on the hacking treadmill

New research indicates that hacking the atmosphere — pumping microscopic particles into the stratosphere or clouds to block sunlight and offset global warming caused by greenhouse gases — is imminently possible. The problem is we could never, ever stop doing it.

Climate scientists Damon Matthews of Concordia University and Ken Caldeira of Stanford ran the numbers on atmospheric geo-engineering through a climate simulation and found that while cranking out carbon dioxide at business-as-usual rates we can geo-engineer our way back toward pre-industrial temperatures in short order, reaching 1900 levels in about five years.

Not only that, it would be fairly cheap and easy to do. The problem is what happens if we stop short or screw it up. Bring the geo-engineering process to a halt, and those sun-warmed carbon sinks spit the carbon dioxide right back into the atmosphere.

The rebound warming, to temperatures that would have been reached without the geo-engineering, would be 10 to 20 times the pace of today’s global warming. The rapid warming, up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, would wreak havoc on the planet and threaten civilization.

To prevent disaster, the geo-engineering process would have to continue as long as carbon-dioxide levels were elevated.

A quarter of the carbon dioxide that comes out of your car’s tailpipe is still in the atmosphere a thousand years later, Caldeira said. We’ve never had systems work for a thousand years without failure, he added.

Heat Is Online – originally ABCNews.com, July 25, 2007

see also – action plan