IEET > GlobalDemocracySecurity > Vision > Contributors > R. Dennis Hansen > Technoprogressivism > Eco-gov
Let the geoengineering research begin!
R. Dennis Hansen   Jun 13, 2011   Ethical Technology  

Who says we can’t do anything about the weather or the climate?

If we judged the severity of global warming by recent news coverage, we might be lulled into thinking the problem has evaporated (or at least cooled). Unfortunately, that is not the case. The planet’s temperature is continuing to rise, and many industrialized countries, including the United States, have been slow to react.

The problem is that the world’s efforts to slow global warming—reduce greenhouse gas emissions—may not be enough to forestall a warmer future. Political inaction may force extreme solutions like geoengineering: large-scale technological interventions in the earth’s climate system. Most earth-cooling proposals are not intended as permanent fixes, but as stop-gap measures to be used until we resolve our CO2-emission issues.

According to UCLA economist Matthew Kahn, “Climate-change adaption comes down to whether you are Mr. Spock or Homer Simpson—proactive logicians or lazy procrastinators.”

Geoengineering interventions have the potential to lessen climate change impacts, but research is needed to determine whether this is true or not. While the ethical high ground may be to preach that we should never interfere with the Earth’s climate, we are obviously interfering with it now. And it’s possible that intelligent counter-interference will reduce potential future damage.

geoeng In 2006, geoengineering was rescued from kookdom by Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist. Seeing a potential future calamity, he proposed releasing sulfurous debris into the atmosphere—a sort of artificial volcano—to create a haze that would cool the planet.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), most geoengineering proposals designed to cool the earth can be categorized as either removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, or solar radiation management. The latter would offset temperature increases by reflecting sunlight back from space.

Carbon-removal proposals include:

  • ‘Fertilizing’ the ocean with iron to encourage the growth of carbon-capturing phytoplankton and
  • Building ‘artificial trees’ to absorb carbon dioxide.

In addition to Crutzen’s proposal, several other radiation management options have been proposed:

  • Spraying ocean water into the atmosphere to produce sunlight-reflecting clouds and
  • Launching trillions of reflective disks into the upper atmosphere.

Tinkering with the weather obviously is a very controversial subject, but the current U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, feels that “geoengineering is certainly worth further research.”


One objection to geoengineering is that the earth’s climate is far too complex for us to totally understand. “We’re fiddling with a very complicated system (the earth’s climate),” said John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor. “And it’s very dicey business, because we’re doing it without a complete understanding of how the machinery works.” Flawed data and bad analysis are a considerable concern. But despite the risks, many scientists and policy wonks believe we need to start evaluating geoengineering options now.

In this new field, there are few, if any, national and international agreements to establish the ‘rules of the game’. New agreements and treaties will be required, because the effects of geoengineering will not respect national and international boundaries. It will not be easy to set the global thermostat. And there is reasonable concern that geoengineering technologies could be used as military weapons.

Some argue that geoengineering approaches are similar to losing weight without eating less and exercising more, or avoiding lung cancer without having to stop smoking. Others worry that short-term geoengineering fixes may delay more important permanent solutions.

In the view of British scientist and Gaia theorist James Lovelock, we have two choices: we can live in equilibrium with the planet as hunter-gatherers, or we can live as a very sophisticated high-tech civilization. Since the former is not an option, Lovelock feels the latter is our only path forward. “We have now assumed responsibility for the welfare of the planet. How shall we manage it?”

Who says we can’t do anything about the weather or the climate? Our first priority must be to limit greenhouse gas emissions. However, if such reductions achieve too little, too late, we must consider geoengineering options. And that requires research now.

R. Dennis Hansen is currently employed as a planner for a federal resource management agency in Utah. He enjoys traveling and has lived in and/or visited and/or worked in over 40 countries on five continents. Hansen is a member of the Mormon Transhumanist Association and Engineers without Borders.



COMMENTS

I am quite concerned about how the research will occur? Will they utilize already gathered data from the ongoing spraying that has been taking place over the last decade? I have some great photographs to show the researchers; how the clouds form, disperse, how the gray and white mix together. How some trails leave white fluffy clouds while others leave a grey mist, and yet others an oily white substance. You can reach me at my email above should you require some research material - I even have time and dates on my pictures so you can see how long it takes for the clouds to form, knit and weave themselves into a weather system. Glad to be of service.

I wonder how many people have considered another option:

Engineer the human body to withstand any kind of climate change, to be resilient in any weather.

This would actually have two effects: a fully cybernetic human should be able to stand, unclothed, in a blizzard indefinitely without discomfort. Or in 110 degree weather. Or at the bottom of a swimming pool.

In this way, it wouldn’t matter much what the weather is like, as we’ll survive it regardless.

But, ironically, it has another side effect: humans use less energy.

At this point, they no longer need houses for shelter. Houses use a lot of energy. They don’t consume any (or as much) food, and food takes a lot of energy to produce (they only need electricity to run their cybernetic bodies - maybe a small amount of food depending on how much of the organic brain is retained, but this is tiny in comparison to what we eat now). Travel is mostly done through telepresence, and that saves a ton of energy too.

So, upgrading our bodies into Human Body 2.0 not only makes us impervious to the effects of climate change, but also concomitantly reduces the amount of energy we need, and thus lowers carbon emissions.

ya, who indeed is saying that… Its been going on for 10 years now…

James Lovelock, also suggested some solutions, among them and the one that particularly struck me was Pyrolysis of all waste biomass which can produce a fuel gas for energy but leaves most of the carbon as a carbon or bio char residue somewhere between 15 and 20% of the mass pyrolysised. You then bury the carbon or sink it in the sea (anywhere just so long as it can not be burned). This makes the process carbon negative. As Prof Lovelock says the biosphere’s living things will capture the carbon, our task is to collect it and put it back in the earth where it came from. The technology for advance pyrolysis exists and the first commercial units are being installed. However there is a long why to go before it becomes standard practice across the globe and gigatones of Carbon are recaptured. What makes me believe that this process will succeed is that it produces energy profitably.

Suppose someone came to you and demanded 10-30% of your money, used it to poison you, then used more to try to convince you it was a wonderful thing to poison the air you breathe, and the soil. Suppose further thousands of animals died mysteriously, bee colonies collapsed, and the rates of Alzeheimer’s and respiratory diseases skyrocketed. Would you give them more money and tell them to go ahead?

While I agree with Dennis that these geoengineering experiments should start in earnest, we should also be investing into adaptive measures to withstand extreme weather. If we can design our infrastructure (ie. electricity, sewage, etc. and obviously housing) to withstand situations in which weather extremes (cyclones, tornadoes, floods, etc), are exponentially worse than they are now and in addition we can move the whole agricultural system of traditional farming and onto vertical farming (an idea proposed by Columbia Uni Professor Dickson Despommier - an idea which is already gaining traction and which would in theory make agriculture invulnerable to weather) - we could safeguard our infrastructure and food supply and would go a long way to withstanding and surviving climate change. Of course it would be extraordinarily expensive and would not be easy, but it would be well worth it and could probably be done within a couple of decades.

I can remember that in the mid ‘70s we were told by the scientific community that we had about 10 years to act to avert a catastrophic climate change.  I think that the scientists were quite correct in their predictions and that it is far too late to stop it now.  the serious changes have already started and will only get worse.  the only way to stop it is to cease all polluting activities immediately and to put all the ice back on the poles.  Fat chance!  I believe Dr James Lovelock has it right when he says the world population will be reduced to about 10 million over the next 50 years and that mankind is too stupid to prevent it.  Personally, I think that the 10 million is an exaggeration and that zero will be a more likely figure.

I don’t think it’s a matter of if geoengineering will be done.  It’s a matter of when it’ll be done.

I don’t know, it seems like talking about how geoengineering is so logical is like talking about how atheism is logical, or flossing is logical.  Here’s a geoengineering project: reduce carbon emissions.  Just try to reduce global carbon emissions.  I’m not proposing giant orbital mirrors or methane digesting nanobots.  Get humanity to reduce carbon emissions, as a test.  It is a test of whether we can do anything on a globally cooperative scale.  It doesn’t take future-tech.  We can do it now.  Or can we?  If not, aren’t more ambitious ventures even more of a fantasy?

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Euthanasia, Immortality, and The Natural Death Paradox

Previous entry: The TechnoHuman Condition