The news about global warming, er, global climate change (GCC), continues to worsen. It’s now turning animals into shape-shifters as they adapt by changing the size of their ears, tails, beaks and other appendages, reports a team of scientists. Maybe nobody would make fun of Baby Dumbo anymore; his ears would be used for fans, powered by “renewable fuels.”
If you’re reading this publication, you’re probably what’s called a “climate denialist.” That means you don’t believe 1) The earth is steadily warming, and 2) It’s anthropogenic, and 3) We can stop it, and 4) If we don’t, “We’re doomed! Doomed, I tell you!” Yes, it has to be all four. And we know this because decades ago we were supposed to have all drowned like rats. “A senior U.N. environmental official says entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000,” was the lede of a 1989 AP article.
But let’s say you’re not in deep denial (or if a journalist like me, obviously on the take from Big Fossil Fuel) and you believe all the stuff about the terrible heat and the terrible cold and the awful droughts and the awful excess rainfall, and that animals are becoming misshapen freaks. Then wouldn’t you do essentially anything to stop it?
Not even if it means not just stopping warming long before that common 2050 target date, which apparently we won’t. Current plans to cut global carbon emissions will fall 60 percent short of their 2050 net-zero target, according to the International Energy Agency. Even when or if we top out, the greenhouse gases will still be there. If that steak continues cooking at 350, guess what? In fact, those famous “climate models” show that the heating will actually continue a while after reaching zero emissions. Then, at least according to one climate scientist, CO2 will continue influencing the climate out for 10,000 years. So what we’re allegedly already suffering is going to get a lot worse and stay that way.
But what if you heard there was actually a tried and true method of cooling the earth essentially immediately? And while it would have to be repeated every so often, compared to the costs of abating greenhouse gas emissions it would be like riding a block in a Maserati Uber instead of actually buying the car. The cost range for merely reaching zero emissions has been pegged at between $300 billion and $50 trillion over the next two decades, with such a wide range because of variables both known and unknown. Microsoft founder, professional philanthropist and GCC advocate Bill Gates admits that with current technologies the cost is “beyond astronomical.”
So it seems the GCC Truly Faithful should consider something called “geoengineering.” And we actually have some experience with it because it happens naturally, and remember, “natural” is a magic word.
There are minor forms of geoengineering such as painting surfaces white. Visit a Greek island; it works. But only on a limited scale. Then there is more ambitious engineering such as something like a giant HEPA filter for outdoors. You suck C02 out of ambient air and either store it in the ground or sell it to carbonated beverage makers. The technology does exist and there’s a pilot program in Iceland, but it’s horribly expensive, only works for C02 (who wants methane in their Coke anyway?) and it’s difficult to imagine how it could become economically viable. HEPA filters are meant for small spaces, not the earth’s atmosphere.
But generally “geoengineering” means something the earth has been experiencing forever and as recently as 1991. That year, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted, pumping about 15 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, and consequently over the next 15 months, scientists measured a drop in the average global temperature of about 1 degree Fahrenheit. According to NASA, the earth has warmed about 2 degrees since 1880, so that’s actually rather in the ballpark for what we allegedly need.
Other explosions such as Krakatoa in 1883, Tambora in 1815, and the 1783-1784 Laki fissure eruption in Iceland also released vast amounts of sulfur dioxide that we know from first-hand reports as well as various measurements caused significant global cooling sometimes to the point of causing famine. Regarding Krakatoa, a truly massive explosion in which tens of thousands perished, a 2006 Nature study found that aerosols from the eruption led global air temperatures to drop temporarily by as much as 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Aha! Just what we need to get back to pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
So geoengineering is possible because it’s been done. And it doesn’t require the explosions, tsunamis, fires, lava, and all those nasties. In fact, discussions of geoengineering probably go back farther than you realize because so does talk of global warming. The “modern age” of warming alarum began in 1956, while talk of geoengineering to counter it goes back at least to a 1965 report to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Reports by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine — in 1977, 1983, and 1992 — all discussed geoengineering as a possible response to global warming. They issued yet another last year urging the U.S. government to spend at least $100 million to study it. Congress has taken note. In FY2020 it appropriated (a measly) $4 million for geoengineering research to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But thoughts of Jeff Goldblum’s character describing chaos theory in the original Jurassic Park come to mind, while the 1965 Dana Andrews film Crack in the World is closer still. In it, efforts to provide limitless cheap energy by piercing the earth’s crust end up splitting in the planet in twain. But you can’t get closer than the brain-dead 2013 movie and later TNT series, Snowpiercer, about a 1001-car train powered by perpetual motion (Ahem!) plowing forever through a world killed by eternal cold brought on by — yup! — geoengineering gone wrong. The purpose of using a massive train going nowhere rather than using something simple like a cavern is never explained. Nevertheless, it speaks volumes that “The Climate Reality Project” calls it one of “Six Must-See Movies about Climate Change.”
Fact is, since almost the dawn of humanity we’ve been messing with Mother Nature. Or “Playing God,” if you prefer. We’ve been herding and genetically improving animals, growing and genetically improving crops, curing and more importantly preventing diseases, and so on.
The single strongest reason to oppose geoengineering to stop or reverse climate change is you’re a “denialist.” If it ain’t broke… But again, what if you believe any of the basic tenets? Then this is the only technology to get us back to before all the terrible climate-related things we read about today, including shape-shifting wildlife.
Bill Gates says geoengineering needs serious consideration and research support, as do a lot of VRM. (Very Rich Men.) They include Richard Branson, tar sands magnate Murray Edwards, and a co-founder of Skype, Niklas Zennström. They have funded a series of official reports into the future use of the technology. Branson, who has frequently called for geoengineering to combat climate change, helped fund the Royal Society’s inquiry into solar radiation management last year through his Carbon War Room charity.
Gates has long advocated research into geoengineering, including in his 2021 book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, which in many ways is quite thoughtful despite its basic premise. Gates and other private donors are backing Harvard University’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, which will soon launch a new study researching the efficacy of blocking sunlight from reaching Earth’s surface.
It would use a high-altitude balloon to lift an instrument package approximately 13 miles into the atmosphere. Once in place, a very small amount of material, no more than 4.4 pounds, would be released to create a perturbed air mass something over half a mile long. The same balloon will measure resulting changes in the perturbed air mass including changes in aerosol density, atmospheric chemistry, and light scattering. Initially, the plan is to release calcium carbonate (as in Tums), a common mineral dust. If it works for indigestion … but sulfates or other materials could be used later.
Solar geoengineering methods could include stratospheric aerosol injection, in which small particles would be injected into the upper atmosphere; marine cloud brightening, which would spray fine seawater to whiten clouds and thus increase cloud reflectivity; and cirrus cloud thinning, which falls a bit outside the definition but has many characteristics of the other methods.
“Skeptical Environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg, who believes in anthropogenic warming but thinks our reaction to it is basically insane, in 2009 suggested that using 1,900 seawater spraying boats at a then-cost of just $9 billion could prevent all of the global warming set to occur this century. Marine cloud whitening with a fleet of unmanned ships would keep us cool for the rest of the century for only about $5.8 billion according to two other researchers. That’s so little that if Jeff Bezos accidentally dropped that much on the ground he might not bother to bend over to pick it up.
One argument used against geoengineering actually works in its favor. It’s temporary. Despite fiction like Snowpiercer, where it took 18 years before there was any evidence of a return to normal temperatures, aerosols would have to be released every two years or so as the volcanic eruptions have shown. Maybe we would find bad “side effects” for 18-24 months but we’re already past 20 months of damage from the COVID-19-based governmental, economic, and societal engineering. And yes, that has and continues to cause tremendous damage but for some reason that’s okay.
Ah, but still picturing Jeff Goldblum and velociraptors, eh?
Well, that’s where supercomputers can come in. Since the end of U.S. nuclear explosion testing in 1992, the country has relied on supercomputers to emulate the effects. Even earlier and more to the point, the seminal prediction of future anthropogenic global warming was James Hansen’s letter that was accepted for publication in January 1988 and therefore could have used no computer more powerful than the Cray-2. That machine had all the computing power of an iPhone 4S or Apple iPad 2. So why was iPhone 4S’s number-crunching strength enough to set off a revolution, but the supercomputers of today (and next year and next, etc.) not good enough to model geoengineering?
Here’s why: Because it might actually work. And without the bone-crushing expense and massive lifestyle changes that technogeeks like Bill Gates don’t want (He’s very worried about impacts on poor nations and he states repeatedly they need much more development.)
Some opponents are good old-fashioned Marxists. “Capitalism Is Killing The Planet – It’s Time To Stop Buying Into Our Own Destruction,” is the title of a recent Guardian columnist George Monbiot column, subtitled: “Instead Of Focusing On ‘Micro Consumerist Bollocks’ Like Ditching Our Plastic Coffee Cups, We Must Challenge The Pursuit Of Wealth And Level Down, Not Up.”
But others have other motives.
“A fleet of planes daily delivering sulfate particles into the upper atmosphere would be a grim monument to the ultimate failure of unbridled techno-industrialism and our unwillingness to change the way we live,” declared an Australian professor of public ethics and author of Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering. Ah, the Techno-Industrial Complex of which we were warned.
But there you go! We need to drastically change how we live and that can only be accomplished by forsaking fossil fuels as well as any other alternative that would allow maintaining those standards such as nuclear energy or, perhaps in the future, fusion. In fact, some adherents to this belief even oppose the environmental Holy Trinity of so-called “renewables”: biomass, wind, and solar. This is powerfully evident in the Michael Moore executive-produced documentary Planet of the Humans, viewable on YouTube. The film made a mockery of renewables but only within the context of what it calls “overconsumption,” which as always remains undefined.
Noted one writer a decade ago: “many in the climate community appeared reluctant to discuss geo-engineering because of its ‘moral hazard’ problem: the concern that if climate engineering came to be seen as a tenable solution to climate change, avoiding the problem in the first place through reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases would be second-fiddle.”
In his book The Uninhabitable Earth, journalist David Wallace-Wells wrote that “there is something of a moral crime in how much you and I and everyone we know consume, given how little is available to consume for so many other people on the planet.” Then there’s this. “In an exploitative consumer market, the answer is not buying more. It’s buying less,” argues fashion journalist and activist Aja Barber. “We can’t buy our way to an ethical world.” No hints as to in which direction hemlines are moving.
Philosophy professor Allen Thompson of Oregon State University questions even research.
We think we’re doing some kind of good by taking on geoengineering, even if it’s research only. We recognize that doing nothing in the face of this climate crisis is morally unattractive …. We want to think of ourselves as being a little better than that, and geoengineering seems like we’re doing something that doesn’t cost as much, but maybe the allure is a product of a kind of moral corruption — we fail to see why we’re looking for an easy out …. For a lot of scientists who do it, they are not sensitive to these sorts of issues, it seems so obvious, how could it be objected to if it’s just research?
After being awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, former Vice President Al Gore blogged, “The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity.”
You can find many similar quotes and surely some better than these, but point made. GCC isn’t like a religious cult; at its roots, it is a religious cult. No, hardly for everyone. Not for Gates, nor for all the companies and individuals and doomsayers who are simply cashing in with what’s called greenwashing,” falsely presenting products as being more environmentally friendly to gain market advantage.
We actually have no idea if Al Gore believes his own words, although we do know he’s cashed in on them (fast forward to 1:19). GCC isn’t a cult for Joe Average who is falsely told that 97 percent — no, now it’s allegedly 99 percent — of climate scientists accept anthropogenic warming. (This actually reflects publication bias; if you’re outside the mainstream, the science journals won’t touch your work.) It’s not for those who read constantly that every single thing that seems abnormal is a product of global warming and have no idea that the warmist cult was established probably before they were born.
The cult represents a twisted nostalgia that says life was somehow better in the pre-industrial age when people routinely froze during winters, died of heatstroke in summer, and starvation was so common that the modern German word for death generally is “Storben.”
A related cult is agrarian utopianism, a sect of which I first warned almost two decades ago. Thomas Jefferson was an adherent. “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness,” he declared. And small farms were better than big ones.
But cult or cults it is, including sub-cults like that of St. Greta — mobbed by crowds wherever she goes. Among the indicators is that prophecies that don’t come to pass such as the earth being covered by water by the year 2000 are just premature, not wrong. And never even explained away or apologized for, just ignored. Trust us, the rapture is coming!
Not for nothing is wind and sun power revered. You see, we were in a state of grace when wind-powered our ships, pumped the water out of drained lands, and ground our grain. And all things come from the sun. Our “fall” came with fossil fuels, which not only led to “crass materialism” but the tremendous population growth that led to a related cult centered around Paul Ehrlich. (Remember him?) Nuclear energy might seem to be “renewable” in the sense that with the next generation of reactors we will never run out of fuel but it’s almost (with exceptions) always considered non-renewable.
But unlimited plentiful energy (wind and solar of course are intermittent, and burning trees isn’t very efficient and thus “superior”) is the sina qua non of crass materialism. As Ehrlich wrote in 1976, “Giving society cheap, abundant energy … would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.” You may consider the inefficiency of wind, solar, and biomass to be negatives but the cult believes they are positives.
So how do we deal with sin? It’s a gross oversimplification that indulgences led to the Protestant Reformation, but they certainly played a role. It didn’t seem right to be able to buy your way into heaven. Nor apparently does it “seem right” that we can simply spray something into the atmosphere periodically for almost free and drop temperatures to pre-industrial levels. We must pay for our trespasses. We must imitate another former Catholic belief, albeit one officially declared a heresy. It’s that of self-flagellation. “We have sinned!” Thwack! “We have sinned!” Thwack!”
Michael Fumento (www.fumento.com) has been an attorney, author, and science journalist for over 35 years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Sunday Times, the Atlantic, and many other fora.