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Give Up on Global Warming

Entry 1405, on 2012-06-27 at 21:38:14 (Rating 2, Science)

The title of this blog entry might be surprising to my regular followers (all two of you!) I have commented on many occasions on the reality of global warming and how it is likely to lead to major problems for the world if it isn't minimised through action now, so what has changed?

Maybe it's already too late because the political will to really do anything worthwhile doesn't seem to be growing. If anything the opposite seems to be true. Of course, the apathy the subject invokes in our leaders in no way means it is any less serious, but maybe it's time to give up on prevention and move to a new approach.

There are many possible responses (apart from prevention) but they all have their own difficulties and potential side effects. But since the idea of prevention seems to have been abandoned maybe it's time to evaluate those difficulties and see if they are worth the risk.

Specifically I recommend looking at large-scale geo-engineering projects such as the Hall Weather Machine. This proposal has been around for a few years now and has been found to be feasible by serious engineers. It involves floating many tiny (about 1 mm to 1 cm in diameter) hot air balloons to extremely high altitudes (about 30,000 meters) and controlling them to change the weather.

I haven't heard exactly how many of these devices would be needed but the inventor says their total weight would be 10 million tons so I'm guessing there would be hundreds of billions or even trillions of them! Obviously advanced nano-technology processes would be required.

The balloons would have a mirror or other surface inside them and depending on its orientation it would reflect incoming sunlight or radiated heat from the Earth. So it could produce an artificial and controllable global warming or cooling effect.

Variations on the basic idea could be used for different levels of control: from a coverage of 0.1% being sufficient to negate global warming effects, to 1% to allow controlling regional climates, to 10% allowing very tight control of the weather.

But, as I intimated above, there are potential problems. Like most of the world's problems these would be more related to politics and business rather than science and engineering (isn't that always the sad truth - when will we realise that the wrong people are in charge of the world).

Assuming the technology to build this system could be created (and as I said above, it has been deemed feasible by experts) then the money and resources have to come from somewhere. But let's move on from those minor organisational considerations and look at the big problems which might result from its use.

Weather is an important thing to every country so anyone who could alter another country's weather would have a huge amount of power available to them. And it wouldn't need to be a malicious action deliberately aimed at a specific area, it could just as easily be a side effect of "fixing" the weather in one place making it worse somewhere else. Plus there is the unfortunate fact that many previous attempts at changing the way the natural world works have not been conspicuously successful!

But despite these real potential issues the benefits might outweigh the problems. After all, can things really get much worse than the projections for the next 50 to 100 years if we do nothing? It does seem unlikely.

Another issue I haven't seen discussed is the possibility of a self-destruct mechanism in these devices. Surely that would be easy enough, and that would mean that if things went horribly wrong that the whole system could be disabled quickly.

But there is another more sinister aspect to this technology. The inventor has said he thinks there's a good chance it might be built because of the military applications. The country which controls the technology would have a lot of power over the rest of the world and this more subtle form of control would appeal to many of the world's leading powers - and especially to one in particular which already dominates the world through its immoral political and economic tricks as much as its military power.

I think this type of technology, if used properly, would be very valuable even if global warming wasn't a problem to be solved. But that phrase above "if used properly" is the key thing. Would it be used properly? I hope that the most modest proposal - the one with 0.1% coverage - would be safer because it has insufficient capability to do much more than "just" solve the problem of global warming. But if it did work that way I'm sure things would be taken further and the "total weather control" scenario would follow. Then the situation would get more interesting.

No matter what happens and which solution to global warming is ultimately used there will be big problems. But that gets back to the one phrase in this post which is the key to all of our difficulties: "the wrong people are in charge of the world".

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Comment 1 (3169) by Rob on 2012-06-29 at 02:55:52:

Sounds a bit like the plot in the Kim Stanley Robinson trilogy.

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Comment 2 (3170) by OJB on 2012-06-29 at 14:42:16:

Well as I was writing this blog entry I kept wondering if this idea is for real and not just some crazy stuff that could never work. But as far as I can tell it is a genuine proposal. I suppose if we can change the planet so much without even trying it is no surprise that it can also be done deliberately.

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Comment 3 (3171) by OJB on 2012-06-29 at 15:30:25:

And regarding the reference to Kim Stanley Robinson, yes, this sort of technology could be used to terraform other planets, especially Mars.

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