Tag Archives: climate-change

… like the deserts miss the rain

Speaking as we just were – however tangentially – of climate change, I think that the new decade will provide a lot more stories about deliberate climate change – the first tentative attempts at geoengineering. Here’s your starter for ten: a secret cloud-seeding project in the United Arab Emirates [via TechnOcculT]

As part of a secret program to control the weather in the Middle East, scientists working for the United Arab Emirates government artificially created rain where rain is generally nowhere to be found. The $11 million project, which began in July, put steel lampshade-looking ionizers in the desert to produce charged particles. The negatively charged ions rose with the hot air, attracting dust. Moisture then condensed around the dust and eventually produced a rain cloud. A bunch of rain clouds.

On the 52 days it rained in the region throughout July and August, forecasters did not predict rain once.

At the first glimpse, this looks like a triumph of technology over the caprice of climate: imagine miles and miles of inhospitable desert turned into rolling farmland! But short-term localised benefits are unlikely to be the whole story in a system so complex as our planet’s biosphere. You can’t isolate one part of the world from the rest of it; everything has consequences for everyone. Whatever your political alignment or ideological stake in this interminable debate, you can’t escape the self-evident truth that climate is a system, no matter what you think are the root causes of the changes that system is going through.

Look at it this way: if you were living up on the ISS, how good would you feel about the crew members in the module at the far end fiddling with the life-support systems so they got a little more heat or oxygen than everyone else? Now imagine that said crew members have only the most rudimentary understanding of how the life-support systems actually work, and of the potential repercussions of their fiddling on the rest of the station. Now, which is the more sensible response: do you start your own retaliatory program of fiddling in your end of the station, or do you all get together and figure out how the system works before poking at it with screwdrivers and soldering irons?

The thing with Planet Earth is this: we ain’t got nowhere else to go. Over the long term, your short-term local advantage has pretty good odds of coming back to haunt you as a global disadvantage once it has finished screwing over some other part of the planet. If you’re willing to concede that your views on climate change mitigation are based on securing the best advantage for yourself in your own lifetime, then by all means feel free to try convincing me of the merits of that philosophy; that is a honest debate, and I’ll respect your position while doing my best to counter it. But if you want to dress that philosophy up in a cloak of mealy-mouthed sophistry about the duty of scepticism and the absence of absolute certainty in the scientific method, take it somewhere else.

Yeah, I have a “liberal” agenda; I’d like future generations of every nation to have a world that can support their lives. In my worldview, every living human being – and their future progeny – is a stakeholder of equal status in this planet and its future.

What’s your agenda?

The fate of the post-geographical nation-state

Via Tobias Buckell, a reiteration of a question we’ve asked here beforeif a tiny nation-state’s territories are wiped out by climate change, such as the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, what becomes of that nation-state as a political and social entity?

What happens if the 61,000 Marshallese must abandon their low-lying atolls? Would they still be a nation? With a U.N. seat? With control of their old fisheries and their undersea minerals? Where would they live, and how would they make a living? Who, precisely, would they and their children become?


“We’re facing a set of issues unique in the history of the system of nation-states,” Dean Bialek, a New York-based adviser to the Republic of the Marshall Islands who is also in Cancun, told The Associated Press. “We’re confronting existential issues associated with climate impacts that are not adequately addressed in the international legal framework.”

This is probably the very thinnest thin end of the wedge, too. Sadly for the Marshallese and others like them, it won’t be until similar issues start hitting bigger nations that the legal framework will be looked at; until then, the transition from citizen to unrepresented and unprotected climate refugee will become increasingly ubiquitous, and noticed only by the majority – by us – as a steady increase of blank and desperate faces in the internment camps at the border.

We’ve made our bed, but we’re making the servants lie in it first.

LilyPad: floating climate-refugee metropolis concept

Sometimes it seems like architects and designers are the last bastion of that positive and streamlined best-case-scenario futurism that informed Golden Age science fiction. Check out the LilyPad from Vincent Callebaut, which is his idea for a floating home for all the people who’ll be displaced by climate change, drought and rising sea levels [via ExtropistExaminer]; ain’t it pretty?

LilyPad floating ecopolis concept

It also looks a little pricey – who’s gonna pay to have that thing built? I rather suspect that any floating city of climate refugees will look, feel and act a whole lot more like the The Raft from Stephenson’s Snow Crash than Callebaut’s LilyPad…

Unspinning the coal-powered cloud

All the anti-tech curmudgeons and doomsayers have leapt all over Greenpeace’s new campaign attacking cloud computing and the forthcoming Apple iYawn for their carbon footprint. (Fans of irony should note that the campaign documents can be downloaded in the ubiquitous PDF format from Greenpeace’s website.)

Of course, the energy appetite of any technology should be under scrutiny, but Greenpeace’s sloganeering is disproportionate when you actually look at the real numbers:

Computing accounts for a bit less than 3% of U.S. energy usage, according to Lawrence Livermore Labs. The global IT industry as a whole generates about 2% of global CO2 emissions.

Cars, on the other hand, which the vast majority of the people Greenpeace is trying to target also own, are the single largest contributor to climate change, according to NASA, exceeding all other sources in their impacts, and exceeding computing’s global impacts by more than a factor of ten. Greenpeace (I’m a supporter) has made a lot of noise about computing’s climate impacts, while the average commute or drive to the mall is likely far, far more a threat to the future than the average month’s Google searching…

That said, suggesting people drive less is an old tactic that’s had little success, so I suppose you can’t blame them for chasing a target that’s a little more trendy and newsworthy. Seeing this story bouncing around the blogs of the world is akin seeing “Drive Less, Walk More” billboards at a monster truck meet…

In other internet news, the rapid viral expansion of Chatroulette suggests that the internet’s cultural clock is running faster and faster… which means more irritating memes per year, I guess, though if you extend the logic they probably won’t last as long. Mixed blessings, AMIRITE?

And finally, Jeff Jarvis has penned a Cyberspace Bill Of Rights over at The Guardian. It’s all very sensible stuff, carefully worded… and hence lacks all of the naive flash and glorious geek bravado of John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace from back in 1996. Amazing how we’ve gone from wild frontier to corporate federation in just fifteen years, eh?

Climate change might not starve us after all

oatsIn the hugely polarised sphere of debate around climate change, there are a few thinkers who float outside the two core camps of belief and skepticism. One of those would be Brian Wang, who seems pretty convinced that AGW is a genuine phenomenon, but who also thinks it’s not going to be an unmitigated disaster. For example, he has a post responding to suggestions that a global temperature increase would lead to mass famine and starvation, in which he lists currently available or imminent technologies and scientific developments that could cope with the changed climate and keep the planet’s belly full. [image by sarniebill]

Of course, it’s worth remembering that a large percentage of the Earth’s population doesn’t have enough to eat already… and that a small percentage consumes way more than it actually needs. Keeping up production levels will be important, sure, but efficient and fair distribution of food resources would go a long way toward helping us ride out the rough patch. But then the same applies to energy resources, and we’ve already seen how popular the redistribution idea is with those who have the most to lose…

[ Feel free to discuss Wang’s points in the comments, but as always with this sort of post, unqualified trumpeting of ideologies from either side of the fence will be deleted without prejudice – that applies to climate change denial and climate change doomsaying. I have better things to do than referee an unwinnable slapfight, I’m afraid, so check the comments policy before you post. ]