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Our Broken Sky – Part One

“The reason I think geoengineering should be considered is I don’t think we are going to save the planet with the emissions-reductions approaches that are on the table. No one is taking the magnitude of the technological challenge seriously.” ~ Tom M. L. Wigley, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

“All of these things might have unintended consequences. We really don’t understand the climate well enough, so we don’t want to start something where the cure might be worse than the disease.” ~ Robert Watts, Tulane University mechanical engineer who is editing the proceedings of a 1992 conference on the subject called The Engineering Response to Global Climate Change.

We’ve all been there. We own something precious, perhaps an antique vase from our great-great grandmother, and it gets broken accidently. Oooops! We feel terrible. We stare at it, not believing our eyes, crushed by the realization that we “dropped the ball” and failed to faithfully protect that which previous generations had dutifully preserved. Our only hope is glue or some other method of engineered restoration. Our deep desire is to “unbreak” that which is broken, an impossible task. We settle for second best: fix it as well as we can and hope it looks as close to perfect as it did before our careless, thoughtless act.

For many of the world’s top scientists, that is where we are with global warming or climate change. While non-scientists still debate whether it is real, human-caused or a serious problem, many climate scientists have moved past this debate. They know it’s real, it’s us and it’s bad, but also believe “the vase is breaking” or perhaps is already broken. They understand the science, how after several hundred generations of human civilization, those who came to strength and power in the late 20th century inadvertently squandered, exploited and spoiled their inheritance. We are ruining our only home with blind, careless abandon and we cannot stop. We refuse to stop.

While others still talk about avoiding or preventing dangerous human interference with the Earth’s climate, these scientists are talking about what we do when we fail (and we are failing fast). We can call them devils or angels, pessimists or realists, or even scientific “Boy Scouts” who think we should “always be prepared.” Whatever we call them, they are planning ahead, thinking worst-case scenarios, while looking for the giant glue guns — actively planning the artificial fixes for our planet’s broken atmosphere. They call it “geoengineering” and they are deadly serious about using it.

What is geoengineering?  In 1992, the National Academy of Sciences defined it as “large-scale engineering of our environment in order to combat or counteract the effects of changes in atmospheric chemistry,” including the build-up of greenhouse gases like Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

Next time: Our Broken Sky – Part II.

Doug Craig earned a B.A. in journalism during the Carter administration and a doctorate in psychology during the Reagan administration. He has been a clinical psychologist in Redding for 22 years. Since 2004 he has suffered a serious obsession with the science of climate change and is most concerned about the Earth his children will inherit. You can find him at his website, ClimateTruth.org.