The people convinced we never had bad weather before are not resting on their lack of laurels over their failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Oh no. They are aiming to infinity and beyond including geoengineering. Among the conspiracy theories we find ourselves combatting in our social media comments is that jet airplane contrails are not frozen mist but sinister weather or mind control. But it gets harder when we read that “NOAA will use a converted Air Force bomber to search the upper atmosphere for substances that could help the U.S. reflect sunlight away from Earth”. No. Don’t. Stop. You can’t predict the weather next week and you insist that humanity’s unintended and indirect impact on climate has been disastrous and will be worse. Yet you now think you can do it on purpose and get it right? Where have we encountered that arrogance before? Oh right. The U.S.S.R., whose environmental record was appalling beyond measure.
For instance, an alert viewer recently sent us a PDF copy of Can Man Change the Climate? by one P. Borisov, a Soviet engineer writing for Progress Publishers back in 1973, that took aim at the bourgeois conception that “the conservatism and inertia of climate cannot be overridden”, urging us to control our destiny in this as in other respects and saying it was entirely practical for us to… get rid of that wretched Arctic ice making it cold and nasty in Siberia by flushing the Arctic with some otherwise useless Atlantic current or something.
Gosh. Too bad they didn’t do it, right? For as Borisov quotes Lenin (from “Materialism and Emprio-Criticism” that:
“until we know a law of nature, it, existing and acting independently and outside our mind, makes us slaves of ‘blind necessity.’ But once we come to know this law, which acts (as Marx pointed out a thousand times) independently of our will and our mind, we become the masters of nature.”
Oh yeah. Then we grab that control knob on the global thermostat, crank it down and… hey! Where’d the crops go?
Still, the progression from hubris to nemesis is apparently not on the modern curriculum. Instead leading alarmist actual scientist Zeke Hausfather tells us, or his Guardian headline writer does, that “stopping climate change isn’t enough – we need to reverse it”. We shall remake nature and get it right this time, shortly before moving on to humans.
Mind you his idea seems to be just sucking enough carbon out of the air to get us back to the dismal conditions of the Little Ice Age, which is probably mostly harmless in that it is not CO2 that ended the Little Ice Age. But his proposal being mostly harmless (not entirely, since getting atmospheric CO2 down to 1850 levels would kill a lot of crops and, alas, the people in the Third World who eat them) depends on his computer models being junk and his theory wrong, which is a bit depressing.
Bill McKibben has a much more ambitious scheme. Dim the sun. Not directly by going and turning it down or off “Fireball of Milton Street“ style; not even he’s that conceited. But, he wrote in The New Yorker back in November:
“If we decide to ‘solar geoengineer’ the Earth – to spray highly reflective particles of a material, such as sulfur, into the stratosphere in order to deflect sunlight and so cool the planet – it will be the second most expansive project that humans have ever undertaken. (The first, obviously, is the ongoing emission of carbon and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.)”
He then lists one academic who fears it might take 30 years. But, he assures us, many other projectors hope to get on it sooner including “a Carnegie Council initiative of how the United Nations might govern geoengineering”. Great. That’s all we need. The UN controlling the weather.
He really thinks we do:
“The result of these initiatives, if not the goal, may be to normalize the idea of geoengineering. It is being taken seriously because of something else that’s speeding up: the horrors that come with an overheating world and now regularly threaten its most densely populated places.”
The horrors that are here and will soon arrive, once again. And funnily enough he warns us that “Everyone studying solar geoengineering seems to agree that it’s a terrible thing.” But then he says we’re probably going to need to do it anyway:
“these same people all say that, because we’re not making sufficient progress on that task, we’re going to “overshoot” 1.5 degrees Celsius. (The Paris Peace Forum’s project, in fact, is called the Overshoot Commission.) So, they think, we had best investigate and plan for a fallback position: the possibility that the world will need to break the glass and implement this emergency plan.”
And don’t think Dr. Frankenstein couldn’t do it:
“The enormous step of dimming the sun could turn out to be very easy, at least from a technological point of view. Filling the air with carbon dioxide took close to three hundred years of burning coal and oil and gas, millions of miles of pipelines, thousands of refineries, hundreds of millions of cars. That enormous effort, carried out by just a fraction of the world’s population, has, with increasing speed, pushed the atmospheric concentration of CO2 from about 275 parts per million, before the Industrial Revolution, to about 425 parts per million now. It would take only a tiny fraction of that effort to inject aerosol particles into the stratosphere.”
It seems petty to object here that McKibben thinks global warming was a deliberate project when there’s so much that’s worse about his idea including thinking we could actually know what would happen if we made the contrail conspiracy theory into a UN-driven reality.
Meanwhile this latest old-airplane geoengineering enterprise offers a weird mix of conceit and humility on this point. According to Scientific American:
“‘We have to know more about how aerosols act in the climate system to better understand the costs and benefits of climate intervention,’ said Karen Rosenlof, a senior scientist at NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory, in a statement released last week. ‘We are already seeing detrimental impacts on the biosphere and the economy due to climate change, and we should expect that they’re only going to get worse.’”
But hold on. If you really are able to track detrimental effects on the economy as well as the biosphere, you must think you have models that really do capture the transcomputable complexities of two different systems at the same time. So you must know how aerosols act.
Alternatively, you don’t know how aerosols act. But then you don’t know what’s going on in the climate, let alone what whatever it is that’s going on there is doing to the economy, which people don’t actually understand anyway since they don’t know if we’re in a recession, why there’s inflation or whether it’s slowing down.
As SA admits in an unguarded moment:
“Previous U.S. studies of what is called solar radiation modification have been done to explore the impacts of massive volcanic eruptions, large wildfires and the reductions of global emissions during the Covid-19 pandemic. They have demonstrated that there is more learning to be done. The exploration of the stratosphere, which starts at four miles high over Alaska, may be the beginning of a much-needed learning curve.”
So your models don’t work. For the love of Gaia, do not on the basis of your ignorance start trying to cool the planet, because we keep hearing about instabilities and tipping points and the big danger here isn’t that you’ll fail expensively, though the piece concedes that “Most of the projects would cost billions of dollars, take years to reach fruition and even then it’s uncertain how effective they would be.”
It’s that, as we’ve said before, you’ll succeed and bring back the glaciers.