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Can Dr. Evil Save the World?

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Posted on Nov 24, 2006
Lowell Wood
Rolling Stone

Lowell Wood

The Pentagon’s favored weaponeer, right, has a proposal to stop global warming—without burning less oil, and for a tiny fraction of the cost of mainstream proposals. And it’s so crazy it just might work. It also might destroy the planet in the process. Interested? Read on ...


Rolling Stone:

Lowell Wood hooked up his laptop, threw his first slide onto the screen and got down to business: What if all the conventional thinking about how to deal with global warming was wrong? What if you could do an end run around carbon-trading schemes and international treaties and political gridlock and actually solve the problem? And what if the cost to get started was not trillions of dollars but $100 million a year—less than the cost of a good-size wind farm?

Wood’s proposal was not technologically complex. It’s based on the idea, well-proven by atmospheric scientists, that volcano eruptions alter the climate for months by loading the skies with tiny particles that act as mini-reflectors, shading out sunlight and cooling the Earth. Why not apply the same principles to saving the Arctic? Getting the particles into the stratosphere wouldn’t be a problem—you could generate them easily enough by burning sulfur, then dumping the particles out of high-flying 747s, spraying them into the sky with long hoses or even shooting them up there with naval artillery. They’d be invisible to the naked eye, Wood argued, and harmless to the environment. Depending on the number of particles you injected, you could not only stabilize Greenland’s polar ice—you could actually grow it. Results would be quick: If you started spraying particles into the stratosphere tomorrow, you’d see changes in the ice within a few months. And if it worked over the Arctic, it would be simple enough to expand the program to encompass the rest of the planet. In effect, you could create a global thermostat, one that people could dial up or down to suit their needs (or the needs of polar bears).

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By A Lewis, April 9, 2012 at 5:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The downside - breathing particles is not good for your health

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By Veoliaes, April 9, 2012 at 2:23 am Link to this comment

Wow, that does sound like a plan, but it does at the
same time make me wonder what are the downsides to
this, as it must be quite a dangerous move for the
world to have not implemented this drastic measure yet.

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By A Lewis, November 26, 2006 at 1:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Bummerman says “It seems to me that global warming was produced by introducing particles into the atmosphere”.
In fact it is the gases - like Carbon Dioxide (CO2)- which produce the global warming effect. They effectively act like the sheet of glass in a greenhouse - which is why certain gases are called greenhouse gases. As we increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere then we increase the planets temperature. Particle pollution from industrial activity helps reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface. But the particle pollution declines relatively quickly as anyone in Europe who was around during the Sunday driving ban during one of the oil crises can testify - visibility, over distance, improved on those days.
  One of the big global warming fears is that the permafrost in Siberia will disappear releasing huge quantities of Methane - whose impact molecule to molecule dwarfs CO2

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By Dan Staffin, November 26, 2006 at 11:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Has it yet occurred to anyone that the sulfur will return to earth as acid rain? H2SO4 (sulfuric acid) has been sprinkling the northeastern United States for decades now. Though the midwestern electric utilities have made efforts to reduce acid producing emissions, they are still a problem. Pouring more tons of the stuff into the upper atmosphere will, I think produce more concentrated acid rain downwind.

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By bummerman, November 25, 2006 at 10:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It seems to me that global warming was produced by introducing particles into the atmosphere.  We have created a blanket that allows the sun’s rays to penetrate but not bounce back out.  That blanket of particles keeps warmth in.  Am I wrong on this??  What happens if we increase the amount of particles?  Do we not make the blanket thicker thus holding in more heat??  Am I totally off here or what??

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By Kenneth E. Tucker, November 25, 2006 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

what the hey…

rent some supercomputer time, run some computer models, and let some NOAA/NASA/EPA scientists ‘crunch the numbers’.

and

make sure shrub’s thought police don’t have ANY control over the science/numbers/final report.

then

go or no go based on THE science.

who knows….?  (answer: w/o and models, it’s a guess, at best.

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By bigTom, November 25, 2006 at 7:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is not a crazy (or new) proposal. We actually have data on how this works, major volcanic eruptions do this from time to time. The last one was Mt Pinutubo in the Phillipines, we got roughly a degree of cooling for a couple of years. The amount of sulfates isn’t very large, its not like we will die from acid rain. Of course the natural events only last for a couple of years, there is some evidence it might be harmful to the ozone, but at least any effects wouldn’t linger beyond a couple of years after we stopped.
  Clearly, even if geo-engineering can solve the temperature problem, we are still changing the composition of the atmosphere/oceans by burning fossil fuels. Oceanographers are worried about the predicted increase on acidity due to the CO2. So clearly this sort of solution isn’t a substitute for controlling emmisions. We gotta due that in any case. Well will probably have to do something like this to control the amount of damage from our experiment in atmospheric composition. In any case homo-sapians have become such a huge force for environmental change, that we can no longer just let the system run itself anymore, some forms of deliberate management will be needed.

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By CleverBoy, November 25, 2006 at 6:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Back in the 50’s the British thought they would help a village in Borneo get rid of the flies that were making the locals miserable.  They sprayed the place with the wonder chemical of the age…DDT.

It killed the flies sure enough but also killed the wasps that kept the caterpillers that lived in their thatched roofs in check.  The lizards that ate wasps all died and the cats that ate the lizards died.

So…their roofs fell in and with no cats, the place was overrun by rats.  The Brits had to parachute in more cats…

You shouldn’t fool with Mother Nature !!

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By Donovan, November 25, 2006 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

See my blog on my MySpace: myspace.com/lonleysailor765 titled “Why Biofuels Aren’t Clean”

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By CV, November 25, 2006 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nice! put more crap in the air. Make the world smell like eggs and kill off everyone that’s alergic to sulfur and sulfites, that is, nearly a percent. File this with the Navy plan to generate more oxygen by dumping hundreds of tons of rust particles in the oceans. Come on folks, get real.

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By A Lewis, November 25, 2006 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In part this is already happening. There is so much particle pollution in the atmosphere that if ALL industrial production and fossil fuel burning stopped tomorrow then temperatures would rise. Because of this, one could argue that burning coal helps keep global temperatures down or turning to diesel would be preferable to gas engines - as each produce more particles.
  However there is a problem with trying to fill the atmosphere with particles as a defence against global warming. It is called gravity.

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By Big Time Patriot, November 25, 2006 at 1:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cool idea (literally and in a punnish manner).

But you would want to be very careful, and that would mean not allowing the present administration to have anything to do with it. But if you could get some kind of particle with a limited life in the atmosphere, it could be a reversible process, so you could stop after only a few years without summers occurred.

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By Charles Newlin, November 25, 2006 at 10:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In truth, this approach has been obvious, and suggested, for a long time.  We’ll probably have to use it - did you see the recent Nova about the cause of the greatest known global extinction?  Global warming, caused by a massive volcanic eruption (ironic, huh?).  Pretty shaky solution, though:  the world’s fate would depend on continuous, expensive intervention.  Mostly a way to buy some time, but it might lead people to think they didn’t have to really solve the problem.

And yes, any massive intervention in the world’s weather is dangerous:  weather is technically “chaotic”, meaning results aren’t really predictable.  It’s the Law of Unintended Consequences:  there always are some, and you don’t know what they’ll be.  For instance, what would all that sulfur do to the ozone?  Or to the ground, when it comes down?  And a localized effect - e.g., over the Arctic - would change the world’s climate distribution.  Again, the effects would be unpredictable.

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By Vierotchka, November 25, 2006 at 10:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I forgot to include a link where you can watch an excellent BBC documentary about Global Dimming:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1027879546389218797&q=global+dimming

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By Vierotchka, November 25, 2006 at 9:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Won’t work - what this fellow proposes is what is known as “Global Dimming” which results in large-scale changes in weather patterns such as torrential rains and floods in some areas and devastating droughts in other areas, among other catastrophes. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_dimming

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By WCG, November 25, 2006 at 9:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Interesting article. I don’t care if Wood is a “weaponeer.” That has nothing to do with his proposal. Admittedly, experimenting with the whole planet is really dumb,... but it’s also true that we’re doing that now. We may end up having to “manage” the planet, because we’re sure in the process of destroying it without management! I sincerely hope we find a way - and find the political will - to combat global warming through conservation, birth control, and better ways of generating and using power. But I’m pessimistic. I see few signs of intelligence on this so far. So I think scientists (NOT politicians) should study Wood’s proposal - and other crazy ideas - because eventually we may be forced to try something crazy as a last resort. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I bet it does.

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By Mooser, November 25, 2006 at 8:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If it don’t involve multiple atomic explosions, I ain’t interested. On the other hand, if we could get the particles we need by burning the more powerful varieties of Cannabis in mass quantities, there may be some beneficial effect.

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By Donovan, November 25, 2006 at 7:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is this satire?  I can’t even believe that this would be considered.

“They’d be invisible to the naked eye, Wood argued, and harmless to the environment.”  They might be invisible to our eyes but not to our lungs.  Here’s a news flash: the wind blows.

“If you started spraying particles into the stratosphere tomorrow, you’d see changes in the ice within a few months.”  What scientific study is this statement based on?  How can a claim as irresponsible as this be made?

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By Socrates, November 24, 2006 at 6:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sheesh, what a crazy idea. Sure, we could cool Earth over time by continuing to blast garbage of any kind into its atmosphere, but is this the wisest way to handle this issue? Problems such as acid rain and particulate inhalation in general should not be ignored…these have a devastating impact upon the environment, even if the scheme moderates temperatures, everything that breathes the air and rain become poisoned.

Bottom line is that the only way back toward a natural equilibrium is via a scaling back of our return of carbon in rocks to the atmosphere (i.e., reveral of a process that took hundreds of millions of years to achieve).

If one throws anything else into this non-linear mix, the outcome could be devastating.

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By TAO Walker, November 24, 2006 at 4:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It might be worth wondering what Dr. Wood’s grand scheme to seed the air with brimstone will do about the real problem here.  And that is the long-term rampant idiocy of civilized humans which has brought them to the brink of extinction in the first place.  It looks to this primitive savage like a little high water and some bad weather belongs way down on any sensible list of things ‘homo domesticus’ oughta be worried about. On the other hand, his kind’s utter lack of “the sense god gave Geese” is one (among many) such character flaws deserving of intense and sustained consideration.  Unfortunately, this is exactly where Catch 22 comes crashing into play.  Because if the civilized peoples’ ancestors had been alert enough to smell the TRAP to begin with, they wouldn’t be so helplessly enmeshed in its toils today.  They wouldn’t be thrashing around in confusion verging on panic, in a vain attempt to escape its inevitably lethal “final answer” while clinging stupidly to all the (false) comforts and (useless) conveniences they’ve mistakenly taken to be only the BAIT.  The bait IS the trap, Sisters and Brothers. It’s one helluva predicament, for sure.  There is a way out, of course.  It’s through the-eye-of-the-needle.  The thing is you can’t take any of your artifactual baggage with you.  Christians have been told this in just about so many words.  It’s pretty common lore among the other major herds of human livestock, too.  There’s some genuine “good news,” as well.  Not all the Two-Leggeds have been roped-into this mess.  Some of us are hanging around the fringes of your feedlots against the day when at least a few of our captive relatives yearn strongly enough to breathe free, and wild, again that they get up the nerve and the gumption to make a break for it.  We’ll be only too happy to show you back into your one true home, The Wilderness.  We’re ready when you are, Senor.  Meantime, you might want to be thinking long and hard about how much more of your shit this ol’ world can take.

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By Manila Ryce, November 24, 2006 at 4:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is this guy serious? Create more pollution to combat pollution? It’s no surprise that this guy is from the Pentagon. They specialize in creating short-term band-aid solutions rather than fixing the source of the problem.

His proposal is flawed given the fact that our planet is not just undergoing global warming, but global dimming as well. The greenhouse gases already in our atmosphere block out sunlight while keeping in the heat we receive. Blasting sulfur into the atmosphere will only create more problems. This reminds me of the countless times humankind has introduced one foreign species to combat another (such as the cane toad). The outcome is always worse than the original problem.

Thicken our atmosphere and turn Earth into Venus? Nope, try again.

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By Ridonculous, November 24, 2006 at 3:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Are you joking?  What usually happens when alien particles are added to the air we breathe?  Ask a coal miner.  And aren’t these the same guys (The PentaCON) who declared with absolute certainty that the total cost of the War in Iraq would be $18 billion?!?!  Gimme a break.  Why are you even giving this screen time?

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By anonymous, November 24, 2006 at 3:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I may be wrong, but I think a Russian scientist, not Mr. Wood, first suggested this.

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By stonehinge, November 24, 2006 at 2:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Actually, this seems like a pretty good idea, and it wouldn’t take much to try it out.  All of the principles employed in warfare have potentially beneficial applications.  The problem with the world-as-we-know-it is that we scarcely ever get around to using them.

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By C Quil, November 24, 2006 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To every complex problem there is a simple solution.

And it’s usually wrong.

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By Roger Drowne EC, November 24, 2006 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

GET REAL… U-ALL

See Earth Citizens CAN Change OUR Earth at

http://www.EarthBall.org

Low Cost, More Fun, More Time Off, Travel Oppertunities and Jobs 4 All of Us…

Let’s Stop Fooling Around and DO IT

Thank U, another Earth Citizen

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