Archive for September 1st, 2008

Time to Block Out the Sun?

Sharon September 1st, 2008

Ok, maybe the most disheartening bit of news I’ve seen since I saw four hurricanes/tropical depressions lined up in the Gulf on the same track was this article on a new collection of papers from the Royal Society, in which climate scientists argued that we’re doing jack to deal with the climate crisis and that we are now at a point where we may have to seriously consider extremely risky, bizarre engineering solutions to save us from our own folly.

“Political inaction on global warming has become so dire that nations must now consider extreme technical solutions - such as blocking out the sun - to address catastrophic temperature rises, scientists from around the world warn today.

The experts say a reluctance “at virtually all levels” to address soaring greenhouse gas emissions means carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are on track to pass 650 parts-per-million (ppm), which could bring an average global temperature rise of 4C. They call for more research on geo-engineering options to cool the Earth, such as dumping massive quantities of iron into oceans to boost plankton growth, and seeding artificial clouds over oceans to reflect sunlight back into space.

Writing the introduction to a special collection of scientific papers on the subject, published today by the Royal Society, Brian Launder of the University of Manchester and Michael Thompson of the University of Cambridge say: ‘While such geoscale interventions may be risky, the time may well come when they are accepted as less risky than doing nothing.’”

Now even allowing for the enthusiasm of engineers for doing engineering, these are not people saying “this is how we should have addressed global warming” - these are people saying “we have waited too long and the situation is so dire that we may have to take a huge risk to avoid an even worse disaster.”

Now I don’t believe we’re likely to do any such thing successfully, and I suspect that any major geo-engineering we did might have consequences equally unbearable - and these folks know that.  But they are concerned enough to say we have to buy some time, because our society isn’t doing anything about our environmental crisis.

I suspect we probably won’t quite be able to get to 650ppm, simply because our supplies of accessible greenhouse producers may have declined sufficiently by then - but 500 ppm is quite horrifying enough, and we can get there if we burn all the coal available to us. 

There is quite a simple solution, of course, a better one that blocking out the sun, a better one that layering on another set of complex technical and high cost solutions that probably won’t quite do what we hope or expect.  That solution would be the mass migration to a vastly lower energy lifestyle. We are told this is extremely unlikely, and perhaps it is - but we also have not even begun to try - the Riot for Austerity and other movements seem to suggest that many people are subject to moral suasion that makes such a life seem doable and enjoyable. 

Instead, maybe we’ll just block out the sun.