Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Could Global Climate Change Be Backed Out By Science, Technology? Short Answer: No

Zoë Carpenter at The Nation:
When Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991, the volcano shot 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. Those particles reflected enough sunlight to cool the earth by about one degree [Fahrenheit] ... Why not, some scientists have asked in the decades since, counter climate change by reproducing the effects of Mount Pinatubo ... ?

That question was held up for scrutiny on Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences, which released a study (funded, in part, by the CIA) of two ideas for staving off the worst effects of climate change via technological manipulation of the climate: to remove carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it elsewhere, or to reflect sunlight away from the planet by what’s known as albedo modification, à la Mount Pinatubo. The unequivocal message from the committee was that the world cannot expect to geoengineer its way out of the climate crisis. [Bolds mine. - SB]

“There is no silver bullet here. We cannot continue to release carbon dioxide and hope to clean it up later,” said committee chair and Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt at a press briefing in Washington. [Bolds mine. - SB] The climate “doesn’t go backwards. It goes different. And we don’t even understand where that different state ends up,” said another member of the panel. ...
There is real irony here: human science is sufficiently advanced to understand, more or less, what needs to be done... but is not capable of doing it, and cannot become capable of doing it. 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the behavior McNutt describes is characteristic of chaotic systems: you cannot "back up" their motion by applying the same forces but in reverse order and direction, each for the same duration.  Ask your favorite applied mathematician about the term "chaotic" in a scientific context. Many of the dynamic systems Isaac Newton and the crew thought they understood and had complete mathematical descriptions of, were in fact chaotic. For example, weather and climate events are chaotic. Good luck trying to reverse all of last season's hurricanes, let alone backing out all the thermodynamics of the oceans.

Oh well, I suppose it was worth a few minutes' thought. But please understand: it's not that scientists lack the techniques or technology... it's that reversing climate events cannot be done in principle. Remember the wag who recited to you the whimsical "three laws of thermodynamics" in your college course in that subject? Right:
  1. You can't win,
  2. You can't even break even, and
  3. You can't get out of the game.
Your climate, and welcome to it!

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