Can We Fix the Sky?

fixing the skyht cool the planet

Some people believe that the world lacks the will to make the tough choices needed to avert the most catastrophic effects of global warming. More and more wonder if there might be a technological fix to the mess we are in.

Two recent books take on this question from two very different perspectives. James Rodger Fleming looks to history as his guide in his new book Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control. For centuries, rainmakers, cloud seeders, and climate engineers of all stripes have sought to manipulate the skies, as mankind did battle with drought, severe storms — and most recently, with the threat of ozone depletion. Fixing the Sky is a fascinating history, often delving into the wackiest backwaters of science and quasi-science, and offering many cautionary notes that we need to keep in mind as geoenginnering is debated in the coming years.

Analyzing the prospects and implications of today’s techno-remedies is Jeff Goodell’s How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix the Earth’s Climate. Here’s just a few solutions examined:

launch a fleet of ocean-going cloud seeding vessels (pictured below).

bounce sunlight back into space by pumping nanoparticles into the atmosphere.

suck carbon dioxide out of the air using hundreds of thousands of giant artificial trees.

surround the arctic sea ice with a white plastic flotilla.

Goodell presents a balanced story throughout, and always seems to be asking if geoengineering will prove to be our last act of technological hubris, or our last best hope to stave off disaster. Jeff Goodell is also motivated by a related concern: “...the thing I fear most is that we won’t do anything at all. We won’t explore geoengineering; we won’t cut greenhouse gas pollution in any significant way; we won’t change our lives. We will argue about it on TV and write books and make movies and hang banners on the smokestacks of coal plants, and nothing much will change.

Fixing the Sky and How to Cool the Planet will challenge many opinions you may have. Both books not only deserve to be widely read and discussed, but in answer to Jeff Goodell’s fear, it’s clear that we all need to turn such scholarship into action.

cloud seeding vessel

Wind Powered Cloudseeding Vessel — injecting a fine spray of sea salt into the atmosphere, and thereby increasing the reflection of solar energy back into space.

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