American society suffers from Stockholm Syndrome. We flock to the big-box stores that squeeze out local businesses and rely almost entirely on foreign manufacturers; we run our finances through banks and credit card companies whose profiteering and usury fees nearly brought down our economy, and we reward the efforts of the oil industry with SUV’s and individually-wrapped everything. Profit-based amorality holds America hostage, and has brought the planet to the brink of catastrophic climate change.
Will we cheer our captors on when they offer to solve the problem?
Climate change can no longer be credibly denied, not even by the most business-friendly conservatives among us. They’ve had a good run, going back as far as 1965 the scientific community has been aware of the possible impact of fossil fuels on our climate. Since then, as the changes were becoming more and more easily viewable and the warnings became increasingly dire, incalculable amounts of money have been spent to distract, deny and obfuscate the obvious truths of the matter. And in those five decades, as the damage caused by oil and petroleum based goods has grown exponentially, so has our dependence upon them.
We’re now at an all-time low for arctic sea ice. Sea levels are rising, and so are temperatures. And it can’t be denied, because we’re staring the proof right in the face, as this excerpt from the upcoming documentary ‘Chasing Ice’ ably illustrates (see vide0):
So we know it’s happening, We know what’s at stake. Still our government resists taking any actions to slow our usage. But now as we reap the whirlwind we’ve all sown, as the consequences of a half-century of inaction take effect, we’re seeking the solution that our society has always favored: the quick-fix.
Geoengineering is a relatively new discipline that seeks to combat global climate change, or “the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, in order to moderate global warming.” It is a worthy enough avenue of study; recent meteorological events have underscored the scope of climate change hazards. But when you look at the proposed methods, and the enormous scale on which they would need to be implemented, you begin to realize they pose dangers of their own.
If you’re prone to watching for signs of PR hacks doing advance work to warm the population of an audacious idea, a recent Yahoo News article entitled, ‘Record loss of Arctic sea ice? No problem: Just refreeze it!’ will probably set off your alarms. The glib, nothing-to-see-here-move-along tone set in the headline is conveyed throughout the article, even as it calmly describes a “solution” that involves injecting reflective aerosols into the stratosphere:
Injecting just five metric tons of these reflective aerosols into the Arctic stratosphere could lower solar radiation levels over the Arctic Ocean enough to refreeze it and allow it to remain frozen. Before you get too alarmed by that five metric tons, the latest official figures from the US EPA show that in 1999, industry released over 17 million metric tons of sulphur dioxide into the troposphere.
There’s an awful lot of cognitive dissonance in that statement, and it’s not limited to the casual air that the author uses to introduce us to the idea. Sulfur Dioxide is a by-product of burning coal and petroleum, which, of course, is the primary reason that climate change is occurring. In terms of immediacy, it may well serve the purpose described above, but no one really knows the long-range effects of such an action.* The EPA wasn’t celebrating the 17 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide industry released, as this chart shows we’ve worked diligently to reduce the amounts we’ve allowed into the atmosphere.
Another sobering aspect is the prescribed “five metric tons,” the article recommends. If that number seems arbitrary, that’s because it is. Other estimates have been significantly higher. But in public relations and sales, accuracy is not of primary importance. Once you accept that pumping poison gas into the sky is a good idea, then the actual amount used becomes just so much quibbling.
And who is in a position to provide us with these staggering amounts of sulfur dioxide? And who has the money to fund a project of this magnitude? Why, our friends at the coal and petroleum companies, naturally. And here’s where footing really gets tricky. Eventually, and probably sooner than later, these industries will begin making very public appeals to implement some version of this plan. It’s irresistible from a business standpoint. You either sell the government your toxic waste product, or you contract to deliver it into the atmosphere yourself. What business wouldn’t lobby for the opportunity to sell its garbage, rather than pay for its removal? The profitability of such a project would make its viability secondary to an industry as ethically bankrupt as these. And they have no shortage of U.S. legislators firmly in their pocket. It is easy to conceive any number of scenarios where we end up giving the weasels the key to the hen-house.
There are other ‘magic bullet’ options being discussed, all with varying degrees of likelihood of success. Most share the notable traits of unprecedented release of chemicals into our air and huge monetary expenditure. Pumping titanium oxide, a class 2B carcinogen into the sky, to act as “sunscreen,” is another idea being promoted, with little known about the possible long range effects on the planet.
While I am by no means an expert on matters of science, I do understand the growing alarm over the catastrophic effects that global climate change is having on our ecosystem. I am familiar with the amoral nature of 21st century commerce. In nearly every suggested geoengineering solution being proffered, we are going to be obligated to trust the very people whose indifference has caused the problem. This does not inspire confidence. We need our government and our population to take immediate, drastic measures that stop this. These measures invariably include the cessation of coal and petroleum emissions. That’s well known, and the power and influence of these industries (and the industries that thrive from their usage) are the reason these measures have yet to be taken. I see little hope that they will ultimately act as our saviors.
* The idea of adding more toxins to combat a toxic situation seems like an obviously terrible course. Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, I find it analogous with the recent events in Connecticut. Adding more guns to combat gun violence is a horrible answer. And if we allow that mindset to continue, we are writing our epitaph as a society. Apologists have flocked to the airwaves and internet with the predictable declarations, accusing those who wish to see an end to this suffering as ‘using the opportunity to make political coin.’ Which is what they are unironically doing when they make that accusation. To which we can only reply:
It is not politics that make me cry over the death of children. It is anguish, not advantage, when we yell ‘no more.’
We shouldn’t have to fight British Petroleum or Smith & Wesson for every breath we take.