Geoengineering: Is it possible?

Global Warming, whether one considers it caused primarily by humans, or as a natural process determined by cyclical solar activity, is potentially a huge problem for the human race regardless of its cause.

One possible cure for GW is geoengineering. What is geoengineering you ask?

Well, read this post from The New Yorker:

Late in the afternoon on April 2, 1991, Mt. Pinatubo, a  volcano on the Philippine island of Luzon, began to rumble with a series of the  powerful steam explosions that typically precede an eruption. Pinatubo had been  dormant for more than four centuries, and in the volcanological world the  mountain had become little more than a footnote. The tremors continued in a  steady crescendo for the next two months, until June 15th, when the mountain  exploded with enough force to expel molten lava at the speed of six hundred  miles an hour. The lava flooded a two-hundred-and-fifty-square-mile area,  requiring the evacuation of two hundred thousand people.

Within hours, the plume of gas and ash had penetrated the stratosphere,  eventually reaching an altitude of twenty-one miles. Three weeks later, an  aerosol cloud had encircled the earth, and it remained for nearly two years.  Twenty million metric tons of sulfur dioxide mixed with droplets of water,  creating a kind of gaseous mirror, which reflected solar rays back into the sky.  Throughout 1992 and 1993, the amount of sunlight that reached the surface of the  earth was reduced by more than ten per cent.

The heavy industrial activity of the previous hundred years had caused the  earth’s climate to warm by roughly three-quarters of a degree Celsius, helping  to make the twentieth century the hottest in at least a thousand years. The  eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, however, reduced global temperatures by nearly that  much in a single year. It also disrupted patterns of precipitation throughout  the planet. It is believed to have influenced events as varied as floods along  the Mississippi River in 1993 and, later that year, the drought that devastated  the African Sahel. Most people considered the eruption a calamity.

For geophysical scientists, though, Mt. Pinatubo provided the best model in  at least a century to help us understand what might happen if humans attempted  to ameliorate global warming by deliberately altering the climate of the earth.

For years, even to entertain the possibility of human intervention on such a  scale—geoengineering, as the practice is known—has been denounced as hubris.  Predicting long-term climatic behavior by using computer models has proved  difficult, and the notion of fiddling with the planet’s climate based on the  results generated by those models worries even scientists who are fully engaged  in the research. “There will be no easy victories, but at some point we are  going to have to take the facts seriously,’’ David Keith, a professor of  engineering and public policy at Harvard and one of geoengineering’s most  thoughtful supporters, told me. “Nonetheless,’’ he added, “it is hyperbolic to  say this, but no less true: when you start to reflect light away from the  planet, you can easily imagine a chain of events that would extinguish life on  earth.”

There is only one reason to consider deploying a scheme with even a tiny  chance of causing such a catastrophe: if the risks of not deploying it were  clearly higher. No one is yet prepared to make such a calculation, but  researchers are moving in that direction. To offer guidance, the  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) has developed a series of  scenarios on global warming. The cheeriest assessment predicts that by the end  of the century the earth’s average temperature will rise between 1.1 and 2.9  degrees Celsius. A more pessimistic projection envisages a rise of between 2.4  and 6.4 degrees—far higher than at any time in recorded history. (There are  nearly two degrees Fahrenheit in one degree Celsius. A rise of 2.4 to 6.4  degrees Celsius would equal 4.3 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit.) Until recently,  climate scientists believed that a six-degree rise, the effects of which would  be an undeniable disaster, was unlikely. But new data have changed the minds of  many. Late last year, Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the International  Energy Agency, said that current levels of consumption “put the world perfectly  on track for a six-degree Celsius rise in temperature. . . . Everybody, even  schoolchildren, knows this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.”

The human race might have no choice but to try geoengineering by the end of the 21st Century if the prognosis of a six degree Celsius rise in temperature holds true.

But if we are to become a true Kardashev Level One civilization, humans must have total control of the energy outputs of the planet.

And that includes the climate.

The Climate Fixers

Hat tip to Boing Boing.


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