Terraforming on Terra
It was about power after all. John Tierney writing in the NYT is surprised by the new willingness of veteran environmentalists to engage in geo-engineering in order "to help the planet heal itself".
A letter to Nature proposes “an emergency treatment for the pathology of global warming.” The scheme itself — putting giant pipes in the ocean — sounds rather problematic, but I’m intrigued by who’s daring to propose it: James E. Lovelock, the British environmentalist renowned for the Gaia hypothesis of the Earth as a kind of self-regulating superorganism.
He and Chris Rapley propose in their letter “to help the planet heal itself” by using pipes at least 100 meters long to bring nutrient-rich waters up to mix with surface water, causing algae to bloom and absorb carbon dioxide. They acknowledge that success is uncertain, and a news article in Nature by Quirin Schiermeier quotes critics warning that the water-mixing scheme could backfire by bringing up dissolved carbon dioxide from below, leading to a net release of CO2 into the atmosphere. And then of course there are more than a few questions about the impact on the ocean’s acidity and on marine life.
But as I say, what’s intriguing is that a venerable environmentalist is willing to consider a geoengineering fix for global warming. In the past this notion horrified environmentalists and many other scientists convinced that the only cure was to reduce CO2 emissions. When my colleague Bill Broad wrote about various geoengineering schemes for cooling the planet — like putting tiny lenses in space to bend sunlight away from the Earth, or injecting sulfur into the stratosphere — he noted that the geoengineers had been having a terrible time getting their papers published and their projects financed.
But that was before the environmentalism became an established religion. As with all religious movements, the pure faith is gradually modified by necessity until the it becomes indistinguishable from any earthly project. Just as in Communism the phrase "all men are equal" eventually mutated into "some men are more equal than others", (George Orwell described the process in the Animal Farm) the idea that no one -- no government, no corporation, no individual -- should leave his footprint on the earth now contains an important exception: the self-appointed environmental priesthood. Environmentalists who would not give you license to use more than 2 sheets of toilet paper after your morning ablutions have now authorized themselves mix up the seas, focus rays from outer space on the earth's surface and inject sulfur into the stratosphere because they mean well. And wait: it's only just begun.Nothing follows.