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Playing God With The Elements
July 19, 2007 8:06 PM   Subscribe

The Climate Engineers. "Efforts to manipulate the climate and weather have a long history of exaggerated claims and beliefs, and a dangerous tendency to become militarized. Even if they succeed, who will control the global thermostat?" Public policy scholar James R. Fleming explores the issues in a Wilson Quarterly article.
posted by amyms (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Good news, everyone!
posted by grobstein at 8:48 PM on July 19, 2007


Not germane to warming, per se, but I've never understood why we can't release ozone into the atmosphere at the proper altitude to mend the hole. Ozone is cheap to make (hell, it's an industrial byproduct, so it's essentially free). A balloon could loft a canister up there. Then just open the valve. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Am I way, way wrong?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:57 PM on July 19, 2007


Nobody wants to foot the bill for what would be a huge amount of ozone.
posted by IronLizard at 8:59 PM on July 19, 2007


Cool Papa Bell writes: Not germane to warming, per se, but I've never understood why we can't release ozone into the atmosphere at the proper altitude to mend the hole.

I googled your idea, and here's what I found:

Many ideas of trying to manually repair the ozone hole have been investigated. One suggestion would be manually adding ozone to the depleted areas of the stratosphere. Unfortunately, that is not a feasible solution. Since the production & consumption rate of natural O3 layer tend to be in equilibrium, any artificial addition of O3 would be destroyed naturally and would not solve the O3 problem in the long run.

I don't know know whether that explanation is scientifically sound, but it was the only one I could find that was reader-friendly. Here's the source: Environmental Education Site.
posted by amyms at 9:20 PM on July 19, 2007


Not germane to warming, per se, but I've never understood why we can't release ozone into the atmosphere at the proper altitude to mend the hole. Ozone is cheap to make (hell, it's an industrial byproduct, so it's essentially free). A balloon could loft a canister up there. Then just open the valve. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And how exactly would we pay for those balloons and canisters? Man really, that's such an absurd idea...

Anyway, it actually wouldn't surprise me if we end up trying to 'solve' global warming by adding particulate matter to the atmosphere. It seems easier, and if there is one thing people like, it's things that are easy.
posted by delmoi at 9:33 PM on July 19, 2007


With typical human ingenuity, we'll undoubtedly end up using a cheap particulate matter that turns out to be make us even hotter. Just like with rabbits, cane toads, and starlings.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:23 PM on July 19, 2007


Actually, I disagree with the article - humankind is amazingly efficient at manipulating the climate, just look at our efforts to warm the planet.
posted by eclectist at 10:30 PM on July 19, 2007


Back when it was still topical, I remember a map of the United States emblazoned with the rogue bumper sticker for you to put on Hummers: "I'm changing the climate. Ask me how!"

There were some good points in there about stakeholders. Whose climate is it, anyway? Assuming we could control the climate (in some fashion where we actually have a choice about the outcome, that is), who decides whether it goes up or down? I programmed my parents' thermostat for 73° during the day, but my dad likes it at 71 and is constantly switching it to "hold", which overrides the nightly energy/$-saving setback. That's just one household.

I suspect, though, that the acceleration of climate change is going to mean that we try some of these, maybe during my lifetime, and probably well before there's any reliable sense that something will work. Desperation may set in. The coasts that will get flooded, after all, have the most votes, because that's where people live.

The rest of the article, though, I wasn't sure about. There seemed to be some hand-waving, Ye mortals know not what ye do portentous warning about it. The truth is that similar predictions have been made for everything from dams to antibiotics. A lot of things that get innovated, get implemented, eventually. And because we don't have World Government yet, it's sort of like everyone trying everything at once for different reasons. And down the road some of those choices end up having pronounced negatives that were downplayed in the beginning, or even *gasp* unforseen consequences.

So I think the outcome is going to be much more like anarchy and there are going to be a lot of global-level "initiatives" that end up competing directly with economic bugaboos such as increased consumption due to reduced demand.
posted by dhartung at 10:47 PM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Beijing Guarantees Great '08 Olympic Weather:
Weather modification is relatively an unknown science in the United States, because it is illegal. In Pennsylvania, it is even illegal to pursue an education on the subject of weather modification, Brune [head of Penn State University's meteorology department] said.
Not so in China:
After weeks of watching the mercury soar, hardening the already cracked earth of their wilting orchards and farms, a group of farmers on the outskirts of Beijing gather in the Fragrant Hills that line the western fringe of China's capital city. Unlike their ancestors, they do not assemble to perform a rain dance or gather in a temple to pray to the Lord Buddha to bring the rain.

Instead, they grab rocket launchers and a 37-millimeter anti-aircraft gun and begin shooting into the sky. What they launch are not bullets or missiles but chemical pellets. Their targets are not enemy aggressors but wisps of passing cloud that they aim to "seed" with silver-iodide particles around which moisture can then collect and become heavy enough to fall.

The farmers are part of the biggest rain-making force in the world: China's Weather Modification Program.

According to Wang Guanghe, director of the Weather Modification Department under the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, each of China's more than 30 provinces and province-level municipalities today boast a weather-modification base, employing more than 32,000 people, 7,100 anti-aircraft guns, 4,991 special rocket launchers and 30-odd aircraft across the country. [...]
posted by pracowity at 12:54 AM on July 20, 2007


Since the production & consumption rate of natural O3 layer tend to be in equilibrium, any artificial addition of O3 would be destroyed naturally

Setting aside the economic efficacy of the idea in general (agreed, it's a Big Wacky Idea), this statement from that site makes zero sense. It's inferring that the rate of ozone destruction would somehow rise to match the artificially increased levels of ozone in order to maintain equilibrium, and/or the total amount of ozone is destined to fall forever. Neither of those inferences is true.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:11 AM on July 20, 2007


It's inferring that the rate of ozone destruction would somehow rise to match the artificially increased levels of ozone in order to maintain equilibrium, and/or the total amount of ozone is destined to fall forever. Neither of those inferences is true.

if youre so certain of this to say it's not true, why did you even phrase your initial comment in the form of a question? sadly, you are wrong.

ozone (O3) and oxygen (O2) in the upper atmosphere undergo constant photodissociation and recombination. the equilibrium is the O3 ⇔ O2 + O reaction, and the typical lifetimes are measured in seconds. both processes are photoinitiated by the same sunlight, and so yes, the rate is a function of the concentration - more O3 means the rate of that side increases.

add more ozone to the system and you will get a brief transient response followed by a restoration of equilibrium. this is basic chemical kinetics and applies to pretty much any system in dynamic equilibrium.

another more familiar example of dynamic equilibrium is thermal equilibrium. put a thermometer outside in the sun for a while and it heats up. but it doesnt just keep getting hotter; it reaches equilibrium when the rate at which its re-radiating thermal energy equals the rate at which its absorbing energy from sunlight. blow on it with a hair dryer for a minute and the temperature will increase, but once you turn the heat off it will cool back down again because when it's hot it's re-radiating faster than it's absorbing light from the sun.

the only way to keep your thermometer at a different equilibrium temperature is to introduce another process which changes the rate of energy exchange, such as the heat gun, or a cooling system, or a sun shade.

similarly, the ozone problem is that haloalkanes like CFC etc photodissociate into free radicals, in the case of CFC you get a Cl- floating around. these atoms catalyze the reaction O3 ⇒ O2 + O, but only in that direction. so that changes the rate of one process, which leads to a shift in the equilibrium point, and hence, ozone hole.

the only plausible way to manually inject enough ozone into the atmosphere to change the concentration by anything meaningful is to do so, constantly, at a rate which is order-of-magnitude equal to the naturally ocurring processes. and given that the lifetime is seconds and there are a LOT of molecules up there, it's just not feasible.

you can read a lot more about the photochemistry and the chapman cycle here (that is a very good site, by the way).
posted by sergeant sandwich at 2:55 AM on July 20, 2007 [4 favorites]


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