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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Desperate times call for . . . ummmm . . .
December 18, 2009 - 4:39pm

The report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers that I referenced yesterday calls for a three-part approach to climate change: mitigation, adaptation and geo-engineering. I guess I'm comfortably with that break-down on a theoretical basis, or for purposes of discussion, but I'm not real comfortable with the idea of geo-engineering -- at least, not on any large scale.

It seems likely that any intentional geo-engineering project designed to offset existing climatological process will have side-effects -- consequences beyond those which were initially intended. I don't see how it could be otherwise, given the sheer complexity of the climate system and all the systems which influence it. And given that we're all "standing under the arch" on this one, we need to be very conscious, cautious, careful about this stuff.

At the same time, I have to admit that the authors are probably right. We may very well already be past the climate tipping point as a recent UN report seems to indicate. And certainly, if we're not already past it, there's a coalition of financial and political interests which seems dedicated to making sure we do.

So I'm finding myself more open to at least experimental geo-engineering than I every thought I'd be. Not without limits (the proposal by Solaren Corp. to put photovoltaic panels in geosychronous orbit and beam the power produced down to earth via radio waves scares me half to death), but some. Experiments, pilot projects, demonstrations.

The problem, of course, is that the worst unintended consequences likely won't be apparent in a small-scale geoengineering project. Rather, they'll be triggered -- at least in part -- by matters of scale. And if we've already implemented a project on a scale massive enough to see just how we screwed up (think Galloping Gertie or the Aswan High Dam), it'll likely be too late both to fix the project at hand and to implement "plan b" (whatever 'plan b' might be).

Unfortunately, the only government agencies I know which have experience in planning complex operations over extended periods of time and involving multiple contingencies are all military in nature. And I'm not talking National Guard here. (Probably not the Corps of Engineers, either.)

Still, it might be better to put the military in charge of major geo-engineering intended to offset/correct (at least partially) the effects and processes of climate disruption than to wait until the social impacts of unmitigated disruption become fully evident. Because at that point, the military's going to have to get involved anyways. And then I know I'm talking guns rather than bulldozers.

(Can you tell that it's been a rough week?)


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