Wednesday, January 9, 2019

They Are Going to Blot Out the Sun (Part 3)

Remember Chemtrails?  This was the early-2000s era conspiracy theory that there were mysterious government airplanes in the sky, spraying chemicals.  Some people thought they were dropping poison to cull the human herd.  Others thought they were exposing us to mind control drugs.  Still others thought they were putting aerosols in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into outer space in an attempt to slow down global... never mind.

In two recent uplifting and inspiring installments of Thee Optimist, we talked about how we are already facing the effects of climate change in ways both large and small.

We talked about how, as much as people like to talk about curbing global carbon emissions, it isn't going to work.  In fact, it's foolhardy and a little ridiculous that anyone is still talking about it.  

We also talked about a much less popular but nevertheless exciting strategy, carbon sequestration, and how that isn't going to work, too.

START HERE: They Are Going to Blot Out the Sun (Part 1) 

This time, let's talk about a little strategy, still relatively unknown, that is actually going to work.  It promises to be inexpensive, effective, and fast-acting.  

Best of all, if we pursue this strategy, we don't have to give up our addiction to fossil fuels and we can keep spewing carbon into the sky!

"Wait a minute," I hear you say.  "It's cheap, it works, and we can keep hitting the dirty fuel crack pipe as long as we like?  We don't have to change our behavior at all?  What are we waiting for?  Sign me up!"

Don't you even want to know what it is?

"No!  I mean, who cares what it is?  I mean... okay, tell me."

It's simple, so much simpleness that even a child can understand.  We are going to blot out the sun.

We have learned an awful lot from volcanoes.  For example, we have learned what to do next.  Here, the Fuego volcano in Guatemala erupts at night.

Volcanoes and You: Perfect Together
During the past few decades, scientists who study geological history began to notice something interesting.

It turns out that volcanoes have a profound effect on the Earth's climate.  Large-scale eruptions spew enormous amounts of smoke, dust and ash into the sky, which among other things, blocks sunlight from reaching the ground.  

Throughout history, this has had far-reaching consequences for human civilizations.  The period in Europe often called the Dark Ages is now thought to have been ushered in by a volcanic eruption, which caused cold summers, widespread crop failures, political unrest, famine, disease and human migrations.

More recently, 1816, the disastrous Year Without a Summer, is understood to have been caused by the massive 1815 eruption of the Mount Tambora volcano in the country now known as Indonesia, with a possible assist from the 1814 eruption of Mayon in the Phillippines. 

In the summer of 1816, crop failures throughout Europe led to food riots and the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people.  In the eastern United States, a persistent, red "dry fog" was reported.  

In May, frost killed off crops throughout New England.  Snow fell in upstate New York and Massachusetts in early June.  In July and August, there was lake and river ice reported as far south as Pennsylvania.  

The weather that summer was so cold, bleak and foul that it forced the young English aristocrats Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron, to stay indoors during their holiday on Lake Geneva, Switzerland.  Bored of meaningless orgies and marathon games of Monopoly, they held a contest to see who could write the scariest horror story. 

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein - a cautionary tale of technology run amok.

Chichester Canal, by the English romantic painter JMW Turner (1828).  Art historians believe that the yellow tinge Turner often gave the sky was influenced by his experiences in the summer of 1816.

What is Solar Dimming?

Solar dimming is what you do when you run out of better options.  It is blocking sunlight, just like volcanic eruptions do, but on purpose instead of by accident.

Obviously, and all kidding aside, the best thing to do would have been to lower carbon emissions, or even better than best, never have emitted so much carbon in the first place.

That ship has sailed.  To coin a saying: if we were going to lower carbon emissions, we would have already lowered carbon emissions.

Taking a page from the volcano playbook, the technocratic elite humans in charge (and without really making a fuss about it to the vast majority of humans who are not in charge), are quietly moving in the direction of solar dimming.

In the spring of 2019, with funding from Bill Gates, a team of Harvard-based scientists will send a balloon into the stratosphere.  The balloon will release tiny aerosolized particles of calcium carbonate (quite possibly the world's fanciest way of saying "chalk") into the air.  

The particles will reflect sunlight back into space, and the scientists will study the effects of this on the weather in the southern United States.

This is a small experiment, but the truth is, scientists already have a pretty good idea that Solar Dimming is feasible.  A 2015 study by the National Research Council suggested that retrofitting 100 tanker planes to spray sun-reflecting aerosols and flying them more or less constantly, would cost about $2.5 billion a year.  

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that this is a drop in the bucket.  It is no money at all.  The Pentagon spends more than $2.5 billion a year on strippers and methamphetamine for their bomber pilots.

A controlled release of particles into the air will dim the sunlight.  It will lower global temperatures, and do it very quickly.  If we keep doing it, we can probably keep temperatures down indefinitely.

So what's the problem?

What is that demon light in the sky?  Put it out!  Put it out!

Murphy's Law... still in effect as of this writing.

Clearly, there are a lot of unknowns associated with Solar Dimming.  

How long will it last?  Will there be delayed effects that cannot be foreseen?  

Will aerosols sprayed in North America cause crop failures and famine in Africa, or Asia?  Will the world become colder than we expect?  Perhaps disastrously so?

We know that a lack of Vitamin D is associated with many health ailments, from brittle bones to various cancers.  We also know that sunlight is the most direct and effective way of getting Vitamin D.

What will lowered Vitamin D intake from a darkened sun do to people?  Worse, what will it do to animals, who don't have the option of taking Vitamin D pills?

What will lack of sunlight do to people with Seasonal Affective Disorder?  What will it do to the moods of the people with their fingers on the nuclear triggers? 

Possibly the most dangerous aspect of this, is that once we start Solar Dimming, there is a very good chance that we will never be able to stop.  

This is is because, people being how they are, the humans are likely to continue and even increase the amount of carbon emitted into the sky, making the potential for climate change even worse than it is now.  In essence, Solar Dimming will simply mask the impact of this.

As the theory goes, if we ever stopped flying the spray planes, there would be a sudden rebound effect, where the evil sun would come out harder than ever.  The Earth would warm too quickly for us to mount any kind of meaningful response, leading to a runaway climate catastrophe.

Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that once the planes are in the air, they can keep flying forever.  Wars break out, including major wars.  Fuel shortages happen.  Economies and societies collapse.  Entire civilizations disappear, then new ones arise.  

What if the planes fly for 50 years, carbon emissions increasing the entire time, and then there's a disruption?  What if a delayed side effect arises, something very bad, and we have no choice but to stop?

Solar Dimming is so fraught with uncertainty, that even proponents of testing it are not that thrilled by the idea.  The same 2015 National Research Council report that said it was a feasible strategy, also had this to say:

“The committee is concerned that understanding of the ethical, political, and environmental consequences of [Solar Dimming] is relatively less advanced than the technical capacity to execute it.”

In other words, we know how to do it, but we have no idea what will happen as a result.

Hmmm.  When has that ever stopped us before?

Also, did I mention it's cheap?

A mushroom cloud rises after the first American nuclear test off Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, July 1946.  The Bikini residents were famously removed from the island before testing began, and were left in near-starvation conditions on nearby islands.  In 1972, misunderstanding how long the fallout would linger, the Nixon Administration moved the natives back to the still contaminated island.  After ongoing tests showed dangerously high levels of radioactivity in the soil, water, food and in people's bodies, the inhabitants were evacuated a second time in 1978.  

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