Tuesday, July 14, 2015

On Geoengineering

Cartoonist Stephanie McMillian of the strip Code Green has a criticism of the effort that I and others have put into geoengineering the earth: Geoengineering?  Why not cut emissions instead?
Well, I highly doubt that I'd see millions for geoengineering, or for that matter, turn a profit at all. As for mastery over the earth, I'd argue that we've had that since we managed to figure out fire. I do agree that reducing emissions in the first place is the most ideal solution, but there's a catch.
Specifically, reducing emissions would require an unprecedented amount of cooperation, which is unlikely to be forthcoming, given what people believe. I live in a region not only riddled with global warming denial, but the belief in abiotic oil -- the belief that oil doesn't come from the fossilized remains of things dead for eons, but instead is generated in the mantle and bubbles up, due to handwave handwave god handwave handwave.
Since these people do not believe that global warming is even happening, they are unwilling to make any changes to their lifestyle, energy use, or anything else, in order to resolve what they regard as a non-issue. I have tried to convince them, but they have largely been unwilling to listen. Psychology studies suggest that they are basically un-convincable as they have made this a tribalist issue, in which they have largely defined themselves as not the kind of person who believes. And as for the facts, the facts be damned. If chemistry and physics shows that this is happening, then by jingo, chemistry and physics must clearly be socialist plots.
Since they can't be convinced, the next step would be to try and organize to defeat them politically, which would also be insanely difficult, as they are a very entrenched interest group with the backing of at least 40% of the electorate. We couldn't force it without effectively having a brutal second American civil war, likely to pull in and destabilize other countries as well.
Video blogger Hank Green once lamented that the copyright solution that Youtube, the company that he must work with on a daily basis, does not use the best possible solution for the conflict between people wanting to upload videos that may contain additional copyrighted work (such as someone else's music in the soundtrack), but instead the most possible solution. Similarly, I think that geoengineering is, at this point, the most possible solution, as I do not require universal cooperation to make it happen. It does not challenge the deniers, who are unlikely to even notice.
However, one thing that emission efficiency that she advocates would give us is that it would enable us to geoengineer less. The more carbon we have to yank out of the atmosphere, the more extreme the measures that we will have to resort to in order to actually make it happen. The more trees you can plant, the less I have to feed the ocean. The more you can reduce your use of gas-burning cars, coal-derived electricity, and cement, the less I have to dim the atmosphere to protect against the most catastrophic effects. The more you can use organically farmed produce instead of factory farmed meat, the fewer artificial trees I will have to plant in the desert.
Ultimately, I'm interested in geoengineering to give us a better world than the one nature gave us. A world that has space for both the cities that help us get what we want and need, and the nature that we admire so much. And with practice, I'd like to use what we learn from doing this to turn Mars from a frozen dried rock into a lush world with many human cities, and Venus from a scorching hellish world into a new paradise. And someday when the sun dies, I'd like us to be able to move out into the universe, carrying with us the gifts of the earth, who will continue to live on in a new world, perhaps one not yet born.

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