DUST STORM
Dust storms of the kind seen in the film Interstellar are real and immediate. Here, a woman looks up as a dust storm hits Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in northern China during April 16, 2013. REUTERS

Dust storms of the kind made memorable by Nolan's Interstellar are no more science fiction than climate change.

Not to be clubbed in the same bracket as worm holes and travel through a black hole, they are perhaps the single most terrifying image a viewer retains after stumbling out dazed from a journey through space.

The most recent storm of this kind has been witnessed frequently in regions of China and Africa, where desertification is advancing every year. This has been predicted by the Earth Policy Institute's Plan B research.

Unlike the movie's Plan B that seeks new lands for mankind to colonise, this Plan B is about reversing harming trends here on earth and stabilising climate, stabilising population, eradicating poverty, and restoring the earth's damaged ecosystems.

The director of the Earth Policy Institute Janet Larsen had warned back in 2012 that dust bowls, similar to the American dust bowl of 1930s brought on by uncontrolled ploughing of the prairies, cannot be ruled out.

It is being borne out in northern China and Africa, and the reasons in both are said to be overgrazing which is turning millions of acres into desert. When the soil's protective cover is removed, there is nothing left to keep the soil in place when the wind blows.

The sign of this increasing desertification is an increase in goat population, she told NPR. Goats alone among cattle can survive tough conditions and an increase in their numbers spells clear trouble. Both China's and Africa's goat population has been growing.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, around 12 million hectares of land are lost to desertification every year, reducing the possible places where food can be grown.

Once the planet breaches the two degree rise in temperature or the carbon content in atmosphere crosses 450 ppm, we are set for irreversible changes.

As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains, the irreversible nature of climate change will mean that for 1,000 years after emissions stop, we will have to put up with permanent dust bowls, not only in the US but around the globe.

With a journey to our nearest star Alpha Centauri taking 100,000 years with the technology we now possess, interstellar journeys will be largely restricted to movie halls for a long time.

Our hope lies here on this planet, for hundreds of years to come. We will have to stay home and fight the dust storms for now.

While the planet's two biggest climate polluters US and China signed a deal to limit their carbon emissions, this may not be enough to avoid the irreversible change. China agreed to peak its emissions by 2030, which means emissions will continue for now. The US agreed to cut down 28% of its emissions ten years ago by 2025.

The EU has agreed to cut emissions by 40% of 1990 levels by 2030. A study announced that UK may not be able to meet its 2030 target.

Global emissions have to be cut totally by the end of the century by slowly phasing them out starting now. The Earth Institute for instance looks at an 80% cut in ten years.

Whether we make it or get prepared to face dust storms and extreme weather will be decided in Lima this December and Paris next year.