Today’s article was inspired by an obscure story, which heralded renewed efforts to attack global warming and head off predicted climate disaster with fantastical technologies. You can see the story here,
Variously called Geo-Engineering or Climate Engineering (by believers) and referenced as massive climate control contraptions (MCCC) by skeptics (and ridiculers), this approach is now being taken seriously in some (serious) quarters, as more incremental solutions appear dead in the ozone layer.
I will, heretofore, refer to big, out of the box — way out — thinking about global warming using the whimsical “MCCC.” Some examples of MCCC include: ships that spew salt into the air to block sunlight; satellites designed to bounce solar rays back into space; and massive “reverse” power plants that would suck carbon from the atmosphere. This barely scratches the surface.
These are but a few of the ideas the National Academy of Sciences has asked a panel of some of the nation’s top climate scientists to investigate. Several agencies requested the inquiry, including the CIA. It’s hard to get much more “establishment” than that.
It’s apparent that many supporters of more practical initiatives to attack global warming, recognize their ideas have hit a brick wall. Hail Mary passes, the grand slam homer, and buzzer beating three pointer several feet behind the arc, are taken more seriously now, perhaps by default.
Around 2008, just at about the time the U.S. and the world economy were in free fall, many U.S. states were pushing ahead with measures, long in the works, to reduce carbon emissions. These included regulatory and tax policies, and more practical, proven, smaller scale technologies, from energy saving appliances to better coal plant scrubbers. Bad timing! Cap and trade, high carbon taxes and many other measures to combat global warming, were a tough sell to begin with. They faced impossible hurdles with an economy in free fall and double digit unemployment. Even with partial economic recovery, these efforts remain stalled.
Six years ago might have been the perfect time to ramp up efforts to attack global warming with MCCC. The stimulus package passed by Congress included some research and development and risky capital investments to fight climate change. These projects were not quite in the MCCC category, but they were still controversial. Traditional stimulus spending in a recession has been on more basic projects, like public infrastructure, less policy driven, and less risky. Although stimulus spending on clean energy did bear some fruit (and actually created some jobs), all the mainstream media seem to recall is the Solyndra “scandal.” Check out the controversy over the 60 Minutes segment (or hit piece?) on “massive private and public sector failures” to promote big technology solutions to global warming. Both the failures and successes are discussed here. The 60 Minutes segment specialized in the failure side of things.
Indeed, it would seem that big technology, even MCCC, would have been in play much sooner, even before incrementalism hit a wall when the Great Recession came along. Cap and trade, high carbon taxes,and (even) gradual reduction of carbon emissions have so many moving parts, require so much economic dislocation, sacrifice, and behavioral change, they were destined to stall. You would think MCCC might have been a serious international strategy from the beginning; or at least pursued on a parallel track. But it wasn’t. Why not?
Some reasons are obvious. MCCC is very risky, not just because it’s fantastical. If we invent a machine that can suck up most of the world’s green house gases in a few gulps, it can also have catastrophic, unintended consequences for the climate. Tesla’s electrical experiments in downtown Manhattan are nothing compared to out of control MCCC. MCCC also requires massive spending by government, big time venture capitalists-philanthropists (Gates, Buffet et. al), or both.
Among the less obvious reasons for spurning MCCC, but perhaps more importantly, advocates of cap and trade, high carbon taxes, and gradual reduction of carbon emissions thought, and still believe, that (false?) hopes about MCCC would make it even more difficult to gain support for their more practical, but immediate, measures. The hope of MCCC is a perfect excuse to avoid tough measures NOW, while we pray and wait for the miracle. If the fantastical technologies fail, we’d have nothing. Better to mock MCCC. Here is an example of some fierce opposition, on those grounds, to MCCC.
Keep an eye on the workings of the National Academy of Sciences panel. Unless you live in California or under a few other die hard governments that haven’t given up, this may be the only game in town. If this scares you, here is another fantastical, but low tech, approach to save the planet, which may help you sleep better, or help you to sleep through it all.