Thursday, August 16, 2007


I found a link to From there, I was bombarded by several stories ranging from news, science, design, fashion, travel, etc. all of which bring a pro-environment view of an issue. I've decided to add it to the list of pages that I "leaf" (ha-ha) through each morning.

The story that took me to was about (what seemed to me when I read the title) a hair-brained idea of protecting the globe against further warming. Since recent climate studies have shown a very strong correlation between global cooling and large volcanic eruptions, the solution using a new "geo-engineering" idea to cool the planet by simulating a large volcanic eruption was (apparently) suggested in some engineering circles. At this point you might be thinking the same thing as I was: "WTF?" Luckily, engineers decided to model the possible impacts of doing something like this before finding a large volcano and blowing it up (or recreating a similar situation). What they found was not terribly surprising (to me, at least): the benefits of a couple years of cooling (caused by all that soot being thrown into the atmosphere, thus blocking sunlight) are far outweighed by issues of drought and decreased river flows (both of which were seen in the aftermath of recent large volcanic eruptions). Treehugger and Grist both fail to mention the major negative social impacts that such changes in global weather patterns will have on the "third world" (nor the massive harm such a globe-wide action will have on US foreign relations once this was attempted).

This "volcanic solution" is an interesting example of a disjointed world view taken by some people in engineering circles. The engineers that I know are very proud of their ability to see a problem and find a solution. However, a problem of understanding what constitutes a "solution" is predicated on the knowledge of the system that is currently under failure. If your solution is based on a subset of the total system, then it runs the risk of being an analgesic (for the particular subsystem in question) rather than a cure for the entire system. On the face of it, this seems to be what happened with the thinking behind this (and many other geo-engineering) solutions:
  1. The Earth is undergoing global temperature increases.
  2. What can decrease global temperatures?
  3. (after going through the list of previous geo-engineering hypotheses) Volcanic activity is correlated strongly with global cooling.
  4. How large of a volcanic explosion is needed to cause similar global cooling?
... and so the avenue of thought for that possible solution is then paved [with good intentions].

Did the people thinking about this consider socioeconomic outfalls of their global solution? Did they consider the foreign policy aspects of implementing such an idea? Admittedly, these two considerations fall outside the physical environmental system the person/people were originally considering. (Or do they...? I'll have to make this the subject of another post.) So if this is the case, what about considering the potential global/regional/local impacts on those parameters of the physical environment other than temperature? Oh, whoops. Still, I suppose there was some good science that was done before the whole thought experiment came to a screeching halt when the National Center for Atmospheric Research put the kibosh on it by pointing out some of the side effects of a volcanic eruption. In closing, I wonder if the geo-engineers in question ever heard about Krakatoa or the uninspiringly-named "Proto-Krakatoa"?

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