Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Figuring out how to reset the global thermostat

Is it possible to cool the climate and offset the impact of global warming? Sure. Mother Nature apparently did it with a plague of rats back in the 14th century. More recently, there was “the year without a summer,” otherwise known as “Eighteen hundred and froze to death” -- the great cooling of 1816, caused by the massive explosion of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia) the year before. While volcanoes aren’t under human control (yet), we could achieve a similar, or even more dramatic, impact with a massive nuclear exchange that would trigger “nuclear winter.” Let’s not go there.

Is there anything less drastic that we could do if global warming threatens to turn into a self-reinforcing runaway greenhouse effect? What if we just can’t summon sufficient political will here and abroad to bring greenhouse emissions under control in time? Do we just sit back and watch whole ecosystems broil away? Not necessarily, according to today’s NYT.
In the past few decades, a handful of scientists have come up with big, futuristic ways to fight global warming: Build sunshades in orbit to cool the planet. Tinker with clouds to make them reflect more sunlight back into space. Trick oceans into soaking up more heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Their proposals were relegated to the fringes of climate science. Few journals would publish them. Few government agencies would pay for feasibility studies. Environmentalists and mainstream scientists said the focus should be on reducing greenhouse gases and preventing global warming in the first place.

But now, in a major reversal, some of the world's most prominent scientists say the proposals deserve a serious look because of growing concerns about global warming.

Worried about a potential planetary crisis, these leaders are calling on governments and scientific groups to study exotic ways to reduce global warming, seeing them as possible fallback positions if the planet eventually needs a dose of emergency cooling.
Great. It sure beats waiting around for another big volcano to bail us out.

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