and its inhabitants. The result: darkness, and cold.
So, who put those clouds up there in the first place? Well, blame yourself: you did. You guessed it: it’s those humans and their pollution again. The Dark Apocalypse even has an official name: ‘global dimming’.
Already, the Earth is a bit darker and shadowyer than it should have been. Global Dimming was first discovered in the 1980s. In Israel, agricultural biologist Gerald Stanhill coincidentally discovered something weird: the sun shines about 22 percent less in Israel than it did in the 1950s. It is as if someone is slowly turning off the lights!
Then came 9-11. In the days following the terrorist attacks, air traffic was grounded. This led to a sudden, remarkable change in American weather. For three days, it was unusually sunny in the US. The nights were exceptionally bright. On average, it got one degree Celsius warmer in the US during those days. That doesn’t sound like much -- but it’s huge, in terms of climatology: the biggest jump in temperature ever witnessed.
After that, more evidence poured in that the world is really getting darker. Scientists discovered that water evaporates less readily than it did before. And the evidence came from all over the planet: the US is 10 percent darker now than it was in the 1950s, Western Europe 16 percent, and Russia almost 30 percent.
In fact, global dimming may have made its first victims already. In the 1980s, about a million Africans in the Sahel died during a massive drought. According to one theory, it was global dimming’s doing: the Sun simply didn’t shine hard enough to ‘power up’ the system that should have given the Sahel its rainy season. Poor Africans.
Freeze or fry?
But hey, wait a minute, wasn’t the world getting warmer, instead of colder? How about global warming? You’re absolutely right. There’s massive evidence that the world is indeed getting warmer. But it’s also getting darker. In fact, many scientists believe that global dimming puts the brakes on the warming of our planet. Without global dimming, global warming would be much, much worse!
And there’s no telling which will win in the end, heat or cold. Roughly speaking, global dimming is faster and heftier, while global warming is slower and more gradual. Somewhere down the line, there could be a threshold, a point where Dimming beats Warming. Suddenly, we’d see temperatures drop. We’d be preparing that rodent soup in the dark in no time -- say, within several generations.
On the other hand, maybe we will be fine. There’s an upshot: the particles in the sky that bounce back the sunlight, don’t live that long. They’ll rain down on Earth and get washed away, and that will be it. No ice age, no chewing on rats and bugs. (Well, unless the so-called ‘Hydroxyl Collapse’ kicks in -- but that’s another story.)
What’s more, we’re killing global dimming already. In Europe and the US, more and more laws forbid the use of fuels and chemicals that puff noxious particles in the air. Off with you, you mean, sunlight-blocking clouds of dirt!
But hold it. There could be a horrible backlash. Didn’t we just say that global dimming very likely holds back global warming? There you go: if we stop polluting the skies and put that sunlight back on, the consequences could be truly apocalyptic. Global warming will fiercely kick in again. Suddenly, the Sun will shine abundantly, pushing temperatures up by several degrees. We’d have savage summers, and lukewarm winters.
According to several studies, this would sort of... well, kill us, really. By 2030, the poles, the glaciers and Greenland’s ice sheet would melt. Sea levels would jump up, flooding billions of homes. The Amazon rainforest would whither and turn into desert. The northern parts of Europe and the US would get an African climate. We might even have a runaway greenhouse effect, a spine-chilling climate mishap that would literally kill every living on Earth.
So, what do you prefer? To fry or to freeze? Would you like to get roasted, or would you rather die in the dark, chewing on bugs? Hmm... Perhaps it’s a better idea to cut down a little on both pollution and greenhouse gases, after all.
BBC Horizon: Global Dimming
The Guardian: Goodbye Sunshine
Realclimate.org: What Is Global Dimming?
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