Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beware of the danger of geo-engineering

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We’ve changed the composition of ocean water, we’ve remodeled the landscape, and we’ve created monster weather patterns. And now, to rescue us from the pickle we’ve gotten ourselves into, there’s talk about further manipulating the climate to compensate for the imbalances that human activity has brought about.
With a dawning realization that curbing greenhouse gases produced by an industrial society borders on the impossible, some of the very people who have been in denial about human-induced climate change are now looking at artificial ways to mitigate a steady rise in global temperatures.
Lumped under the catchall phrase of Geo-engineering, these initiatives seek to deploy iffy and unproven technologies — such as shields to reflect solar radiation, iron compounds to neutralize the acidity of ocean waters, aerosol seeding of the stratosphere, and other questionable schemes.
All to control a phenomenon about which we still know very little — the mechanics of the atmosphere. The unpredictability of the skies’ multiple moods, as manifested by our day-to-day weather and long range climate trends, is appreciated by experienced weather and climate professionals, few of whom would suggest tinkering with it’s intricate works.
 I managed to Google up a long (57 minute) lecture by Keith Caldeira of the Carnegie Institute’s Department of Global Ecology.
 Caldeira was exploring the idea of dabbling with nature on this gargantuan scale. I could hardly believe my ears at some of the wild proposals that were being trotted out, examined, and added to a list of options we could deploy in the likely event the C02 count goes off the charts and we humans are too undisciplined to kick our fossil fuel addiction.
I will spare you the technical details, which I’d have to play over and over to understand well enough to explain.
What stuck with me, however, was the admission that once any or all of the procedures were implemented they would have to continue unabated with no interruption — otherwise the buildup of greenhouse gases would effectively cook the planet. And few of us would want to live with the side effects.
Regular seeding of the stratosphere with sulfate aerosols would result in a permanent, whitish haze, and we earthbound humans in the affected regions would never see a blue sky again.
These are just two of the possible consequences of opening this Pandora’s Box.
And Caldeira closed his lecture on a precautionary note that was the understatement of the year.
“The earth system,” he reminded us, “is notoriously complex, and one can assume that tinkering with it on a global scale will produce unanticipated outcomes.”
Amen to that.

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