Now that all the big governments and even most pundits have convinced themselves (and us?) that we can’t possibly stop emitting greenhouse gasses, you’ll be hearing more and more about geo-engineering.
This is the idea that having unintentionally altered the world on a grand scale in a bad direction (oops!), we can now alter it on a grand scale … only this time, intentionally, and in a direction we prefer.
The big geo-engineering tactic being discussed on op-ed pages now is to blow some kind of stuff into the air — sulfates, maybe, or water vapor — so that less sun reaches the earth’s surface, and thus less solar heat gets trapped here.
There’s a problem or two with this idea. To name just one — and this might seem an esoteric point, but bear with me: Sunshine is good.
The problem is not that we’re getting too much of the stuff that makes plants grow. The problem is that we’re emitting too much of the greenhouse gasses that keep its thermal energy close to the surface. And the fact that we’ve hypnotized ourselves into helplessness when it comes to speedily curbing greenhouse-gas emissions doesn’t change either of those facts.
Again, a growing number of very reasonable-sounding lunatics are insisting that we know how to run Nature better than Nature does. If you think the unintended consequences have been bad for things like pesticides, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
It’s true that humanity has spent the past two decades flubbing every possible chance to reduce emissions, even as Arctic sea ice shrinks and glaciers melt away.
And that also means it’s true that now — because most greenhouse gasses hang around a long time in the atmosphere — we’re locked in to decades of climate change, even if we stopped polluting tomorrow.
Some of the people promoting geo-engineering are well-intentioned enough; they want to blunt the worst effects of climate change, nastier versions of the floods and heat waves and such we’re seeing this summer.
But the only possible way to safely reduce that impact permanently and in the long run remains stopping pollution — if not tomorrow, then the next day. Phase out fossil-fuel use rapidly, for one.
Geo-engineering is like George W. Bush’s promise of hydrogen cars: It’s a fantasy techno-fix designed to make us give up on the real solution (ending our dependency on cars; not burning fossil fuels) and push our garbage down the road for somebody else to deal with.