James Lovelock: Schemes to ‘Reverse’ Global Warming Could Lead to Disaster
Better, perhaps, to let the earth look after itself than try to regulate its system through mirrors, clouds and artificial trees.
The idea of serious scientists and engineers gathering to discuss schemes for controlling the world’s climate would a mere 10 years ago have seemed bizarre, or something from science fiction. But now, well into the 21st century, we are slowly and reluctantly starting to realise that global heating is real. We may have cool, wet summers in the UK, but we are fortunate compared with the Inuit, who see their habitat melting, and Australians and Africans who suffer intensifying heat and drought. We should not be surprised that public policy is edging ever nearer to geoengineering, the therapy our scientists are considering for a fevered planet.
Our senior scientific society, the Royal Society, met at the start of the month to launch the report “Geoengineering the Climate” and to hear from its representative scientists. The meeting was hosted by the president, Lord Rees, and the chairman was Professor John Shepherd, who chaired the study group. The goal, as Prof Shepherd explained in the Guardian in April, was to investigate theories of “intervening directly to engineer the climate system, so as to moderate the rise of temperature” and to “separate the real science from the science fiction”.
Geoengineering is about deliberately changing the air, oceans or land surface of the world to offset global heating with the hope of restoring the cooler world we enjoyed in the last century. We are now fairly sure that the Earth has grown hotter by about one degree Celsius as a consequence of our own action in taking away as farmland the forests and other ecosystems that previously acted to keep the Earth cool. We also have increased by 6% the flow of CO2 into the air by burning coal, oil and natural gas. If we started global heating, can we reverse it by engineering?
Or Love it:
Geo-Engineering Could Save the Planet … and in the Process Sacrifice the World
Having unintentionally warmed the planet, we may have little choice but to intentionally cool it back down. But at what cost?
Earth is busted. Like a supercomputer whose elaborate code has developed a few bugs, the core operating systems of the planet are frayed: Ocean populations are collapsing, forests are disappearing, soils have become thin. Perhaps most worrisome, the globe’s atmosphere, the ecosystem on which all other ecosystems depend, is overheating. The machinery of life appears to have malfunctioned.
Since the scale of the climate crisis became clear, the strategy for fixing this glitch has focused on remediation. To maintain the atmosphere’s equilibrium, we need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Our chief goal should be to return the climate to something approximating the pre-industrial status quo.
But what if such a return isn’t possible? What if the planet has gone permanently haywire? As the effects of climate change become obvious and global leaders remain unable to halt emissions, a growing number of scientists say we need to begin researching what’s called “geo-engineering” — ways to artificially reduce global temperatures and/or manipulate plants or the oceans to absorb huge amounts of CO2. Having unintentionally warmed the planet, we may have little choice but to intentionally cool it back down.
Even those most interested in geo-engineering say that the idea of deliberately deforming the planet in order to save it from ourselves is, as Stanford University‘s Ken Caldeira told NPR this summer, “scary.” Yet if we shy away from manipulating the whole globe and continue on our present course, we could be left with a burnt Earth unlike anything ever seen. The scientists who are encouraging government-funded research into geo-engineering are driven by a powerful motive: fear. All too aware of the implications of unchecked CO2 emissions — and worried that political systems aren’t moving quickly enough to respond to changes in the planet’s physical systems — these scientists say we may have no other option than to tinker with the sky.
As the atmospheric pressure mounts so will the clamor to DO SOMETHING.