It is often assumed that geoengineering could be used to protect people from global warming and long-term, natural swings in temperature that might make areas of the world uninhabitable. One popular idea for reducing warming is to spray the upper atmosphere with sulphate particles or aerosols. Nature already performs a similar trick in the tropics where tropical forests produce a "Blue Haze". The Blue Haze is caused by biological aerosols that enhance condensation of water vapour into mist. A recent study of Blue Haze in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that industrial sulphur dioxide emissions significantly enhance the production of Blue Haze by plants. One of the authors of this study (Zhang) is quoted as saying:“The study shows that the natural way of blue
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One popular idea for reducing warming is to spray the upper atmosphere with sulphate particles or aerosols. Nature already performs a similar trick in the tropics where tropical forests produce a "Blue Haze". The Blue Haze is caused by biological aerosols that enhance condensation of water vapour into mist. A recent study of Blue Haze in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that industrial sulphur dioxide emissions significantly enhance the production of Blue Haze by plants. One of the authors of this study (Zhang) is quoted as saying:
“The study shows that the natural way of blue haze formation is rather inefficient and that human activities make blue haze conditions worse,” he said. “What happens is that a mix of natural and man-made chemicals speeds up the formation of these particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, and there they reflect sunlight back into space. The results can affect cloud formations and, ultimately, much of the world’s climate.
“Weather patterns can be affected worldwide and the blue haze can worsen the breathing problems of many people, such as those who suffer from asthma or emphysema,”.
Anyone who has been to the tropics recently will have spotted that the Blue Haze has become a smog that makes life unpleasant and hides the sun and blue sky from view. Geoengineering with sulphates will spread this unpleasantness around the globe. People have a right to sunshine and blue skies so should oppose sulphate geoengineering from the start.
Brown Clouds are another phenomenon that provide a cautionary lesson against geoengineering. Brown Clouds are due to the burning of low grade fuels, deforestation, dust production, heavy traffic etc. They are most prevalent in the rapidly growing, overpopulated regions of the world such as India and China (hence the term "Asian Brown Cloud") and around megacities. A report for the United Nations Environment Program in 2008 suggested that, on the basis of modelling, the elimination of Atmospheric Brown Clouds could increase global warming by 0.3 to 2.2 degrees centigrade. If this were the case, if aerosols and pollutants have reduced global warming by 0.3 to 2.2 degrees then it would be dangerous to eliminate them even though, in 2002 a report by Srinivasan estimated that 2 million people die each year from the Brown Clouds. However, another report by Ramanathan 2007 which involved direct measurements of the air column within the clouds showed that Brown Clouds actually increase global warming due to atmospheric heating. This difference between modelling and actual measurement should set alarm bells ringing for anyone who might be considering geoengineering. Atmospheric aerosols will certainly kill millions of people from respiratory disease, they will block out the sun and the blue sky but will they stop global warming? Probably not.
Geoengineering is likely to create a planet that is perpetually shrouded in cloud, unhealthy and teeming with unhappy people. It will permit further population growth and industrial activity that will create yet another crisis that can no longer be transiently solved with a technical fix. Furthermore, as the inconsistency between modelling and measurements shows, scientists have no real idea about what will actually happen when a given geoengineering "fix" is implemented.
A much better solution is to steadily reduce the population to sustainable levels over the next couple of centuries.
The cause of global warming, blue haze and brown clouds is obvious: they are due to overpopulation. Those who oppose birth control are killing millions from respiratory distress now and are assuredly going to murder millions more people later when the earth reacts to overpopulation with climate change or when large natural variations in climate occur. Some natural disasters might be labelled "Acts of God" but opposing contraception is an act of malice by people who have no conscience.
Lastly, a word of warning, be wary, very wary of those who propose that climate change can be solved by geo-engineering. Geo-engineering will reduce the complexity of the global climate and simple systems are less stable than complex systems. If we move from a natural climate to an artificially controlled climate we will move from a globe where random changes might kill millions or billions to one where everyone might be killed. Geo-engineering is wrong in principle, don't let it happen. Don't trust anyone with the air you breathe and the land you live on, they really don't know what they are doing and they really will get everyone killed. Remember, when the Japanese power companies built nuclear reactors on top of an earthquake zone they knew that this was lethal but said there was no risk. It will be a terrible choice but it will be better to accept a billion dying in a century or so than everyone dying in two centuries. When a billion are dying there will be a terrible temptation to hand over the cash to anyone who says they have a 'fix' but don't trust them. We can only take the casualties, reduce the population and return to living in harmony with the natural world there is no technological fix.
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Zhang et al. (2009) Formation of nanoparticles of blue haze enhanced by anthropogenic pollution. PNAS October 20, 2009 vol. 106 no. 42 17650-17654 http://www.pnas.org/content/106/42/17650
Ecoworld: Blue Haze Appearing Over Heavily Forested Areas May Cause Climate Problems
Posted on 08 October 2009.
Srinivasan, J (10 September 2002). "Asian Brown Cloud – fact and fantasy" (PDF). http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/sep102002/586.pdf Current Science 83 (5): 586–592. http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/sep102002/586.pdf.
Ramanathan, V. et al. (2008) Atmospheric brown clouds regional assessment report with focus on Asia United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi Kenya,
Ramanathan, V. et al. (2007) Warming trends in Asia amplified by brown cloud solar absorption. Nature 448, 575-578 (2 August 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06019; Received 2 February 2007; Accepted 13 June 2007 http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v448/n7153/abs/nature06019.html