The On-Marching of Science! Technical Solutions a No-No?

As always, cruising the Google News science feed.

Years ago, I think it was in Wired, I read an article where a bunch of ‘futurists’ (1) and Sci Fi types were asked to make predictions for the coming (this, here) century, which were placed along a time line: by 20XX, this will happen, and so on.

All good, clean fun. In among the other predictions were 2 regarding Global Warming (the marketing department hadn’t got to them yet) and CO2. The prognosticator prognosticated that, sometime early in the century, we’d use technology to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it in order to stop global warming. Then, the same seer envisioned that, later in the century, we’d be pumping that sequestered CO2 back into the atmosphere after things started getting too cold.


It seemed to me unremarkable that someone would propose a technology solution to this ‘problem’. It’s almost always easier to introduce new technology than it is to get people to change their behaviors. (2) Besides, isn’t the last 200 years or so the story of the remaking of the world through technology, of moving much of the 80%+ of people who were subsistence or near-subsistence farmers into work that allows them to live past age 35 and afford phones and cars and stuff? So, wouldn’t the most direct, logical thing to do be to look for technological solutions to difficult problems rooted in human behavior? Worked well in the past, at least some of the time.

But, no. Now, finally, out loud, some have dared to suggest the solution to Global Warming might be technological.

Wrong answer. Here are some headlines and selected snippets:

Blocking Out The Sun Not The Best Way To Fight Climate Change… Yet (Forbes)

Drastic measures like geoengineering are seen as a last resort for heading off the impacts of climate change, but scientists are beginning to look seriously at the possibility that the time for such techniques will inevitably come.

Note that ‘geoengineering’ is a drastic measure, but reducing much of the world’s population to penury via totalitarian micromanagement of their lives (what every ‘reduce CO2 emissions’ proposal means in practice) is NOT drastic. Right.

‘Giving geo-engineering to this US govt is like giving a CHILD a LOADED GUN’ (The Register)

We’ll just leave it at that, while pointing out that giving the UN enough power to stop anyone anywhere on earth from, say, clear-cutting a forest, building a coal powered power plant or a plant to manufacture cement – things generating a lot of CO2, but kind of important for civilization – is TOTALLY DIFFERENT. No way the UN would abuse that sort of power! Only a hopeless cynic would ever think such a thing!

Geoengineering May Cool the Earth, But Cutting CO2 Emissions is Crucial (Science World Report)
U.S. agencies may have been reluctant to fund this area because of the sense of what we call ‘moral hazard’ – that if you start down the road of doing this research you may end up relying on this or condoning this as a way of saving the planet from the cost of decreasing CO2 emissions,” said Penner. “But we’ve stated that decreasing emissions must go hand in hand with any climate intervention efforts.
Having someone suggest the US government might not want to do something because it presents a “moral hazard” in a world where that government just spent several trillions of our and our future children’s tax dollars to make whole financial institutions that gambled the economy into a collapse is, I don’t know, ironic? Hypocritical? Clueless?
The hazard, here, from our government’s point of view, is that technological solutions might work, obviating the massive multinational power grab that reducing CO2 emissions necessarily entails. Or, even more realistically, that we spend our time over the next couple decades developing these approaches – and things don’t get warmer. Even the most reality-vaccinated among the pro-panic crowd might be given pause by a 40 year ‘hiatus’. (3)

Highly Cited:These Strategies to Modify the Climate are Dangerous, Immoral, and Barking Mad (Slate Magazine) 

Can always count on Slate for the calm, balanced view of things. Turns out the author is a dude who is a lead author on the IPCC Third Assessment Report, which is a test case for the proposition that corporate money is hopelessly tainted, while government money, in its driven-snow purity, carries with it no  pressure at all to reach the conclusions the government would like to hear. Government money, according to this theory, is spent with cool logic in an enlightened search for truth, as is manifest in how military contracts, government jobs and mining rights are awarded. For example. We never see any corruption or problems with those, so it would be absurd to think there are any problems here, either.

And so on, with, by now, hundreds of incestuously written articles quoting the same couple people and making cookie-cutter arguments. The positions taken run from “OK as a last-ditch effort as long as we also cut CO2” to “double-plus ungood! Too evil to ever mentioned again!”

Me, I’d like to see technological solutions explored – seeding the oceans with iron seems the most obvious one, especially since you could do it on a limited basis, stop and check out the results for a few years, then proceed or stop based on the outcomes. Such limited test cannot be said to threaten an ocean we dump millions of tons of sewage and waste into every day. You know? Despite certain heads exploding, it’s hard to see why this is so evil – except that it might work and is really, really, cheap and requires no massive intergovernmental apparatus to execute. Can’t have that.

But we explore these things to use them *IF* rising temperatures occur as predicted by reasonable models that can account for the ‘hiatus’. In other words, models that usefully predict something, unlike the ones we have now.

1. Futurists are a little like ethicists – what, exactly, qualifies one for this sort of job title? I guess it’s at least possible a futurist could be wrong. An ethicist can always skate on the outcomes of his recommendations by furrowing the brow and embracing his hard and lonely destiny.

2. Especially in situations such as the current climate panic, wherein the people most panicked are the same people benefiting the most from the practices they condemn – it’s not third-world peasants jetting to exotic locations from their comfortable, well lit and well heated homes to attend climate conferences.

3. Just kidding! If recent history shows anything, it’s that there’s no limit to what True Believers will be willing to explain away in the name of the Cause. See: the persistence of Soviet apologists, and those who see China as an emerging paradise except for all the capitalism.


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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