Thursday, July 12, 2007

Climate Engineering

Writing in The Wilson Quarterly, James R. Fleming looks at the field of climate engineering. An excerpt:

Wood advanced several ideas to “fix” the earth’s climate, including building up Arctic sea ice to make it function like a planetary air conditioner to “suck heat in from the ­mid­latitude heat bath.” A “surprisingly practical” way of achieving this, he said, would be to use large artillery pieces to shoot as much as a million tons of highly reflective sulfate aerosols or ­specially ­engineered nanoparticles into the Arctic stratosphere to deflect the sun’s rays. Delivering up to a million tons of material via artillery would require a constant ­bombardment—­basically declaring war on the strato­sphere. Alternatively, a fleet of B-747 “crop dusters” could deliver the particles by flying continuously around the Arctic Circle. Or a 25-kilometer-­long sky hose could be tethered to a military superblimp high above the planet’s surface to pump reflective particles into the ­atmosphere.

Far-fetched as Wood’s ideas may sound, his weren’t the only Rube Goldberg proposals aired at the meeting. Even as they joked about a NASA staffer’s apology for her inability to control the temperature in the meeting room, others detailed their own schemes for manipulating earth’s climate. Astronomer J. Roger Angel suggested placing a huge fleet of mirrors in orbit to divert incoming solar radiation, at a cost of “only” several trillion dollars. Atmospheric scientist John Latham and engineer Stephen Salter hawked their idea of making marine clouds thicker and more reflective by whipping ocean water into a froth with giant pumps and eggbeaters. Most frightening was the science-fiction writer and astrophysicist Gregory Benford’s announcement that he wanted to “cut through red tape and demonstrate what could be done” by finding private sponsors for his plan to inject diatomaceous ­earth—­the ­chalk­like substance used in filtration systems and cat ­litter—­into the Arctic stratosphere. He, like his fellow geoengineers, was largely silent on the possible unintended consequences of his plan.

2 Comments:

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Ah yes, the law of unintended consequences. It seems to always apply when we play God.

Mark

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger Michael Wade said...

Mark,

I recall an observation by Dee Hock, the founder of Visa card, to the effect that intended consequences may take place; unintended consequences always take place.

 

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