Dear readers, I spent this past weekend on a leave of absence from the Compound, enjoying friends, beer and boating at a lovely cottage in the north of this fair land. And you know what I noticed? Every time I looked up into the Canadian August sky, I saw this:
This is all I saw the entire weekend. Not once did I get a lick of sun on my vampiric white-boy body. I’m still pale to the point of being translucent, harboring a severe Vitamin D deficiency. And it’s August. Granted, I normally prefer hanging out in dingy basements with naught but the light of my laptop to illuminate my surroundings, but even a subterranean writer like me needs a little sunshine every now and again.
A lot of nay-sayers might suggest weather like this is a pretty solid argument against the concept of global warming – after all, how could the earth be “warming” if all we’re getting is cold, rainy, shitty weather in the dead of summer? But that’s microcosmic thinking. If you look at the overall trends over the last ten years (at least in my experience), the winters have been getting progressively warmer overall, and the summers have by-and-large been getting cooler and nastier. That doesn’t suggest to me that global warming is a myth – quite the opposite. Clearly something is playing havoc with our seasons. Global warming isn’t something you notice right away – for some reason we seem to have this cartoony, Al Gore idea in our heads that global warming should resemble the earth inside a microwave somewhere, slowly cooking like a hard-boiled egg.
That isn’t it at all. It’s a gradual process, and the symptoms we’re seeing aren’t going to be reflected in obvious ways: that is to say, Toronto isn’t going to become a tropical paradise overnight, nor will you see Day After Tomorrow-esque large scale global destruction due to climate change.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. So what are the greatest minds in the world doing to limit our dependence on fossil fuels and curb the trend towards monkeying with our planets’ climate?
The Daily Green reports on a University of Texas study that suggests all of the 21st century’s projected global warming would be 100% offset by using large boats which would suck up sea water, turn it into mist, and shoot it into the atmosphere, thus thickening the clouds, reflecting more sunlight back into space, and curbing the effects of global warming, easy-peasy.
Apparently this scheme falls under the blanket title of “geo-engineering”, and it’s one of several potential ideas forwarded to help end the threat of global warming through the use of Rube Goldberg devices designed to maybe work. You have to admit they’re kind of stretching credibility with this one.
I mean, come on folks. Let’s think about this for a second. First of all, how much do you figure boats like this are going to cost? According to the UT study, about nine billion dollars. They don’t say whether that’s per boat or whether that’ll be enough for a whole fleet of these things. That’s another thing: how many of these mist-boats would we need to generate enough mist to start changing the conditions in the atmosphere?
Let’s do a little math on this subject really quick.
Oceans cover about 71% of the Earth’s surface, with a total area equaling some 361 million square kilometers. On average, the world’s oceans are about 3,000 meters deep. That makes for a lot of water – to the tune of one and a half billion cubic kilometers of salty goodness.
I can’t even begin to ascertain how much water one of these mist-boats would need to suck up and spew out to make any kind of difference in the atmosphere, so let’s just talk surface area for a minute. In order to do that, let’s assume one boat could generate enough mist to account for a hundred thousand square kilometers of ocean. That still means we’d require a fleet of 3,610 mist-boats evenly dispersed across the world. Given the average large military ship runs around the $1 billion price tag, let’s be really nice and assume each mist-boat costs 100 million dollars (only ten percent the cost of a warship). That means the price tag for our mist fleet now rises to $361 billion (a little more than the $9 billion UT was claiming). Even if the boats only cost TEN million dollars (which is less than 10% of the cost to make a Hollywood blockbuster about the end of the world) we’re still talking about a price tag of $36 billion – a staggering four times the amount postulated by UT.
I know this is all theory, and granted I’m not an environmental expert, but this seems like an awful lot of dough to be swinging at a “solution” that hasn’t been tested, and that noted experts aren’t even convinced would work. Roger Pielke, Jr. is an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado: he claims not enough is known about the global earth system to make this a viable road to travel. The American Meteorological Society has been willing to give UT the benefit of the doubt by saying okay, it might work – but if it does, there’s no way to guarantee all nations would benefit equally from such a project, raising ethical and political considerations that just won’t go away.
For my part, this sounds to me like a “good idea at the time” idea. We have no clue how the generation of excess moisture in the atmosphere might affect weather patterns or precipitation. Even if it did do what it was supposed to do (block excess sun) with no averse effects to these patterns, with our track record we’d probably do it too well and wind up plunging the Earth into another ice age. In my estimation, we should absolutely not monkey with something as important as the sun or the atmosphere if we don’t know 100% exactly what we’re doing, or we risk global catastrophe.
I think the kind of money we’d need to invest in this project would be better spent researching other forms of alternate power we understand a little better. For example, News Observer reported last year a proposed plan to build two new nuclear reactors in Florida would cost roughly $17 billion – half the cost of my wild estimates for the mist-boats – and say what you want about nuclear energy, at least we know how it works. Maybe, instead of grasping frantically at straws, trying to come up with Jules Verne solutions to modern-day problems, we could work with what we’ve got and try to improve upon tried-and-true solutions with a little more grounding in scientific feasibility.