Geoengineering All the Way Down

Ars Technica reports that a simulation shows that massive numbers of off-shore turbines would reduce the wind speed of hurricanes by up to 90 mph.  It seems that the authors of the simulation intend this to be understood as a benefit of off-shore turbines.

I’m taken by the concept in no small part because I’ve long wanted to write a novel about the rise of weather control technology in a post-climate-change world.  This fits into the general umbrella of “geoengineering” — mitigating the problems caused by global warming through means other than reducing CO2 production.  The biggest geoengineering proposals have typically involved releasing aerosols in the upper atmosphere to increase the Earth’s albedo (and thus reduce the amount of heat the Earth gains from the Sun), or to stimulate ocean flora growth through iron releases.

The mainstream environmental movement has generally been strongly opposed to geoengineering, regarding it as both replete with massive unintended side effects, and as encouraging people to release more CO2.  This is, of course, in part because the environmental movement is a mixture of good science and bad religion — a non-trivial portion of the environmental movement is in this to make a moral point about industrialization and western capitalism, not to actually make science-based decisions about how to prevent catastrophe.

Still, the “massive unintended side effects” thing is pretty inarguable.  I don’t know what exactly the effects would be of changing the Earth’s albedo on the scale imagined, but they wouldn’t be small.  But here’s the thing: the other side of the “hey, we’ll be reducing the power of hurricanes” coin is “hey, we’ll also be reducing the power of all other winds!”  If a wind-farm can bleed 90 mph out of the power of hurricanes, you can damn sure expect to see a non-trivial environmental side effect from the wind farms’ non-hurricane operations.  I don’t know what those side effects will be, because the environment is complicated.  But there will be some.

Similarly, solar power on any substantial scale will dramatically lower solar influx across a huge area, and that, too, will have environmental consequences.  The time when humanity could make a decision to not substantially affect the world’s environment, to not have huge unintended side effects, was somewhere between 200 and 50,000 years ago.  We are now in the world where we’re geoengineering.  So far, we’ve been geoengineering by pumping a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere and turning a lot of wilderness into farmland.  Other geoengineering options may be better or worse than that one — but we don’t have a “do not geoengineer” option.  Environmentalists who think that we can return to a point where human actions do not substantially affect the global climate are going to need a time machine, nothing less.

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One thought on “Geoengineering All the Way Down

  1. Pingback: Geoengineering All The Way Down pt 2 | Sandor at the Zoo

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