Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Dangerous Belief that Extreme Technology Will Fix Climate Change

It boils down to a failure to question capitalism, civilization, and the notion of progress.

Some scientists have proposed dumping gas in the earth’s skies to cool its temperature. (Credit: Reuters) Click to enlarge.
Scientists have proposed solar radiation management, as it’s called, for decades as a form of global-scale geoengineering that could combat global warming.  But few have done what Smith, a partner at a private equity firm and former airline executive, has done ― turned pie-in-the-sky, back-of-the-envelope calculations into a full-fledged feasibility study, complete with a development and operating budget for his fleet of planes.

Encouraged by the attention he has been getting from researchers at institutions like Harvard, where he was recently invited to present his work, Wake Smith has worked out a 10-year operating plan for planes that would begin spraying SO2 in 2023.

The whole endeavor, Smith said, is far cheaper and simpler than he initially imagined.  There are no real barriers, he said.  The total cost of the project?  A measly $3.5 billion, he estimated.

“I think it’s bad news how cheap this is,” Smith told a small group last month in a conference room at Harvard’s Center for the Environment.  For that kind of money, Smith argued, it’s possible that any rogue nation, organization or individual could start experimenting with the climate.

The impacts of geoengineering on the global scale are unknown, in part because no massive geoengineering project has been undertaken ― apart from human-induced climate change.  But models are potentially troubling.  Some suggest geoengineering will disrupt rainfall worldwide and damage the earth’s protective ozone layer.  A Rutgers University study published in January suggested that suddenly stopping a large geoengineering project, once it has started, could lead to rapid warming, pushing species into extinction and accelerating climate change.

As global temperatures continue to rise, however, some researchers say geoengineering shouldn’t be dismissed. Helene Muri, a researcher at the University of Oslo geosciences department, said it shows promise as a way to reduce harm from climate change, but it is not ready. “We need to know more about the risks involved before we, if we can ever, deem it safe to use,” she said. “Solar geoengineering is in any case not a substitute for cutting CO2 emissions.”

Yet, with every year and climate conference that passes, a global-scale geoengineering project becomes more and more feasible. There’s virtually no regulation stopping a country or individual from trying this, Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told me. In fact, from a legal perspective, it’s easier to seed the stratosphere than get a permit to remodel your home, he added.

“I think there is such a large chance that someone will try geoengineering that it really needs to be governed,“ said Gerrard. That’s why, together with Tracy Hester at the University of Houston Law Center, he just published a book, Climate Engineering and the Law, intended to help policymakers, technologists and lawyers better understand current regulations and science underlying big-scale geoengineering projects. 

Read more at The Dangerous Belief that Extreme Technology Will Fix Climate Change

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