Here are a few bits and pieces to ponder on this President's Day....
As politicians drag their feet on reducing carbon emissions and others deny climate change outright, the National Academy of Sciences is tentatively broaching the concept of geoengineering to cool the planet.
As in injecting sulphates into the stratosphere, marine cloud brightening and sucking carbon dioxide from the air and burying it underground. The first proposals, known as albedo-modification techniques, are risky, with unknown consequences, and do nothing to address the associated problem of ocean acidification. But they're appealing because they could be done with existing technology. However, as the Associated Press reports:
[O]nce you start this type of tinkering, it would be difficult to stop because warming would come back with such a force. So a decision to spray particles into the air would have to continue for more than 1,000 years.
Removing the carbon dioxide produced by burning coal, oil and gas would be costly, require new technology and take decades to cool the planet. But it would actually treat the cause of man-made global warming.
Both approaches are detailed in a two-volume report that was requested by U.S. intelligence agencies, which have long recognized the political and social instability that could result from food shortages, prolonged droughts, coastal flooding and other weather changes associated with climate change.
The AP report continues:
Panel chairwoman Marcia McNutt, editor of the journal Science and former director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said in an interview that the public should read this report "and say, 'This is downright scary.' And they should say, 'If this is our Hail Mary, what a scary, scary place we are in.'"
Some scientists say it's time to begin small-scale outdoor tests of the solar radiation management (SRM) concept, which works by creating a cloud cover that mimics the natural effects of large volcanic eruptions. But McNutt and other scientists say some sort of oversight is needed. The AP quotes McNutt as saying:
“Civil society needs to engage in these discussions where the line is to be drawn.”
But when civil society can't civilly discuss genetic engineering, vaccinations and so many other topics, how is it going to debate an issue of this magnitude?
The oceans are also in deep trouble, with The Week summarizing a report in Science magazine that warned human activity — plastic pollution, carbon emissions, overfishing, etc. — is irreparably damaging the world's oceans, which could be on "the precipice of a major extinction event.” It reports:
With oceans absorbing a quarter of the world's CO2 emissions, they have become 30 percent more acidic, causing inhibited shell growth in coral and crustaceans and reproductive disorders in fish. Power plant emissions — especially from burning coal — put tons of highly toxic mercury in the air, which settles into the ocean. The mercury is taken up by sea creatures and concentrated in predatory species. A recent study found that mercury levels in Pacific yellowfin tuna have been rising at a rate of 3.8 percent a year since 1998.
Our oceans contain an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic — most of them less than 5 millimeters wide — weighing a total of 269,000 tons.
[M]ost commercial [fish] species have been reduced by more than 75 percent — and some by 99 percent.
Like global warming, the plight of our oceans is an issue that affects every country in the world. But with each government beholden to its own voters — and its own fishing, plastic, and energy lobbies — it's almost impossible to achieve any consensus.
Meanwhile, the natural environment isn't the only thing out of balance. An Oxfam report found the combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will exceed that of the other 99 percent by 2016. The richest 80 people on the planet had accumulated $1.9 trillion in 2014 — the same amount shared by the 3.5 billion at the bottom — an increase of $600 billion in just four years.
What will it take to "Get the Balance Right"?
While we're on the topic of the 99 percent, I'll leave you with this quote from Willie Nelson:
“99 percent of the world's lovers are not with their first choice. That's what makes the jukebox play.”