Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
Let’s face it: There is, by now, no way to turn back the clock on climate change. There is now no way to wrest control of the green house gases that we put into the atmosphere to a sufficient degree so as to forestall significant, if not catastrophic, climate change.
Climate scientists were saying back in the 1990s that we had to do something right now if we were going to have enough time to fix the problem. Well, we didn’t, and twenty-odd years have gone by. And now it appears that the largest economy in the world, the United States, will spend at least another four years deliberately going backward, deliberately polluting the environment more just to be a dick. Indeed, the new U.S. administration denies that climate change is a thing, and EPA scientists are no longer even allowed to use the phrase “climate change” in their papers.
So, the bad news is, we’re screwed.
The good news is that maybe we’re not. It’s time to put on Budyko’s Blanket.
Budyko’s Blanket is a nickname for one of a series of so-called “geo-engineering” solutions that may mitigate or reverse the effects of climate change. They’re called “geo-engineering” because they rely not on us stopping to do what’s causing the environmental problems but engineering things such that the damage that we do won’t matter.
Some of these solutions can seem downright grotesque, for example further polluting the planet in order to reverse the effects of the earlier pollution. But, as the authors of Super Freakonomics put it, “once you eliminate the moralism and the angst, the task of reversing global warming boils down to a straightforward engineering problem.”
The physics and chemistry are clear: When major volcanic eruptions happened and pumped large volumes of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere—actually the stratosphere when the volcanoes were sufficiently powerful—they caused global temperatures to drop. No less than Benjamin Franklin speculated in 1784 that volcanic eruptions in Iceland around that time had caused uncommonly cool winters and summers in both Europe and North America. A generation later, in 1815, “the gargantuan eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia produced ‘The Year Without a Summer,’ a worldwide disaster that killed crops, prompted widespread starvation and food riots, and brought snow to New England as late as June.”
The engineering problem referred to, then, is simply how to get a whole lot of sulfur dioxide gas into the stratosphere in a deliberate and controlled manner.
Yes—and this is why it’s grotesque—the idea is to dump harmful chemicals into the environment in order to save the environment from the harmful chemicals we already dumped into the environment.
One proposed solution to the engineering problem is simply this: you use a really long hose.
You produce a whole lot of sulfur dioxide by burning sulfur. Then you take a really long hose, and you fly the far end of it into the stratosphere using a series of helium balloons. Then you pump the sulfur dioxide through the hose. The sulfur dioxide will enter the stratosphere and then diffuse all over the earth in a matter of days, wrapping it in a gaseous, poisonous blanket that shields the earth from the sun—hence the name “Budyko’s Blanket.”
Yes, it’s messed up. Yes, at least intuitively, it would have been better for the world to cut greenhouse emissions. But at this point? We’re past that stuff. Budyko’s Blanket is our best hope. Not the EPA, not NASA. No. What the world needs now is somebody with a very, very long hose and a whole lot of helium balloons.
Unless you got a better idea.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."