Friday, March 16, 2012

Geoengineering is Deja Vu, not Vuja De

" ever get that funny little feeling Vuja De? No, not Deja Vu. This is Vuja De. This is the strange feeling that somehow, this has never happened before." - George Carlin

Please forgive the cliched quote intro, but I am too disturbed by the subject of this post to come up with more original material. I've noticed an increasing amount of reporting dedicated to the idea of geoengineering, or 'hacking the planet,' as a way to address global climate change. The majority of the coverage seems to hinge on two points.

First, world politics, and specifically the U.S. political process, is so hopelessly mired in talk of economics (i.e., that's code for having a vested interest in the status quo or being scared of the cost of remediation as demonstrated by James Inhofe on Rachel Maddow) that the best case scenario of meaningful action on climate or pollution issues will be too little, too late. Second, really smart guys like Bill Gates think we should prepare for global level interventions that are independent of emissions such as seeding the troposphere with reflective material and the like. Only cursory mention of negative effects is ever mentioned.

Hopefully I'm not the only person scared negative feces by this. Set aside the fact that, much like genetic manipulation, even testing certain geoengineering schemes has the potential to do widespread and irrevocable harm. People, smart and otherwise, seem to be treating the idea of geoengineering as a brand new thing that we need to try out to see if it really works. Even assuming that the giant science experiment to see what would happen if millions of years worth of carbon was aerosolized called global climate change isn't conclusive because the science is 'fuzzy,' there's another easy example of how poorly examined solutions often create more problems than are solved.

About 100 years ago, we decided there wouldn't be enough nitrogen fixed through normal processes to support food for a growing population. Enter the Haber process to artificially augment the nitrogen cycle. Great idea in principle, but mix in big business pushing artificial fertilizers and food producers being too lazy to test soil before applying fertilizer, and what do we have? There's a lot of money wasted on excess fertilizer, there's a giant dead zone in the gulf from runoff, and water is too polluted to drink safely in one of the nation's richest agricultural areas. We could have addressed much of the nitrogen deficit by fertilizing with animal waste instead of lagooning it, but building that infrastructure was too much trouble I guess.

Unfortunately it seems that half-assed, cheap ideas are rarely cheap in the end, but are always half-assed. History seems ready to repeat with geoengineering. Logically it seems that if we purposefully augment the composition of the environment as a response to global emissions, but we don't limit global emissions, we lock ourselves into a geoengineering loop until the day we run out of fossil fuels.

You might assume from reading this post that I'm about to start drinking heavily, and I was until I bought 10,000 shares in an Silicon Valley start-up that specializes in artificial volcanoes. That should be more than enough to finance my new floating, domed, solar, tidal, ship-based city state in the Caribbean. Have fun living an Escape from New York scenario on the mainland, suckers!

1 comment:

Jim said...

So in referencing to the Haber project, are you trying to say that geoengineering is an issue because it has inherent flaws? Or are you saying geoengineering is an issue because it is implemented by people, who inevitably screw stuff up? Because the first offers us a lot more hope for the future than does the second...


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