Folly, Egoism And Dangers Of Climate Geo-Engineering
By Glen Barry
02 October, 2007
Is humanity so resistant
to change that we will tamper with the biosphere's workings to construct
a "Frankensphere"; rather than reducing population, consumption
is being widely suggested that humanity can "geo-engineer"
a global solution to climate change; that is, modify the Earth's biosphere
at a planetary scale. Many methods are suggested. Most include either
reflecting additional solar radiation away from the Earth, or using
the ocean to store more carbon.
proposals emerge largely from a sense of desperation as the world fails
to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, and an unwillingness to make necessary
societal and personal changes in response to deadly climate change.
To some the extreme action of taking the Earth's ecological systems
into techno-human hands seems sensible given indications that global
heating is proceeding more rapidly than thought, as shown by unexpectedly
quick melting of Arctic sea ice.
Risky climate geo-engineering
schemes include giant vertical pipes in the ocean to increase ocean
circulation and thus marine carbon sequestration, similarly growing
vast blooms of ocean plankton by fertilizing with iron, erecting giant
mirrors above the earth to reflect the sun's energy, and dropping sulfur
particles from balloons at high altitude to do the same.
Two rogue US companies are
moving forward with plans to fertilize the ocean with iron to create
plankton blooms to suck heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
They are motivated by profits from the growing carbon credit market,
rising public demands for action, and politicians eager to avoid painful
reductions in emissions. There is little that can be done to stop them,
as no applicable laws or treaties exist.
Such efforts to "manage"
Gaia are absolute madness – betting the planet and humanity on
something as complex as artificially regulating a biosphere. Radical
geo-engineering proposals could just as easily worsen the situation
if these projects fail or are suddenly halted. And it is highly likely
that unintended consequences of widespread implementation of such schemes
would outweigh possible benefits. Have we learned nothing from the biofuels
boondoggle? Failure could destroy the Earth.
There has been little research
on the potential impacts upon marine ecosystems. The powerful greenhouse
gas nitrous oxide may be released as marine organic matter decomposes.
Oxygen may become depleted in the deep ocean, killing fish and throwing
already troubled marine ecosystems into further turmoil. Even James
Lovelock, the British scientist that first conceived of Gaia as a self-regulating
organism, has fallen victim to favoring human technology over proven
Gaia, the Earth System, is
a finely honed creature with unbelievably complex and ancient existing
systems of planetary regulation. Messing with ocean carbon storage and
solar radiation levels will affect ocean currents and acidity, atmospheric
circulation and weather. Almost certainly there will be a whole host
of follow-on effects, and dependable climatic patterns are likely to
be further seriously diminished.
It is unfathomable to me
that after millennia of ecological ignorance and unconstrained global
ecological change leading to our current ecological crises, that a handful
of scientists and business people could be so egotistical as to suppose
they can play God and refashion a planet. Once geo-engineering is embraced,
we could never stop, or the carbon would be re-released. Again, to propose
human management of the biosphere is so egoistical and dangerous; and
wrong on so many levels.
These may be desperate times,
but governments have not even acted yet to set mandatory reductions
in greenhouse gas emissions. The skeptics have only just gone from denying
the problem to minimizing its importance. Rather than embracing known
sufficient policies that could solve the problem by transforming our
energy and transportation systems, it is human nature to seek the easy
way out. Yet reducing emissions of CO2, population, and consumption;
and restoring global ecological systems, is so much more likely to be
So much nature remains --
that could be enlarged, reconnected and regenerated -- that it is wrong
to give up on natural ecosystems' processes to embrace a techno-industrial
"Frankensphere". A failing biosphere can never be managed
in any real sense to mimic a healthy biosphere. It is simply too complex.
If SUVs and coal plants are
still spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, clearly risky geo-engineering
is unjustified. Humanity is unable to eliminate exotic species, live
peacefully, end deforestation, or stop having so many babies; yet it
is going to take the global ecosystem into its management? Geo-engineering
cannot succeed and it is terribly misguided to suggest it can.
the shameless extreme nature of societal refusal to cut energy use and
emissions. We have not even really tried in earnest as a human family
to do so through conservation, efficiency and alternatives. Yet, before
we have even begun, we are going to bet the human family's future on
technological fixes that we hope will allow us to continue consuming,
and pumping out babies and emissions, without end?
I am furious; absolutely
certain with every thread of my ecological knowledge, intuition and
being that no good and a large amount of harm will come from geo-engineering.
Proposed global scale experimental environmental fixes will be disastrous.
Under no circumstances may untested planetary manipulations commence
until all other options have failed. The seeds of an operable biosphere
remain, they must be given time and space to reestablish themselves;
and humanity challenged and aided by all means to embrace necessary
The biosphere belongs to
all people and tribes, and should it come to wild once off experiments
with the Earth, the decision must be made by United Nations' consensus.
Until then, government prohibitions on unsanctioned activities must
be implemented with all haste. Given the lack of regulation against
such planetary scale climate experiments, direct action to stop arbitrary
and capricious geo-engineering implementation is warranted and necessary.
Dr. Barry is founder and President of Ecological Internet;
provider of the largest, most used environmental portals on the Internet
including the Climate Ark at http://www.climateark.org/
. Earth Meanders is a series of ecological essays that are written entirely
in his personal capacity. This essay may be reprinted granted it is
properly credited to Dr. Barry and with a link to Earth Meanders. Emailed
responses are public record and will be posted on the web site unless
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