The Planet Remade
How Geoengineering will Change the World
Oliver Morton 2015 Beaverton Library 363.7387 MOR
I stumbled across this while looking for a different book ... another reason why indexed libraries are useful.
Morton is rightly concerned with rising CO₂, and this book is about mitigations involving planetary geoengineering. He points out that (besides CO₂) we have already massively modified the biosphere with Haber-Bosch nitrogen fertilizer. We are planetary engineers, and there's no going back (James Lovelock makes the same point), but going forwards we must be more thoughtful and caring about the process. Making the wisest choices, not just the easiest choices, and not pretending that the planet can take care of itself without active human management.
This book was mostly written almost a decade ago, and molecular biotechnology was mostly off the radar then, and certainly wasn't part of the Cambridge curriculum 35 years ago, so his toolset may be out of date.
Morton mentions early experiments with iron seeding of ocean plankton, and some surprises and negative consequences of that. Iron seeding was suggested in the 1930s by Norwegian oceanographer Haaken Hasberg Gran. In the 1980s American oceanographer John Martin showed that plankton in ocean deserts couldn't get enough iron. Martin suggested that a ton of iron could lead to 100,000 tonnes of carbon sequestered in plankton biomass. Experiments were 100x less productive, and fed plankton grazers that made more CO₂, and created anoxic zones and nitrous oxide. Mention of Russ George and the Canadian ETC group.
P266, mention's Clarke's 1979 Fountains of Paradise, and a future ice age that orbit-dwelling humans choose to not to prevent.
Clouds as "soggy mirrors" (8yo Mike, son of John Latham in the early 1970s) - reflecting sunlight back to space. Sulfur aerosols in the stratosphere could deflect sunlight for years or decades. Armand Neukermans, retired HP inkjet engineer, designed nozzles to spray salt water into the air. David W. Keith,, geoengineering.
P347, hypothesizes the "Concert", a small group of nations creating Espedair, a project to spray reflective aerosols from stratospheric aircraft.
Cooling the northern hemisphere can move the intertropical convergence zone northward and create droughts in the Sahel on the southern edge of the Sahara.
I like the concepts in the abstract, but much of the book plods, more about who says what than what they say. The references will have more details. However, Morton makes a very good point about the use of the word "we" in climate politics.
... the 'we' of surreptitious and spurious suasion. The 'we' used to align the writer, the reader, and an ill-defined group of people who, it is implied, naturally agree and which this seems to include all right-thinking people. The 'we' that says 'we know what to do, we just have to do it'. The 'we' that supposed that my interests are your interests, and that the interests of people in different countries and with different views -- say, the interests of the poor who want to be less poor and the interests of the rich who are not fully aware of all the benefits those riches provide -- can be easily aligned. The 'we' that seeks to speak for the world that 'they' are letting down. And you know what 'they' are like, don't you? They are a dodgy bunch. They are not like us.
- The 'we' that I have left out is the 'we' who are told we cannot let his go on -- blatantly ignoring the fact that we do. The 'we' that seeks to speak for all people, all history, all species -- as long as they agree with the author.
It is almost impossible to speak on political subjects without invoking this we. It is quite hard to write without it. But I thought it was worth doing, because that we is not an innocent illusion. It is a harmful one. The The we that matters is not one summoned as a rhetorical tool by an author. It is one built by people who do the difficult work of actually agreeing with each other about what they need to agree on, and agreeing on the realm of disagreement, too.
Making a we is hard, and it is essential. It is the essence of politics; it is the essence, too, of love.
I presumably violate copyright with that extended quote from the last pages of the book, but the book is worth reading for that realization, and the realization that the prose of the book can seem tedious because we, and the diatribes we normally inhabits, are mostly absent from this book. The flavorings in this book are more subtle than the brain-fattening calories of diatribe that make most books seem more spicy. I will remove the quote, or the entire review, if author or publisher request this.
The book is not larded with footnotes, but the nine page References, Notes, and Further Reading is detailed and useful, as is the 22 page bibliography. While I do not expect to reread this book, I will buy a copy for that reference material.
I agree that geoengineering is our best hope for caring for our beloved planet, but I presume that real geoengineering on a planetary scale will require a vast amount of new science, measurement, modelling, and hoards of engineers to create and manage the tools and processes. For example, Morton describes tiny tweaks of small parts of the ocean or atmosphere to see what happens, using existing processes and species without fine grained control and global system management. Such tentative steps are prudent, but the survival of the planet will require far more.
I presume that effective geoengineering will rest on bioengineering, designing plankton that sequester carbon as dense, inedible elemental carbon (graphite? diamonds? fiber?), rather than biomass, that will quickly sink to the sea floor. Floating mats of nitrogen filled carbon bubbles could be harvested by the gigatonne as structural material. We must design such artificial plankton for external, fine-grained artificial control - one possibility is !5xE .