Big Science Cannot Save Us

Ask science fiction fans about global warming and there’s a good chance they’ll start waxing lyrical about massive engineering projects that will Save Us All. We are, after all, used to the idea of terraforming planets so that humans can live on them. Why now terraform our own (deliberately rather than accidentally). Greg Benford is a big advocate of the newly minted discipline of geoengineering.

Well, not to be thought fuddy-duddies, the Royal Society, Britain’s premier science club, launched an investigation. Their report has just been published. Oliver Morton has a summary of it here, and the top finding is, “none of these options in any way takes the place of emissions control.” Sorry Greg. That’s not to say that such methods can’t help, but in the opinion of the Royal Society we still need the economic and political measures that are currently being put in place.

Oli and the Climate Feedback blog have both done round-ups of how the UK press has managed to (mis)understand the report.

5 thoughts on “Big Science Cannot Save Us

  1. “Sorry Greg.”

    He emailed me on the 31st that he’s currently hiking in the Sierras, and but I could email him this link for a possible response when he’s not responding by whatever mobile device he was using. That would probably be stirring, though.

    I suppose I really should get back on Facebook, sigh.

  2. I’m guessing Greg would, among other things, note the last bullet point by Oliver Morton:

    The UK should commit to £10m a year for ten years in research; worldwide a suitable figure might be ten times that. As John Shepherd put it, this would be ten times current spending on such things, a tenth of total climate research spending and a hundredth of spending on energy technologies.

    Me, I’m not getting between scientists in any argument where I’m unqualified to comment.

  3. The Royal Soc is right. Climate geoengineering does not obviate the need to reduce emissions.

    Cheap finite fossil fuels are going to run out anyway, so better get used to it.

    Not all geoengineering — such as albedo alteration, space shades, sulphate aerosols — stops ocean acifification.

    Also the IPCC warn of climate surprises and here I am most concerned about triggering an IETM/PETM analogue event.

    See chap 6 of Climate Change: Biological and Human Aspects and the section on climate surprises and methane clathrates (or alternatively this short article).

    The Royal Soc are right.

    Think of it this way, you might give an obese person some drugs to help them lose weight, but that does not mean that they should not check their diet and stop taking exercise. With regards to Greg Benford, I would never dream of professing expertise on stellar plasma physics.


    By the way a summary of the report is on the Royal Soc’s website here and the full report is here.

  4. Yet if obesity was threatening the end of the world the rational thing would be to shoot them all up with amphetamines.

    Letting the world slowly end until fatties learn to control their human flaws is silly and unscientific. At best, it represents the idea that fatties and industrial citizens can be counted on to let go of their human flaws in time.

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