Excerpted from the original version of this article on Slate, by James Fleming.
Is there a technological fix for global warming? Where would we put a “planetary thermostat,” and who would control the settings? The long and tragicomic history of fixing the sky
— of rainmakers, rain fakers, weather warriors, and climate engineers — indicates that such ideas are far-fetched. Dosing the stratosphere with sulfuric acid to turn the blue sky milky-white does not sound like a good idea. Neither does dumping an iron slurry into the oceans to fill them with algae and turn them soupy-green. A global forest of artificial trees? Storing massive amounts of carbon dioxide under our feet forever? A flotilla of ships pumping seawater into the clouds? Unlikely, unlikely, unlikely.
Global climate engineering is untested and untestable, and dangerous beyond belief. The famous mathematician and computer pioneer John von Neumann warned against it in 1955. Responding to U.S. fantasies about weaponizing the weather and Soviet proposals to modify the Arctic and rehydrate Siberia, he expressed concern over “rather fantastic effects” on a scale difficult to imagine and impossible to predict. Tinkering with the Earth’s heat budget or the atmosphere’s general circulation, he claimed, “will merge each nation’s affairs with those of every other more thoroughly than the threat of a nuclear or any other war may already have done.” In his opinion, attempts at weather and climate control could disrupt natural and social relations and produce forms of warfare as yet unimagined. It could alter the entire globe and shatter the existing political order.
Continue reading on Slate.
James Fleming is an environmental historian and Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Colby College. ECSP and the Wilson Center will be hosting the launch of his new book, Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control, on October 6, 2010.
Photo Credit: Adapted from “Lever du jour,” courtesy of flickr user Solea20.