Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Planetary Maintenance Engineer
February 21, 2007 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Planetary Maintenance Engineer
posted by Chuckles (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
We've done James Lovelock before, of course. Gwynne Dyer too. I just thought it was nice - in the "Nice and Accurate Prophecies" sense, that is:
3. characterized by, showing, or requiring great accuracy, precision, skill, tact, care, or delicacy: nice workmanship; a nice shot; a nice handling of a crisis.
posted by Chuckles at 9:46 PM on February 21, 2007


The world's six and a half billion people currently produce just
about enough food to keep everybody alive (although it is so unevenly
shared out that some of us don't stay alive).


This statement seems a bit silly to me.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:21 PM on February 21, 2007


Lovelock makes a perfectly sensible diagnosis, and I take heart that "sulphate particles" and "tiny aluminium balloons" can seem not only rational but politically neutral; yet I cringe to think what the powers-that-be will make of his advocation of nuclear power as an alternative to the entrenched fossil-fuel standard.
Can anyone dig up some recent numbers on American attitudes regarding The Atomic Question?
And I haven't heard any mainstream politician (since Jimmy Carter, a former Navy Nuke engineer, if memory serves) in many years even float this issue, let alone use the dreaded N-word.
Hooray for us: we're all starting to agree on climate crisis, But solutions?...
posted by Dizzy at 10:31 PM on February 21, 2007


Harumph. I was expecting something more Slartibartfastic.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:38 PM on February 21, 2007


This statement seems a bit silly to me.

Why? It's exactly correct, from what I've read.
posted by teece at 10:39 PM on February 21, 2007


Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
posted by phaedon at 10:40 PM on February 21, 2007


It took us hundreds of years to get to the point where we can (barely) predict the weather with reasonable accuracy up to three days. It seems doubtful we will develop enough knowledge and technology to model (let alone manage) an entire planet as a coherent system within the next 20-50 years.

If changes are coming, like mass melting of methane hydrate deposits, we're pretty much along for the ride, just like the rest of the biomass.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:40 PM on February 21, 2007


Ontario is headed for new nuclear plants fast, and I don't think the populace is too upset about it. I'm personally ambivalent, which is strange for me (as in, I think it is theoretically reasonable that nuclear might be an option, but they damn well better let us in on the numbers, so the people actually have something to base a decision on - unlikely).

Based on the theory of YIMBY (yes in my back yard - communities need to be integrated), I keep thinking new nuclear would be fine, if we would use the Island Airport site, thus eliminating the prospect of those damn jets, and gaining the benefit of nuclear co-generative heating. To go along with deep lake water cooling, you know. Somehow, I don't think that will fly :P
posted by Chuckles at 10:50 PM on February 21, 2007


It seems doubtful we will develop enough knowledge and technology to model (let alone manage) an entire planet as a coherent system within the next 20-50 years.

I'm not sure the analogy can be extended, but.. You don't have to be able to predict a system's trajectory to control it - the chaotic motion of a double pendulum is easily controlled.
posted by Chuckles at 10:58 PM on February 21, 2007


A double pendulum is an isolated system, design-wise. I guess I don't agree that the Earth's numerous, interconnected ecological and physical systems can be as easily controlled as double pendulums, at least not without unintended side effects. The scope of what we can control is quite narrow.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:12 PM on February 21, 2007


The world's six and a half billion people currently produce just about enough food to keep everybody alive

Not silly at all. Almost all of our problems...fossil fuels, greenhouse, etc...would not exist if the population of the world was perhaps a tenth of the current figure and at zero or negative growth. Bio-fuels work fine in a model micro-society; completely untenable as the world is today. Acreage is needed for food. Crops such as corn produces about 10 gal. per acre whereas palm about 100 gal. per acre. Rapeseed about midway (figures are off the top of my head and should be fairly accurate, but don't quote me). Interesting article and thanks for the post Chuckles.

Oh yeah, love his html style (seriously).
posted by sluglicker at 11:13 PM on February 21, 2007


The world's six and a half billion people currently produce just about enough food to keep everybody alive

Acreage is needed for food


The first statement is mildly silly not because it isn't true, but because we barely produce enough, wasting resources to create things like grade A beef. That acreage problem would be much abated if we all became vegetarians, at less meat, or settled for meat of lesser quality. (I'm sure someone here will quote the inevitable "you can feed X vegetarians on the food produced on the same plot of land as it takes to feed one meat-eater" stat)

Of course more food is no solution at all if you still have a rising population.
posted by dreamsign at 2:15 AM on February 22, 2007


dreamsign wrote "Of course more food is no solution at all if you still have a rising population."

Which is the problem in a nutshell. Technology progresses and we live better, but population tends to outpace technology.

What astonishes me is the fact that in the technologically developed nations population is leveling, and even shrinking a bit, and this unmitigated good thing is universally greated as if it were a horrible crisis. No denying that a shrinking population has its problems, but overall its necessary and the long term benefits vastly outweigh the short term problems.

As for the main point, I tend to agree with a lot of people here that the ecosystem has too many chaotic components to really engineer. Certain things, such as the gross effect of greenhouse gasses, are understood, but only in the large scale sene that we can predict that August will be warmer than January [1]. Once we start trying to analyze climate change on the fine grain level needed for what the author describes it breaks down.

I'd also say that if we're going to try shading the planet, or otherwise trying to reduce sunlight input to counteract the greenhouse effect, I'd be a lot happier if we did it with giant orbital mirrors. The reason is simply that we can take those down (relatively) easily, while introducing microparticles into the upper atmosphere is vasly more difficult to reverse if it should prove to be a bad idea.

The problem we have today is because we changed the makeup of the atmosphere in a difficult to reverse manner, I think that adding other, difficult to remove, elements to the atmosphere is probably not a good idea.

As for atomic power, I'm all for it. As long as it isn't in the hands of a for profit corporation. I've got nothing against for profits per se, but they have a long track record of skimping on safety to get extra profits, and IMO that automatically disqualifies them from operating something as potentially hazardous as an atomic plant. I've long maintained that we in the US should put the Navy in charge of our power plants. They've been operating atomic plants for decades now and have had zero major problems.

[1] For us northern hemisphere types anyway.
posted by sotonohito at 4:50 AM on February 22, 2007


Jury-rigging global climate smacks of a sci-fi movie of the week.

Although, I've been more shocked recently by the amount of people I've met who actually welcome global warming, saying how they're sick of snow and the cold and look forward to median temps in triple digits.
posted by mr_book at 5:38 AM on February 22, 2007


The world's six and a half billion people currently produce just about enough food to keep everybody alive

What's being suggested as an alternative? We ought to produce more food than we need so we can feed... oh wait.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 6:03 AM on February 22, 2007


they're sick of snow and the cold and look forward to median temps in triple digits.

Let 'em come live in Phoenix for a coupla years. They'll change their tune toot-sweet.
posted by davelog at 7:08 AM on February 22, 2007


Jury-rigging global climate smacks of a sci-fi movie of the week.

Jerry rigging the climate since 1750.
posted by stbalbach at 7:26 AM on February 22, 2007


mr_book Just remind them that one likely outcome of global warming is glaciation. Also more severe weather in general...
posted by sotonohito at 9:13 AM on February 22, 2007


« Older Imaginary places in detail: Start with a wonderfu...  |  Virus... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments