I was just getting to the point where I kind of liked Bill Gates. He'd left behind the arrogant persona he wore like a badge of honor during the 90s when Microsoft seemed like the monolithic company with designs of controlling every aspect of our lives, in favor of guise of the humanitarian, happy to humbly use his remaining years and billions of dollars to eradicate disease in the third world. And then he goes and backs something like this and you remember how much you hate the guy.
Gates is part of a clique of the rich and powerful, which includes his fellow plutocrat Richard Branson among others, who have come up with a plan to fight the problem of global warming called geoengineering. In simple terms, Gates, the computer genius, esentially wants to hack the environment.
Geoengineering involves pumping huge amounts of sulfur dioxide particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect a portion of the sun's solar energy back into space. The idea is that this reduction in solar energy hitting the Earth's surface where it would naturally warm the planet, would offset the concentrations of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, which act like a blanket wrapped around the Earth, preventing heat from naturally radiating off into space and thus causing global warming. To offset future GHG emissions, you just pump more sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere. Simple, right?
There are only two things wrong with this daft plan. The first is that even geoengineering advocates admit that a side-effect of the sulfur dioxide plan is a “permanent whitening of day-time skies,” or as they go on to explain a “washed-out sky would become the norm.” In other words, if you like sunsets and blue skies, you'll need to find yourself another planet. The second little problem is that once you start pumping sulfur dioxide particles into the sky, you can never, ever stop. The particles naturally settle out of the atmosphere, meaning they have to be replaced to maintain the reflective shield. If you don't maintain the reflective shield, then there will be no offset to the now GHG-laden atmosphere, meaning global temperatures could suddenly spike up dramatically.
And these are just the whopping side-effects geoengineering advocates talk about. You have to assume that none of these scientists, or Gates, Branson, et. al., have ever watched The Matrix (or Highlander II for that matter, which featured its own sky-scorching plan) or Jurassic Park, since the takeaway message from all of these films is that screwing with Mother Nature never works out well for us humans, something “unexpected” always goes wrong.
Members of the environmental community have a more mundane critique to level at the geoengineering clique – they say that the money and prestige men like Gates bring to the table could be better harnessed in crafting policies, legislation and techniques to reduce GHG emissions into the atmosphere in the first place, and that by touting a crackpot idea like geoengineering, they are taking money and attention away from theories and prototypes that could actually fight climate change without denying future generations the chance to see a blue sky. Thankfully there's a United Nations moratorium in place to prevent any large-scale experiments into geoengineering, let's just hope that it stays in place and that Gates and his merry band of plutocrats are kept from dooming us all while in the safe and certain knowledge that they know better than the rest of us and Mother Nature put together.