The Earth experiment

The Earth experiment by James Carroll, November 26, 2012, The Boston Globe
So perhaps this unprecedented problem will finally be meaningfully addressed by the president and Congress, with new emphasis on green energy, carbon taxes, anti-fracking legislation, elimination of subsidies to oil and gas companies, rejection of new pipelines, and so on. Climate prophet Bill McKibben is in the midst of a 21-city “Do the math” tour, drawing thousands of supporters, all demanding that carbon dioxide be left in the ground. Fossil fuels are choking the planet, and a critical mass of Americans are waking up to it. But sometimes when a corner gets turned, another, sharper corner shows itself. Even if carbon emissions were dramatically reduced all over the planet (including in China, India, and Africa, where fossil fuel engines are just firing up), the biosphere is already facing catastrophe. The greenhouse effect is self-compounding, and scientists tell us that atmospheric temperatures will continue to rise even without more pollution. However difficult it has been to launch a real discussion of the causes of global warming, an even-larger controversy looms now, as problematic attempts to mitigate warming through “geoengineering” are forced onto the human agenda. Geoengineering refers to manipulations of the structures of the natural world aimed at protecting the livable environment. Interventions can go further than, say, massive storm surge barriers protecting Amsterdam and London, or levee systems keeping New Orleans dry. Greenhouse gases can actually be removed from the atmosphere, and solar radiation can be managed in ways that reduce the planet’s absorption of heat. Stratospheric dispersal of sulfur aerosols to mimic the light-dimming consequences of volcanic ash is one geoengineering scheme. Another involves iron fertilization of the oceans to produce massive plankton blooms, which can repair broken aquatic food-chain webs, while lowering carbon dioxide levels. [Emphasis added]

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