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Terraforming the Earth to Save the Planet
Richard Fernandez • 14 Jun, 2023 • 5 Min Read
Thank you, "climate change."
What exactly happens when governments engage in "climate change mitigation" and how is it different from "geoengineering"? The distinction is almost entirely in their connotations. The former conjures up images of preserving nature, the latter giant engines reshaping the earth. In reality climate change mitigation and geoengineering are often indistinguishable from each. Take their respective approaches to controlling "greenhouse gases."
The E.U. says: "Mitigating climate change means... cutting greenhouse gases from main sources such as power plants, factories, cars, and farms... Reducing and avoiding our emissions requires us to reshape everything we do — from how we power our economy and grow our food, to how we travel and live, and the products we consume." Geoengineering's approach to exactly the same CO2 problem is given by the International Energy Agency (IEA). "Direct air capture (DAC) technologies extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere. The CO2 can be permanently stored in deep geological formations, thereby achieving carbon dioxide removal (CDR)... The captured CO2 can also be used, for example in food processing or combined with hydrogen to produce synthetic fuels."
They both use engineering techniques to manipulate the same physical quantities at the same scale. Both require "us to reshape everything we do," and necessitate government intervention in the form of monitoring and regulation. As DW notes, the trend is to roll the two together. "Is geoengineering set to become mainstream climate policy? Relying on emission reductions alone isn't enough — the political will required to lower emissions to the degree necessary simply isn't there. They think geoengineering might end up being our only choice. Despite being risky, they say the danger posed by not trying geoengineering is greater than trying it."
A Harvard publication points out that geoengineering may be needed to prevent the acidification of the oceans. The idea is to counteract this by filling the seas with CO2-eating plankton. "Ocean fertilization is the best studied ocean geoengineering method and may be able to reduce both ocean acidification and global warming... Iron is the main ocean fertilizer under consideration, and this process would be much cheaper and faster than planting more trees on land."
Almost by definition, only a planetary master plan will do the job. The Europeans, who seem to be the most forthright on this, make no bones about demanding control of everything to save the world. "Global cooperation is essential for all climate change mitigation. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement ensure cooperation across borders to tackle climate change and ensure a sustainable future." We're way beyond planting a tree in your backyard. They'll control the chemistry and biology of the oceans.
But there's more. Have you heard of solar radiation management (SRM)? This approach aims to cool the earth by reflecting a portion of the incoming sunlight back into space, reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth's surface. One proposed method involves injecting aerosols into the stratosphere to mimic the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions. Nothing is off-limits. Where does the mitigation end and where does the geoengineering begin?
Trust the Science.
They are one continuum. Filling the seas with plankton will affect the atmosphere, while SRM will affect the seas. Marine cloud brightening would involve introducing saltwater particles from the oceans up into the cloud layer. The particle-making machines would likely be carried on boats to different parts of each sea.
A second method, stratospheric aerosol injection, would involve casting reflective particles into the upper atmosphere. The particles might be sulfur dioxide, or, in some formulations, calcium carbonate or perhaps an engineered nanoparticle, with delivery most likely by a fleet of high-flying aircraft. This activity would replicate the cooling effect of a volcanic event. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, for example, produced a plume of gas containing some 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide, some of which was forced to high altitudes
All this has made even environmentalists nervous. The Harvard paper brings up the fear of unintended consequences. "Overgrowth of phytoplankton could cause algae blooms that deplete oxygen from water, thereby harming marine animals [and] destabilizing the marine ecosystem." It frets over the posssibility that solar radiation management may also backfire. "This can be studied in climate models, but it is difficult to test in the real world. There is also concern that the drop in sunlight may decrease plant growth, thereby increasing the amount of atmospheric CO2 and reducing crop yields."
They conclude that we need more data to proceed safely, even as we hasten to avert a "climate emergency." "The primary challenges of geoengineering are conducting field experiments to accurately assess potential consequences and developing international agreements to safely deploy and monitor geoengineering technologies." But this takes time; which brings us to the real risk inherent in both climate change mitigation and geoengineering. Government is in a hurry to implement changes to nature without precedent in human history, but needs more data.
There have not been many real-world experiments on a scale sufficient to make realistic predictions for the projects proposed. Testing on small scales does not necessarily reflect what will happen if done on a much larger scale. But testing on a global scale is indistinguishable from de facto terraforming, the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying a planet's atmosphere, volatile components, temperature, surface topography or ecology to conform to a government mandate; in this case the United Nations.
Controlling climate is highly complex and global. As AI experts at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy note, "climate change is one of the most difficult scientific problems that humans have ever faced. It's a phenomenally complex system with an enormous number of variables... all shaped by a living planet that is constantly changing." Slow moving bureaucrats can't do it. In case you hadn't guessed it by now, our only hope is the machine. "AI as a tool is uniquely positioned to help manage these complex issues, due to its capacity to gather, complete, and interpret large, complex datasets on emissions, climate impact, and more," according to the Boston Consulting Group.
Google's Deepmind has already made record progress in controlling the ever-shifting, pulsating plasma sun at the heart of fusion reactors, able to change the shape of the magnetic containment field to match its shapeshifting captive. Therefore it is argued the same approach would make it possible to control ever-changing the environment. Humans would be too slow, but: "AI would enable us to explore things that we wouldn’t explore otherwise, because we can take risks with this kind of control system we wouldn’t dare take otherwise," he says. "If we are sure that we have a control system that can take us close to the limit but not beyond the limit, we can actually explore possibilities that wouldn’t otherwise be there for exploring."
If one accepts the Green premises, the planet must be saved by interventions which of necessity must encompass all earth's populations, land oceans and air. This means controlling millions of factors at a frequency likely exceeding the capacity of human control. The only existing control technology up to the task is artificial intelligence. Politicians like Rishi Sunak have ironically warned that AI is a danger like "climate change" without realizing the two are like horns of a dilemma. Buy into the Green Agenda and accept geoengineering and AI; reject AI and climate control becomes infeasible. They're stuck but don't realize it yet.
Richard Fernandez is the author of the Belmont Club. He has been a software developer and co-authored Open Curtains which proposes privacy as an information property right.