Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fly Global Warming to the Moon

Ken Caldeira, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution, knows what to do about global warming:

What can be done? One idea is to counteract warming by tossing small particles into the stratosphere (above where jets fly). This strategy may sound far-fetched, but it has the potential to cool the earth within months.

Mount Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines that erupted in 1991, showed how it works. The eruption resulted in sulfate particles in the stratosphere that reflected the sun’s rays back to space, and as a consequence the earth briefly cooled.

If we could pour a five-gallon bucket’s worth of sulfate particles per second into the stratosphere, it might be enough to keep the earth from warming for 50 years. Tossing twice as much up there could protect us into the next century.

Some questions that, I suspect, Mr. Caldeira has failed to consider:
- What will be the distribution of climate effects across the earth from his proposal?
- What will the effect of this distribution be on human potential to do things and solve problems?
- Should the earth in fact be cooler than it is going to be?
- Is global warming on balance bad for humanity? What is the ideal temperature for the earth anyway?
- Does his plan have any unexpected effects, with regard to weather, geopolitics, or anything else?

Stipulating that it is substantially caused by human activity, global warming is in a sense like the rise of urbanization, itself enabled by the creation of agriculture. Global warming will change the way we live, but in ways that are not entirely predictable. Some old ways will disappear, and new ones will arise. Urbanization changed many human ways of doing things, and people found that their traditions were not sustainable in a more urbanized world. But urbanization also liberated humanity to do many new things, which culminated in the miraculous in which world we live today. One could think, for example, of what Silicon Valley or Manhattan contributes to humanity and recognize that these contributions would be unthinkable without the spontaneous creation of great cities many centuries ago. So too a warmer planet will make some older activities un-doable and will make some new ones possible.

Had the displacement of countryside by cities been taken over by some central authority, which could make choices on how the effects of these changes would be parceled out, it would’ve turned out much worse. City structures would've become hostage to special-interest rent-seeking and planners' shakedowns. Ultimately the only way to deal with global warming is to let people cope with it at as localized a level as possible – let people in coastal areas build shelters or move, let people in areas newly opened for agriculture start growing crops, let companies in a position to move goods through the Northwest Passage do so. To solve these problems as they come up, in other words. Mr. Caldeira is a hard scientist, and I have found that such people by disposition tend to favor grand engineering solutions that emphasize the role of scientists in controlling humanity. Sometimes – public immunization plans – this is a good idea, and sometimes – eugenics – it is not. It is important to keep our eye on the ball. And the ball is not to preserve some kind of pre-human idyll, but to allow humans to continue to achieve, create and live free. Mr. Caldeira’s proposal is a giant centralized plan, and the history of those is mixed at best, what with the law of unintended consequences and all.


Post a Comment

<< Home