March 03, 2007


Pat Mooney has a fascinating article in Foreign Policy in Focus about the prospects for "geoengineering" as a means of preventing drastic climate change. This isn't just theoretical. According to the Guardian, the United States recently lobbied the IPCC to recommend research into giant space mirrors that could block sunlight and avert global warming. At least 26 countries have conducted experiments on altering the weather. A number of scientists are looking into fertilizing sections of the ocean with iron, so that plants will grow and suck out the carbon from the air. And so on.

Mooney's skeptical. Very skeptical. For the most part, he says, we're meddling with forces we don't really understand, and points out that a lot of these crazy schemes could easily backfire (dumping a bunch of iron in the ocean, for instance, "could theoretically sterilize portions of the Pacific"). Now, I don't think anyone's suggesting that these scientists should stop looking into this altogether, but some people—like certain Bush administration officials—seem to think that we won't need to reduce emissions at all, because geoengineering will save us. That's sheer insanity.

P.S. I enjoyed this bit on weather control:
Many of the world's military powers remain fascinated with weather control. A U.S. Air Force report entitled "Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025" concluded that the weather "can provide battlespace dominance to a degree never before imagined," including the ability to thwart an enemy's operations by enhancing a storm or by inducing drought and making fresh water scarce.

In 2004, two Chinese cities in Henan province—Pingdingshan and Zhoukou—came close to fighting when they both tried to alter local weather patterns by blasting tiny silver iodide particles into the troposphere (the lowest portion of Earth's atmosphere). The city downwind accused the city upwind of stealing its weather. This hasn't deterred the Chinese government from promising the International Olympic Committee that China will use weather modification to guarantee sunny days for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
That second paragraph seems noteworthy. At some point, presumably, countries will develop technology to control the weather. But altering the weather in one part of the world can, obviously, affect things in other parts. So suddenly you have all these potential political conflicts. Cloud-seeding in the United States has already led to lawsuits filed by farmers who claim that the cloud-seeders are stealing their rain. In a great Boston Globe article on weather-control two years ago, one scientist wondered:
''Let's say you have a mirror in space," [Daniel Schrag, director of Harvard's Laboratory for Geochemical Oceanography] goes on. "Think of two summers ago when we were having this awful cold summer and Europe was having this awful heat wave. Who gets to adjust the mirror?"
Presumably these conflicts would be settled in the United Nations or some other forum, but you can see how things would get real thorny, ral fast. But anyway, this is all decades, away. Still, it's interesting to think about.
-- Brad Plumer 8:13 PM || ||