With the G8 coming to agreement on climate change, The Atlantic’s article “Moving Heaven and Earth” is timely. In it, I learned a new vocab word, “Anthropocene,” coined in 2000 to describe the period of time when humans began changing the world’s climate and ecosystems.
I also learned about large-scale projects that are designed to “deform the Earth intentionally, as a way to engineer the planet either back to its pre-industrial state, or to some improved third state.” These projects fall under the term “geo-engineering”and give me the creeps.
Following is a brief overview of the strategies followed by writing prompts for bloggers and newsletter publishers (but they can also be used for conversation starters at the neighborhood pool party).
Gas the planet
For those who saw Blade Runner, the red skies envisioned by this strategy will be familiar. Imagine factories whose sole occupation is pumping out sulfur dioxide. During the day all that aerosolized pollutant would shield the planet from the full blast of the sun and would often redden the sunsets. Cost estimate: $100billion compared to an estimated annual $1t to cut carbon emissions through traditional means.
Churn the seas
The National Center for Atmospheric Research’s plan calls for a fleet of 1500 ships constantly churning sea water and spraying it high enough for the wind to carry it to the clouds, making them whiter and fluffier, which in turn enables them to better reflect the sunlight. Cost: $600m up front plus $100m annually.
An astronomy and optics professor at the University of Arizona proposes shooting Frisbee-sized ceramic disks at the gravitational midpoint between Earth and Sun to provide a huge sunshade and keep the planet in a perpetual state of annular eclipse. Cost: Several trillion (the technology doesn’t exist).
No international treaty needed
The trouble with treaties is the incentive to cheat, but with geo-engineering any one country could act alone. “Instead of a situation where any one country can foil efforts to curb global warming, any one country can curb global warming on its own. Pumping sulfur into the amosphere is a lot easier than trying to orchestrate the actions of 200 countries — or for that matter, 7 billion individuals…”
The article contemplates a possible “Greenfinger” who might implement geo-engineering with the single minded focus of the James Bond villain, Goldfinger. “There are now 38 people in the world with $10b or more in private assets…theoretically, one of these people could reverse climate change all alone.” Even a poor country like Bangladesh could afford to take unilateral action to reduce the chance their low-elevation coastal zones would wash away in global-warming-induced rising seas by pumping out sulfur dioxide.
Cut carbon emissions
There is almost universal agreement by climate scientists that we’re better off reducing carbon emissions than going into geo-engineering. Lots of ideas there too, including capturing emissions in giant cooling towers, but the problem is where to put all that captured carbon. One idea is to inject it into the “right kind of geological structure” that would be deep enough to keep it there.
Another reduction strategy for reducing the carbon dioxide we currently produce is blooming plankton, which thrives on it. Some envision offshore plankton forests to replace those no longer on land. Problem is, the dead algae would produce methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
The article concludes with the suggestion that we “keep investigating geo-engineering solutions but make quite clear to the public that most of them are so dreadful that they should scare the living daylights out of even a Greenfinger.”
A note on language
As I wrote in May, people don’t respond as well to negative as they do positive language. For example, the founder of ecoAmerica observed “When someone thinks of global warming, they think of a politicized, polarized argument. When you say ‘global warming,’ a certain group of Americans think that’s a code word for progressive liberals, gay marriage and other such issues.”
Further, in another Atlantic Monthly article by Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, “Although it might be hard to think about the person who will occupy your body tomorrow morning as someone other than you, it is not hard at all to think that way about the person who will occupy your body 20 years from now. This may be one reason why many young people are indifferent about saving for retirement; they feel as if they would be giving up their money to an elderly stranger.”
Bottom line for environmental communicators: find a way to couch messages in positive language; ground them firmly in the present.
Environmental and Financial Writing Prompts
- If you have working knowledge of these or other geo-engineering strategies, please leave a comment with links. You might consider comparing and contrasting those you know with those in The Atlantic’s article.
- Refer to the post I wrote about Prince Charles’ Rainforest Bond proposal. Given what one rogue nation could do to gas the planet with sulfur dioxide, perhaps it makes sense to pay rainforest countries for the services their natural resources offer to the health of the planet and every living being.
- Given the state of venture capital, by what means can environmental entrepreneurs fund their work? Is there something between governmental support and venture capital? With so many unemployed financial mathemeticians looking for something to do, this seems a worthwhile problem to ponder.
- How can funding and regulation work together to protect the entire world from a Greenfinger or rogue state?