The premise: Man has messed with Nature to produce unusual global warming. The proposed solution: Mess with Nature even more. That’s the idea behind geoengineering and its wacky schemes to control climate.
Here is a review of some of the geoengineering schemes proposed. Many schemes have been proposed by serious scientists as a fix for a perceived problem. Some might be technologically feasible, but totally impractical; most are incredibly expensive; none are necessary or even desirable. The popular press has noticed that such schemes are being considered and promoted. An article in the March issue of Reader’s Digest says, “that radically altering our environment may be our last best hope for avoiding disaster.” Uh-huh. Dr. Strangelove lives. Apparently RD authors have not been reading the news lately about climategate.
The Cooling Schemes:
Cooling schemes come in two general varieties: block the sun, or suck up carbon dioxide.
1) Add aerosol sulfur to the atmosphere to create a haze and reduce sunlight reaching the surface. Never mind that for the last few decades we have been trying to reduce sulfur emissions from coal-fired electric generation plants and smelters. And there is that thing about acid rain.
By the way, according to the EPA U.S. emissions of air pollutants have decreased significantly since 1980: carbon monoxide has decreased 79% ; ground-level ozone has decreased 25%; lead emissions have decreased 92%; nitrogen dioxide has decreased 46%; sulfur dioxide decreased 71%; and particulate matter has decreased 19%. Was all that Clean Air Act stuff a mistake?
2. Create large-scale reflective screens to block sunlight and reduce glacier melt. Who’s going to keep the snow off the screens? Ah… green jobs.
3. Spread iron filings on the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The iron would nurture phytoplankton, which, in turn, would absorb more CO2.
4. Add lime to the ocean to make it more alkaline and thereby presumably increase the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2. Shell Oil is actually funding such research. Maybe it would offset the acid rain produce in scheme #1.
5. Use a fleet of ships set up to spray water into the atmosphere in the hope of making whiter clouds that would reflect sunlight.
6. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University suggests building 60,000 shiny space ships and putting them into orbit. They would reflect away some sunshine and cool the earth. Cost, only $100 billion a year. A similar proposal involves shooting millions of tiny reflective frisbees into space to reflect sunlight. This latter plan, proposed by a University of Arizona researcher, would cost somewhere between $800 billion and $400 trillion according to an estimate in Popular Mechanics ( http://tinyurl.com/yg5qxl4 ). That wide range of estimated costs seems to be typical of many schemes. Still other schemes would orbit giant mirrors to reflect sunlight away.
7. CO2 Scrubbers, hundreds of thousands of them, would suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and then store it underground. This suffers from the same problem as capturing CO2 from fossil fuel plants (see: http://tinyurl.com/l6zoeo )
The Warming Schemes:
Back in the 1970s, when climate scientists were absolutely sure that the planet was entering another glacial epoch, geoengineering schemes were designed to warm the planet.
1. Melt the Arctic Ice cap by covering it with coal dust to increase heat absorption. The darker, ice-free water would then absorb more sunlight and warm up.
2. Dam the Bering Strait to keep cold Arctic water out of the Pacific Ocean.
3. Deflect the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Two kinds of proposals were discussed, a dam between Florida and Cuba, and weirs extending out from Newfoundland across the Grand Banks to deflect the Labrador current as well as the Gulf Stream. Other schemes would deflect the Kuroshio Current in the Sea of Japan.
4. Create African oceans: If the Congo River, which carries some 1,200 cubic kilometers of water per year, were dammed at Stanley Canyon (about 1 mile wide), it would impound an enormous lake (the Congo Sea). The Ubangi, a tributary of the Congo, could then flow to the northwest, joining the Chari and flowing into Lake Chad, which would grow to enormous size (over 1 million square kilometers).
5. Create Siberian Seas: Dams on the Ob, Yenisei and Angara rivers could create a lake east of the Urals that would be almost as large as the Caspian Sea. This lake could be drained southward to the Aral and Caspian Seas, irrigating a region about twice the area of the Caspian Sea. The theory behind these dam schemes is that the presence of a large lake transforms the heat exchange between the surface and atmosphere.
The problem with all these schemes, besides being unnecessary and costly, is that they would have unpredictable consequences for individual countries, regions, and the planet. They could result in political manipulation as countries and companies promote vested interests. They could, perhaps, even cause climate wars, especially if a scheme perpetrated by one country adversely affected another.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (MAY/JUNE 2008) gives 20 reasons why geoengineering is a bad idea. See: http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/pdf/20Reasons.pdf
But the schemes have their advocates (or is it patsies?). Science Insider reports that Bill Gates has spent $4.5 million of his own money supporting a wide array of research on geoengineering since 2007. It seems that this perceived problem is ripe to suck up grant money. Hey Bill, there’s this bridge in Brooklyn….
John Holdren, Obama’s science advisor, says the White House is seriously considering geoengineering options. (AP April 8, 2009). It would be better if they seriously considered the fraud and data manipulation of the Climategate revelations.
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”