Progress very often comes with a price.
If we are not collectively learning anything else from the global warming emergency perhaps that’s the biggest lesson: The world cannot advance the way it has—seven billion people burning fossil fuels with wild abandon—without a cost.
One cost is that we have so cooked the atmosphere that even conservative estimates predict average temps will rise three to seven degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.
There are several ways to respond to this global cooking. One is to ignore and party on. Another is to conserve. Another to vigorously look for options, towards renewables. Yet another is to tinker even further with technology to try and engineer our way out of the mess.
This week it was disclosed that the CIA is putting $630,000 into a geoengineering project that will study how humans are influencing weather patterns and assess ways man can try to influence weather patterns. The investment comes a year after the spy agency was forced by Congress to shutter its in-house research center on the relationship between climate change and national security.
Offloaded to the National Academy of Sciences, the program will be responsible for overseeing the first geoengineering study funded by an intelligence agency. One of the CIA’s apparent prime curiosities is trying to slow global warming by using experimental technologies ranging from simulating volcanic eruptions to pumping sulfides into the atmosphere might impact national security.
While going public with the study may be new this is hardly the first time government agencies have tried to fool Mother Nature in the sake of national security. During World War II, the Germans experimented with producing fog to confuse allied bombers. During the Vietnam, the U.S. Air Force seeded clouds above the Ho Chi Minh Trail to encourage tropical rains that would turn the ground into muck. In a more plebian effort, in 2008 the Chinese had its “Weather Modification Office” seed clouds in order to discourage rain from falling over its Olympic stadiums.
Such experimentation continues today. Indonesia would prefer that its torrential rains fall over the ocean rather than land in the hope of reducing flooding. Its methodology, dropping tons of salt from military planes, has so far not been effective.
This notion of government’s trying to fool nature is slippery territory.
And there is little stopping individuals from launching their own DIY attempts, as in the wacked effort last summer by San Francisco-based Planktos to seed the northern Pacific Ocean with 100 tons of iron sulphate as an alleged way to encourage plankton growth and slow warming of the seas. All that was accomplished was creating a brand new waste dump of 100 tons of iron on the sea floor.
While there are currently a variety of international laws and conventions against just such tinkering, but if governments are now publicly admitting they are funding research into the purposeful fiddling with nature, has the game changed? As seven billion people accept the fact that we must now adapt to a hotter planet it would appear there is a growing body of scientists who believe we have no option but to try and deliberately engineer our way out of this mess
The kind of proposals not so long ago considered daft or insane are being reconsidered. As the planet’s warming becomes not some far off fantasy but today’s reality some of those loony ideas—shooting particles into the sky to mimic volcanic eruptions, cloud machines to encourage rain, launching mirrors into space in hopes that bouncing sunlight away from Earth will help it cool—are sounding more sane.