Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hacking the Sky

Geo-Engineering Could Save the Planet ... and Sacrifice the World in the Process

By JASON MARK
Earth is busted. Like a supercomputer whose elaborate code has developed a few bugs, the core operating systems of the planet are frayed: Ocean populations are collapsing, forests are disappearing, soils have become thin. Perhaps most worrisome, the globe’s atmosphere, the ecosystem on which all other ecosystems depend, is overheating. The machinery of life appears to have malfunctioned.

Since the scale of the climate crisis became clear, the strategy for fixing this glitch has focused on remediation. To maintain the atmosphere’s equilibrium, we need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Our chief goal should be to return the climate to something approximating the pre-industrial status quo.

But what if such a return isn’t possible? What if the planet has gone permanently haywire? As the effects of climate change become obvious and global leaders remain unable to halt emissions, a growing number of scientists say we need to begin researching what’s called “geo-engineering” – ways to artificially reduce global temperatures and/or manipulate plants or the oceans to absorb huge amounts of CO2. Having unintentionally warmed the planet, we may have little choice but to intentionally cool it back down.

Even those most interested in geo-engineering say that the idea of deliberately deforming the planet in order to save it from ourselves is, as Stanford University’s Ken Caldeira told NPR this summer, “scary.” Yet if we shy away from manipulating the whole globe and continue on our present course, we could be left with a burnt Earth unlike anything ever seen. The scientists who are encouraging government-funded research into geo-engineering are driven by a powerful motive: fear. All too aware of the implications of unchecked CO2 emissions – and worried that political systems aren’t moving quickly enough to respond to changes in the planet’s physical systems – these scientists say we may have no other option than to tinker with the sky.

continue reading article and proposals for geo-engineering the planet...

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