A Mostly Self Balancing System

While I don’t feel like seeking and citing evidence which suggests that the Earth’s climate has the capability to correct itself after experiencing disruptive inputs, I’m inclined to believe so. In other words, I believe that if humanity were to stop doing things like burning fossil fuels and clearing forests the consequences of having done so for the last hundred and fifty years would eventually diminish and go away without any help.

That’s why the events described in this article trouble me. Apparently some folks are so adamant that humanity can engineer climate change away that they’ll go ahead and experiment with dumping iron filings into the ocean to increase plankton growth in spite of a UN moratorium on doing so. I doubt that anything interesting will happen, but I’m sure the parties involved will claim promising results in order to gain investors and collect more grant money, money that’s better spent on research into and proven methods of reducing pollution. Also, when people proselytize geo-engineering in Popular Science or on shows like Project Earth, they promote an unhealthy notion that we’ve got a Plan B for the planet or that we can renovate the Earth to accommodate our behavior. What hubris! With the same notion, one can justify urban sprawl. Rather, we should modify our behavior to accommodate the Earth, and by extension, accommodate each other.

I can’t shake the feeling that these geo-engineers—I hate the term but it already has a Wikipedia entry—just want to profit on the hype (cough, Y2K) or are just crazy. Even if we have pushed the climate past its tipping point, and assuming that climate change can be intentionally reversed, only a cooperative, concerted effort from every country could overcome the climate’s inertia. I doubt that even an alien invasion could spur such an effort. Nevermind that reversing climate change sounds too much like un-baking a cake.

Insulating polar ice with blankets, spraying sea water into the air to make clouds, manipulating plants and creatures to gobble carbon dioxide, and other schemes either signal traps for venture capitalists or good faith yet futile attempts to avoid various nightmare scenarios. Our best bet is to eliminate pollution, rehabilitate forests and other ecologies, adapt the best we can to whatever happens next, and hopefully learn a lesson.

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4 Responses to “A Mostly Self Balancing System”

  1. There’s a lot of disagreement among scientists about the UN moratorium on this sort of geoengineering. Also, the scale isn’t that large. 20 tons is a very small amount and will have not very large effects by itself.

    Moreover, it isn’t clear that this actually runs afoul of the moratorium which allows small scale research in coastal areas.

    Finally, even if one is not a fan of geoengineering, figuring out if it will work and if it will have adverse consequences isn’t a bad idea. It is good to be prepared and have multiple avenues available.

  2. I’m all for scientific research, but I get the impression that entrepreneurs promote geo-engineering before the science can support it. They’re instilling an undeserved attitude of empowerment over the environment in casual polluters.

  3. Casual polluters aren’t going to stop any time soon. And it is unlikely that anything like serious CO2 restrictions will be implemented by anyone in the foreseeable future (heck look at Obama’s pick of Ray Lahood for Secretary of Transportation). I don’t think anyone is going to change their behavior based on how much actual research we are doing into geoengineering. We might as well be prepared.

  4. I agree that casual polluters won’t change their ways according to the latest scientific publications. I am concerned with how people perceive climate change because in democracies, such perceptions can affect legislation. If voters believe that geo-engineering is the answer despite the lack of evidence to support that believe, then politicians might, for example, have an easier time avoiding legislation to put meaningful caps on pollution. Recall recent pushes for hydrogen power, ethanol, and clean coal.

    Indeed, research in this area will help our understanding of the world even if no one ever uses it to manipulate the climate. However, I don’t want anyone to think of geo-engineering as a panacea. If that happens, its perception as such will be exploited. Therefore, I reserve my right to inject as much skepticism over the matter as I can into the tubes.

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