Thursday, October 25, 2007

Climate engineering

Prof. Mankiw and Economists View (probably among many others) blogged about this NYT article: How to Cool the Globe. I thought I'd link to an article I just read at Wilson Quarterly called Climate Engineers by James Fleming. Here's an excerpt:

“Mitigation is not happening and is not going to happen,” physicist Lowell Wood declared at the NASA conference. Wood, the star of the gathering, spent four dec­ades at the University of California’s Law­rence Livermore National Laboratory, where he served as one of the Pentagon’s chief weapon designers and threat analysts. (­He reportedly enjoys the “Dr. Evil” nickname bestowed by his critics.) The time has come, he said, for “an intelligent elimination of undesired heat from the biosphere by technical ways and means,” which, he asserted, could be achieved for a tiny fraction of the cost of “the bureaucratic suppression of CO2.” His engineering approach, he boasted, would provide “instant climatic gratification.”

Wood advanced several ideas to “fix” the earth’s climate, including building up Arctic sea ice to make it function like a planetary air conditioner to “suck heat in from the ­mid­latitude heat bath.” A “surprisingly practical” way of achieving this, he said, would be to use large artillery pieces to shoot as much as a million tons of highly reflective sulfate aerosols or ­specially ­engineered nanoparticles into the Arctic stratosphere to deflect the sun’s rays. Delivering up to a million tons of material via artillery would require a constant ­bombardment—­basically declaring war on the strato­sphere. Alternatively, a fleet of B-747 “crop dusters” could deliver the particles by flying continuously around the Arctic Circle. Or a 25-kilometer-­long sky hose could be tethered to a military superblimp high above the planet’s surface to pump reflective particles into the ­atmosphere.

1 comment:

James Fleming said...

Screwing (With) the Planet

We would all like to see the polar bears flourish, but Ken Caldiera's suggestion to "seed" the Earth's stratosphere with acidic particles using military technology is not the way to do this.  

Naval artillery, rockets, and aircraft exhaust are all "manly" ways to declare "war" on global warming. "A fire hose suspended from a series of balloons" alludes to the proposal by Edward Teller's protégé Lowell Wood to attach a 25-mile long phallus to a futuristic military High Altitude Airship. If the geoengineers can't keep it up, imagine a "snake" filled with more than a ton of acid ripping loose, writhing wildly, and falling out of the sky!

The pair of overheated polar bears in the cartoon alludes to such nonsense. And whose warships are those in the distance? Better check with Vladimir Putin before we screw (with) the Arctic.

Carol Cohn said it best in her classic article, Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals (1987), "The dominant voice of militarized masculinity and decontextualized rationality speaks so loudly in our culture, it will remain difficult for any other voices to be heard... until that voice is delegitimated."

The geoengineers have been playing such games with the planet since computerized general circulation models were developed back in the late 1950s. While this kind of research will undoubtedly continue, it should remain indoors between consenting adults. What needs to be aired out are the underlying assumptions.

James Fleming
Colby College
Author of "The Climate Engineers," Wilson Quarterly