Tuesday, October 02, 2007

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.


Blogger eggplant said...

What we are observing here is the worst form of hubris. It's hubris to analyse something as incomprehensible as the Earth's climate and conclude that its major influences are anthropogenic. How do they know? Assuming that global warming is real, how do they know that global warming isn't due to Milankovitch cycles or variations in the cosmic radiation flux? The increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide maybe due to human influence but it could also be a consequence of the Earth's temperature increasing due to nonhuman factors (we could be confusing cause with effect). The truth is that compared to the power of nature, human beings are utterly insignificant or to paraphrase Douglas Adams, "we are an insignificant speck on an invisible dot".

What really bugs me most about this issue is the moonbats behind it now equate people questioning global warming with holocaust deniers, i.e. "We're right about global warming and if you disagree then you're a Nazi". This whole mindset is contrary to the scientific method even though the only way global warming can be correctly understood is through the scientific method.

10/02/2007 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

Wretchard: I think you have it kind of off center. Lovelock may be an environmental prophet, but he is also a bit of a heretic, he has advocated nuclear energy, which, as we all know, is strictly verboten. Sadly this tendency is repeated here.

10/02/2007 07:28:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Thanks Fat Man. I wonder if I've done him an injustice. I'm always believed that the Kyoto protocol was terraforming or geo-engineering under some guise. Frankly I don't think man can live -- or not live -- on the earth without affecting it. Even if we were to remove ourselves as a species it would have an effect on the trajectory of things.

I keep thinking that even species suicide would be ultimately useless. If nature tends to evolve intelligence then in deep time some species of sentient life without the self-suicidal impulse will eventually emerge.

10/02/2007 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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10/02/2007 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger Nomenklatura said...

There is at least one other way in which this repeats the history of Communism and its apologists.

The people proposing this sort of experimentation, which if tried on any serious scale could go horribly wrong, are the very same people who urge that the 'precautionary principle' should restrain the rest of us (and who would be screaming planetary murder if a corporation tried for any reason at all to do exactly what they now want to do).

In other words, the moral qualities of their meddling are different from the moral qualities of anyone else's meddling because their intentions are good (while they assert that the intentions of anyone who doesn't agree with them are tainted by evil).

I have no doubt that if their interventions did go wrong they would immediately argue that their attempt was basically sound, again because their intentions were good. In other words their self-assessed goodwill trumps every other rational or moral consideration, and gives them alone a license to do whatever they want.

This is classic leftist cant, poured into new 'environmentalist' bottles. The words are different but the tune remains the same. Communism and environmentalism are both religions, and in both the deities are the self-anointed adherents. Their core values are actually narcissism and self-indulgence.

10/02/2007 08:41:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Both Communism and Environmentalism are attempts to manage very complex systems. The first attempted to plan human societies. The second attempts to "heal nature". In neither case is there enough information necessary to accomplish those ends. Not until we have quantum computers and even then.

This partly explains why, despite the best of intentions, these enterprises can have such disastrous results.

Because complex systems often behave in a nonlinear way relating to them with a very short feedback loop is usually superior to the Five Year Plans or Multi-Decade Climate Target Goals characteristic of these endeavors. We can only reliably predict how complex systems will behave in the nearly immediate future. Market mechanisms and decision-making with a great deal of subsidiarity approach the "real-time" feedback loop ideal more closely than big, bureaucratic projects coordinated through the UN or some similar mechanism. In contrast these massive geo-engineering projects will probably be managed through equally massive bureaucracies and ponderous consultations. They will be projects with all the maneuverability of a 4-mile long freight train. Long after the first signs that something is going wrong are detected the juggernaut will keep plowing ahead driven by sheer unstoppable momentum toward whatever cliff yawns before it.

10/02/2007 10:12:00 PM  
Blogger The Wobbly Guy said...

That's why environmentalists are watermelons. Green on the outside, red, or even yellow, on the inside. They're either commies or cowards.
Any reasonable scientist would conclude we simply do not know enough to do anything. Too bad pseudo-science has won out. From HIV to global warming to th ozone layer, science has been led astray. I am anticipating a severe backlash once the lies are exposed.

10/03/2007 05:17:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

The rational way would be to set up an experimental pipe, say 30-40 feet in diameter, with all kinds on monitoring equipment set up around it. Establish a baseline, put the pipe in play and see if CO2 were actually net reduced.

Heh, a study back in 1998 showed that North America was a net CO2 sink, probably due to forest regrowth. Forest regrowth can't be continued indefinitely, but timber harvesting would be a sustainable CO2 sink with out new technology or great expense. The tree-huggers will just loath it.

10/03/2007 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

imho the 21st century will be conditioned by the collapse of the cost of water desalination & transport. Today's huge costly desalination plants will be substituted for a pipe you stick in the ocean. It will be placed offshore pretty much in the way its being presented here by the environmentalists. From shore an oil rig will drill down and then laterally sloping down out to sea. At the end a vertical pipe will come hundreds of feet upwards. There'll be a semipermiable membrane on one end that will desalt the water. Water will go down the pipe instead of up the pipe. The weight of the water in the vertical pipe will push the water ashore in the downward sloping pipe. They might be able to devise pipe that narrows slightly as it comes shore ward to increase the water pressure.

All this is doable and much much more because the state of the art in materials research is fast approaching the dreams of medieval alchemy. I compare this project to what was achieved in the human genome project back in the 90s here..

10/03/2007 07:55:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Charles said...

"Today's huge costly desalination plants will be substituted for a pipe you stick in the ocean.... At the end a vertical pipe will come hundreds of feet upwards. There'll be a semipermiable membrane on one end that will desalt the water. Water will go down the pipe instead of up the pipe. The weight of the water in the vertical pipe will push the water ashore in the downward sloping pipe..."

I can see some problems with your proposal (the devil is in the detail). For example, your membrane will saturate with salt. Also it would require energy to move the water through your proposed device. Chase through the numbers and you might find that naive water distillation requires less energy. If water desalination was easy then people would be doing it because it would make them filthy rich.

10/03/2007 09:35:00 AM  

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