In an article in Salon.com, Elizabeth Svoboda endorses an outlandish global warming geotechnical “fix” proposed by UC-Irvine physicist, Gregory Benford: "Global warming demands more than do-gooder actions. It demands "geoengineering" -- like blocking the sun's rays with stratospheric dirt."
“Benford thinks Al Gore's a good guy and all, but he also thinks the star of "An Inconvenient Truth" is a little delusional,” says Svoboda. “Driving a hybrid car, switching your bulbs to compact fluorescents and springing for recycled paper products are all well-meaning strategies in the fight against global warming. But as UC-Irvine physicist Benford sees it, there's a catch. Those do-gooder actions are not going to be effective enough to turn the temperature tide, and even incremental political changes like reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mining alternative fuel sources are not forward-thinking enough.”
"I never believed we were going to be able to thwart global warming through carbon restriction," Benford says. "Carbon restriction requires nations to subvert short- and midterm goals for a long-term goal they've read about online, and that's just not going to work."
Svoboda goes on to describe Benford’s “pie in the sky” (pardon my awful pun) plan: “As an alternative, Benford has cooked up a plan that amounts to a manmade Mount Pinatubo eruption. He has proposed shooting trillions of tiny particles of earth into the stratosphere, where they will remain suspended to help blot out incoming solar rays. Dirt is cheap, chemically unreactive and easily crushable, he argues, making it a simple matter to test this strategy on a small scale over the Arctic before total global deployment. This plan might seem a little too sci-fi to take seriously -- fittingly, Benford moonlights as a Nebula-winning novelist -- but he's far from the only scientist to lobby for a so-called geoengineering fix.”
“Researchers all over the world have begun advocating large-scale climate control strategies that sound like something "The Simpsons'" Mr. Burns might endorse, including erecting sun-blocking mirrors in deep space, spraying tiny droplets of sulfur or ocean water into the atmosphere to deflect sunbeams, and seeding the oceans with iron to spur the growth of CO2-sucking phytoplankton. When a panel of scientists addressed the ethical implications of geoengineering at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in February in Boston, it was a clear sign of how far this seemingly out-there field has advanced toward legitimacy.”
“While no proposed geoengineering fixes have yet been tested on a global scale, all of them have the irresistible lure of immediacy. Once deposited, CO2 can linger in the atmosphere for more than 100 years, meaning it will take decades or centuries for emissions-reduction policies to cool the planet significantly. Geoengineering, on the other hand, could potentially send global temperatures back to preindustrial levels within only a few years, bringing the Arctic melt to a screeching halt and keeping extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels associated with warming in check.”
“Hubristic to the nth degree?” asks Svoboda cheekily. “Riskier than a tightrope ballet? Absolutely. Even geoengineering's proponents concede that,” she adds. The effects of such large scale intervention could be apocalyptic and wind up being far worse than the initial problem. As an ecologist, still learning about the complexities of our environment, I find this sort of hubristic and myopic (I might add) “quick fix” frightening. It smarts of compartmentalization and isolationist thinking. We can’t possibly come up with all the possible consequences to such an intervention. To entertain the hubristic notion that there exists an "easy fix" to a phenomenon that only chaos theory even comes close to describing--and promoting this without being part of a major societal paradigm shift--is not only foolhardy but dangerous. For instance, according to Alan Robock, an environmental scientist at Rutgers University, aerosol clouds blocking out the sun could also produce regional climate change and reduce the Asian monsoon rains. “That would threaten water and food supply for billions of people,” says Robock. Inordinate shade could devastate crops. Spraying too much sulphur into the atmosphere could produce enough acid rain to decimate forests around the world, never mind poisoning lakes and rivers. The list of potential Frankensteinian specters is endless. It’s a harrowing magic show with devastating possibilities.
"The history of intervening in complex systems to correct them is not good," says Ken Caldeira, an ecologist at Stanford University, who has cautiously endorsed future geoengineering research. "You always think you know how the system's going to respond, but we should assume that if we start doing this, there are going to be some ugly surprises."
Let’s not forget the frying pan and the fire. What disquiets me about these sorts of “easy” fixes is that they release us from the hard work and the personal responsibility in the phenomenon that we all have contributed to. Faced with a wall of work, we turn to the technology and the experts who tell us that this new thing will fix it all and we can go on as before. That is the whole point: we can’t and shouldn’t go on as before. We need to change.
We live in a fast-paced world where technology is God and quick fixes are so ingrained in our North American culture that it is stunting our ability to be imaginative in ways that involve the strengths of our very humanity. We are far too ready to give up on ourselves and the hard work necessary to turn everything around for life on the planet.
We lack faith in ourselves. We’d rather sit back and believe in magic.
Pete Geddes, executive vice president of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, all too readily rights us off: “I know of no realistic person who thinks carbon dioxide emissions are going to do anything but grow.” Geddes, like so many others, is fully prepared to concede that any well-intentioned emissions-control measure or other eco-healthy initiative will ultimately fail. Many of us clearly idolize technology at the expense of humanity.
It’s about time we started to believe in ourselves. In our goodness. In our integrity. In our ability to work hard for something that is important and vital to us: our beloved planet Earth and our children who will make a home on it. It’s all we’ve got. Let’s not screw it up with “Smoke and Mirrors”.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.