The Atlantic, July/ August 2009

the atlantic july and august 2009We as a species are currently dumping massive amounts of carbon into the upper atmosphere.  Average temperatures around the world are rising at an alarming rate, evidently at least in part as a consequence of this dumping.  No movement is in prospect that would stop the dumping, or even reduce it substantially.  So, what to do?  Some scientists and engineers want to remake the rest of the earth’s climate to accommodate our carbon dumping habit.  How could this be done?  There are several possible methods. 

We could shoot sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere.  That would be remarkably affordable- for as little as a billion dollars, it could end global warming.  The drawback is that eventually sulphur would rain down from the sky, and if we stopped shooting new sulphur dioxide up there global temperatures would increase dramatically in a very short period.  Also it would cause severe droughts throughout central Africa, a region which has not exactly been among the big winners of industrialization to start with, so that seems unfair. 

Also we could dump iron powder in the Antarctic Ocean, causing a huge plankton colony to bloom and suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  We’d have to be a bit careful about that- half a supertanker’s worth of iron powder could feed a big enough plankton bloom to trigger a new Ice Age.  And when plankton dies, it releases methane, which is a much more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. 

There are also people who would like to block sunlight by shooting millions of clay discs at the Lagrange point between the earth and sun.  These skeets might well reduce average temperatures on the earth, but they could also stop the formation of ozone in the atmosphere.  And without an ozone layer, life as we know it could not exist on the surface of the earth.  So that’s a little bit on the risky side too.  So it seems like reducing carbon emissions might be worthwhile after all. 

Sandra Tsing Loh usually writes very personal accounts of her happy home life.  So it’s startling, and sad, to read in this issue of her ongoing divorce

Some claim that The Economist is the world’s sleaziest magazine.  In this issue, we find a claim that it is not a magazine at all, but the world’s oldest blog

Matthew Yglesias wants to abolish the vice presidency.  I got no beef with the vice presidency.  Now, abolishing the presidency, there’s an idea I can get behind.

Reihan Salman picks up where Henry George left off and calls for abolishing all taxes, except for taxes on the ownership of land.  I’m not at all convinced, but here’s an admirably clear statement:  “When you tax income, aren’t you punishing people for working hard?  But when you tax an asset like land, you’re simply encouraging the most valuable use of that land.”

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7 Comments

  1. cymast

     /  July 1, 2009

    Nothing will reverse global warming. It can be reversed, but it won’t be reversed. Those “quick fix” ideas sound more like “quick destroy” ideas. Haven’t ecologists learned anything? You can’t upset the ecological balance and expect good things to happen. I consider myself extremely lucky to be living in this time period, and lucky to see diverse and thriving natural ecosystems before the big drought/flood/nuclear armageddon . .

  2. acilius

     /  July 1, 2009

    “Quick destroy” indeed. The writers great hope, expressed at the end of the article, is that the quick fixes will so horrify the world that we’ll all rally to cut our carbon emissions rather than employ them. Wow that seems like a thin reed to lean on.

  3. cymast

     /  July 1, 2009

    Several months ago my MIL told me she saw a TV program that explained the current global warming is the result of the natural cycle of warming and cooling on Earth, so whether it results in massive climate change or minor temperature fluctuations, there’s nothing that can be done about it anyway. I didn’t ask her which oil company logos were displayed in the closing credits.

    On a related note, a few months prior, I asked my MIL what she thought of Palin. She said she liked her. My in-laws supported McCain/Palin in the last election, and Mr. Cymast- though he didn’t vote- favored McCain (but not Palin). My FIL is an outspoken proponent of drilling for oil. Automobile companies refuse to invest in greener technologies because it is “too expensive.” I am subscribed to a tip-a-day email newsletter that suggests greener alternatives to non-green products or habits. The editors make a point of mentioning when their tips are “too green” (inconvenient/weird) for them to try personally. They want to be green as long as it’s a trendy shade. And so goes it. A thin reed indeed.

  4. acilius

     /  July 1, 2009

    If the Earth is, as part of its natural cycle, going through a warming phase, then now would be the worst possible time to dump large amounts of carbon in the upper atmosphere.

  5. cymast

     /  July 1, 2009

    Yes, why don’t people get this?

  6. acilius

     /  July 1, 2009

    It’s bizarre. You’d think that the people who don’t want to reduce carbon emissions would be most resistant to the idea that the earth may be going through a warming phase as part of its natural cycle. Yet they’ve adopted it as if it supported their view.

  7. cymast

     /  July 2, 2009

    I’ll ask my MIL to explain her reasoning. Maybe it’s the same reasoning people use when they throw trash onto an already littered sidewalk.

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