USA Today released an article on February 25 titled Can Geoengineering put the Freeze on Global Warming. Its companion article online is here.
The article suggests that massive engineering projects like sunshades, stratospheric sulfur, agri-engineering and ocean fertilization could make enough of a dent in the purported global warning, like lowering the earth’s temperature by one or two degrees, to make enough of a difference to be considered.
USA Today is doing the country no favor by such articles. It makes it sound like these are viable options considered seriously by anyone. Let’s just talk about a few of those mentioned:
- Sunshades: Launching three-foot wide dark strips into a cloud 62,000 miles in diameter to be suspended within a gravitational balancing point between sun and earth. The dark strips would absorb sunlight, presumably radiate the heat back to space, effectively putting sunglasses on the sun and cooling the earth. It could be done with today’s technology for a few trillion dollars.
- Stratospheric Sulfur: Releasing millions of tons of sulfur into the atmosphere through cannons, balloon releases or planes to absorb greenhouse gases. Of course, this increases air pollution, acid rain and ozone absorption.
- Agri-engineering: Design crops that reflect sunlight. Plant lots of trees to absorb carbon in atmosphere.
- Ocean Fertilization: Fertilizing oceans with iron to stimulate phytoplankton blooms, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and export carbon to the deep sea.
The article does not really discuss the fact that any one of those measures by itself would be phenomenally expensive, mostly based on technology we don’t yet have or know much about, would have massive side effects that we can’t even begin to consider and don’t produce enough results to make any significant dent in the problem in the first place.
By the existence of the article we’re first presuming that we actually have a global warming problem. We’re also presuming that we know what causes it. Both are currently still shaky presumptions. But we’re proposing preposterous solutions. It’s like suggesting a hysterectomy to a 16-year-old girl that’s asking for birth control. Get real.
We have a dirty and cluttered house. How about we get a dumpster, throw out the trash, steam-clean the carpets, bring in a maid service to clean the kitchens and baths, and see what that does? If that does not work, we can still drop poison gas to get the vermin out of the carpets or come in with flame throwers to get rid of the trash, never mind the risk of burning down the whole place in the process. But hey, the dirt will be gone.
It will be infinitely easier to stop burning coal for electricity, stop building cars with gasoline engines and develop airplane engines that don’t use gasoline than it would be to implement any single one of these measures. Why don’t we try those changes first, in the next couple of years. They will be cheaper, certainly more effective, and I can’t see any adverse side effects. Let’s make sure that China, India, Russia, Brazil and Indonesia all go along with us. But that’s only political maneuvering, right? That can’t be that hard.
After attacking the obvious first, spending a fraction of the proposed money for the Sunshade project, let’s measure how we did, and go from there to more drastic geoengineering efforts.