May 9, 2010

"What objections could there possibly be to this large-scale atomic harbor-blasting project?"

That was a question asked in the 1950s, when nuclear scientists were hot to apply their expertise to peacetime projects. David Roberts reminds us of that insanity in the context of reviewing Jeff Goodell's new book "How to Cool the Planet" — which has some geo-engineering ideas to sell:
Geo-engineering ideas are all over the map, and quite a few are just wacky -- say, shooting a nuke at the moon to kick up a cloud of sun-blocking dust -- but two basic ideas are being taken seriously.
The first is what the British Royal Society has termed "solar radiation management," sometimes known as "solar shielding" ... [by] shooting sulfur particles into the upper atmosphere to imitate the shading effect of a volcanic explosion... [or] brightening the tops of clouds to make them more reflective, thus deflecting more sun, which can allegedly be done by injecting them with super-fine water droplets...

The other frequently discussed form of geoengineering... is pulling carbon dioxide directly out of the air...
Are these really like those crazy nuke things from the 50s? I'd worry about over-cooling by accident. How could one possibly set the right temperature? And if we could, maybe it would only get worse:
If humanity takes control of the climate, do its existing inequities become a collective moral responsibility? After all, even the pre-industrial climate was, in some sense, unfair -- some areas too hot, too arid, too wet, or too cold, life harder for some than for others. Do we try to restore an old climate or create a new one, and who decides which is better? If history is any guide, it will be the wealthy with their hands on the levers. Climate imperialism, anyone?
We could have all sorts of fights in the atmosphere, a dramatically huge version of the squabbles people who live in the same house when one after another adjusts the thermostat.


mesquito said...

I demand that south Texas be made 15 degrees cooler in August.

bigstone said...

I'm not wearing pajamas to bed for no one.

Digory said...


Could I interest you in a religion that offers redemption from all the guilt? Like, say, Christianity?

Fred4Pres said...

I guess this explains in AI why New York was flooded and then was covered with a glacier.

Funny how those two twin buildings managed to survive two thousand years of glaciers pressing against them but could not take two little planes slamming into them. Must be something Bush did.

El Presidente said...

At least when you make a harbor using nukes you know what the long term consequences are. Geoengineering should be considered an act of war.

Expat(ish) said...

What makes people think that they will set the agenda?

And do they think the UN or some other body is going to set an agenda they like?

And what if the agenda is "best for most" -that will focus on India and China and areas that are not ... us.

Forget the engineering issues - like this stuff just not working - the policial/social issues are overwhelming.

I'm with "cooler in South Texas" myself.


Hagar said...

Before doing anything whatsoever to affect the climate, we should find out what the climate would be doing absent human activities. We actually do know a lot about how the climate has varied in the past; we just do not know why it varied as it did, and we absolutely need to know the why in order to make any predictions as to what it will do next.

And by past, I mean the "deep" past, not just the last 150 years, which is all that these people with their computer simulations that caused the present Chicken Little brouhaha have been considering.

Nora said...

Failing to change humans, they are changing planet now. Whan next?

A planet is an open energetic system of cosmic scale. Nobody can make it behave with or without human activity.

Flexo said...

We actually do know a lot about how the climate has varied in the past; we just do not know why it varied as it did

Sure we do.

Sun spots, solar flares, meteor impacts, volcanos, and tsunami-causing earthquakes, to name just a few. Each of which can and will happen again to wipe out whatever "gains" that might be made by humans seeking to, in their hubris, have any substantive impact on the climate.

lemondog said...

And what if the agenda is "best for most" -that will focus on India and China and areas that are not ... us.

Then we all move to China or India....peacefully or otherwise,

or create a climate control continental dome.

edutcher said...

This is the stuff of many bad sci fi and spy movies.

Considering that Al Qaeda is a low-budget SPECTRE with none of the goodies (girls, exotic hideaways, etc.), I hope the next time the bad guys show a little more style.

Larry J said...

For anyone who thinks tampering with the climate is a good idea, I offer one word: Kudzu.

There are always unintended and unforeseen consequences. Quite often, what seems like a good idea at the time proves otherwise.

virgil xenophon said...

Larry J wins the thread!! Intentionally imported as a soil stabilizing/control measure in the 30s there were even "Kudzu Beauty Queen" and "Miss Kudzu" contests to promote the planting/propagation of it throughout the South. One drive thru the back roads of Mississippi should give one pause about the wisdom of these well-intentioned schemes--as in "The road to hell..."

Fen said...

If humanity takes control of the climate... we're doomed. Just imagine what mischief the idiots in Congress or Brussels will work.

D. B. Light said...

This is why technocracy is so much more terrifying than theocracy.

Palladian said...

But look how good the "best and brightest" are at controlling things like the economy! What could possibly go wrong?!

Hagar said...


What you are talking about is random relatively small events that may affect the global weather for a year or a decade or so. Beyond that we know that the climate warms and cools in cycles, actually small cycles superimposed on larger cycles superimposed on still larger cycles, but we do not know what causes these cycles. There is the Milankovitch cycles, but as far as I know these are still labeled as theory, i.e. speculation. Just recently the "scientists" have verified that the sun also goes through cycles and does not just slowly evolve, but they have only begun to try to figure out the mechanisms.

Nobody knows what causes the climate to drop into an ice age or how ice ages end. Perhaps asteroid impacts or eruptions such as the Siberian and Deccan Traps, but again it is just speculation.

And we do need to know because the situation and what we should do, if anything, is obviously quite different if we have now just crested another interglacial and are facing the beginning of another glaciation event, or the we are at the end of the current ice age and the world is set to warm up to "normal" with palm trees and crocodiles in Scotland and no ice anywhere but on the highest mountain tops.

Penny said...

"One way or the other, keeping geoengineering under control will mean some kind of global governance."

There are those words again - Global Governance.

Americans, almost reflexively, hate the sound of those words, yet they keep coming up, and much more often.

Are we sticking our heads in the sand when maybe we could be getting some experience?

This learning will be STEEP, and with no time to waste.

paul a'barge said...

The planet knows what it's doing.

Live a righteous life and leave the planet alone.

blogantine said...

It's true! It's true! The crown has made it clear.
The climate must be perfect all the year.
A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there's a legal limit to the snow here
In Camelot.
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
In Camelot.

Camelot! Camelot!

I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot
That's how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Camelot! Camelot!

I know it gives a person pause,
But in Camelot, Camelot
Those are the legal laws.
The snow may never slush upon the hillside.
By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Kirk Parker said...

"How could one possibly set the right temperature?"

Well, since there is no "the right temperature", it's not really a meaningful question.

$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

The science of our geneology is settled and there is a scientific consensus : Neanderthals and homo sapiens never interbred. Don't be a denier.