Should engineers fix climate change?

Two weeks ago, I wrote that 1,500 ships could fight climate change. Many readers sent me interesting comments. And of those, who wants to remain anonymous, sent me his thoughts about climate change. This started a conversation between the two of us and you'll see the result of our exchange below. Essentially, this person -- let's call him Joe -- is asking if we should we build 'environmental machines' to fix climate change or leave it to nature. Obviously, this would require that governments significantly reduce or eliminate most industrial sources of pollution within 30 years. Even if I don't totally agree with Joe's views, they're worth reading. Please tell us what you think...

Two weeks ago, I wrote that 1,500 ships could fight climate change. Many readers sent me interesting comments. And one of those, who wants to remain anonymous, sent me his thoughts about climate change. This started a conversation between the two of us and you'll see the result of our exchange below. Essentially, this person -- let's call him Joe -- is asking if we should we build 'environmental machines' to fix climate change or leave it to nature. Obviously, this would require that governments significantly reduce or eliminate most industrial sources of pollution within 30 years. Even if I don't totally agree with Joe's views, they're worth reading. Please tell us what you think...

Joe starts by saying that "Greenland and Antarctica (the two largest bodies of ice in the world) are visibly contracting in size as climate change causes them to melt and sea levels to rise. Most corporations have accepted that climate change is caused by mankind and have introduced new consumer products that are slightly less damaging to the environment. Many governments appear to have finally accepted that climate change exists after years of denial but still seem to avoid leading their populations towards a less polluting style of living."

Greenland ice sheet in 2006

You can see above a graphic showing "the height of the Greenland ice sheet in 2006 (left) and during the last interglacial period about 130,000 years ago, when the Arctic was 5 to 8°F (3 to 5°C) warmer in the summer." (Credit: Bette Otto-Bliesner, National Center for Atmospheric Research, link to a larger version) You'll find more details by reading Greenland's Ice Melt Grew by 250 Percent, Satellites Show (John Roach, for National Geographic News, September 20, 2006)

Let's return to Joe's arguments. "Many governments appear to have finally accepted that climate change exists and is caused by human activities after years of denial [For an example, read President Bush Rejects Climate Change Report (Cat Lazaroff, Environment News Service, June 5, 2002).] Having world leaders agree that there is a problem and that 'we' have caused it might lead people to believe that plans were afoot to solve the causes of the problem."

Now, Joe speaks about politicians in the Western world. "Is our democratic style of government ideally positioned to tackle environmental issues that are likely to cause unpopular changes and probably not count towards any re-election votes? An established London Mayor is believed to have lost his job because he wanted to impose a significant car tax to discourage drivers and it is likely that other career politicians may become reluctant to do the right thing for fear of loosing their popularity and job. If confident politicians do decide their countries are going to 'clean-up' their annual mega-tonnage of pollution, they could buy cleaner power stations to replace their older coal-fired plants but it would happen at a time when less developed countries are in race to power their countries with cheaper, higher polluting technologies. And then there is the cost of actions that do not provide a material return on investment, all of these negative factors mean that governments can become reluctant to significantly invest in a cleaner planet."

Then Joe mentions that some numbers picked from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) website. "Estimates from the IPCC who represent government climate change experts from around the world estimate that carbon dioxide pollution will have doubled from pre-industrial levels to 550 parts per million by around 2040 which is when 6 billion capitalist consumers will ask if more should have been done while the atmosphere was cleaner. When planetary air becomes as dirty as Japanese car congestion or Chinese smog clouds people are going to have to start wearing masks and adjusting to a shorter life expectancy."

But who is Joe and is he credible? Here is own answer. "I am a engineer that is engaged in developing a mark one wave powered device that generates electricity in quite a cost-efficient manner, on my drawing board is a mark four variant that does away with electrical output and instead uses its energy to create a freezing action in seawater. Although there is mountain of research and development work to undertake it should be theoretically possible to deploy a quantity of equipment that will seek to re-create lost polar ice. Using environmental machines means that there is a danger of dependency especially if governments fail to limit the causes of pollution. The problem is that if sea ice is artificially created and the causes of climate change continue then if the machines were to cease working the ice would melt at an accelerated speed which could be quite hazardous."

Of course, millions of articles about climate change have been published. Here is a short selection of must-read recent papers.

Sources: An exchange between a reader and myself, September 24, 2008; and various websites

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