Engineers Offer to Save World from Engineers

Thank God, it’s an engineer, here to save us from the fire by pouring gasoline on us. (Photo by Sergei Nivens/Shutterstock)

Thank God, it’s an engineer, here to save us from the fire by pouring gasoline on us. (Photo by Sergei Nivens/Shutterstock)

The closer a person or  a society comes to the end of its life, the more attractive magical thinking becomes. Clearly this is not going well, the thought process goes, but I can avoid the inevitable outcome if I 1) pray real hard, or 2) pay enough money to the shaman/priest/doctor, or 3) take lots and lots of Vitamin X while bathed in a strong electromagnetic field, or 4) sacrifice plenty of virgins to a volcano. The more hopeless the situation becomes, the more attractive becomes the idea of a magical, easy solution, and the lust to find one often intensifies until death intervenes. Thus now, in the dotage of our society, we are hearing a rising, insistent chant from the shamans of technology, a promise of an easy fix for the climate that is turning against us: “geoengineer it, geoengineer it.”

Geoengineering is an offer — from the industrial wizards who have virtually destroyed the ability of the planet to support human life — to complete the job. Spewing billions of tons of carbon dioxide (from burning fossil fuels) into the atmosphere has worked really well if you disregard the fact that it is slowly bringing the world to a boil. To counter that downside, the supergeeks are now — I am not making this up — proposing to spew millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to create aerosols that would reflect sunlight and presumably turn the burner down. And then what will happen to the toxic, nasty-smelling gas that is a precursor to sulfuric acid? We’ll figure that out when we get there.

Another brilliant idea from a self-styled geoengineer named David Keith is to substitute 200 million tons of aluminum particles for the sulfur dioxide, thus avoiding the smell and the acidity, but unfortunately coating the world in toxic aluminum when the particles, as they eventually must, fall back to earth.

No one in their right mind would actually support doing such things, which is why they are gathering increasing support around the world. The din has prompted the National Academy of Sciences to weigh in, just last week, with an authoritative opinion that said, after due consideration, the proposals have been found to be dangerous to the point of utter madness and we ought to continue to consider them, at government expense.

Another category of geoengineering, which the NAS studied separately, is less dangerous and could work if done on a large enough scale. It’s called carbon sequestration, which involves preventing the carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere in the first place. Although it would work, is extremely expensive, and you have to pay the costs up front in order to get the benefits later. The other schemes probably wouldn’t work, and probably have hideous downstream expenses, but it doesn’t cost very much up front.  So we like it better.

(What about the Third Way, did I hear someone ask? What about simply refusing to emit any more pollution? Or at least drastically reducing emissions? Would that not solve the problem? Well, sure, but it’s a non-starter.)

The NAS panel’s disdain for the whole subject of geoengineering is palpable, and begins with its refusal to call it “engineering” at all, substituting the world “intervention.”  A spokesperson explained, “we felt ‘engineering’ implied a level of control that is illusory. The word ‘intervention’ makes it clearer that the precise outcome could not be known in advance.” Whoa. You’re tinkering with the whole planet, and the precise outcome is unknown.

So why then, given its unconcealed contempt for the whole idea, did the NAS study recommend more research into atmospheric reflection projects? Well, there will be a lot of grant money for a lot of scientists willing to shake the medicine rattle and chant “geoengineer it.”

Having stated that we would be nuts to pursue “albedo management,” then saying that we should, just for the sake of knowledge, the NAS study says emphatically and in conclusion: “There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change.”

Whoops, sorry, that wasn’t actually the conclusion. They also felt they had to say:  geoengineering “could contribute to a broader portfolio of climate change responses with further research and development.”

Looks like we had better start recruiting virgins.

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15 Responses to Engineers Offer to Save World from Engineers

  1. Surly1 says:

    “Albedo management.” Really. The fact that the “third way” of emissions reduction is off the table goes to underline how hopeless the NAS panel and others must feel in the presence of Big Oil Money.

    And good luck finding those virgins.

  2. Tom says:

    Oh man – TPTB have lost what was left of their warped, self-centered minds. We already confirmed that they’re nuts, having brought the economic, political and environmental worlds down to the gutter, but to consider speeding up the process (i suppose so they can go out “on top”) of destroying it all for all life on Earth even more rapidly than it’s already happening (remember, it’s an exponential decay curve so it drops off more and more rapidly all the time) by these artificial ways illustrates that they never had any appreciation for life at all.

    Are we the wayward ones? Is it European white-guy clan that’s responsible for the rapid demise of the planet with his “enclosures” and rape of the commons, his laws and financial artifice? Looking at history, it seems to be the case. Whatever it was that infected them (so that evolution “chose” them to flourish) also then infected other tribes to do like-wise (or perish straight-away). Now the war-fare and conquering are done financially, militarily, religiously, politically, socially, and on and on. The world can’t stop itself now without major, probably lethal consequences.

    Another great read and commentary on an interesting and timely topic Mr. Lewis.

    • Rob Rhodes says:

      I think what ‘infected’ us was an anthropocentric religiosity that considers humans as separate from the rest of the natural world. It is not particular to any religion, it is common to all of the major beliefs of the world for rather over 2000 years. It is not even limited to beliefs we normally understand as religions, it also infects all our political and economic creeds so that absurdities such as the idea that the economy must always grow to accommodate humans is broadly accepted. Although natural selection works slowly, it does appear that the culture that has embraced anthropocentrism is about to be deselected. Brace for….

      • SomeoneInAsia says:

        With all due respect, I do not consider it fair to the East Asian philosophical and religious traditions to level on them the same charge of anthropocentrism as on the Abrahamic religions. If Confucianism and Buddhism can be described as anthropocentric at all, it is a very qualified form of anthropocentrism which requires that man rein in his material desires and acknowledge fully the entitlement of other living things to a place under the sun. In any case, it is the Western world that has led us all to the present state of affairs in the last 200 years, not India or China — at least not until they were converted to the ways of the West. Please give credit where credit is due, thank you.

        But what the heck, with the whole world now coming apart, I guess it no longer matters anymore what anyone wants to believe regarding anything. You may endorse whatever views you please, and same with me. Peace.

        • Apneaman says:

          You mean volunteered right? Like the instant they had the chance to have a factory built and get jobs/money. You might want to study Chinese history for lessons on 5000 years of eco destruction leading to mass starvation. Except for the rich, including the rich that practiced Buddhsim.

          • SomeoneInAsia says:

            I believe I’ve known enough about Chinese history to be competent enough to comment on it, having got a Doctorate in Chinese thought. Mass starvation? China was one of the world’s most well-to-do nations just prior to the intrusion of the West in the 19th century. She was able to support one third of a billion people. Who’s the one here who needs to study Chinese history? In any case, for the record, the West has done way more damage to the planet in a mere 200 years than China in 5,000. But I’ll give you the benefit of doubt: cite for me a few books or journal articles on Chinese history which show that China’s masses have been starving for most of her history, and I’ll take back what I said.

            One of the clearest signs in Chinese history that the people were pissed (by starvation etc) is the mass rebellion. Don’t think there’s been so many of them in her history that no high culture has ever had a chance to develop.

            Not sure what you’re talking about with respect to the word ‘volunteered’, Perhaps you mean whether the Chinese ‘volunteered’ to adopt the whole modern Western system of doing and running things. If that’s what you meant, the answer is a definite ‘no’. (Same with the Japanese.)

            It’s always more comforting to bruised egos to think that anyone would have made the same mistakes as them, but if one wanted to say that nations like China would have brought about the same enormities now facing us all as the West did, I’d like to see more serious substantiation of this claim.

  3. juggle says:

    Sulfur dioxide is not bad egg gas, which is (highly poisonous) Hydrogen Sulfide.

    Sulfur Dioxide is the stuff than causes acid rain, which we’ve spent the past quarter century and millions of dollars trying to remove from power plant and vehicle emissions.

    This’ll go well…

  4. Oji says:

    The NAS isn’t just scientists; it includes engineers.

    “The National Research Council, created under the NAS charter in 1916 by executive order of President Woodrow Wilson, extended the scope of the NAS in its advisory role. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) were founded under the NAS charter in 1964 and 1970, respectively.”

    Knowing many engineers and scientists myself, I suspect this fact better explains the NAS conclusions.

  5. SomeoneInAsia says:

    There’s a Chinese idiom: drinking poison to slake one’s thirst.

    The above seems an excellent illustration.

    • colinc says:

      It would seem to me that that “idiom” will soon be fully realized in N. America, Eurasia and the SE Asian subcontinent in the VERY near future, if not already! This is, indeed, the era when unintended consequences are made manifest. The coming years, decades(??!!), will prove MOST interesting, at least in a very perverse way!

  6. Mike Kay says:

    Mr. L.,
    To many, many people around the world, the so-called debate over aerosol spraying the atmosphere should have happened before this program actually began.
    Geoengineering is a nice sounding word, but if this term relates to releasing polymers, toxins, and nanometals in density high enough to form artificial clouds, then this process has been ongoing for over 20 years.
    Generally, when the geniuses in charge are afraid you wouldn’t agree with their latest brainchild, they simply hide it from you.

  7. Tom says:

    Good point Mike Kay – one that dutchsinse has been covering that for years:

  8. Denis Frith says:

    It is good to see in the article and comments sound arguments about geo-engineering. However, the fundamental issue is not mentioned. Technology has only ever irreversibly used limited natural material resources to temporarily provide a service for civilization. Geo-engineering is an example being considered by those who do not understand. that fundamental point.

  9. Kirk Hamilton says:

    I have two friends that are senior engineers at major power plants. Both are rabid climate change deniers.

    I suppose it’s hard to admit it when you’re part of the problem.

    I wonder how people are going to react in the future when everything fails, and the old argument that we owe our good fortune to the military happens to come up.