IN The Conservative Woman recently, Henry Getley addressed the bizarre notion promoted by Bill Gates that spreading chalk dust in the stratosphere would be a reasonable response to the climate crisis/emergency/Armageddon nonsense. He is not alone. Even the greens are up in arms.
Johanna Sandahl, president of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, told the Euronews Living website: ‘It must be stopped. We’re talking about a technology with the potential for extreme consequences that could alter hydrological cycles, disrupt monsoon patterns and increase drought. It stands out as unmanageable and too dangerous to ever be used.’
Isn’t it odd how the green movement keeps telling us that we are threatened with the ultimate disaster but simultaneously opposes any realistic attempt, such as fracking or nuclear power, to reduce humanity’s carbon dioxide footprint?
The problem Ms Sandahl fails to address is that we are altering the entire ecosystem of the planet already: we have been doing so since we started applying major technology to farming. As soon as steam power began to be used on a large scale, disruption became a certainty. The fact that the disruption has been inadvertent up to now is not relevant.
We are told that the Amazon rainforests are the lungs of the planet. This is less than a half truth. The oceans are the lungs of the planet: the billions of tons of microscopic plankton that fix CO2, breathe out O2 and alter the molecules-thick layer that is the boundary between the atmosphere and the ocean are the lungs. We have been polluting those lungs since the industrial revolution.
The idea behind the chalk dust experiment is to see what happens when we increase the Earth’s ‘albedo’, its reflectivity. Absent any unexpected feedbacks this should cool the planet, but it would be much more productive, and a better use of Mr Gates’s funds, to research what is altering that reflectivity. Cloud cover is reducing (or not, depending on which latest research findings have hit the journals), some parts of the sea surface are warming faster than others, lakes all around the world are warming at twice the expected rate. Research those anomalies, Mr Gates, before you add to the confusion.
Richard Feynman, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, described the scientific process. First, you guess. Then you look at the data to see if the data conforms to that guess. If the data doesn’t match the guess then the guess is wrong. It doesn’t matter how important you are, it doesn’t matter how many people agree with you, if the data doesn’t match the guess then the guess is wrong. The computer models which frighten us all with the prospect of disrupted monsoon and hydrological cycles, with increased rain and mega-droughts, are merely sophisticated guesses. The data – the rate of warming as measured by balloon thermometers and satellites – does not match the models. The modelling guesses are wrong.
We need new guesses.
We are polluting the oceans by oil spills, by increasing the farming run-off of artificially-fixed nitrogen and dissolved silica, by dumping sewage with novel chemicals which the ecosphere has never encountered before, such as synthetic surfactants. By altering the plankton populations or by physically changing the response of those vital few microns at the tickle of air and water, we are inadvertently carrying out an experiment that dwarfs four pounds of chalk dust over Sweden.
Here’s one guess. Modern civilisation spills huge quantities of oil, surfactant and oil/surfactant mixtures on the surface of the ocean. This smooths the surface. A smoothed sea surface has fewer breaking waves which are the major producer of salt aerosols which are the source of stratocumulus clouds, the major reflectors of sunlight over the oceans. More sunlight strikes the surface and the oceans warm. Check the (outdated, therefore likely to be much worse now) data at SeaWiFS about how much oil is spilled each year and then wonder why that vast and uncontrolled experiment on the environment is ignored while a piddling few pounds of chalk dust attracts opprobrium.
For data it might be worth looking at the North Atlantic during WWII when vast quantities of oil were spilled by sinking ships and submarines. There’s an odd blip in temperatures which the more raffish end of climate science tried to suppress rather than explain. Or we could check off the coast of SE Australia and see if the anomalously warming gyres there are polluted.
It’s one guess. (I can do more.) Could someone, please, have a look, Mr Gates? Maybe if everyone tried to guess again we might end up with a theory that actually matches the data, and reliably forecasts where we are heading. It’s called blue sky thinking.