H.G. Wells and Carl Sagan bookend Tim Flannery’s hopeful chapters today, ominous and optimistic. “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative”… “the most amazing discoveries will be the ones we are not today wise enough to foresee.” Wisdom is the condition of adaptability, survival its reward. We’ll be wise to expect the unexpected, to roll with the change we don’t see coming, to reject desperation and apocalypse. That’ll be a lot easier after November 8. I hope.
To what must we adapt? A warmer world, of course. It’s here. So are some examples of successful or at least promising adaptation, though the real message here is that we don’t yet know what forms our flexibility must take. “There is no ‘one-size fits all’ adaptation.” Floating libraries, schools, clinics, and gardens in flooded Bangladesh, post-glacial ice reserves in India, proliferating greenhouses in Spain, painted mountaintops in Peru,, white-painted urban infrastructure everywhere…
“But the most sensible form of adaptation is surely to adapt our energy systems to emit less carbon pollution.”
What about geoengineering? We’ve already talked about that with Naomi Klein, who is a bit more dubious than Flannery. He also thinks sulphur in the stratosphere may have too many unintended and incalculable consequences, but is open to a project called SPICE that sounds improbable – balloons on 25-kilometer tethers? – but wouldn’t involve sulphur. The thought of deliberately inducing even a mild “nuclear winter,” though, still sounds reckless, and would still leave too much CO2 in the atmosphere.
Iron in the ocean? “Severe unintended consequences” like toxic algae are too likely.
Space sunshades, cloud whitening? Maybe it’s time for Dr. Strangelove, but let’s start with white roofs and see what that gets us. Bottom line: “geoengineering is no substitute for emissions reductions.”
Flannery’s vaunted Third Way to “recreate, enhance, or restore” the pre-human climate? Richard Branson and his Virgin Earth Challenge, ridiculed by Klein, returns to the stage. Flannery was a VEC judge, “astonished” by the ingenuity it elicited in thousands of submissions now boiled down to a shortlist of biological and chemical proposals for extracting and sequestering carbon. More photosynthesis and more trees sounds safe and smart.
And seaweed again. Flannery’s most excited about seaweed. I’m still holding out for something even more amazing.
Speaking of ingenuity:
On this date in 1952, the United States detonated “Mike,” the code name forthe first hydrogen bomb. The H-bomb was a thousand times more powerful than the atomic, or fission, bombs that the United States had dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many scientists tried to delay the testing of the hydrogen bomb, because the presidential election would be held only three days later… The test took place on Elugelab Island, part of the Eniwetok atoll in the Marshall Islands, about 3,000 miles west of Hawaii. It was detonated from a ship 30 miles away. The bomb completely obliterated the island on which it had stood, and wiped out animal and plant life on the surrounding islands. The mushroom cloud rose 120,000 feet into the atmosphere… WA
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