Best of 2023: 'What Could Possibly Go Wrong?' by Rich Trzupek

Rich Trzupek12 Jan, 2024 4 Min Read
One gazillion dollars...

It appears that a dastardly plot to manipulate the planet’s weather is afoot. The forces behind the scheme are not the usual suspects. Neither Dr. Evil nor GALAXY appears to be involved, so both Austin Powers and Derek Flint can stand down for the moment. The antagonists are far more dangerous and powerful than any those super-spies faced: the United States government.

The Democrat Party likes to claim that it’s the “party of science,” but it is becoming increasingly clear that it is in fact the party of mad scientists. A report released by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy says that the administration has been researching "geoengineering" methods to reduce the power of the sun rays and thus cool the planet. Blocking sunlight is indeed an effective mechanism to reduce temperatures. Volcanoes are particularly skilled at this. In the most recent example, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 blocked around 10 percent of sunlight for a period of about three years, dropping temperatures worldwide and reducing agricultural yields. Other big eruptions, like Krakatoa and Mount Aetna have had similar effects. Future volcanic eruptions, like the overdue massive explosion of the Yellowstone caldera, have the ability to plunge the earth back into another Ice Age when they occur.

Your tax dollars at work.

The point here being that messing around with sunlight is probably not something we should do without a great deal of forethought. Worse, handing government bureaucrats the ability to manipulate sunlight, and therefore the weather, doesn’t sound like the wisest of plans. The public sector has never been especially good at dealing with the Law of Unintended Consequences. It’s hard to imagine any government program more likely to generate catastrophic unintended consequences than attempts to manipulate sunlight.

The preferred term for attempting to control the sun is Solar Radiation Modification or SRM. There are two conceivable routes to achieve solar radiation modification. One would be to do so on a global basis. That is, choose a method that will block a given proportion of sunlight everywhere around the world for a relatively long period of time. This is likely the less expensive approach.

The other alternative would be to block solar radiation on more of a local level. This approach would necessarily be effective for substantially shorter periods of time than the global approach. Accordingly, achieving the desired results would surely require a much greater rate of intervention and a much greater expenditure of capital to keep up the effort.

Let's assume for the moment that government is able to define and therefore utilize techniques that would reduce solar radiation and therefore influence the planet’s weather. Whether they go with the global or local approach, who gets a vote in determining the desired outcome? A global approach that promises to reduce average daily temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius might be very popular in some equatorial nations that suffer from extreme heat. Yet that same reduction may cause great difficulties for Inuit people living near the Arctic Circle.

There are similar analogies when we consider the short-term approach. The new climate control czars will presumably have a given amount of authority and a finite amount of funding allocated to their department. Thus, the administrators of the policy will face some difficult decisions. Folks living in Houston experience summertime weather that is as comfortable -- or should I say as uncomfortable -- as people living in Quito, Ecuador do during the same time frame. Having made substantial amounts of money by dealing in evil fossil fuels the Texans would presumably be able to grease more palms in order to get the cooling they desire. Decision made! The Ecuadorians? That's their problem. Nobody is forcing them to live in Ecuador.

Fighting fire with fire -- that's the ticket!

How would the public sector resolve these sorts of problems? They would do what they always do: attempt to draft equitable rules that the bureaucratic class can mindlessly enforce. In spite of their sincere best efforts to create a utopia governed by the public sector such efforts inevitably produce results that are much more familiar to Franz Kafka then any idealist.

It is utter madness to consider yielding control of the sun, which is the ultimate source of all the energy mankind uses except for nuclear power, to anyone. Ceding such authority to government when it has proven spectacularly unable to cost effectively or fairly manage virtually any system that impacts the public is an incredible and incredibly foolish idea.

In the official release of the potential sun management program the Biden administration was careful to say that the report was “Congressionally mandated.” While it's nice to hear that the Big Guy gets off the play book and occasionally chooses to listen and respond to the legislative branch, that does not mean the administration is required to treat a suggestion seriously. Still, the short response to this congressional mandate should have been: have you folks lost your freaking minds? Sometimes slapping them upside the head is the most effective way to get them back on track. It's high time somebody did so, at least metaphorically if not literally. The elections of 2024 would be a good place to start.

Rich Trzupek is a chemist and air quality expert who has worked with industry and the EPA for over thirty five years. He is the author of Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry and other works. He lives in the Chicago area.


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