Soon We’ll All Be Living Underground

With heat records falling all over the world, July 2023 was the warmest month in history, and not by a little.  Residents of Phoenix endured over a month of highs in excess of 110 degrees, and that’s just one small example.  We have just seen the scenes of incredible devastation in Lahaina, Hawaii, where a wildfire, fueled by hurricane-force winds and tinder-dry invasive grasses, burned the entire city to the ground.  With all these warnings of deadly heat I’m surprised no-one has suggested that it may be our destiny, as the planet continues to heat up, to start living underground.  That’s why I was fascinated to read a BBC articleabout a town in Australia—a place where summertime highs regularly hit 125 degrees—where people have been living underground for a long time.  The town is Coober Peedy, a mining town of 2,500 about 500 miles north of Adelaide.  Its name, loosely translated from the indigenous Australian, means “white man in a hole,” and although some of the town is above ground, many of its residents have carved underground houses—some quite luxurious–from sandstone.  It’s quite dry underground, so in winter residents don’t have to worry about mold or seepage, and the temperature underground is a comfortable 70 degrees year round.

Historically, there have been other instances of underground living, according to the BBC articles.  In the 2nd century AD Jews looking to evade Romans built the so-called Hazan caves.  The sandstone carved temple in Petra is world famous (also made from sandstone), as are the Pueblo cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado.  But these are isolated examples, the question now is, is dwelling underground a solution to a worst-case climate warming crisis? I did some quick research and it doesn’t appear that the subject has been well-studied.  There is a firm named Oppidum that is offering luxury underground dwellings in the United Arab Emirates—an area that will be among the first to suffer from unlivable heat if current trends continue.  But Oppidum’s structures are for the ultra-wealthy, and emphasize security as one of its main features.  Their model is not replicable for people of ordinary income.

Then there is the NEOM model city under development in Saudi Arabia.  This is an enormous undertaking, envisioned as a 10,000 square mile city-state, funded with an investment of 500 billion, and is being touted as the energy sustainable, luxury urban solution for the future.  But it is being built in the open desert, and partly, it seems, on the ocean as well.  It doesn’t appear to take into consideration that in that part of the world temperatures may soon rise above the level compatible with human life.  In a worst case scenario, where the rise in temperature becomes so catastrophic that planet earth starts to resemble Venus, with surface temperatures of 900 degrees, underground living would not be optional, but critical for survival.  There are all sorts of geo-engineering solutions being proposed and tested, including some that attempt to capture carbon into a solid mineral and sink it into the bottom of the ocean, but these efforts are many orders of magnitude too small to make a difference.

Is Coober Peedy a possibility for human survival in a scenario where the alternative is something close to extinction? Digging in sandstone is easy, and it is a rock that is stable without additional bracing or support, even in an earthquake.  But elsewhere underground living would require a massive effort of construction that would dwarf anything ever attempted—something like the Tokyo subway’s underground cities times ten million.  Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars, but I wonder if he and the other visionary billionaires working on a possible future for humankind have thought about staying here on Earth for the few thousand years it would take for the planet to cool down.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, where are you? Actually, in H.G. Wells futuristic novel Time Machine, some portion of humanity does live underground.  I, like most of humanity, enjoy living and breathing on the “green hills of earth”—to borrow from the title of another famous science fiction novel—but what happens if we have no choice?  I won’t live to see what happens, but I can still dream and think about it, which is what we all need to do now. 

4 thoughts on “Soon We’ll All Be Living Underground

  1. Lew, Thanks for this article. We need more creative responses to how to actually face the Climate Catastrophe. Most of humanity seems to be burying just its head in the sand, ignoring or denying the obvious reality

  2. Lew,
    As usual, your articles are interesting, enlightening, and enlivening.

    I continue my own writing weekly on MenAlive and The Good Men Project.

    Hope things are going well in your life.

  3. As I grow older, I only have one thing to contemplate; my own disaster which as I think about it, is not that different from the chaos we have made collectively of the world.

    But is it really so? To what extent my ‘views’ do not create that world?

    We kind of look at both our lives and the world thru a microscope, and somehow each and every one of us is this microscope, but looking into it with a different focal strength, different ‘stain’ and adjustments, and consequentially each has a different view, even though we might be looking at the very same thing. To come up with a view such as ‘dangerous man made global warming’ makes no exception to this. The point here is that in order to have such a view, one needs those microscopic views, it is a rather highly focus view, the same kind as if I were to look to find mitochondria within a ‘living’ cell. As we succeed in doing so, as this mitochondria is clearly and distinctively in sight, and after having done multiple adjustments, what is left of that cell; that is what is left in sight of the whole or whole cell. Well, it is no-where to be seen as it is now out of sight, unless what? Unless I pull back.

    Once the mitochondria (or global warming) is in ‘clear and distinct’ view, we tend to ‘stick’ with it, that is keep our focus on it, thus becoming one of our main point of focus. The world, the entire world thus becoming those points of focus, whereas in fact this world, the whole world, like in our ‘cell’ is now entirely out of sight.

    The last few weeks, I haven’t written that much, being pulled ‘in’ by some of those mysterious strange ‘attractors’; the daily news, which are also points of focus whose main characteristic is to be ephemeral and discontinuous. Like our microscopic views, jumping from one topic to the next in a quite discontinuous way, as each of those points of focus tends to come and go quite fast, especially within the main stream medias.

    And if one thinks a little about this, one can see that those points of focus make up what we call our lives, to which we ‘add’ a common thread we tend to call ‘I, me’. Are we missing something here as we try not to miss anything? Are wholes in clear sight? Or only those for ever ephemeral and discontinuous points of focus? What do we mean by seeing, by having a clear and distinct view? As strange as it may sound, to have a clear and distinct view, is to discard/ignore/turn our back to the whole in order to have/succeed in having a clear and distinct view.

    I think it is Buddha who has talked about ignorance which I think but I may be wrong means, this turning our back to the whole (which some call true nature). Another thing which I think came from the Buddha, is ‘attachment’, I think it means that we are attach (or cling) to those points of focus, in his ‘language’ if I remember correctly he spoke in terms of ‘grasping’. Those grasping being our ‘natural’ tendency to run for and cling to ‘clear and distinct’ views/points of focus. First, we seek (look thru the microscope) select the ‘proper’ lens, make use of some ‘stain’ and then proceeds with our adjustments, until ‘it’ is clearly and distinctively see/grasp. Once grasp we tend to cling to those. And on and on.

    We spent most of our lives with what I call ‘futilities’ (and insouciance); those points of focus, all the while even though never absent, the whole becomes out of sight, simply because of our over emphasis on those ephemeral, discontinuous points of focus. And then some feel kind of ‘empty’, wishing to come back ‘home’, a home which they never left. As we ‘gain’ meaning (or knowledge) we ‘lose’ sight of the meaningful. I think there is a similar story in another religion (I know very little about religions) it is the story of Adam in which it is said that he and his wife (girlfriend) were expelled from paradise (the meaningful) after having eaten the forbidden fruit of knowledge. To which I add clear and distinct knowledge/points of focus. Knowledge has to be clear and distinct, even more in our “modern’ societies, otherwise we feel we are in the fog, the diffuse, the unclear, the undifferentiated, the confusion, etc. but as we do so, and as we cling to those ‘only’, the whole/meaningful becomes out of sight.

    Having accumulated and adding up a lifelong of those fragmented points, partial of focus, we thus conclude the whole world (and the whole and unique story) being this and that. Which after a while, we tend to think is in desperate need of a ‘me’ in order to fix it. I think we tend to forget the ‘saying’ don’t try to fix it, if it ain’t broken’.

    To what extend this ‘word of ours is broken and in need to be fix’? Underlying this, is something else, well many other things, one of which has to do with our belief that there are such a thing as separate beings and/or separate human beings (multiple different, distinct, points of focus, essence or substance wise) which needs help, to be saved, whether by Buddha, Jesus, Mohamed, science, or even me. The very first thing that Buddha said after his ‘awakening’ is ‘all beings are Buddha’, to some extent to say Buddha or to say ‘awaken’ is the same thing within this context. He did not say ‘I am awaken’, he said all are fully and already awaken, all are Buddha. One could say of the same essence or substance, but I tend to think that it goes way further than that; not two, three, four, etc… ONE. A ‘something’ entirely homogeneous which ‘only’ is and acts ‘alone’ as one, not two, etc. That twoness never was, that twoness never acts and has never done anything for there never has been a twoness/plurality to begin with.

    We cannot ‘think’ in terms of a dynamic wholeness/oneness, acting, ‘thinking’ in a wholly/holy way. As it acts, think in appearances only, as each and every one of us, as it is ‘he’, he alone that acts, does, ‘think’. There is no distinction/separation between ‘you and he’, both are one, and ‘the’ one, but simply in different ways, but let us say ‘identity’ wise always the same one. Right now, all are Buddha! Never been otherwise.

    Only he is!
    Only he ever was!

Comments are closed.