Sunday, November 04, 2007

Conventional Means Won't Deal With Global Warming

An article on the New York Times Op Ed page of Oct. 24 by Ken Caldeira, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution's department of global ecology, advocates a new, more radical, but also more promising means, of stemming global warming.

Caldeira proposes that the warming be counteracted by injecting sulfate particles high into the stratosphere, much as major volcanic eruptions have done naturally. "It might be enough to keep the earth from warming for 50 years," he contends, and increasing the injection could protect the world for a century. Done properly, it could stem global warming trends in a matter of months.

It is well known and solidly established that such volcanic eruptions as Pinatubo in 1991 or Krakatoa in 1883 have succeeded in cooling the earth temporarily by a degree or more. So this would, artifically, induce the same effect.

Such expedients as proposed by Caldeira would likely be more productive of results than all the hapless squabbling between bureaucrats over the Kyoto accords, or all the talk about requiring in other ways, through tax credits and so on, that carbon dioxide emissions be decreased by burning fewer fossil fuels and so on.

Such plans have foundered over the inability of the world's big powers to work together constructively.

For the short term, at least, it seems clear that development of China and India will in the years immediately ahead mean even more fossil fuel burning and carbon dioxide emissions. Even if oil production peaks, as some experts think it will, the greater exploitation of natural gas, coal, oil from oil shales and sands, will almost certainly lend itself to increasing energy consumption and carbon dioxide in the years to come. The use of alternative fuels, the possibility of generating electricity by huge devices in space, are decades ahead. There are political and other impediments in the way of using greater amounts of atomic power, and hydrogen power may or may not be developed in time to resolve the problem.

In short, when one examines the available means of bringing about reform, of relying less on environmentally-destructive habits we have now, to bring about a reduction of global warming, it becomes evident there is little chance of making progress without using some of the exotic means Caldeira and other scientists are now proposing.

Costly as these may be, they would, in the end, be less costly and difficult than pursuing the means we have been talking about through the Kyoto accords. We simply cannot count on world cooperation to use the more conventional means effectively.

It is already becoming evident that not doing anything about global warming is not a rational alternative, that the consequences of a continuation of warming, resulting in the melting of ice caps in the arctic and antarctic regions, rising seas, expanding deserts, etc., are just too grim to contemplate.

Just as the Roosevelt Administration used the Manhattan project to undertake the development of the atomic bomb, in an extraordinary effort, we must marshall our resources now, before it is too late, to undertake the broader means such as scientists like Caldeira are proposing. And there is less time to begin the effort than many think.

Caldeira writes, "A 1992 report from the National Academy of Scientces suggests that naval artillery, rockets and aircraft exhaust could all be used to send the particles up. The least expensive option might be to use a fire hose suspended from a series of balloons. Scientist have yet to analyze the engineering involved, but the hurdles appear surmountable."

"Seeding the stratosphere might not work perfectly. But it would be cheap and easy enough and is worth investigating," Caldeira concludes.

"Which is the more environmentally sensible thing to do?,' he asks. "Let the Greenland ice sheet collapse and polar bears become extinct, or throw a little sulfate into the stratosphere? The second option is at least worth looking into."

Other means of dealing with warming that have been proposed include sending of huge screens rotating around the Earth to reduce the amount of heating of earth from the sun. This, however, might be far more complicated and costly than the sulfate injections.

Ultimately, carbon dioxide emissions will have to be reduced, because a buildup of too much carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere is dangerous for other reasons than just warming. But perhaps by that time, fossil fuel burning to such an extent as we see now will become a thing of the past, most electricity will be generated by other means, and we will have moved on to other technologies.

This is truly a critical problem. We cannot afford to wait too long to deal with it without accepting catastrophic consequences we can't afford.

--

A New York Times article Saturday reports that Republicans aiming to corrupt operation of the electoral vote system, by deflecting some of California's votes to the Republicans, have not given up, as earlier suggested, have obtained new funding and may yet qualify a ballot proposition for California voters at an election in June, with a smaller and more easily manipulated electorate.

The article by the newspaper's California correspondent, Jennifer Steinhauer, adds that Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic party, may go into court to try to get such a ballot proposition ruled unlawful, on the grounds that only state legislatures can determine how electoral votes are allocated. But since the courts in California are under Republican control, not to mention the U.S. Supreme Court, this is not a guaranteed remedy. We saw in 2000 that the court are, in fact, ready to manipulate an election to partisan advantage.

The winner-take-all rules of the electoral college must not be corrupted in the way that this Republican faction is proposing. To do so would put the functioning of American democracy in 2008 in doubt.

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