1) I understand a broad portfolio of research and technologies are the best means to combat global warming. But just a first pass at what I’m hearing makes me think that this will be the Missile Defense Shield of my generation. Amazing super-duper technology that won’t be able to pass a highly massaged beta test, and do nothing but piss off other countries in the process.
I mean, as an engineering feat, shooting a disc to block out the sun is by an order of magnitude (engineers, give me an estimate?) more difficult than getting one missile to hit another missile. And we can’t get one missile to hit a missile. If we were on track, shouldn’t we be able to shoot them down with orbital lazers by now? Luckily government military research doesn’t need to hit real deadlines.
2) Joe Weisenthal thinks liberals are uncomfortable with geoengineering because it will distract from our agenda of destroying meat eaters who drive SUVs in rural areas of Western nations.
Actually my first reaction is that we’ll give billions to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon to develop a sun disc that won’t launch without doing any type of responsible due-diligence in advance to see if the project has any chance of working, because we have a fantastic track record of that as a nation.
But implicit in Joe’s critique is that if tomorrow, a joint announcement was made by the UN Security Council and Ben Bernanke that we’ve found an optimal amount of 18.72% of the sun needs to be blocked out, and we’ll start working on that tomorrow, I think Red America would be more mad than Blue America. By a wide margin. I mean, just the idea of black UN helicopters flying over Iowa gives people a bad feeling; imagine a public announcement that black copters would instead fly up to the stratosphere to dump toxic sulphur in order to protect the people of Bangladesh 85 years from now. How would that poll in Peoria?
3) But my biggest problem with geoengineering is the nature of the debate; geoengineering is fantastical, when it really should be boring. It is, as Yglesias points out, something like giving people a $100 tax credit to paint their roofs white. It is planting more trees in parking lots. It is not going to be something cool and dramatic and make the issue solved immediately – like a giant lazer.
All the big massive solutions, as opposed to the little marginal ones, even theoretically proposed have massive side effects – no free lunches! – and are, effectively, the equivalent of a weight loss plan that is solely “buy bigger pants.”