Geoengineering

by Dr. Tim Ball on May 10, 2011

in Atmosphere,Government,History,Legal,Politics,Theory

I grew up in rural England and heard the expression, “When in doubt, do nowt”. Nowt is dialect for nothing. J Whyte-Melville expressed it formally in 1874 as,

When in doubt what to do, he is a wise man who does nothing.

But the degree of certainty promoted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and adherents to the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory has effectively cancelled doubt. As a result, things are said and actions taken even by supposedly wise men that only underline the dangers inherent in lack of understanding. Chances of making the situation worse are increased when you don’t know what is causing the problem, and doubled when you have defined the problem incorrectly.

Chemtrails are a major conspiracy theory topic of late night radio programs and blog sites. Claims fly about government carrying out experiments to alter the atmosphere to modify weather and thereby climate or achieve some other nefarious objective. Many of these activities fall into the general category of geoengineering, which is deliberately modifying nature to achieve regional or global change. What’s the wider story?

Ironically, the climate debate is about humans causing climate change. Now, many of the same people who blame humans are calling for deliberate human action to cause cooling and counteract climate change. So the solution to human interference is more human interference. Sadly, this assumes that you know what you’re doing, and that the problem is correctly identified, and you’re prepared to accept the responsibility and deal with the outcome of your actions. What happens if you effectively achieve the cooling goals when, as the records show, the world is already on a cooling trend?

Back in the 1970s, when cooling was the consensus because global temperatures declined from 1940 to 1980, there were geoengineering proposals to warm up the Earth. What would that have done to the natural cycle of warming that followed after 1980?

Humans have always attempted to modify climate. Academics consider use of fire or wearing clothing as major advances in human history. In fact, they were devices to allow people to live in climates colder than their natural state would allow. More esoteric attempts included rain dancing. Practical devices, such as irrigation, overcame the lack or unpredictability of precipitation. Throughout the 20th century many attempts were made to seed the clouds to induce rainfall. This variously had two objectives: increase rainfall or reduce damaging hailstorms. These were mostly abandoned because they could not measure effectiveness – you didn’t know how much it would have rained without the seeding. There were also lawsuits; for example, cloud seeding in South Dakota ostensibly produced more rain – but flooding occurred, a dam burst, and people died. The problem is, it is a cause and effect that is very difficult to prove.

There were many proposals in modern times to modify the climate. In the 1960s and 1970s, when global cooling was the concern, the Soviet government proposed construction of a dam across the Bering Straits. The idea was that this would reduce the flow of cold arctic water into the North Pacific and warm that body of water. This presumably creates warmer air in the middle and high latitudes that would circle the globe and ultimately warm up the southern and central regions of the Soviet Union. There were also proposals to build large reflectors in space to direct more sunlight to the surface. This included proposals to direct them specifically on northern cities for heat and longer daylight.

Now the concern is to stop global warming. The inherent dangers are even greater, because the proposals are more than just physical interferences. Four reports illustrate what they are trying to do. Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen proposed the idea of adding sulphur to the atmosphere in 2006 in order to create a haze and reduce sunlight reaching the surface. It would be like lowering a screen in a greenhouse. The idea gained momentum recently when over 1,000,000 tons of sulfur dioxide was released into the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. This and other atmospheric spraying is possibly the cause of some chemtrails. It is similar to cloud seeding, except at high altitudes, and is designed to produce thin layers of cloud. Aircraft flying at similar altitudes inject water vapor into the atmosphere, which condenses quickly as the exhaust hits the very cold air. Most of the time, people are confusing these with chemical trails.

The Crutzen objective is to create droplets that will block the sun and create cooling, but the consequences are potentially catastrophic. If nothing else, the droplets produced are sulfuric acid – and wasn’t it just a few years ago we were besieged with concern about acid rain? More recently we were told that increasing acidification due to global warming was a serious problem. Increasing acid rain over the oceans would clearly exacerbate this problem. Of course, this assumes the changing pH level is a problem, but it was promoters of AGW saying it not me. It is more a measure of the illogic of what is happening.

The second plan proposed by German researchers is to create large-scale reflective sheets to block sunlight and reduce glacier melt. Apart from the problem of scale there appears to be a complete lack of understanding of glacier dynamics. This is reflected in the public debate engendered by Al Gore over Mount Kilimanjaro. Glaciers are as much if not more about the dynamics of snowfall. In that area covered by the screen the glacier is condemned not to grow. At the same time it can decrease in volume under the screen through the process of sublimation. This is the change of ice (solid water) to water vapor (a gas); you know it as freezer burn. Who is going to keep the screen clear of snow? An ultimate irony may be the screen being buried and subsumed into the glacier as an icy folly. If they clear the snow, the screen will prevent snow accumulating and thus doom the glacier anyway.

A third plan put into action a couple of years ago involved spreading iron filings on the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The objective was to increase the rate of CO2 absorption to offset the increase in atmospheric CO2, reportedly due to human production. The project failed and has been abandoned, which underlines the difference between theory and reality. However, the impacts were never considered or, to my knowledge, assessed. For example, they don’t appear to have considered the impact on the surface water chemistry engendered by adding more iron.

In another project Shell Oil, in their foolish attempts to appear ‘green’, is funding a project to add lime to ocean waters to increase the rate of CO2 absorption. It would increase alkalinity and the oceans ability to absorb CO2. It is as foolish as all the others not considering the chemical and ecological implications to ocean surface waters. The only comment this deserves is the cynical observation that it would offset the increased acidity created by the sulphur experiment.

The major difference between the proposals to offset cooling in the mid 20th century and the current geoengineering madness is they did not assume the cooling was man-made. The good news is nothing was done. Now the insanity of man-made solutions is based on the false assumption that human CO2 is the cause and actions are being taken. But let’s assume for a moment that it is CO2 causing the warming. What would have happened if they had decided to offset the cooling of the 1970s by adding CO2 to the atmosphere?

The world has cooled slightly since 2,000 and many climate scientists expect the cooling to continue at least until 2035. If the sulphur project is successful, how much will it exacerbate the cooling? Will the actions cause the very problem of unnatural climate change they claim to prevent?

Some say we must take these risks to offset what they describe as the great uncontrolled experiment of changing global climate. This is an extension of the “humans are to blame for every change” syndrome in the religious view of environmentalism. We must pay a penance for our sins. It assumes humans are to blame for the warming.

The scientific problems and side effects are serious enough, however, there are much larger questions. Who gives permission for these experiments that change vast segments of the atmosphere? Who monitors what they are doing and how extensive the potential damage? What if the cloud of sulphur drifts over a sovereign nation who was not consulted? Who is protecting the oceans from potentially damaging actions? Who will pay for any damage?

The certainty with which the IPCC and AGW proponents make their claims leads to a demand for action. They have denied doubt: the science is settled, the debate is over so we must act. In fact, there is considerable doubt, so it is far wiser to do nowt. But then, wisdom and calm on these issues is another missing variable.