Saturday, March 19, 2011

Which weather do you want to pay for?

It was always a human dream to control weather. Rain dances, sacrifices, prayers and other rituals have been used to call rain, stop rain, and protect crops from frost or floods. And we know today that we can influence the weather. Cutting down forests, especially in the tropics influence the climate so that was once a lush forest can become a try steppe; draining of field and wetlands lead to floods. And in the very big scale, global warming shows that we can even influence the global climate. Unfortunately, not in the direction we wanted perhaps, but still. And now the so called ‘international community' will have to agree which climate we should have. Should it be five degrees warmer or can we halt it on two degrees. Can the Canadians get five degrees warmer, while temperature is reduced in the tropics?

This kind of “production” is a growth market. Instead of seeing measures against global warming as costs, we can see it as production in the same way as parks, golf course and other things we make for our pleasure. One sees, already, how the corporate sector wants to ‘privatise’ this service; how the GDP can increase substantially. By economic incentives, we can not only solve a problem, but also turn the problem to a fantastic business opportunity, and new virgin market, more growth. The more far-sighted parts of the private sector has realised that there is huge opportunities in things like cap and trade; it takes away the right to collect pollution taxes from the government and place it in the hands of the companies. But one can also apply a completely contrary perspective, that we now start the process of final privatization of all resources on the planet. A privatization without parallel since the privatization of land; a process where markets take over all relations we have with nature.

Climate change has triggered ideas for large scale engineering of global systems. Large-scale ‘technological fixes’ fall into two categories. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques are designed to extract CO2 from the atmosphere. Solar radiation management (SRM) techniques are intended to reflect a portion of the sun’s light back into space. CDR is based on biological, chemical or geological carbon sequestration. SRM is based on natural effects observed in the atmosphere following volcanic eruptions. A proposal for ‘sunshade’ geo-engineering consists of the installation of space-based sun shields, or reflective mirrors, to deflect a proportion of incoming solar radiation before it reaches the atmosphere. Sunlight deflectors would be placed in near-Earth orbits or near the Lagrange point, about 1.5 million kilometres above the planet, where the gravitational pull of Earth and the sun are equal. An array of sunshades in this position would pose less threat to orbiting satellites than would near-Earth objects (UNEP 2010b, the Economist 2010b). If anything, these proposals underline the severity of the situation as well as how little we really know. They also give new perspectives on power. As Andre Matthews, an anthropologist at the University of California puts it, it is not just a matter of constructing a switch, it is a matter of constructing a hand you trust to flip it (the Economist 2010b).

We should also realise how little we understand and realise that the risks of such global large scale engineering are huge and totally unpredictable. Still, it is already a fact that we change many of the planet's systems enormously, but in the same way as most of these changes are a result of many small things (the car you drive, the meat you eat etc), also the solutions are to be found there rather than in macro engineering.
(extract from Garden Earth)

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