Utne Blogs > Science and Technology

Scientists Tinker With the Fate of the World

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: science and technology, geoengineering, politics, global warming, technophilia, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,

Mad ScientistIn the race to save the world from global warming, prominent scientists are pushing plans to modify the atmosphere to cool the planet. These plans, known as “geoengineering,” take a number of different forms, some of which I wrote about in the September-October 2007 issue of Utne Reader. Two of the most prominent ideas involve blocking some of the sun’s radiation from reaching earth using either sulfate aerosols injected into the stratosphere or trillions of tiny mirrored satellites launched into space. 

All of the geoengineering plans carry huge risks. Writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (pdf), Alan Robock calls out 20 of the most serious “political, ethical, and moral issues raised” by geoengineering. Robock writes that the schemes could have a potentially disastrous effect on the environment, since they could raise the levels of acid in the atmosphere, and they also leave the earth vulnerable to both human error and unexpected consequences. Even if all goes well, the geonengineering could still have destructive results as political, military, and commercial entities would likely struggle for control over the environment.

Many of Robock’s 20 potential problems could mean disaster for the planet. But the problems are almost as theoretical as the ideas they address. Writing in the same issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, philosophy professor Martin Bunzl writes that people should at least study the effects that geoengineering would have on humankind. Acknowledging the serious issues at play, Bunzl writes that scientists should quantitatively assess the possibilities of all of Robock’s issues, rather than simply throwing out the ideas wholesale. “Once we have those answers in hand,” Bunzl writes, “then we can engage in serious ethical consideration over whether or not to act.”

billy_1
6/5/2008 8:03:18 PM

What'll you libs think of next - euthanasia maybe? There is no population crisis, just uneven distribution of resources. Mainly because some people just wait for someone to hand them everything instead of taking care of themselves.


pam_1
6/5/2008 6:59:27 PM

Last I checked, our government actually ENCOURAGES people to have MORE children. How about the tax deductions? The more kids a family has, the more deductions you receive. And why don't some insurance companies pay towards birth control on your medical insurance benefits? or sterilization? Maybe the government needs to help encourage families to have fewer children by re-thinking the tax code or helping more with medical benefits. Any thoughts on that?


shawn r. sargent
6/5/2008 5:02:19 PM

I agree with Mr. Bliss on all points. The only way that we can stop Global Warming is to promote solar and wind power. We need to get a grip and realize that everything that is produced for our daily activities absolutely has to be efficient. Population control and or reduction works, China had a one child policy for a number of years, it worked but it needs to be implemented again. I think that the rest of the world needs to look at a policy like China had and adopt a similar policy and increase family planning programs. Finally, our reliance on fossil fuels will be the death of Earth's delicate ecosystems. If we don't get our heads out our butts soon, they may all crash and we all will become extinct!


jeffery biss
6/4/2008 11:36:36 AM

How about lowering human population to a sustainable level, forcing ever increasing efficiency for all products produced and sold, and working to sustainable economies that are inherently more efficient and thus are more capable of utilizing "alternative" energy sources? Global warming is the result of delusional people thinking that the earth can support an infinite amount of people without any detrimental effects and that we, as individuals, owe nothing to the greater good than satisfying our selfish desires. It's time to be responsible.