Geoengineering the climate

Another solution being proposed to counter the alleged global warming–in addition to reducing the carbon in the atmosphere–is “geoengineering.” Here is what Samuel Thernstrom of the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute is proposing:

The most promising ideas take their proof of concept from nature. Scientists noted that the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines cooled the planet for two to three years by roughly half a degree Celsius. There are ways of artificially reproducing this effect. For instance, ultra-fine sulfur particles injected into the upper atmosphere could deflect 1 or 2 percent of incoming sunlight — almost unnoticeable but enough to cancel out the warming expected to occur this century. This would not halt the slow acidification of the oceans caused by elevated levels of carbon dioxide, but it could cool the planet and drastically reduce the heat-related damages we would otherwise experience, buying time for emissions reductions to take effect.

There are other potentially effective geoengineering techniques that deserve serious study. For instance, low-altitude marine stratocumuli clouds, which cover about 25 percent of the world’s oceans, also reflect sunlight. Research suggests that it might be possible to increase the reflective abilities of these clouds by spraying a fine mist of seawater into the air. A fleet of roughly 1,500 ships (estimated cost: $2 million per ship) might be able to increase the reflectivity of these clouds by 10 percent, enough to counteract anticipated warming.

Into this category we could put the idea of painting the world’s roofs white so as to reflect more of the sun’s energy back into space.

My impression is that some conservatives are embracing such schemes–since they would supposedly be cheap and painless, as opposed to “cap and pay” schemes and eliminating carbon fuels–while they are being opposed by environmentalists for their trust in technology and for being, well, painless. But aren’t both approaches equally outlandish in their own ways?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Paul Blase

    The problem is that if you look really closely at the historical data (note the Vostok ice core data in the last figure) we’re about a thousand years overdue for the next ice age! Do we really want to risk triggering one? The truth, as per the citation and many others, is that CO2 is not the major driver of global temperature – in fact it follows global temperature. The major driver is water vapor and cloudiness, influenced by solar activity.

  • Paul Blase

    The problem is that if you look really closely at the historical data (note the Vostok ice core data in the last figure) we’re about a thousand years overdue for the next ice age! Do we really want to risk triggering one? The truth, as per the citation and many others, is that CO2 is not the major driver of global temperature – in fact it follows global temperature. The major driver is water vapor and cloudiness, influenced by solar activity.

  • Manxman

    I ran across this quote from Immanuel Kant the other day, and for me, it fits these ridiculous, manipulate-the-environment-with-technology situations perfectly –

    “Errors do not occur just because we do not know some certain things, but because we undertake to judge even though WE DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING REQUISITE. A large number of falsehoods – indeed almost all of them – owe their origins to such impetuosity.”

    These proposed massive manipulations of the natural world, where all the implications of the changes are not known are not only outlandish – they might be lethal. At the very least there will be unintended negative consequences. What hubris on the part of the scientists!!

  • Manxman

    I ran across this quote from Immanuel Kant the other day, and for me, it fits these ridiculous, manipulate-the-environment-with-technology situations perfectly –

    “Errors do not occur just because we do not know some certain things, but because we undertake to judge even though WE DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING REQUISITE. A large number of falsehoods – indeed almost all of them – owe their origins to such impetuosity.”

    These proposed massive manipulations of the natural world, where all the implications of the changes are not known are not only outlandish – they might be lethal. At the very least there will be unintended negative consequences. What hubris on the part of the scientists!!

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    At some point you just have to laugh. Yes lets hire a fleet of ships, all consuming more oil, to go out and spray water.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    At some point you just have to laugh. Yes lets hire a fleet of ships, all consuming more oil, to go out and spray water.

  • WebMonk

    Ignoring anything about whether this would work, or if there is any man-made global warming, this has a minor side effect of something called acid rain.

    Sulfur is usually a toxic element. There are a few compounds which include Sulfur that aren’t toxic for man, beast, and plant, but most sulfuric compounds are nasty!

    In spite of the news this idea has gotten, and it’s been around for at least four or five years (news sources dredge it up periodically), I have never met anyone, ANYONE, who actually thinks this is a good idea. I frequent a few “environmentalist” sites and they are all universally against this.

    This story is for shock value only.

  • WebMonk

    Ignoring anything about whether this would work, or if there is any man-made global warming, this has a minor side effect of something called acid rain.

    Sulfur is usually a toxic element. There are a few compounds which include Sulfur that aren’t toxic for man, beast, and plant, but most sulfuric compounds are nasty!

    In spite of the news this idea has gotten, and it’s been around for at least four or five years (news sources dredge it up periodically), I have never met anyone, ANYONE, who actually thinks this is a good idea. I frequent a few “environmentalist” sites and they are all universally against this.

    This story is for shock value only.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.blogspot.com Sarah in Exile

    I know many environmentalists who chalk global warming up to cows farting.(I am not even kidding about this!) They are rabid vegetarians and they think that we need to get rid of cows and their terrible flatulence!

    I wish we could stop talking about global warming and start talking about being good stewarts to creation. *sigh* It’s become so political that no good solution can come of it.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.blogspot.com Sarah in Exile

    I know many environmentalists who chalk global warming up to cows farting.(I am not even kidding about this!) They are rabid vegetarians and they think that we need to get rid of cows and their terrible flatulence!

    I wish we could stop talking about global warming and start talking about being good stewarts to creation. *sigh* It’s become so political that no good solution can come of it.

  • Paul Blase

    Sarah in Exile,

    It’s more than just political. The rabid environmentalists are out-and-out nature/Gaea worshippers. We are truly in a religious battle here, and we need to recognize it and figure out how to fight it.

  • Paul Blase

    Sarah in Exile,

    It’s more than just political. The rabid environmentalists are out-and-out nature/Gaea worshippers. We are truly in a religious battle here, and we need to recognize it and figure out how to fight it.

  • Leif

    Sarah in Exile, you’re dead on about being good stewards.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m pretty much a hippy when it comes to the environment. I grow things, use a reel mower (but around hour 3 of mowing you start to ask yourself some tough questions), avoid the chemicals, try to do the whole “self-sustaining” thing, etc.

    But all this is mostly just ridiculous. Not to mention, we’ve all seen Jurassic Park right? Before we start shooting mirrors into space to reflect the sun, pumping iron in the ocean to increase krill and trap carbon (didn’t work), painting everything white, etc. ad nauseum. Let’s take a step back and think about what we’re doing. Are we actually “fixing” the problem, putting tape on it, or causing bigger problems by rushing around?

    If man’s logic and reason really did get us into this mess are we so certain that it’ll get us out of it too?

  • Leif

    Sarah in Exile, you’re dead on about being good stewards.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m pretty much a hippy when it comes to the environment. I grow things, use a reel mower (but around hour 3 of mowing you start to ask yourself some tough questions), avoid the chemicals, try to do the whole “self-sustaining” thing, etc.

    But all this is mostly just ridiculous. Not to mention, we’ve all seen Jurassic Park right? Before we start shooting mirrors into space to reflect the sun, pumping iron in the ocean to increase krill and trap carbon (didn’t work), painting everything white, etc. ad nauseum. Let’s take a step back and think about what we’re doing. Are we actually “fixing” the problem, putting tape on it, or causing bigger problems by rushing around?

    If man’s logic and reason really did get us into this mess are we so certain that it’ll get us out of it too?

  • WebMonk

    Hey! I used to use a reel mower too! It was awesome exercise! I had a fairly small yard to mow (I have an even smaller one now), so I never hit that third hour mark, so I still have very fond memories of time spent pushing that thing around.

    Don’t be so sure about it being good for the environment, though. Depending on how big your yard is, it may cause more greenhouse gasses to feed your extra calories than what comes from a gas mower.

    I’ve found it is that it is possible to make just about anything better or worse for the environment if you look at it from the right angles.

  • WebMonk

    Hey! I used to use a reel mower too! It was awesome exercise! I had a fairly small yard to mow (I have an even smaller one now), so I never hit that third hour mark, so I still have very fond memories of time spent pushing that thing around.

    Don’t be so sure about it being good for the environment, though. Depending on how big your yard is, it may cause more greenhouse gasses to feed your extra calories than what comes from a gas mower.

    I’ve found it is that it is possible to make just about anything better or worse for the environment if you look at it from the right angles.

  • Leif

    WebMonk: “Depending on how big your yard is, it may cause more greenhouse gasses to feed your extra calories than what comes from a gas mower.”

    That’s why it’s important to mow on fast days…

    I’m actually thinking about getting an electric/cordless mower because, to be quite honest, it’s a bit absurd pushing around that thing for so long.

  • Leif

    WebMonk: “Depending on how big your yard is, it may cause more greenhouse gasses to feed your extra calories than what comes from a gas mower.”

    That’s why it’s important to mow on fast days…

    I’m actually thinking about getting an electric/cordless mower because, to be quite honest, it’s a bit absurd pushing around that thing for so long.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, this conversation has completely devolved at this point, but then, I didn’t find the original article terribly serious, so Leif (@7), I have to ask: how big is your yard? I have a 70×100′ plot, and I can get it done with my reel mower in well under an hour. Have you had it sharpened in the past year?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, this conversation has completely devolved at this point, but then, I didn’t find the original article terribly serious, so Leif (@7), I have to ask: how big is your yard? I have a 70×100′ plot, and I can get it done with my reel mower in well under an hour. Have you had it sharpened in the past year?

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Could this just be the next evolution of human development: the ability to perfect environments for human usefulness and global (and perhaps eventually universal) economies?

    (hope you all know I’m kidding)

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Could this just be the next evolution of human development: the ability to perfect environments for human usefulness and global (and perhaps eventually universal) economies?

    (hope you all know I’m kidding)

  • DonS

    I also used a reel mower for about 4 or 5 years a long time ago. I liked it, but, quite frankly, it didn’t do that great of a job on the lawn, as I recall.

    I think we are very presumptuous to think that our feeble efforts affect any measurable global change on the environment, either good or bad. It appears that the earth and its many complex and wondrously designed systems are more than able to compensate for any damage we visit upon them. Of course, this does not give us a license to abuse God’s creation. As Sarah says above, we are stewards of the blessings God chooses to give us, and responsible, as individuals, for their care and upkeep.

  • DonS

    I also used a reel mower for about 4 or 5 years a long time ago. I liked it, but, quite frankly, it didn’t do that great of a job on the lawn, as I recall.

    I think we are very presumptuous to think that our feeble efforts affect any measurable global change on the environment, either good or bad. It appears that the earth and its many complex and wondrously designed systems are more than able to compensate for any damage we visit upon them. Of course, this does not give us a license to abuse God’s creation. As Sarah says above, we are stewards of the blessings God chooses to give us, and responsible, as individuals, for their care and upkeep.

  • kerner

    I don’t know why we would have to create some special and expensive project to distribute particles of sulfur into the upper atmosphere. We could do that by reviving our old practice of burning high sulfur coal to generate electricity. Maybe that’s why temperatures were rising for awhile. We stopped cooling the earth with our particulate matter emissions. So, I guess the environmentalists have caused the global warming by shutting down the dirty coal furnaces. Who’d have thought?

  • kerner

    I don’t know why we would have to create some special and expensive project to distribute particles of sulfur into the upper atmosphere. We could do that by reviving our old practice of burning high sulfur coal to generate electricity. Maybe that’s why temperatures were rising for awhile. We stopped cooling the earth with our particulate matter emissions. So, I guess the environmentalists have caused the global warming by shutting down the dirty coal furnaces. Who’d have thought?

  • Leif

    It’s not so much the size as it is the obstacles.

    The yard itself is around 50′ x 60′ for the front/side in which there are various obstacles including a precariously perched rain barrel/water break area. The back is around 50′ x 100′ divided up by trees, garden, etc.

    The main area of contention is with the sidelines. We have a serious buckthorn problem that was (I can only imagine) promoted by the previous owner and the mower doesn’t like those sections of turf where the buckthorn is constantly invading. So it’s a mix of starting/stopping and getting out the big trimmer guns.

  • Leif

    It’s not so much the size as it is the obstacles.

    The yard itself is around 50′ x 60′ for the front/side in which there are various obstacles including a precariously perched rain barrel/water break area. The back is around 50′ x 100′ divided up by trees, garden, etc.

    The main area of contention is with the sidelines. We have a serious buckthorn problem that was (I can only imagine) promoted by the previous owner and the mower doesn’t like those sections of turf where the buckthorn is constantly invading. So it’s a mix of starting/stopping and getting out the big trimmer guns.

  • DonS

    Ahh, Leif, that reminds me of what I didn’t like about the reel mower back in the day. It wouldn’t cut the weeds. It cut grass just fine, but if there were interspersed weeds (inevitable in any yard in my care), it wouldn’t cut them. So, after the mowing session, the weed whacker. I got tired of the extra step.

  • DonS

    Ahh, Leif, that reminds me of what I didn’t like about the reel mower back in the day. It wouldn’t cut the weeds. It cut grass just fine, but if there were interspersed weeds (inevitable in any yard in my care), it wouldn’t cut them. So, after the mowing session, the weed whacker. I got tired of the extra step.

  • kerner

    I have an electric mower with a rechargeable battery. Of course, where to power comes from is still an issue.

  • kerner

    I have an electric mower with a rechargeable battery. Of course, where to power comes from is still an issue.

  • Carl Vehse

    You lawnmowers are thinking too small. Check out this 1976 report on a do-it-yourself (along with a $100 trillion NASA grant) terraforming project: On the habitability of Mars: An approach to planetary ecosynthesis, NASA-SP-414

    Abstract: “The possibility of utilizing Mars as a habitat for terrestrial life, including man, is examined. Available data, assumptions, and speculations on the climate, physical state, and chemical inventory of Mars are reviewed and compared with the known requirements and environmental limits of terrestrial life. No fundamental, insuperable limitation of the ability of Mars to support a terrestrial ecology is identified. The lack of an oxygen-containing atmosphere would prevent the unaided habitation of Mars by man. The present strong ultraviolet surface irradiation is an additional major barrier. The creation of an adequate oxygen and ozone-containing atmosphere on Mars may be feasible through the use of photosynthetic organisms. The time needed to generate such an atmosphere, however, might be several millions of years. This period might be drastically reduced by the synthesis of novel, Mars-adapted, oxygen producing photosynthetic strains by techniques of genetic engineering, and modifying the present Martian climate by melting of the Martian polar caps and concomitant advective and greenhouse heating effects.”

    Earth First! We’ll stripmine the other planets later.

  • Carl Vehse

    You lawnmowers are thinking too small. Check out this 1976 report on a do-it-yourself (along with a $100 trillion NASA grant) terraforming project: On the habitability of Mars: An approach to planetary ecosynthesis, NASA-SP-414

    Abstract: “The possibility of utilizing Mars as a habitat for terrestrial life, including man, is examined. Available data, assumptions, and speculations on the climate, physical state, and chemical inventory of Mars are reviewed and compared with the known requirements and environmental limits of terrestrial life. No fundamental, insuperable limitation of the ability of Mars to support a terrestrial ecology is identified. The lack of an oxygen-containing atmosphere would prevent the unaided habitation of Mars by man. The present strong ultraviolet surface irradiation is an additional major barrier. The creation of an adequate oxygen and ozone-containing atmosphere on Mars may be feasible through the use of photosynthetic organisms. The time needed to generate such an atmosphere, however, might be several millions of years. This period might be drastically reduced by the synthesis of novel, Mars-adapted, oxygen producing photosynthetic strains by techniques of genetic engineering, and modifying the present Martian climate by melting of the Martian polar caps and concomitant advective and greenhouse heating effects.”

    Earth First! We’ll stripmine the other planets later.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I have a gas powered lawnmower but I only mow my lawn every two to three weeks and only about 5 months out of the year.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I have a gas powered lawnmower but I only mow my lawn every two to three weeks and only about 5 months out of the year.


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