GeoHacking Earth -The Dangers of Unintended Consequences

6a00d8341bf7f753ef01157019921f970b.jpgPlans are taking shape for the day when a global coalition may have to "hack the planet" in a bid to reverse the ravages of global warming. Proposals to cool the Earth by deploying sunshades or sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere were considered fanciful just a few years ago, but are now being considered by politicians in the US and UK. At a gathering of scientists and regulatory experts from 15 countries held in Asilomar, California, last week, discussed possible regulations that would govern research in the emerging field of climate intervention.

Climate intervention is a field so new that the senior scientists who attended the five-day meeting don't agree on its name. Some are calling it geoengineering; others call it climate remediation. Either way, it involves complex — and, some say, ethically questionable — processes to reduce the impact of global warming.

The group released a joint press release Friday expressing "deep concern" over the limited efforts to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases and calling for additional research to examine the need for "alternative strategies" to moderate future climate change.

"Having a governance structure in place is essentially going to help research and help the science community," said Michael MacCracken, who moderated the International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies and is the chief scientist for climate change programs with the Climate Institute in Washington, D.C.

Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren outlined options for last year for geohacking, forcibly reconfiguring parts of the planet's ecology.  Since this is a country where you can't set up a windfarm without someone opposing it this set off a storm of protest.  But the most vocal cry was "We shouldn't study it because we don't know how it would work."

It's important to note that Holdren was advising the study of scientific options, kind of like you'd expect a science adviser to do.  The plan (that of pumping the atmosphere full aerosols) certainly has a couple of potentially-planet-pulverising problems, but that's exactly his point – it needs study. 

One the one hand you've got the ultra-Luddite response, that of any scientific change of anything being bad.  The sort of people who'd be running everywhere and tutting loudly when one of those fancy "wheelamajigged" things came along if they'd been born earlier.  Given their opposition not just to doing something, but even learning about how it might work, we can only assume they learned speech by accident or before they came up with their "Don't learn what I don't already know" viewpoint.

On the other hand, uncontrolled geohacking could be the closest thing to real life Bond villainy we'll ever really see.  Even if the government has no interest in altering Earth's environment, they need to understand exactly what they don't like about it – and where the dangers are – to prevent others from doing the same.  Corporations won't think twice about altering the environment if it benefits them in even the shortest term, and technology will soon bring ecotinkering from the national to the corporate budget level.

Geohacking or "climate intervention" needs to be studied as a scientific problem: we don't know how it works, and we want to, so let' learn.  That's how science works.  We've been altering Earth since we first worked out that things burned – ecogineering isn't some blasphemous defilement of Gaia's green glory, it's humanity saying "Let's see if we can actually fix things on purpose instead of breaking them all the time."

Casey Kazan with Luke McKinney

Geohacking needs federal support    

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