Climate Change Denial

September 26, 2006

WRAP IT UP TO GO

George Marshall @ 10:55 am
At a talk at the Brookings Institute in Washington in April 2005, Stavros Dimas of the European Commission gave his audience “a concrete example of how we in Europe are combating climate change”. The Gurschen glacier in Switzerland has melted so much over the past fifteen years that the top is now twenty metres below the Andermatt ski resort cable car station – the poor skiers can no longer reach it when there is no snowfall. So, beginning this summer, the local authority wrapped 30,000 square feet of the glacier with reflective foil. Other resorts at Saas-Fee and Titlis are planning to test similar schemes. Fully storySo here’s a promising way to deal with climate change- let’s wrap everything up in Bacofoil so that we can keep flying in the tourists.

Harebrained plans that use foil to reflect the sun are nothing new. Five years ago Edward Teller, so-called ‘father of the hydrogen bomb’, suggested spreading strips of foil (or ‘optical resonant scatterers’ in his language) into the stratosphere. I have no idea whether it would work or not- maybe it might. However I would seriously question the judgment of anyone who solves a systemic problem by addressing its effects rather than its causes. It is like promoting lung transplants as a solution to nicotine addiction.

In the past Teller advocated the use of hydrogen bombs for underground mining and creating new ports. He was a man of immense intelligence and learning – proof, were any needed, that cleverness does not necessarily bring wisdom.

Other brilliant ideas to deal with the effects of climate change include erecting carbon dioxide “scrubbers” on mountaintops, seeding the oceans with iron filings to encourage plankton to soak up carbon dioxide, and a fleet of planes pumping ‘cooling’ sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere.

All those billions of reflective strips are already flying in the minds of conspiracy theorists who believe that the US government is secretly implementing these schemes. One site tells us that ‘the US is flying military planes painted to look like commercial aircraft implementing a top secret government scheme to counteract global warming by spraying fine aluminum dust, barium, titanium and assorted chemicals, thus using the aircraft as distributors of reflective aerosols or humidity collecting aerogels’

One of the reasons why denial is so prevalent is that climate change poses a huge challenge to the existing worldview of most people. Rather than change the way they think, many people prefer to manipulate the problem to fit their existing understanding of the world.

The worldview of the technological optimists is that all problems- including those that result from our current technology and resource use- can be posited as an engineering challenge and countered with yet more resources and pollution.

The paranoid pessimists reformulate all threats as the planned strategy of an enemy. They have no capacity to engage with a problem that results from unplanned and diffused mass behaviour. When they look at the vapour trails of airplanes- which have a major and demonstrable warming impact- they prefer to see a strategy by a shadowy enemy to poison them.

Both groups are far larger than one might think. Techological solutions to emissions are the main thrust of the US government’s strategy on climate change. Type “chemtrails’ into a search engine and you will find hundreds of very active sites dedicated to this dangerous fantasy- many times more than are concerned with the real relationship between aviation and climate change.

Surely it is time for both groups to indulge in a little self-reflection on why they find it so hard to accept climate change as it really is.

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