Responding to a draft version of an upcoming IPCC report on climate change mitigation obtained and reported on by Reuters on Wednesday, former US vice president and well known climate change activist Al Gore says that any plans to execute "geoengineered" solutions to global warming are "insane, utterly mad and delusional in the extreme."
"We are already engaged in a planet-wide experiment with consequences we can already tell are unpleasant for the future of humanity. So the hubris involved in thinking we can come up with a second planet-wide experiment that would exactly counteract the first experiment is delusional in the extreme." –Al Gore
Though the draft IPCC report, as presented by Reuters, does not seem to advocate strongly for some of the most outrageous proposed schemes, the report does say that the inability of the world's governments to reduce emissions will necessitate more aggressive and pro-active measures in the future to avoid the global temperature increases the scientists are now predicting.
As the Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg reports:
The UN climate panel, in the next edition of its blockbuster reports, will warn that governments might have to extract vast amounts of greenhouses gases from the air by 2100 to limit climate change, according to a draft copy of the report seen by Reuters.
But the former vice president of the US said that searches for an instant solution, which he said were born of desperation, were misguided and could lead to an even bigger catastrophe.
"The idea that we can put a different form of pollution into the atmosphere to cancel out the effects of global warming pollution is utterly insane," he told a conference call for South African reporters.
He added: "The fact that some scientists who should know better are actually engaged in serious discussion of those alternatives is a mark of how desperate some of them are feeling due to the paralysis in the global political system."
Long a fixation for some, a multitude of geoengineering schemes have been floated based on the idea that if human interference (ie. widespread industrial and carbon pollution) has caused the planet to warm, some kind of additional human interference with nature can reverse the trend.
Just last week, as Common Dreams reported, a study by University of Reading researchers showed that a plan to employ "stratospheric aerosols" to block solar heat could bring a "new unintended side-effect over a large part of the planet" that could be as bad as the effects of rising CO2.
And as journalist and climate activist Naomi Klein articulated last year, in an interview with Earth Island Journal, geoengineering is the "ultimate expression of a desire to avoid doing the hard work of reducing emissions, and I think that’s the appeal of it. I think we will see this trajectory the more and more climate change becomes impossible to deny. A lot of people will skip right to geoengineering. The appeal of geoengineering is that it doesn’t threaten our worldview. It leaves us in a dominant position. It says that there is an escape hatch."
"If we start tinkering with the earth’s thermostat — deliberately turning our oceans murky green to soak up carbon and bleaching the skies hazy white to deflect the sun — we take our influence to a new level." –Naomi Klein
Of course, a distinction is necessary between sustainable mitigation plans, emission reductions and large scale geoengineering projects. As nearly all experts agree, there will be significant technological and scientific solutions necessary to help lessen (if not solve) the destructive impacts of global warming but what Gore and Klein are specifically rejecting are large scale projects like seeding the oceans or the clouds with chemicals in vain attempts to reverse the damage wrought by the industrial age.
"The most discussed so-called geo-engineering proposals – like putting sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere to reflect incoming sunlight – that's just insane," said Gore in the conference call. "Let's just describe that clearly – it is utterly mad."
He added: "We are already engaged in a planet-wide experiment with consequences we can already tell are unpleasant for the future of humanity. So the hubris involved in thinking we can come up with a second planet-wide experiment that would exactly counteract the first experiment is delusional in the extreme."
And as Klein wrote in the New York Times in 2012:
The scariest thing about this proposition is that models suggest that many of the people who could well be most harmed by these technologies are already disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Imagine this: North America decides to send sulfur into the stratosphere to reduce the intensity of the sun, in the hopes of saving its corn crops — despite the real possibility of triggering droughts in Asia and Africa. In short, geoengineering would give us (or some of us) the power to exile huge swaths of humanity to sacrifice zones with a virtual flip of the switch.
The geopolitical ramifications are chilling. Climate change is already making it hard to know whether events previously understood as “acts of God” (a freak heat wave in March or a Frankenstorm on Halloween) still belong in that category. But if we start tinkering with the earth’s thermostat — deliberately turning our oceans murky green to soak up carbon and bleaching the skies hazy white to deflect the sun — we take our influence to a new level. A drought in India will come to be seen — accurately or not — as a result of a conscious decision by engineers on the other side of the planet. What was once bad luck could come to be seen as a malevolent plot or an imperialist attack.