Wednesday, 7 July 2010

I'm fair wrapped up in Budyko's Blanket

It's not often you read something that makes you genuinely optimistic about the future of the planet. We're used to regular updates now from panels of climatologists basically telling us we're screwed, and that unscrewing ourselves is going to be a long, economically painful, and fairly masochistic slog. Last night however I had the pleasure of reading the "Superfreakonomics" chapter: "What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?" and it turns out there is a scientifically and economically plausible proposal for reversing (or at least counteracting) global warming. The solution has been estimated to cost just $250M (not billion. Million. I double-checked) and is called "Budyko's blanket" (probably needs a better name if it'g going to win people round). Scientists saw the effect that Mount Pinatubo's stratospheric (to mean into the stratosphere not just "really high") sulphur dioxide emissions produced in cooling the planet, and thought "Hmm, if we could get a hose, pump some SO2 up there, maybe we could reverse global warming." And it turns out the hose doesn't have to be that wide, the volume of SO2 doesn't have to be that great (0.05% of global emissions) and we could probably throw the plan together within a couple of years. Hallefrickinlujah! My children and grandchildren aren't going to live on a planet in climatological chaos with all that entails.

But what would this solution mean politically? Where should CO2 emissions stop if the greenhouse effect isn't a consideration any longer? How much ocean acidification is acceptable if the plant life on land is flourishing? If this system is built in America (and it's American's who are pursuing the idea) how do we stop them creating a green and pleasant land across the American plains to the detriment of the other world ecosystems?

On the domestic front I believe it is a very good thing that fear of climate chaos has caused us to think hard about future sources of energy. I do believe peak oil is just around the corner, and if we are ready to whizz around in electric cars, and are living in properly insulated homes with lifestyles powered by wind and wave, then there might not need to be a dip in the quality of life we experience as we go through the transition to renewables. It would also be nice not to rely on Saudi oil and Russian gas for any longer than is necessary.

In short Budyko's blanket allows us to look to the future with hope. It doesn't mean we can abandon environmental sustainability. Rising CO2 will have more subtle effects on the environment that we still have to deal with. But we perhaps don't have to deny ourselves life's little pleasures with the same degree of enthusiasm as we have been, and we can allow developing nations to develop without telling them how to do so. A few encouraging prods in the direction of renewables might be in both our interests, but now that they're not going to drag us to climate hell, I guess we can but out a little :)

Oh, and I do hope it's as easy as the scientists say it is.