I think you’ll agree that this is a scary story. But I think the scariest part is that McGuire is actually employed by the government as an adviser. It actually takes him seriously.
Ray Bradbury died last week. So now the author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles is up there in the firmament with all the other great science fiction writers: Jules Verne, HG Wells, Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams and Arthur C Clarke. There’s still a demand for science fiction, of course. Doctor Who remains popular among children and Prometheus is doing good business at the cinema. But in print? Well, you may imagine, if you spend any time at all in the book shop, that all anyone seems to write about these days are mentally unstable Scandinavian detectives and women being lightly whipped.
In fact, though, you’re wrong. Science fiction is thriving; only today it’s all being written by global warming enthusiasts.
Global warming was invented by Margaret Thatcher as a blunt instrument she could use to bop Arthur Scargill and his sooty miners over the head. But it didn’t really catch on until the name was changed from “global warming”, which sounds comforting and pleasant, to “climate change”, which has unstoppable, apocalyptic overtones. With its new handle in place, science fiction had its modern day Martian.
Soon we were reading about how carbon dioxide, an invisible, odourless gas, would cause London to drown in a sea of its own making, turn Italy into a desert and generate flies the size of toasters that would ravage Africa. Al Gore was the new HG Wells and your patio heater was a Dalek.
One of the best stories to emerge from the period came from a chap called Bill McGuire, who is professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London. Back in 1999, he said that one day a volcano on La Palma in the Canary Islands would erupt and that this would cause a rock the size of the Isle of Man to crash into the sea. The immensity of the splash would generate a 500ft tsunami that in a matter of hours would decimate North America’s eastern seaboard and wipe all life from the Caribbean. It’s happened before, he said. And it will happen again.
Sadly, in 2004, researchers from Southampton University concluded that, if La Palma’s volcano does erupt, it’ll cause nothing more than a bit of mud to slither into the Atlantic.
Alaska is a gigantic bomb that will bounce up and explode when the ice melts, thanks to your patio heater Undaunted, Bill started on a new work and last week, at the Hay literary festival, he revealed it to a waiting world. It’s a monster. He says that soon, climate change will bring about an age of geological havoc including tsunamis and something he calls “volcano storms”.
Volcano storms were first charted by Pliny the Younger during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79 and were seen most recently when Eyjafjallajokull blew up in Iceland.
Few things are as scary, because inside the choking black ash cloud you have a forest of lightning, with jolts of raw power two miles long surging out of the volcano’s vents. And this terrifying, end-of-days spectacle, according to McGuire, is coming to Surrey very soon.
Like all the best plots, his theory that global warming can affect the fabric of the planet is based in fact. After the last Ice Age, Sweden literally bounced upwards by 1,000ft and it’s still rising by nearly half an inch a year. So it stands to reason that one day the weight of the ice and snow that cover Greenland will diminish to a point where it’s no longer sufficient to keep the world’s largest island buried in the mud.
When that happens, and it will be sudden, the elasticity of the Earth’s crust will cause it to boing upwards by perhaps more than half a mile. And you don’t need to be a member of D:Ream to know what kind of a mess that will make of the northern hemisphere. A wave of biblical proportions will wipe out not just Iceland and Canada but most of America’s eastern seaboard and all of Europe down to the Alps. The Empire State Building will crash into the statue of Jesus in Rio and the Arc de Triomphe will end up on Mont Blanc.
This is fantastic stuff. Scary. Possible. And we haven’t even got to the clincher yet, because McGuire says that as all the snow melts, the sea will become heavier and that will cause fault lines to shift all over the world. Japan. Mexico. Chile. All gone. The man is talking here about an extinction-level event. And the word is that when the film rights are sorted, Denzel is earmarked for the lead.
Better still, at Hay, he delivered his cataclysmic view of events to come in much the same way that The War of the Worlds was first played on the radio. Seriously, as though it were fact. Very, very clever.
The only problem is that I think his story needs a bit of a lift between the moment when Greenland bounces into the clouds and the last man on Earth drops dead. I’m thinking of that audience-pleasing moment in the movie Deep Impact, when a small meteorite arrives out of nowhere and flattens Paris.
And I have an idea. Let me run it past you. Like Greenland, Alaska will also bounce upwards when the weight of the ice currently pressing it down into the ooze reaches a critical point. And, as we know from all the recent eco scare stories about fracking, the very rock on which this great state is founded is full of methane and natural gas. That makes it a gigantic bomb. A bomb that will explode thanks entirely to you in your suburban house with your patio heater and your insatiable appetite for turn-on and-offable gas.
I think you’ll agree that this is a scary story. But I think the scariest part is that McGuire is actually employed by the government as an adviser. It actually takes him seriously. Worse. Westminster sorts take me seriously. Only last week, an MP called Ed Miliband quoted something I’d written in this column while making a speech about Scottish independence. On that basis, he will be back on his soap box this week warning citizens not to go to Anchorage because it’s about to explode.