by Timothy Lane 4/20/14
At a time when the idea of storing carbon dioxide underground to protect against “climate change” (I just read the article on coal in the April issue of National Geographic, which discussed the topic), it seems appropriate to discuss a 1971 book that happened to suggest the possible implications.
Of course, the large pocket of carbon dioxide punctured by a borehole being drilled in the North Pacific in this book is natural, but the results could be the same. People can stand more carbon dioxide than is often realized, as submariners learned during the World Wars. (David Brin in Earth had “breathers” who couldn’t handle the carbon dioxide levels without oxygen masks – and I’ve never read anything by Brin since.) But still, too high a level could suffocate people nearby, and perhaps further depending on the size of the bubble and the speed with which mixes with the normal air. The National Geographic article even lighly acknowledged the risk of leaks (which is far more attention than they paid to the hiatus in warming since 1998, of course).
In the book, as the title hints, the problem spreads a long way, especially at higher altitudes (where the air is thinner), which naturally leads to people fleeing higher altitudes for the coasts. Some try to flee further, including one couple who receive some sage (if oblique) advice to read Nevil Shute’s On the Beach – especially the parts about the air currents (the book does in fact discuss the fact that the air currents in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere mostly don’t mix, though there is some overlap because the equatorial areas switch between circuits during the year).
But when superlarge pockets of gas empty, something else happens. (Water theoretically could get in the pocket in this case, except that the bore drill is probably still there, never removed by the suffocated crew.) The pocket collapses, which leads to a powerful earthquake – and since this is under the sea, that means a great tsunami. (There apparently is some evidence that fracking leads to more quakes, though these are very small ones. A very large pocket being emptied would be another matter entirely.)
Jones was fond of writing about disasters (he’s best known for Colossus, which was so successful that he wrote a couple of sequels, but also wrote many others involving either small or large disasters), and as such this is very typical. It’s not just the story of a world catastrophe (probably exaggerated), but of the reaction of people to it. But for our purposes, the main point is that he gives some notion of what this idea of storing vast amounts of carbon dioxide in concentrated bubbles underground could lead to. But global warming is dogma, and we must Do Something about it, particular if the people suggesting such ideas don’t expect to live anywhere near where all the gas will be stored.