In my book, these decisions are made by a nation state that has suffered a huge climate catastrophe. The state wants cooler temperatures instantly, no matter the side effects and no matter what the rest of the world thinks.
I can imagine this happening – obviously I imagined it – but I think it could happen in the real world, as we get closer to temperatures that will cook people who are not protected by electricity. And it will be a game changer in nation states where it is happening.
The word “geoengineering” is too broad, and the knee-jerk reaction of the left bothers me because it’s too simplistic; he wants heroes and villains. That’s a very 1995 response. Now that we are approaching unbearable temperatures and a mass extinction event in a workforce situation on the bridge, we might want to cool the planet for about five years by throwing in gas. dust in the atmosphere, which is the management of solar radiation. .
There are obvious problems with this, but it is no longer a prison release card for capitalism as it is. Nobody who proposed it discusses it that way. And if you think of them as sneakily twirling their mustaches, companies might say it will allow them to burn off all the rest of our fossil carbon. No, it won’t. First of all, it’s a very minor gesture in the Earth system to mimic a Pinatubo – minor enough that we can do it as humans, which shows how small he is.
“Engineering” in “geoengineering” implies that we know enough to do it, which is proud and wrong. Some call it climate restoration, to try to achieve ends rather than means. Others think that the name is a bit of a lie, because we will never be able to restore the climate that existed in 1800. I’m not so sure. I propose climate restoration as a way to rethink this issue.
But the problem is too big for geoengineering to deliberately interfere with the Earth system in an attempt to mitigate climate change. Is that what it means? Maybe climate change will lessen if you pour a whole bunch of iron filings into the ocean; then it has a plankton bloom. Then the plankton dies and goes to the bottom, so the carbon is at the bottom of the ocean. No one likes this shot because the ocean is already stressed. And who knows what could actually happen in terms of ripple effects?
We don’t know what the side effects would be, and they could be worse than the remedy, which is true enough to give pause. But solar radiation management caught people’s attention because it could in fact be achieved. It should probably be lime dust, like calcium carbonate, rather than sulfur dioxide, which volcanoes emit into the atmosphere. Sulfur dioxide eats away at the ozone layer, but lime dust is inert and is present in the atmosphere anyway.
If you put more, it falls to the ground; it’s problematic if it falls and melts more ice in the arctic. But in any case, he falls to the ground. Five years later, you are back to square one. You don’t have to do this all the time to keep the temperature from rising. In fact, you plan to do it just once every hundred years, to avoid getting trapped, and see what the effect is over five years.
It is by no means the most dangerous thing we envision. And it’s probably not as dangerous as the generation of nuclear power plants we’ve built. Nuclear power is another horrific lawless area for the American left, a danger to capitalist power for the future, et cetera. But what if nuclear power is generated by thorium rather than uranium, and the byproducts are less dangerous for future generations?
In other words, everything must be on the table. There is no left-wing truism that I trust except that justice and sustainability are the paramount considerations of civilization and should be our cornerstone, our guiding star, for everything we consider. We are in a mass extinction event which is only just beginning, and we must avoid it. Everything else should be considered, not excluded.
Resistance to the idea of geoengineering shows the categorical error of confusing science with capitalism. It is the assumption that this process would only be done by capitalists trying to retain their power, but what if it was done by scientists to prevent millions of people from dying in the tropics? Then it becomes an argument about the means rather than the ends. And we have already pumped over a hundred parts per million of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Every corner of the planet has been geo-designed, accidentally and stupidly as a by-product, or out of ignorance. We didn’t know these side effects were going to happen, and then when we did, we either changed or we didn’t. This is when you become innocent or a criminal.
I am comforted to see a paper in Nature which describes the pumping of water under the glaciers of Antarctica and Greenland to slow down the melting process. It’s geoengineering. What could you be complaining about there? Nothing, because that glacier bottom water pump is an insignificant amount of water and then it just freezes at the top. There are no negative side effects that can be predicted with the management of solar radiation.
It is said that there could be effects on the monsoon in South Asia; if that’s true, that would be bad. The monsoon is variable, but it is very important. Glaciers are also important; they come out of the Himalayas and provide a water supply to South Asia, and the glaciers go fast. A climate modeling exercise that postulates monsoon damage may not be as powerful in an argument as the actual melting of the glaciers that supply water to a billion people.
Everything must be put back on the table – the 1995 arguments about moral hazard and capitalist power must be put aside for the present moment of desperate urgency.