The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Geoengineering Prediction ca 1992

I wrote this in June of 1992. It's nowhere near as clever as I remembered it, alas. I had been a student of climate science for about 2 years at this point. As youll see it's not without some merit, but it reminds me now of the confused nonsense on the Watts site. (Sheepish grin...) This should encourage us that people are corrigible, but that it takes a long time.

Of course, back in the old days internet musings about climate had an audience of about twenty-three souls. So it didn't matter that much. Those were the days...
Here's my prognosis for the broad historical outline of the next few
decades, as they will be remembered by the far future. I do believe
that global change issues will be the dominant feature of the coming
period. I am also confident that deliberate human intervention on a global
scale will eventually occur, and probably fairly soon.
==== BEGIN SCIENCE FICTION

"The end of immediate prospects for massive nuclear exchanges around 1990
combined with increasing awareness of the huge impact humanity was having
on the global environment. The first international conference on the
environmnet, held in Rio de Janiero in 1992 was a turning point.

The USA, representing the world's largest market and economy, felt immune
from external economic pressures, and found itself alone in maintaining
an economy-centered view at the conference. This, while politically useful
internally in a weak economy and a three-sided election, and also much
(though quietly) appreciated by certain economic interests in Europe, profoundly
weakened the global geopolitical position of the United States, driving the
developing nations into a much closer connection with Western Europe, as
global attention shifted from nuclear to environmental security.

Shortly thereafter, many of the rainforest nations, and notably and
quite vigorously the Brazilians and Indonesians, made major efforts
to stop the extensive burning of the rainforests. This period also coincided
with the major volcanic eruption in the Philippines, Mt. Pinatubo, in 1991,
and also with a period in which the greenhouse warming was just beginning
to accelerate to alarming proportions. This acceleration had been largely
masked by the volcanic eruption, and had also been considerably slowed
by the smoke from the enormously extensive burning of the rain forests.

The sudden lifting of these two masking phenomena around 1994, combined
with the rapid background increases in radiative forcing, led to the
Great Warming of the 90s. Agricultural failures were widespread, and
sea surface rises which had once seemed hypothetical now appeared imminent.
Extreme heat waves occurred in parts of America and China, causing much
human suffering. Demands for action were heard worldwide.

Suggestions for massive tree planting were widely implemented, but the
impact of these measures was slight. Then some wags suggested reinstating
the burning of the rainforest, and the possibility of massive deliberate
dust releases entered the public awareness. Environmental purists were
outraged, feeling that anthropogenic mitigation efforts were somehow as
immoral as negative anthropogenic impacts. This position was inadvertently
bolstered by some technophiles who claimed that economic activity should
be untrammelled by environmental concerns, and that repairs to the damage
could be implemented more efficiently and cost effectively than by limiting
the activities in the first place. (Of course, time has proven both these
positions to be drastically incorrect.)

In fact, the economic so-called conservatives ended up being a larger
impediment to the implementation of the Massive Dust Release Programme
than the so-called greens, the latter group being neutralized by the
support for dust releases by the majority of professional biologists and
ecologists who felt that the pace of warming represented an immediate and
profound threat to already highly stressed ecosystems worldwide. The
so-called conservatives resisted the loss of national sovereignty to
a worldwide institution that would be required to coordinate and regulate
the emissions due to economic activity, and to allocate the required
emissions to the appropriate geographic locations.

Nevertheless, in 2005, with the enthusiastic participation of the North
American Bloc, the World Organization of the Ocean and Atmosphere
(WOOA) was formed, the first actually sovereign instrument of world
government, with the participation of almost all countries. By 2019, the
few minor holdouts had been pressured into participating, with Kazakhstan
and Libya being the last to join.

In subsequent decades, control over climate was improved with careful
allocation of CO2 and dust emissions and sensitive salinity controls over
ocean currents. Massive ecosystem loss continued for some time, but the
climate control itself went well for about two centuries, until the source of
carbon was depleted, and suddenly the world faced the prospect of Global
Cooling, but that is a subject for a later chapter...

==== END SCIENCE FICTION
Here's my review from Future Me:

Main points right: recalcitrance of the US, relatively rapid emergence of climate into public and political awareness. Right on right and left wing resistance to geoengineering. Looking on target about a gradual slip into geoengineering.

Stupidly wrong, that climate control is the first step of global governance. We already had the GATT when I wrote this.

Woefully wrong that the less developed countries could or would make climate a priority. Absurdly and sadly wrong that once push came to shove anybody would gave a rat's ass about preserving ecosystems. I don't know when ecological conservation became a lost cause. It feels like a long time.

9 comments:

Oale said...

Do you happen to have a link to a map that would show the biomes in their current state, that is including the anthropogenic ones? I once tried to do one but it's very low on resolution.

byron smith said...

Wow, that's pretty impressive for 1992 (given you were only beginning your studies). Would you now also revise your estimate of carbon sources lasting another two centuries?

David B. Benson said...

Some people are corrigible.

Steve L said...

About that time (a couple of years later) I wrote a paper for school about how ecological conservation's acceptance by the mainstream occurred only by dropping "wilderness preservation" (John Muir) in favor of "wise use" (Gifford Pinchot). The second part of the paper involved showing a similar trade-off that I thought was occurring at the time, resulting in a shift away from species preservation and toward preservation of 'ecosystem services'.

David B. Benson said...

Not exactly on-topic,but at about the same time that world agriculture comes to an end,
1 in 3 Americans Will Have Diabetes by 2050, CDC Says

Steve Bloom said...

Well, then, the diet will do them good, plus the exercise from having to walk so much more.

James Annan said...

One could conclude that one has a mild tendency towards hyperbole...

Michael Tobis said...

and that others have an extreme tendency toward careful understatement...?

James Annan said...

Well that would hinge on finding 15y-old statements that did understate what has actually happened. Any offers? (NB I'm not saying that this didn't happen.) On a more explicitly quantitative basis, Hansen's 1988 model forecast was also on the severe side (though pretty good).