…and if this is what a temporary solution to global warming is supposed to look like, my pessimism about the future of everything will earn another wry moment of vindication.
Two approaches hold the most promise: injecting tons of sulfates—essentially solid particles of sulfur dioxide—into the stratosphere, and pumping seawater into the lower atmosphere to create clouds. A recent report in the journal Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry Discussions identified these two approaches as having a high likelihood of being able to counter global temperature increases, and to do so in a reasonably short amount of time.
The sulfate-injection plan, which has received the most study, is explicitly modeled on the effects of massive volcanic eruptions, such as Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines; in the months after the 1991 eruption, global temperatures dropped by half a degree Celsius.
To trigger a drop in global temperatures, we’d need to loft between two million and 10 million tons of sulfur dioxide (which combines with oxygen to form sulfate particles) into the lower stratosphere, or at about 33,000 feet. The tiny particles suspended in the atmosphere act like a haze, reflecting a significant amount of sunlight—though not enough to notice at ground level (except for some superb sunsets).
The piece is interesting enough, and though I’m not inherently skeptical about the notion of “geoengineering,” I’m pretty certain that Cascio’s chief point — that these risky but plausible methods should be used as a way to give political leaders time to actually do something about greenhouse emissions — would be lost. Assuming that sulfate-injection didn’t provoke unexpected flooding, droughts, or other unfortunate consequences, it seems more likely that a respite from the crisis would give way to a sense that the crisis might be kept in an indefinite state of abeyance. If meaningful policies to reduce climate-altering emissions can’t be developed in response to an overwhelming scientific consensus, I can’t imagine a “stay of execution” is going to alter the situation.
Following up on Dave’s observations regarding doubts about the health benefits of moderate drinking:
(1) The politics of epidemiology are most obvious when you see people treat relatively weak correlations from observational studies as definitive proof of their pet hypothesis, and then turn around and come up with 100 reasons why such correlations don’t really prove anything when the correlations go the “wrong” way.
You see this all the time in obesity research, where slight increases in mortality risk at high weight levels are trumpeted as terribly significant, while much higher increases in mortality risk at weight levels within the supposed normal or recommended range are dismissed as products of other uncontrolled-for confounders.
On a related note, the NY Times story points out there are no randomized clinical trials demonstrating that moderate drinking is beneficial. Most people, I’m sure, would be surprised to learn that there aren’t even any observational studies suggesting that significant long-term weight loss is beneficial, let alone any randomized clinical trials demonstrating this.
(2) In a sense, the claim that the beneficial health effects of moderate drinking haven’t been demonstrated rigorously is rather beside the point. It’s true that the available data only suggest (more or less strongly, depending on how they are interpreted) this. But that data is much more powerful when considered in the light of a far weaker hypothesis: that moderate drinking isn’t a significant health risk. After all, while the somewhat better health of moderate drinkers in comparison with abstainers might be accounted by variables that have nothing to do with drinking, what’s extremely unlikely is that moderate drinking could have a significantly detrimental health effect, and yet produce these same correlations.
The relevance of this is that surely almost no one drinks moderately (as opposed to abstaining) because of the supposed health benefits. Whether moderate drinking is good for your health, or largely neutral (as opposed to being positively bad for you) is socially significant only if people were to treat moderate drinking like medicine — as something they’ll consume if it benefits their health, but otherwise not. The whole “is moderate drinking actually good for you?” argument is based implicitly on the assumption that it might be good for people to drink who otherwise wouldn’t, on, as it were, doctor’s orders. Which is a really bad idea.