Thursday, October 15, 2009

There's A Buzzing Sound In My Ears

Earlier this year Dawa Steven Sherpa was resting at Everest base camp when he and his companions heard something buzzing. "What the heck is that?" asked the young Nepali climber. They searched and found a big black house fly, something unimaginable just a few years ago when no insect could have survived at 5,360 metres.

So begins this story in the Guardian. It's becoming depressingly familiar at this point; insects where they don't belong, glaciers retreating at an appalling pace, and (in this case) glofs, or glacial lake outburst floods.
So have a read, then pop over to the review of Superfreakonomics and have a read of this:

A large chunk of Superfreakonomics is given over to what Levitt and Dubner present as a simple, cheap alternative to all this depressing futility. They profile Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, whose company, Intellectual Ventures, is exploring the possibility of pumping large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the Earth's stratosphere through an 18-mile-long hose, held up by helium balloons, at an initial cost of around $20m. The chemical would reflect some of the sun's rays back into space, cooling the planet, exactly as happened following the massive 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines. The primary objection to this plan, as with other "geoengineering" schemes, is that there's no predicting the unknown negative effects of meddling in such a complex natural system. And it's strange, given how much is made in both Freakonomics books of the law of unintended consequences, that they don't mention this in the context of Myhrvold's plan.

This is where we wait and wait and wait and then begin grasping at straws and stupid ideas, looking for the quick fix. The problem is not sunlight falling on the Earth, its the CO2 in the atmosphere. The sulphur dioxide "fix" does nothing but to help buy a little time. The ocean is still gong acidic (as one example), crashing what few food stocks are left. That will not be slowed by altering the amount of sunlight getting through the atmosphere. (Freakonomics; a bunch of untested and unproven correlations and ideas masquerading as breakthrough carved-in-stone facts. Mediocre speculative mutton dressed up as scientific lamb).

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