We are all terraformers

Today is Drawdown Day and it starts with a cool morning breeze, the first one since last week’s heat wave.

The radio announces that it’s 7 am as I pass by the basalt statues on my way to work. Although I must have seen them a hundred times, I still marvel at them. Ten tons of sequestered carbon, formed into a row of extinct animals, marching as if they were leaving Earth. I remember the first one being revealed in the late 2020s. Since then, carbon art has played a major role in shifting our mindset.

This was after climate change had arrived at everyone’s home in the early 20s. Dry soil. Dying forests. Ravaging wildfires. Floods.

I remember 2022 mainly because it was a new beginning for me. My failed attempts to get a foot into the nuclear industry’s door reminded me of Kazuto Tatsuta. But like him I persisted and finally got a job, programming models for nuclear waste transport and storage. It was a small start, though, and definitely nothing that would save the climate.

Actually, that’s how pretty much everything felt that year: a start, but way too slow progress.

As a result, the 30s were a rough decade. During the Big Melt, things went down really fast. And to make matters worse, many of the world’s energy grids got stuck halfway towards net zero. Too many plans and schedules were relying on carbon capture, while carbon capture resisted to scale to the amount that we needed.

When the rhinos went extinct, my Terra cohort came together again. We vowed to do better. We vowed to become stewards of nature.

That summer I wandered the German Green Belt. Took care of rivers. Monitored fungi networks. It was obvious that the ideas behind traditional environmentalism didn’t get us where we needed to be. They were based on a world that ceased to exist right before our eyes.

I got involved with ecomodernism, which gained significant attention during that time. My brother promoted lab-grown meat, and my mother was teaching hobby gardeners how to nourish their soil. I was happy to have them onboard.

You often read the claim that it was these small things that helped us reach a critical mass. But I disagree. I think that we reached critical mass only when industry started to act and take matters into their own hands. They started buying SMRs, without making a fuss. It kept them running while meeting the carbon standards. And as long as our industry was running and carbon standards were met, criticism tended to fizzle out. Probably they will switch to advanced geothermal energy systems soon, just as pragmatically.

Now it’s 2040 and the curve is finally bent, with emissions decreasing for the first time since fossil fuels.

The generation that is growing up now has never known a home without heat waves, droughts, floods and ice-free polar summers. They are children of a different Earth. For them, terraforming is not something that future Mars colonists strive for in science fiction stories. It’s what my generation did when we triggered a major climate change. And it’s what their generation needs to do to undo that change. To them, we are all terraformers.