16 Decades of Science

A few months ago I had a conversation with Dr. Heyes, the head of MSU’s Chemical and Biological Engineering department, and I asked him if there were any technological fixes to global warming in the case of last resort. He responded that there are some technologies involving world-wide atmospheric engineering (I forget the details) that could be used to mitigate the carbon and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. He also said that if we did such a thing, we would be unsure of any potential long-term consequences so it would again be an option of last resort. Since then, having learned what I have from this class, especially the law of ecology that states “everything is connected to everything else”, I have a better understanding that such atmospheric engineering, which is a technological fix on a world-wide scale, could easily have massive, massive consequences if it goes wrong. If we are unlucky, and are unable to arrest global warming by more sane means, then if we screw something up with atmospheric engineering (and we likely would), we could potentially turn the whole planet into a superfund site. As the scale of a technological fix increases, so does the scale of the potential damage, either in a linear fashion, or perhaps exponentially.


Climate contrarians and other uneducated people who posit that climate science, as a field, is too young to make “big boy” predictions should look back in history to Tyndall, who in his paper “On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours…”, conducted many experiments on how different compositions of air affected the radiation of heat [1]. On pages 11 and 12, we can see various tables showing how “for small quantities of gas the absorption is exactly proportional to the density.” (pg. 11) I do not have the background to follow his notes in depth, but from what I cam surmise, and what I would tell these contrarians, is that all the way back in 1859 (pg. 5) Tyndall was doing experiments showing that different kinds of gases and vapours can block radiant heat in an amount inversely proportional to their presence. So, these concepts have been sound science for about 160 years now.

[1]: https://www.jstor.org/stable/108724

1 thought on “16 Decades of Science”

  1. You make some good points. I had not considered the possibility of your worst-case scenario, and the fact that anything you change is likely to have profound effects elsewhere. The idea that the entire planet could become a superfund site is pretty harrowing. I really appreciated your insight on the subject. As far as your second paragraph goes, I feel like the reason people deny climate science is more of a deliberate ignorance. They seem to want to use the fact that it’s a “young science” as an excuse to just continue with the status quo.

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