If you have a packet of Tums or Rolaids or something and you are at the seashore, it seems you should unwrap the tablets and toss them in. At least so “Nature Briefing” tells us, though you may not get much relief when you turn to the story saying “Start-ups are adding antacids to the ocean to slow global warming. Will it work?” (Plot spoiler: No. Of course not. The oceans are huge.) So that’s Plan B, if merely screening out the sun doesn’t cause some apocalyptic disaster or monstrous fizzle in the name of saving the Earth from clods like you and me.
The idea of getting rid of Mr. Sun really does continue to attract attention. Scientific American, or rather its farm team E&E News, just announced “Supercomputer Will Help Decide whether to Block the Sun”. ChatGPT, write us a brief essay on why letting climate computer models blot out sunlight could be a dreadful idea.
Actually we’ll do it ourselves. One important feature of computer climate models is that they are all rubbish. They don’t make accurate predictions even when programmers are allowed to kluge both the equations and the data, and they almost all run too hot when they don’t run right off the rails.
E&E/SA doesn’t see it. They gush that:
“A new supercomputer for climate research… named Derecho, began operating this month at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and will allow scientists to run more detailed weather models for research on solar geoengineering, said Kristen Rasmussen, a climate scientist at Colorado State University who is studying how human-made aerosols, which can be used to deflect sunlight, could affect rainfall patterns. Because Derecho is 3 ½ times faster than the previous NCAR supercomputer, her team can run more detailed models to show how regional changes to rainfall can be caused by the release of aerosols, adding to scientists’ understanding of the risks from solar geoengineering, Rasmussen said.”
Only if the models are accurate. If not, “Derecho” will just make mistakes 3.5 times faster. And until it can tell us on Wednesday whether and roughly when it will rain on Thursday, we’re not very likely to believe it when it tells us if we reduce sunlight and trigger another Little Ice Age, or even glacial maximum, it will also rain a bit more in Boulder or Tulsa.
Last year Congress even mandated the Biden White House to conduct a “scientific assessment of solar and other rapid climate interventions in the context of near-term climate risks and hazards.” And once the Biden White House is on an issue, other than say inflation, debt, where that baggie of cocaine came from or how many grandchildren the president has, why, it’s in the bag.
Also, when people try to improve on nature what could go wrong? Apart from Khrushchev’s “virgin lands” debacle, widespread pollution, Frankenstein’s monster, biological warfare and a few other minor details? The Daily Telegraph writes about “How Bill Gates wants to hack the weather to save us from extinction” that:
“The Microsoft founder is funding experiments to cool the Earth’s climate. But are they safe?”
There are those who at this point would make sardonic comments about Microsoft products. We are not among them. But just because Gates was good at one thing doesn’t mean he’s good at everything.
Which one might also say of the normally-sensible Telegraph, because the piece raves:
“As we inch closer to catastrophic temperature rises, the question is increasingly being asked: can we hack the climate to keep us cool? More importantly, should we?”
The normal alarmist notion seems to be that we are sprinting closer to catastrophic temperature rises that already happened. But having delivered this fatuity, “Environment Editor” Emma Gatten found some predictable activist to say that the settled science is changing rapidly and always for the worse (“There’s been a shift even in the last five years because what scientists are finding about near-term climate change is quite concerning, to put it mildly… Things are worse than they expected. And this situation means we really need to look closely at alternatives”.) Then she quoted some enthusiasts including former chief British government scientific adviser David King and George Soros who’d like to start messing with the ecosystem yesterday and hang sufficient knowledge, before adding that “Opponents of geoengineering, among them Greta Thunberg, focus on two problems: it won’t work, and even if it did, it’s too dangerous.” After which she shared her own view that:
“Although the scientific principles of solar blocking technologies are relatively simple, there is no way of knowing exactly what would happen if you rolled them out on a global scale. Hints from what we do know, from the impact of Mount Pinatubo and scientific modelling, are alarming.”
You ain’t foolin’.
As usual, Nature makes changing ocean chemistry sound like a gold rush, figuratively and literally. The article claims “A New York experiment is part of a commercial race to develop ocean-based technologies to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” A commercial race. Wanna bet? Your own money, we mean. Or all our lives.
You see, the story starts with the requisite colour:
“Bonnie Chang squints at a tube of sediment collected beneath the shallow waters off North Sea Beach – about a two-hour drive from New York City. She’s looking for green mineral crystals that her team added to the sand last year. If all goes as planned, these olivine crystals will cause the ocean to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – a climate solution that could potentially be scaled up around the globe.”
But according to Patrick Moore, the reason atmospheric CO2 has been plunging for millions of years, bringing us to within 30 ppm of the worst mass extinction ever, killing all the C3 plants permanently, during the Last Glacial Maximum, is that the oceans are absorbing too much CO2, specifically in the form of critters making shells from calcium carbonate then having it fall to the sea bottom when they die.
Nature peddles this natural near-catastrophe as a glorious triumph: “The strategy behind ocean alkalinity enhancement is to speed up a natural geochemical weathering process that helps to stop the planet from overheating over long time scales.” As if the planet were not, in fact, about 10°C lower than it has typically been over the last half-billion years rather than right at its natural level, and apparently cooling in ways that spell D-E-A-T-H for most life.
As so often the hope here is that whatever dumb thing humans try to do to fix the planet will not manage to rain down Oobleck on us. And indeed the description of the U.S. government’s plan to screen out the sun, in context of a call for public consultations that we imagine will be a tin-foil-hat enthusiast’s dream, says:
“The report shall include: (1) the definition of goals in relevant areas of scientific research; (2) capabilities required to model, analyze, observe, and monitor atmospheric composition; (3) climate impacts and the Earth’s radiation budget; and (4) the coordination of Federal research and investments to deliver this assessment to manage near-term climate risk and research in climate intervention.”
So it’s not exactly leaping into action.
Meanwhile Gatten gives the last word to the geoengineers: “For advocates, it comes down to a question of relative risk: the unknowns of geoengineering versus the known harm of impending climate change.” Except of course the “known harm of impending climate change” is wildly speculative computer modeling not sober fact.
As for changing how seawater absorbs plant food the good news, and when failure is the good news you know you’re in trouble, is that this time at least the cunning plan to redo the planet and get it right for once unlike that rotten nature didn’t work:
“Chang, a chemical oceanographer leading the field work for Vesta, isn’t so sure just yet. Looking at the clear sediment tube, she is disappointed to discover a distinct layer of olivine crystals buried beneath about 10 centimetres of beach sand.”
You know what? Maybe hang onto your antacids, for when you get a stomach-ache from reading yet another breathless claim that “1.5°C above preindustrial levels”, which means 0.4°C above current levels which you’d never notice if it happened inside your house or outside, is crucial because it’s in the pointless Paris Accord.
P.S. After completing this item we couldn’t resist asking ChatGPT to “write us a brief essay on why letting climate computer models blot out sunlight could be a dreadful idea” and its reply included “Manipulating sunlight is a complex task with unpredictable consequences. Climate computer models, despite their sophistication, are limited by our incomplete understanding of the Earth’s intricate climate systems.” And also “Sunlight is essential for photosynthesis, the process that sustains plant life on Earth. Blocking sunlight would hinder the ability of plants to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, which could have detrimental effects on global ecosystems.” Gosh. Ya think?