The bad news first: there is more to worry about than climate, covid variants and your electricity supply this winter. Regardless of whether there is a global warming crisis or it’s just the weather behaving badly, projects are being devised which, in spite of the environmentalists’ belief that such cannot exist, are in fact a Plan B for our planet.
The recent Glasgow Conference report from the UN ‘Expresses alarm and utmost concern that human activities have caused around 1.1 °C of warming to date … that impacts are already being felt in every region (and) stresses the urgency of enhancing ambition and action in relation to mitigation, adaptation and finance.’
‘Mitigation’ means reducing the flow of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. ‘Adaptation’ is a process of reduction in vulnerability to the harmful effects of a change in the climate. ‘Finance’ covers inter alia exactly how much money nations originally responsible for dirtying the atmosphere should give to poorer ones as compensation.
It has been evident to many people for some time that the chances reducing global emissions over the next ten or twenty years are very slim. The UN Report curiously did not mention that science has come up with another heading: intervention, to give a more immediate and effective solution by controlling the weather. The idea (now called geoengineering) is not new.
Apart from magic rituals, the first attempts were no more than huge bonfires to provoke convective updrafts and therefore rain. In the 1940s cloud seeding began, aiming for the same result and is still continuing in some parts of the world. By 1958 they were worried about global temperatures falling. One scientific article even advocated covering deserts and poles with carbon dust, and wondered if it would help to detonate ten ‘clean’ 10-megaton bombs in the Arctic.
By 1982 a UN Conference was being warned ‘that the world must deal with a fast approaching ice age.’ The 1958 suggestions were repeated: paint the polar regions black, and maybe even ‘raise water vapour from the oceans with hydrogen bombs to create a greenhouse effect.’
Luckily for life on earth those extreme experiments did not happen. It was not until the late 1990s that growing concern, now about the warming climate, led to much more serious ideas.
21st century geoengineering has come up with several basic proposals which would directly affect our weather: solar radiation management by spraying particles in the high atmosphere to reduce the sun’s radiation; marine cloud brightening to reflect more of the sunlight; and cirrus cloud thinning, to allow more heat to escape back into space.
Other, maybe safer, engineering projects focus on extracting the atmospheric CO2 at ground level or capturing the carbon escaping from coal-fired power stations.
The argument for some form of geoengineering is persuasive: dimming the sun’s radiation slightly, scientists say, would slow down or even stop temperatures rising. The effect would be almost immediate, as has been proved by historic volcanic eruptions, notably that of Tambora in 1816, which was later known as the year without a summer.
But danger lurks in two directions: such a project could be used as an excuse for easing back on zero-carbon-by-2030/40/50 plans, and the detailed effects of an attempt to control the world’s weather would be difficult, if not impossible, to predict.
Who would be to blame if, in spite of the otherwise welcome pause in global temperatures, Brazil had no rain for six months, or the climate of the Middle East became more like Norway?
The case for some kind of direct action could eventually be impossible to counter. The Glasgow agreements will not stop emissions rising. If global temperatures also continue upwards, then climate hysteria will lead to a call for more positive solutions than heat pumps or electric cars.
Playing God with our atmosphere could ward off the worst effects of any further change in the climate. But it might cause a greater catastrophe than anything seen since the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period.
Current research has not shown any way to limit the effects of dimming the sun, nor could such an experiment be shut down quickly if the results proved dangerous. The conclusion of a scientific study in November 2014 has not yet been questioned: ‘(geoengineering) schemes to tackle climate change could prove disastrous for billions of people, but might be required for the good of the planet.’
That’s the bad news. Good news? Sorry, there isn’t any.