Kory and Kellan take a look at geoengineering, and whether or not it can stave off the effects of climate change.Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/collapsepod)
Episode 37 - Original
Kory: [00:00:00] You know Kellan, we receive a lot of messages from our listeners and it's really awesome to hear from people, the things they like or don't like about the podcast. And recently this last week, we got a message from someone talking about how they felt like the podcast was actually improving their mental health. And I thought that was really interesting because from episode one, I basically put out that warning saying this could be detrimental to your mental health. And so to me, it was super cool to hear somebody say the exact opposite of that, that it was actually helping them.
Kellan: [00:00:44] Yeah. It's been a lot of fun seeing all the messages that come through and it's encouraging that most of it is really positive. People really like what they hear on the podcast, they feel like it's informative and the ideas are well presented. Some people get a little bit nitpicky. It's kind of funny, some of the feedback we've gotten on the way we pronounce certain words.
Kory: [00:01:01] Apparently I say feel wrong. I say it, fill. I feel certain ways.
Kellan: [00:01:06] I feel the same way, Corey. But yeah, a message like that, where somebody talks about the positive impact this has had on their mental health is really meaningful. And I've been very open throughout the podcast about my struggles with mental health, you know, and I feel fortunate that I'm in a much better place than I've ever been. And you introducing me to collapse, I think has been a net positive for me as well. I kind of went through a phase after initially learning the basics of collapse and starting to realize how much trouble we're really in, where their world did seem a little bit darker, but I feel like I rebounded pretty quickly. And since then I kind of hunger for more information on this, it's actually really helpful for me to feel like I'm aware of the situation instead of being ignorant to it. And being informed like that helps me have a little more control over my personal situation and how I prepare.
Kory: [00:01:53] Yeah, exactly. And in this person's case, who wrote in, they felt like they had known about this for years, but it felt like people treated them like they were crazy when they talked about it and listening to the podcasts, kind of let them know that there are other people out there who agree with them, that their worries and their thoughts and their ideas aren't crazy. And we've talked about before how others kind of react that same way to us when we talk about it, whether it's friends or family.
Kellan: [00:02:15] I mean, just because somebody agrees with you doesn't mean you're not crazy. We could just all be crazy together.
Kory: [00:02:20] That's true. But at least we're still a community of crazies. And I think that's a big part of the mental health thing is knowing that we are kind of a community of people, collapse aware people. And it's not necessarily that we all know each other because we don't. But still knowing that there are other people out there like you or who agree with you can make getting through it easier.
Kellan: [00:02:38] You know, I liked that. " Breaking Down: Collapse" subtitle " a community of crazies".
Kory: [00:02:43] It's going to be our tagline from here on out. And, you know, on that note, we recently received some other feedback from a few different people, actually, that was saying that they liked that sometimes at the beginning of the episodes, we talk more, we don't just dive right into the episode, but we actually have a little bit of back and forth and converse about our own lives and families and the things we go through regarding collapse.
And, you know, Kellan and I are both of the types that we've kinda just like to get to the point. And when we listen to podcasts as well, we don't like listening to podcasts where they talk for like a half an hour before the episode actually starts and they get to the meat of the topic. And so we've tried really hard up to this point to be really respectful of your time as, as a listener. But at the same time, we understand that some people like a little bit of chat or at least, you know, as long as it stays on topic. And the further along in the podcast that we go, the more episodes that we do, I think the more and more that we will be opening up and introducing more of our own personal anecdotes and things into the podcast, but in so doing, we still want to make sure that we're not overdoing it. We don't want people to feel like we're wasting a bunch of time, just chit chatting. So please feel free to reach out and let us know. Hey, you guys are talking too much, let's just hear about collapse. Or, Hey, you're not talking enough. We want to get to know you guys more. And then just whatever we hear the most of is probably how we'll handle it from here on out.
Kellan: [00:03:52] You know, I think if people heard our conversations during the moments when we're not recording they'd hear just how much we goof off and a lot of our humor. And I don't know if that would be a good thing or not.
I think time is really precious. And for somebody who's listening to this podcast to become more informed, I don't want to waste their time with mindless chit chat. But if you're driving, if you're on the road all the time, and you're looking for something to just fill the time, you might really appreciate hearing people kind of banter back and forth, so we'd love more feedback on that so we can strike the right balance.
I imagine until we hear more feedback that we'll stay pretty consistent with the tone that we've kept throughout the podcast.
Kory: [00:04:27] Yeah. Especially because like you said, you know, I don't really know that people would understand our humor. We definitely have a unique brand of humor. We have known each other for 20 years. And it certainly feels like people don't understand us sometimes. What we find funny, not everyone finds funny. But anyway, that'll come out more as we continue on with the podcast but for now, let's jump in and get into the episode.
So the topic of today's episode is geoengineering. This is part three of the series on can technology save us. And while some people lump carbon capture into geoengineering, we're going to be leaving that out of the picture. When we're talking about geoengineering, we're specifically talking about SRM, which is solar radiation management. And you know, that may be something that you've heard of before. And maybe this is the first time and it's brand new to you.
But I really think that SRM is something that in the future, not only will everybody know about it, but everybody will have an opinion on it. I think it's something that there's going to be conspiracy theories that will abound around it. It'll be a mainstream political argument. And so to me, it's just really interesting that while there are so many people who've never even heard of it before in the future it's something that could be highly controversial and something that we are all focused on.
Kellan: [00:05:32] Yeah. And what I found from my research so far, Is that this topic is already highly controversial. Like you said, not everybody knows about it, but the people that do know about it have really strong opinions and similar to some of the other things we've discussed in past episodes this is one of those topics that is really polarizing.
Kory: [00:05:49] Yeah, it really is. And while I don't personally have a extremely strong opinion of it, I am wary, it makes me nervous. And we'll discuss all of the reasons why throughout the course of the episode. So first from a very high level, what is it? What is SRM? So solar radiation management is the efforts taken to reflect the sun's energy away from the earth. It's basically us saying we can't take the heat anymore. So we're literally just going to stop it from entering the atmosphere.
And the sad part about geoengineering is that it's basically humans having given up on taking care of the earth, saying we've gone to far, we're going to basically put it on life support. The American meteorological society says there's three strategies to reduce the risk and effects of climate change. The first is mitigation. The second is adaptation. And the third is geoengineering. So mitigation would be stopping climate change before it happens by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by living sustainably making necessary regulatory changes. Adaptation would be changing our societies to be more able to absorb the impacts of climate change.
So if we failed at mitigation, we then adapt the way we live in order to cope with our new climate. But geoengineering is retroactively trying to counter the effects of climate change that are already baked in from not successfully achieving the previous two goals. So if we fail to live responsibly and reduce emissions, and we find that the impacts of climate change on our systems are too high, then we're going out of our way to try and stop the damage through this basically artificial bandaid on a bullet hole.
Kellan: [00:07:14] It's interesting to think of it that way. You said mitigation, adaptation and geoengineering. So maybe a parallel, right? We're kind of talking about the health of our planet, but when it comes to personal health: mitigation, Let's say, I just don't want to get unhealthy. So mitigation would be me exercising, getting enough sleep, eating healthy. But if I don't exercise and I don't eat healthy adaptation is like, Hey, I'm just going to get comfortable here on the couch. Not be quite so bothered by it. And maybe I'll take some pills to keep my blood pressure down. You know, maybe I'll get an electric wheelchair. Things like that. Right. Just to adapt to the fact that I haven't kept myself healthy. And in this parallel, maybe geoengineering is like me getting to the point where I have to do triple bypass open heart surgery to try to reverse the effects of my poor health choices.
You can tell me whether you agree with that or not. And by the way, that's not me trying to speak badly of anybody with health issues.
Kory: [00:08:10] No, I think that's a totally fair comparison. Obviously you're not blanketing everyone with health issues into one saying that it was all their own fault because they didn't mitigate it. That's not what you're saying.
Yeah, it's true. If we don't eat healthy, if you eat terribly, if you don't exercise, all of those things, then yeah. You're going to go through those steps of mitigation than having to adapting. And after that, having to go to the extreme. And for all intents and purposes, geoengineering is extreme. It's the strategy of last resort. It's what you do when there's basically no other option left.
And so to just kind of structure the episode, we're going to start by talking about the different types of solar radiation management, the different options that are out there. And then at the very end, we'll talk about the different roadblocks there are to it and the risks and consequences.
The first type that we'll talk about is called stratospheric aerosol injection. And in order to understand what that is, I think it's really important first to understand a different concept called global dimming. And global dimming is something that if you're collapse aware, and if you've been in the collapse subreddit, for example, or on a lot of the climate forums, this is a topic that gets brought up pretty often. And not necessarily because of geoengineering, but because global dimming is something that people worry about already taking place in the atmosphere. And basically what that means is that along with all the greenhouse gas emissions that we pumped into the atmosphere, there are other pollutants in the air as well that take form of aerosols. An aerosol is a liquid or a solid particulate matter that gets suspended in the air. Some examples of aerosols would be like fog, smoke, soot from a volcano. And what global dimming is, is it's the effect that those aerosols have on global temperatures. So contrary to what one would believe, the more aerosols that are in the air, the more those aerosols reflect sunlight back out into space, away from the earth. And that actually ends up cooling the earth down. Essentially they are increasing earth's albedo, meaning that less of the sun's energy is absorbed and more of it's reflected.
And so you've probably heard in the past of like volcanoes that spew just a ton of ash and soot into the sky and kind of blacks out the earth and it lowers the Earth's temperature. What that is, is a dramatic example of global dimming. What's interesting about global dimming is that it's a bit of a double-edged sword because our greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels has obviously increased the earth's temperature. That's the whole premise behind climate change. But on the other side You've got these aerosols that are acting as a buffer that are cooling the earth as well. The net outcome of that is that we're still having too much warming, but what happens if we were to stop burning fossil fuels and emitting those pollutants? Well, those aerosols in the air go away much faster than the greenhouse gases do.
And so if we were to dissipate those reflective pollutants that are in the air, some believe that we would have a pretty rapid increase in temperature. So it's almost to say that if we continue to burn greenhouse gases, we're going to raise the Earth's temperature. But if we stop, we're going to immediately raise the earth's temperature by lowering the global dimming effect.
And so the way that this all ties in is that the idea behind stratospheric aerosol injection is basically to put aerosols into the atmosphere intentionally in order to increase the effect of global dimming, thereby decreasing global temperatures. Like that, volcano, that spews sulfur aerosols into the air. We're wanting to do that same thing, but have it be done manually and intentionally.
Kellan: [00:11:23] Know, when it comes to that example of volcanoes, I took some notes because in 1991, there was a volcano in the Philippines called Mount Pinatubo. And it was a massive eruption that spewed all these pollutants into the air. And just from that, the global temperature drop ped by 0.5 degrees Celsius and the effects on the global temperature lasted for three years.
It reduced the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth by somewhere between one and 2.5%. So it's not like it's anything new, this whole idea of getting stuff into the atmosphere that drops the global temperature. It's something that happens occasionally naturally with these volcanic eruptions.
Kory: [00:12:02] Right. And because we don't control volcanoes and when they erupt, we have to find different ways to put those aerosols into the atmosphere. And based on all the research that I did and on the articles that I read, it seemed like mimicking the aerosols that come from volcanoes is the option that they're most looking into. So that is to put sulfur into the atmosphere, like a volcano does. So a few different ways they could do that would be flying planes high up into the stratosphere, basically dumping it into the sky. They could explode artillery into the stratosphere that would spread it, or they might use giant balloons that could be tethered to the earth by these massive, like 10 mile long hoses that would just pump sulfur all the way out through that hose and into the atmosphere. The Stratosphere is anywhere from about 10 miles above earth surface to around 31 miles.
So it seems like all these ideas would be quite expensive, but actually they talk about how all of this can be done for pretty cheap. They know how to do it, they're fairly confident that it would work in lowering the temperature and they know that the methods of getting it into the atmosphere would work. Now that's not to say that it's a good idea. That's not to say that there's no consequences or risks because there definitely are. And that's what we'll be talking about at the end of the episode. But as far as the plausibility of actually just making it happen, it's definitely plausible. So they say that basically it would cost somewhere around $8 billion per year to continually inject more and more sulfur into the atmosphere.
The thing that scares me about that I think people will look at that as a solution and say, well we can keep emitting all we want because we have this cheap backup fix just in case. And while some are saying, this is just part of the solution, like we would just do SRM in order to buy us a little more time so that we can continue to decrease greenhouse gas emissions so we can hit net zero. But the question is, are we really ever going to actually start lowering emissions? Is that actually going to happen? Or is this just going to be used as an excuse to say we can keep growing and emitting for as long as we want.
Kellan: [00:13:57] So everything that you've talked about with stratospheric, aerosol injection is just one form of solar radiation management. but another is something called Marine cloud brightening and in some ways it's similar in some ways it's different. But this is, to me, a really fascinating idea. It was originally suggested by a guy named John Latham, which Kory by the way, I found out it was also the name of a famous British artist.
Kory: [00:14:22] Fascinating. Perhaps we should do an episode on him another day?
Kellan: [00:14:24] Perhaps. He was a pioneer of British conceptual art. But this John Letham that we're talking about, he suggested this idea. And it started with this question of why are some clouds, gray and why are some white? You know, a a cloud is just water that's condensed down onto little particles into small droplets. So it's a collection of these little water droplets and clouds reflect a lot of light. So the idea behind Marine cloud brightening is basically just how do we make clouds more reflective and specifically clouds over the ocean?
So I learned a lot here, the albedo or the brightness of a cloud depends on its depth and the amount of liquid water in it, and the number of condensation nuclei in a cubic centimeter. So what that means is that water in the atmosphere, won't just form into a little water droplet unless it has a tiny little nucleus seed, right? It has to have some tiny little particle that it can condense onto or condense around. And in a room, maybe like the one that we're in Kory, there might be around a thousand of these tiny little particles in a cubic centimeter. Just from all the dust and everything that's floating around. But in the mid ocean, there are only about 50 per cubic centimeter. And that's just the nature of the air over our oceans. It's a lot cleaner.
So in all the research that's been done they've come up with these calculations. You know, if you double the nuclei in a cloud, it's reflectivity goes up by a certain amount. And if you double it again, it goes up by that same amount, it's logarithmic. So they can do a lot of math and figure out just how basically dirty they want the air to be in order to brighten clouds. And they can then figure out from there how much they think that would cool the planet.
And there's even a claim that spraying 10 cubic meters of water a second into the right spots of the atmosphere could undo all the damage we've done up to now. And they've got maps for that I think would be the best places to do it and how they predict those clouds would spread to other parts of the globe. so it's been very well thought out.
So the premise of all this is that they need to make clouds thicker. You need more water droplets in the clouds. So how do you do that? The idea is that they can have these vessels in the ocean that spray a really fine mist of seawater.
Kory: [00:16:44] Sorry, I have to cut in here. I think it's fascinating that every single one of the types of deployment that we've talked about so far involve massive machines that emit tons of fossil fuels. Like let's send out these huge airplanes and fly them all over the globe to disperse this stuff. Or let's put these huge ships in the ocean. You know, for something that doesn't actually undo or fix any of the greenhouse gas emissions, we're actually emitting more to make it happen.
Kellan: [00:17:08] yeah. And they've drawn up some different designs. They claim that there are certain types of the sailboats that don't actually use textile sails that they could control with computers. Anyways, there's at least attempts in their concept drawings to not be burning a bunch of greenhouse gases, who knows if they could actually pull that off. And that's one really good point because at this point they're just concept drawings. We're not really quite there yet with this technology.
but again, they want these big boats, these vessels that could be unmanned that could just be autonomous and controlled remotely that spray this seawater into the atmosphere. And they've been trying to create these cloud brightening machines that would be on these vessels, right? They would suck up the seawater. It would have to have these really special filters so they don't get any plankton. They get really clean seawater and then they'd have to have just the right nozzles to give the particles that they're trying to spray into the atmosphere the right size and the right speed.
So initially some of those that have been involved in these projects to try and come up with this technology are claiming that they need about 300 of these ships and each ship would cost something like $2.5 million each. So, you know, with a total cost of roughly a billion dollars that we could do what we need to do to lower the global temperature back down to where we need it.
and those are really big claims, frankly, a whole lot is unknown. But on a really small scale Marine cloud brightening already happens. They've been able to study, you know, the effects of aerosols from ship exhaust, right, ships that sail across the ocean, they leave these ship tracks, you know, the particles from their exhaust allow water to condense into water droplets and form these kind of clouds but if we were to actually deploy something like this, you know, their guesses are that it would take a good 15 to 20 years to do all the research it would take to determine how much influence we could actually have and also to research what all the potential negative side effects would be.
Kory: [00:19:04] You know, I could see how somebody who really wanted to believe that everything was going to be okay in the end, that technology would save us. There are people out there who put all of their faith into science and that no matter what human willpower and ingenuity will come to the rescue. And this is one of those things where I think people really do put their faith into this working because you hear this stuff and it sounds plausible. It sounds like, yeah, this is a really great idea and it's so easy to just undo all the damage that we've done.
And we'll get to that again later in the episode, how that's not the case, but I just think it's really interesting how, when you don't look at both sides of something, it can really seem like such a solution.
Kellan: [00:19:44] Yeah and I don't want to discredit these ideas. I appreciate that people are kind of thinking outside the box and there is some promise here, right? There's some potential.
But while we're talking about some of these ideas, you know, while on one hand, we're trying to increase the clouds over the ocean and specifically make clouds brighter, in some regions of the world, particularly where it's colder, there are suggestions to stop the formation of other types of clouds. So in some cold areas, there's these Cirrus clouds that form, and they're kind of like the thin wispy clouds. And apparently they don't stop a lot of sunlight from coming through, but they do stop a significant amount of thermal radiation from escaping off the surface of the earth.
So some people are suggesting that in those areas we need to spread a bunch of dirt, you know, desert dirt into the air, into the atmosphere, which would cause those nuclei for ice to form, creating hail which would get rid of the Cirrus clouds. But they admit they don't really have any way to test that out. And even if they did, it'd be on a small scale and we wouldn't see the effects of it. So if we were ever to try it, we'd have to do it on a very large scale.
So here we are talking about all these things we could spray into the atmosphere, but there's something else called ground-level albedo enhancement or in some places it's called surface albedo modification. The idea is just to get more light to reflect off of the earth surface.
And I don't want to go too deep here, but some of the ideas around this are fascinating. You know, one thought is we could grow crops that reflect more light. And that might involve modifying plants to give them more reflective leaves. Another idea is Hey, in all the really cold snowy areas of the world, let's cut down all the forests so that more light can reflect of the snow.
Kory: [00:21:25] Once again, it just feels like every option that they're giving us is like let's just destroy the earth more in order to save our own butts. It's like, instead of sticking with the basics and the obvious of the things that we can do to not let this happen, it's like anything to just keep chugging along. And our solution is that we're going to actually make things worse in our attempt to make them better.
Kellan: [00:21:45] And it'll seem even more ridiculous when you hear some of these other ideas. And these are ideas that some people take really seriously. And again, I don't want to discredit any of them that are valid, but you know, it's been suggested that we cover the world's deserts in a polyethylene film. Which would destroy all plant and animal life, but Hey, it, make those surfaces more reflective.
Kory: [00:22:07] Think of how much we could increase shareholder value if we did that. Totally worth it.
Kellan: [00:22:10] Another idea is to put a reflective surface on the Arctic ice which I don't totally get, because my understanding is Arctic ice is already reflective, but they kinda want to put this reflective bandaid on it and they would do it by putting tons of tiny glass spheres made of Silicon dioxide onto Arctic ice. And they're already testing it on some frozen lakes.
Anyways, another idea is to cover two glaciers in Western Antarctica with artificial snow using 12,000 wind turbines. Wow. You're starting to get a sense for how desperate we are.
You know, there's been ideas and even tests around filling large bodies of water, like our oceans, with lots of little floating white balls, which by the way, even though it's a terrible idea, I like this, you know, out of this world, optimism that we could even produce that many little white balls to cover the surface of the ocean.
Kory: [00:23:06] I don't know about you Kellan but I'm going to start investing in little white ball manufacturers right now.
Kellan: [00:23:12] And the last idea that I'll mention here is to cover roofs and roads and even mountain tops with white paint, which again, it's just incredible the imagination that people have, and maybe I need to invest in, you know, paint or something like that. but the common thread in all the ideas that I mentioned is that we feel a need to reflect more sunlight away from the earth and whether that's making the clouds whiter and brighter, or whether that is somehow making it so the surface of the earth is more reflective. people are kind of at a point where they're grasping for any sort of idea that could possibly save us.
Kory: [00:23:47] Man, those ideas just kill me. It's like, you know, we've been messing with nature too much and it's coming back to bite us. So maybe we can fix this by messing with nature some more. That'll do the trick.
Well, for some ideas that are truly out of this world, there have been a number of space based options for solar radiation management.
Kellan: [00:24:04] I see what you did there.
Kory: [00:24:05] So here's a good one. They've come up with this idea. And this is real research done in a university to mine moon dust, to create space clouds between the earth and the sun.
There's also the idea of just putting massive mirrors out into earth orbit and having those mirrors reflect back out into the atmosphere. And the most plausible option, interestingly enough, is to put a giant lens out in space between the earth and the sun that would help reflect or deflect some of that light away.
This lens that they're talking about would be a thousand kilometers wide. So we're talking more than 600 miles wide. It would be placed at what's called the L1 point between the earth and the sun, which is some 1.5 million kilometers away, which is almost a million miles. The projected cost is around $20 billion, but the problem is that they're not sure it would stay in place because of solar winds that would move it. And so it ended up costing a lot more to get it to, uh, settle in space. We're literally seriously talking about putting a giant lens into space to deflect the light away from earth. Like this is scifi novel fantasy level stuff.
Kellan: [00:25:10] And yet, somehow that seems perhaps more plausible than us just consuming less and reducing our emissions.
Kory: [00:25:16] And that's the sad part. It only costs $20 billion, so let's do it. all right, so we've presented a number of different options that are being looked into seriously, that are being studied and tested for how we can increase the albedo of the earth and decrease the amount of heat that we retain.
I think the main pro to this approach is that in a relative timescales, they could be taken care of somewhat quickly and also pretty cheap. You think about the fact that the U S did a $2.3 trillion stimulus and came up with that money out of nowhere. Right? And this is somewhere between 10 and $20 billion, $8 billion a year, in that range. So it's not an expensive endeavor, but there are a lot of roadblocks and a lot of risks that come with all of these forms of SRM that we've talked about.
Before getting to roadblocks and risks, I think the number one reason that I can think of why we should not do this, and it's already been mentioned once in this episode, is that this does not fix the problem. Any of these SRM methods do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And just because we lower the temperature of the earth does not mean that we have fixed all of the problems that arise from greenhouse gas emissions. You know, we've talked in this podcast in an earlier episode about ocean acidification. Lowering the temperature of the earth is not going to stop ocean acidification at all.
You know, this doesn't fix any of the problems that come from pollutants in the air and them being bad for our health. In fact, that makes them worse because we're actually literally trying to pollute the air further. Increases in carbon dioxide have been known to affect brain cells and our ability to think and be coherent. So on and so forth. There are lots of different issues that come from greenhouse gases that don't just involve temperature. And so by fixing the temperature, we're not really solving the problem.
Kellan: [00:27:02] yeah. And going back to something that you mentioned previously, our greenhouse gas emissions just keep increasing. And so even if we were to implement one of these ideas and it were to actually help lower the Earth's temperature, if we just keep increasing our greenhouse gas emissions, then maybe it will offset. But like you said, we're not fixing the actual problem. You mentioned before, it's like, we're trying to put a bandaid over a bullet hole and maybe you'll get to this, but I feel like it's relevant to mention, you know, on the research that I did, if we were to start implementing one of these supposedly solutions ya know, if we were to start putting all these particles in the air and then we stopped it would actually be way worse for us. Maybe you can speak to that.
Kory: [00:27:42] Yeah. I think this is one of the biggest risks of taking this approach. We're about to talk about a bunch of different risks associated with these methods. Now, like Kellan said, if we went ahead and did this, and one of those risks became so real and so impactful that we decided we needed to stop with the geoengineering, it could actually be much worse for us than if we had just not done geoengineering at all.
So to explain that a little bit, we would need to go back to the idea of global dimming, right? We are increasing massively the amount of global dimming. And if we stopped that all of a sudden the temperature would rapidly increase back to where it would have been if we hadn't done any geoengineering at all.
So if we're continually emitting greenhouse gases and we've raised the temperature by three or four degrees Celsius, we've increased global dimming or SRM in order to compensate for that. But then we stop. That launches us back to that three degree warming and having it happen so rapidly as it would in that case would be worse than having it slowly happened over decades. Because over decades, we would have the ability to adapt at least a little bit as would ecosystems and other life outside our own.
Kellan: [00:28:53] Yeah, something that I saw online said that if we started doing this and then we were to stop, it would only take 10 years to heat up the earth as much as it would heat up the earth 50 years now. Wow. So you think of crops and wildlife and human life and all of our ecosystems. It's one thing if over 50 years we heat up that much, but to have that all happen in just the space of 10 years, Entire ecosystems would totally collapse.
Kory: [00:29:18] Yep. And you know, that's a risk that for me personally, I would not be willing to take, but for others who really want to keep the status quo going, who want to push this out until after they're dead, this seems like a great approach for them.
And that brings us to, I think the first of the roadblocks. So, the people that want to push this forward are most likely going to be either the scientists that see that it's too late and it absolutely has to be done, or the politicians and elite who want to be able to continue with the status quo. But whenever something like this is introduced, it's something that will become political. You know, you think of coronavirus in the United States and the battle that still goes on to this day, between left and right basically, about whether or not masks should be worn. Like it was this environmental social issue that so quickly became political and people are dying on their own respective hills on whether or not masks are good or bad. While people are literally dying of the disease that they're arguing over.
And so you think of something on this scale with real potential risks and of course there's going to be heated debate. And then you also consider that, you know, there's a significant portion of the country and the world that doesn't even believe in climate change, that doesn't believe that it's caused by humans. And then when you expand that out to the whole world and try to imagine, not just countries coming to an agreement on their own, but then coming to an agreement with each other to decide, this is what we're going to do, this is how we're going to do it, this is when we're going to do it. You know, who owns the cost, who's going to pay for it. Who's going to be the one to do the necessary research and carry it out. And who's going to claim responsibility for the consequences.
Kellan: [00:30:53] Yeah. to that point we don't have any sort of a global government.
Kory: [00:30:56] Yet.
Kellan: [00:30:58] And it's a good question who would be responsible for it. Right. And it's hard enough in some sort of a little office space to decide who gets to set the thermostat, so when you think who gets to determine the thermostat for the entire earth, it seems like a long shot that would be able to get everyone to agree.
Kory: [00:31:13] Yeah, exactly. And I just made a little bit of a shot at your one world government comment. And the reason I bring that up is that, you know, I think that conspiracy theories will be huge on this. Imagine , we've seen this year, how crazy conspiracy theories can be and how so many people can be swept up in them and believe in them. And now we're talking about world leaders coming together to decide that we're going to alter the temperature of the earth through these manmade operations. And I can just imagine the type of stuff that's going to come up from that.
Kellan: [00:31:47] While we're on that topic. You know, whenever I get the opportunity to learn more about any of these topics and do some research, I like to try and figure out what all the voices are saying and see all the different sides. And if you want to hear some conspiracy theories that already exist around geoengineering, you can look up something called "the dimming" by Dane Wigington. Ya know, it's this idea that climate engineering fallout is this covert war that's destroying our health and that when you see jets go through the sky and you see, you know, kind of the clouds that are formed, that's not just condensation. They're purposefully filling the air with these particles. Or you can Google geoengineering chem trails or geoengineering chem trails conspiracy theory.
You know, one note I made about it is it's this theory that governments or anyone else,
Kory: [00:32:35] George Soros and the Democrats.
Kellan: [00:32:38] Yep. You nailed it. They're engaged in this secret program to add toxic chemicals to the atmosphere via aircraft. And you know, there's all these different claims that that's for just lowering our life expectancy or it's to sterilize us. Or it's for mind control or for weather control, which frankly that's exactly what geoengineering would be. But I was surprised even as I, you know, I watched a couple of YouTube videos, some Ted talks, people talking about marine cloud brightening, or any of these other forms of geoengineering and if you look through the comments, there are a lot of people, very convinced that this is already happening. And that it's all part of a larger plot to control our minds, make us sterile or ruin our health.
Kory: [00:33:20] Yeah, and it, it might sound silly to be nervous about that, but I brought it up in the beginning of the episode because it is something that actually really concerns me. Conspiracy theories in general, you know, it used to just be kind of cute and funny, like, oh, like you think lizard people are real or the earth is flat or whatever, but with Q Anon and other conspiracy theory groups, like it's an actual alteration of their reality and it's not contained to a small niche group anymore.
people are watching their family members get swept up in this stuff, whether it's because they're watching a news station, that's consistently talking about it, or they're talking with friends or they're watching YouTube videos or whatever it is. Like, I feel like it's actually altering society and the way we interact with each other and the way that we view truth and what it really is. You know, we did an entire episode on echo chambers, how they're formed and how they affect people. If you haven't listened to that one I would definitely recommend going back and listening to it.
But this is just one of those things where I feel like, you know, climate change is so important and it's already so frustrating that there are people that totally sweep it aside and don't believe in it. We know that in the coming decades, it's going to be a huge deal and it's going to have a big impact on our lives. And so to think that not only will people continue to deny it, but we're introducing this idea of geoengineering, which is just going to fuel that fire so much worse and drive so many more people away from doing the actual good things that need to be done like mitigation and adaptation.
Kellan: [00:34:45] Yeah. So while you're there talking about some of these roadblocks. Reasons why it's very unlikely for us to be able to implement any of these things, even if we want to. I mean, it's important to talk about whether we actually want to, what are the risks inherent in geoengineering? And just as a side note, it made me think about an animated movie. Have you ever seen cloudy with a chance of meatballs?
Kory: [00:35:06] You know, I did have the misfortune of viewing that once upon a time. Yes.
Kellan: [00:35:09] Man that is a funny movie. If you haven't seen it, there's a guy that finds a way to create a machine that makes food weather. And he goes through his computer, you know, somebody requests, ice cream or pizza or whatever. That's what will rain down from that, the sky. But as you can guess, it gets totally out of hand and you get all these big, severe food natural disasters. And believe me, it's funny, it's worth watching. But there's just this idea that, you know, you mentioned it earlier, we tend to mess things up every time we try to play with nature. and although we might do this with good intentions, the fact is we really don't know that much, even when it comes to clouds, like we don't really know the effect that clouds have on the climate. Sometimes they act like blankets, they trap the heat in, and sometimes we're saying it reflects the sunlight and reduces the heat.
But there are so many examples of us trying to fix things by messing with nature, and then living to regret it later. So as I look at all the different voices out there on this topic over and over again, I see people saying " quit trying to play God." you know, quit trying to change the earth. And the rebuttal to that as well. We already are. We've already made major impacts on the climate and we continue to do so, so it's not anything new for us to jump in and try and make different impacts on the climate. But yeah, the fact that we just don't know a whole lot and that will probably mess it up. That's a huge risk.
Kory: [00:36:33] The science behind it is unproven. You know, the confidence that comes from scientists saying that this will work with stratospheric aerosol injection, it's because they've seen volcanoes do it. But same imperfect models that they use to try and predict future climate scenarios are the ones that they're using to project the effects of aerosols. They've got these models in the computer that they think shows them what's going to happen, but again and we know that those models are imperfect and they've admitted that those models are imperfect. When it comes to volcanoes and using those as your studies to affect how aerosols work, you know, it's highly imperfect because volcanic eruptions put all that sulfur out into the atmosphere all at once. Whereas we would be doing it little by little over time. Not from one place, but covering all sorts of different areas. And so it's really hard to be able to compare and actually know what effects is that going to have. You know, you're not comparing apples to apples there.
You know, one of the big dangers here is that sulfurs and sulfur aerosols can potentially be damaging to the ozone layer. The ozone is what protects us from UV radiation from the sun. And so if we're damaging that, obviously we're letting in more dangerous UV radiation, which is bad for humans and all life on earth.
Kellan: [00:37:43] Yeah. Another one that's worth mentioning and you kind of brought it up before, but if we implement one of these proposed ideas and it actually does help lower the global temperature, that gives us an excuse, not to change and not to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. You know, it makes me think of like our nerves, right? Like feeling pain is a good thing because it gets us to take our hand off the hot stove. Whereas if all your nerves are dead, you put your hand down on a hot stove and you don't know it's hot. Great. You're not feeling any pain. And yet you're doing tons of damage to yourself. And so as much as we don't want to feel the pain of climate change, it would be a shame if we did one of these bandaid solutions and that made it so that governments and corporations weren't actually trying to change their behavior to solve the real problem.
Kory: [00:38:30] Yeah. It reminds me of the Jevons paradox, which we talked about in the energy episode. And while it's not a perfect comparison, it's basically this idea that when we make something more efficient, we end up using way more of it. And so it's like we put ourselves into this comfort zone to feel like everything's all right. And in, so doing, we ended up making it so much worse.
You know, a minute ago, you mentioned how we don't even really know what effect clouds have on global temperature. Well, we also don't know what effect aerosols have on clouds. And they're saying that there is this potential for either increasing or decreasing dramatically, the amount of clouds that we have and where those clouds are and if those clouds produce rain. And that starts to get into something really scary because it could actually change the hydrological cycle.
We could be talking about stopping rain in certain areas or dramatically increasing the amount of rain in some areas. We could be talking about stopping water vapor from being created, from water, from evaporating. And that of course would in turn affect, you know, agricultural yields and the ability to produce food, give people water that they need, it would create drought, it would create famine. And while there's no certainty that those things would happen. There's definitely not any certainty that they wouldn't.
Kellan: [00:39:36] Yeah. And along those lines, that makes me think of this whole idea that we probably won't ever agree on whether this is something we should do or not, you know, collectively. Some people say it's R. Moral obligation to try and fix the problems we've caused while others say it's our moral responsibility to leave the earth alone, right? And anytime morals and ethics get involved, that's where people's opinions are strongest. And that's where we're going to see both sides digging their heels in the most.
But with what you said, you know, climate change is not affecting the whole world equally. Some parts of the globe are warming off, faster than others. And any efforts we make to try and counteract that will also not affect all areas the same. some parts of the world we depend on a whole lot more than others for our food production, for example. And so it's not so easy to just say, okay, the climate has gotten all mixed up, we can just immediately start growing all of our food in this other area and stop growing it where we have been. The fact that it would affect all these areas differently would cause some major problems.
Kory: [00:40:38] And, you know, even has the potential to become something that's used intentionally against other nations. You know, you hear about the types of warfare that happen now. Like cyberwarfare disinformation campaigns. It's not like it used to be where you just stand in a line and fire guns at each other. And you can imagine the implications of a nation finding out that by spraying a certain aerosol in a certain place over a certain jet stream could affect the food production in a foreign nation or stop rainfall or create too much rainfall. And so the potential for something like this to be used as a covert weapon of war is also a risk that can't be ignored.
Kellan: [00:41:14] Which is why the conspiracy theories that we talked about before exist. Right. I don't buy into them. And yet at the same time, I recognize that they're calling out a real threat, whether it's our own government or some other entity or nations warring against nations, something like spreading a bunch of stuff into the atmosphere could be intentionally used to hurt a lot of people.
Kory: [00:41:34] exactly. It's that blurred line between what could potentially happen, what is actually happening, who's to blame, that makes it all really confusing. So the last risk that I have here is that doing this would make the skies hazier. So yes, that would mean that our skies might not be as bright, they might be a little uglier. But more than that, it would affect plant life directly. The amount of sunlight the plants are getting as well as the effectiveness of solar panels.
When you think about how one of the other technologies that we talked about in the first episode of this "can technology save us" series was solar panels and their ability to produce electricity for us. And now we're talking about doing something that would counteract or reduce the efficiency or effectiveness of that technology.
Yeah. It's interesting. You say that because if you look at history and some of these volcanic eruptions that we've mentioned, you know, entire regions that were hundreds or thousands of miles away from those volcanoes suffered greatly because their crops failed as a direct result of everything that those volcanoes spewed into the atmosphere. So to think that we would be purposefully decreasing the amount of energy from the sun that could get to our crops for growing food, that is pretty alarming.
Ya know last week we talked about catabolic collapse and one of the examples brought up about energy and how we don't have an infinite amount of energy on earth was that whole thing from Tom Murphy about the kid who wants the pony and his parents make them start with a gerbil. It feels like this idea of solar, radiation management and geoengineering is to just skip over all the other stuff. We don't want to prove that we can take care of the gerbil or the kitty or the dog. We just want to get the freaking pony. We want to keep maximizing profits. We want to keep producing and consuming. We want to make the rich richer and we'll take whatever shortcuts we have to in order to do it. That's what geoengineering feels like to me. And so while I think there is promise in the technology, I don't think we're at a point where it's proven enough to be safe. And I don't think that will be to that point by the time that our emissions are going to necessitate their use.
you know, we're over 1.2 degrees increase Celsius. Some say that we're between 1.2, 1.5 over the pre-industrial average and it's rising rapidly. And as we hit these tipping points, as we hit feedback loops everything's going to keep happening faster than expected. And I'm nervous that one day the scientific community is just going to throw their hands up in the air and say, geoengineering is all we got, put them on the table, doc, we need to open up for open-heart surgery. Let's just do this. And I think a lot of people will agree and say, yeah, that's our last chance. Let's do it. We got to do what we got to do. And while it may help or may work momentarily, the long-term effects are just too risky.
Kellan: [00:44:11] you know, I've got to admit as we talk about all these potential solutions here in this episode, and also in our other episodes around "can technology save us?" I feel a little bad for being as pessimistic as I am, or I guess from my perspective, realistic. You know, generally speaking, whenever you're trying to solve a problem you start with just brainstorming. And the worst thing you want to do while brainstorming is to start shutting ideas down, right? Cause you want to promote as much creativity as you can. and I wish I felt like we were at that brainstorming stage where collectively we're all just saying, Hey, throw out any ideas you have. No idea is a bad idea. Ya know we'll get them all out on the table and then we'll start to narrow it down.
I love that people do think outside of the box and people are trying to come up with solutions, you know, and I would want to encourage that but we're far enough down this path at this point, we don't really have time to just keep tossing ideas around. You know, the generation before us and the generation before them didn't do anything other than talk, which is why we're in the situation that we're in. And so we can't just keep hoping we'll come up with the right idea. Yes, we should keep trying to think of other solutions. But at this point it is discouraging.
When we looked at solar or nuclear or geoengineering, and in each case, we're saying, can technology save us? And essentially each time we come to the conclusion that, nah, it's a long shot, but I think that's the reality of the situation. And I think it clarifies for me just how serious of a predicament we're in.
Kory: [00:45:38] You know, it kind of feels to me like a get rich quick scheme. It feels like society is like a 60 year old person who's gone through their entire career not saving up money, not putting money into their 401k, not building up a reserve or building up wealth for their retirement over time. But who is now all of a sudden saying I've got a few years left. What kind of schemes can I get into that's going to make me a bunch of money right now.
That's what geoengineering feels like to me. And that's what, frankly, a lot of the technologies that I feel like we're trying to come up with, feel like. We're looking back saying, yeah, we should have taken better care of the earth. We should have been more responsible. We should have been sustainable, but we weren't. And so now what shortcuts can we take to make it?
Well Kellan, this has been awesome, really good conversation. And it'll be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming years. I hope the technology advances more rapidly than we had expected. And I hope that what they say is true in that if this is utilized, it would truly only be to buy us a little more time, because we are taking the drastic measures necessary to reduce fossil fuel emissions. Whether or not there is absolutely any hope of that or not is up to each one of us to decide for ourselves. Thanks for listening. Send us your thoughts. Leave us a review. Join us on Patreon and we'll speak again next week.