Have you ever taken it into your head to rearrange your bedroom, only to change your mind and return the furniture to its original layout within twelve hours? Perhaps you found that you had to crawl nearly out of bed to turn off the reading lamp or woke up with the sun in your eyes. It could be that there was no space to open the closet door or bend down to put on your slippers. You wanted everything back in its previous spot, and you humbly asked a friend or family member to help huff-and-puff your dresser back into place. Well, no harm done with that failed experiment!
The regret of reconfiguring an already well-arranged room is nothing compared with the cost of manipulating the Earth’s atmosphere under the impression that “a little rearranging, and we’ll enjoy the view more.” The Conversation, a journal intended to relay expert academic views, recently published an article discouraging geoengineers from “improving” cloud formations using a stratospheric aerosol injection, an as-yet theoretical method for solar radiation management.
Shooting Ourselves in the Foot
The complexities of cooling the planet via solar radiation management include sky-high budgets, legal accountability conundrums, and potential new “patterns of global atmospheric circulation that can lead to more extreme weather events.” In other words, the writer, geologist David Kitchen, thinks that we could shoot ourselves in the foot if we’re not careful. I would agree. But Dr. Kitchen is so convinced that the Earth’s climate is unstable that he declares stalwartly, “None of this is to say that the world should dismiss geoengineering.”
These warnings are well-founded yet incomplete. Our most specialized scientists are still discovering how many systems, controls, and other aspects of planetary fine-tuning are in place to ensure that we have life — abundant life!
Geoengineering experiments would be one thing on a planet with a hodgepodge of ill-matched gases, radiation levels, atmospheric features, and the like. But understanding how masterfully these factors are tuned and balanced exposes the risk and hubris of the project.
“Many More Details”
As one illustration, physicist Eric Hedin wrote here recently about “Intelligent Design in Weather — The ‘Perfect Day’ Conspiracy.” He explains how our Earth is intelligently designed for a favorable climate. While The Conversation issues warning after warning about manipulating Earth’s climate, Hedin celebrates the many factors that work together for an optimized experience: “From nuclear fusion in the Sun to Earth’s orbital radius, to atmospheric conditions and the interaction of light with molecules, to the properties of water, and many more details that I had to leave out, it seems like a line-up of more than ‘the usual suspects’ conspired together to bring us a perfect day.”
In the same vein, science writer David Coppedge recently described the “Ghostly Organisms that Rescue the Planet.” He was referring to sea salps: “Their outsized role gives the Earth a biological feedback mechanism, somewhat like a thermostat, to regulate carbon emissions in the atmosphere.”
As Dr. Hedin observes, such intricate and interacting mechanisms could be detailed at great length, not to mention others that we don’t even know about yet. The command to “save the planet no matter the cost” looks a little different when you consider that our world is a carefully designed system of systems. In his article, Kitchen quotes NASA engineer Riley Duren, who describes geoengineering as “a self-inflicted wound.” Fiddling with the climate is not like rearranging the furniture in your room. Let’s hope the geoengineering experts come to see that before they spend billions on potentially catastrophic atmosphere experimentation.