Meet David Keith. He’s a professor of physics and public policy at Harvard University. He's a Canadian who won Canada’s national physics prize exam and who Time Magazine named one of their Heroes of the Environment in 2009.
Keith sounds like — must be — a rational guy with credentials like that, right?
But consider Keith’s plan to tackle climate change. He wants to send two jets 20 kilometres up above the Earth’s surface to spray a fine layer of sulfuric acid, approximately one million tons of it, blanketing the global atmosphere.
According to an article on Smithsonian.com, which recently featured Keith, that layer of sulfuric acid would be enough to reflect back one per cent of the sun’s rays, deflecting radiation and lowering the global temperature.
The Smithsonian celebrated Keith in mid-May at its third annual The Future is Here Festival.
Keith’s plan sounds like science fiction, but then most geoengineering — the area in which the Harvard professor’s proposal falls — does. The ideas geoengineers propose usually seem like they emerged from the plot of an X-men film.
Geoengineering is the deliberate practice (I hesitate to use the word "science") of manipulating the planet’s environment to fight climate change.
Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer of Microsoft, In 2012, suggested cooling the earth by stirring the seas. Myhrvold’s method involves using a million 100-metre-long plastic tubes to stir the ocean and trap excess CO2 in the ocean, according to The New Yorker.
Or consider Peter Flynn’s concept. In 2007, Flynn, the Poole Chair in Management for Engineers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, devised a US$50-billion contingency plan involving 8,000 barges that would manipulate the Atlantic conveyor, the currents of water which help ensure Northern Europe’s mild climate.
Flynn's army of barges would maintain that mild climate in the face of global warming changing the currents and causing a deep freeze to fall over Northern Europe.
The barges would float into position every fall, spraying water into the air to form ice and then pumping salt water over top and trapping it in the ice.
Come the spring, the barges would pour more water over the ice, melting it and creating a vast amount of cold, salt water that would sink, adding to and strengthening the deep current.
Back in 2007, Andrew Weaver, a Canada Research Chair in Atmospheric Science at the University of Victoria, told me Flynn’s idea was “absolute rubbish."
“This is hysteria, Day After Tomorrow movie-type stuff,” Weaver said, referring to the Hollywood film that depicted the collapse of the ocean conveyor belt from global warming as the cause of super storms around the world.
These geoengineers should relinquish their jets, barges and giant ocean-stirring swizzle sticks.
The fate of the planet doesn’t depend on overly elaborate, money-sucking schemes, but on reliable research, evidence-based science and collaborative international policies.
Science, not science fiction.