"Can Dr. Evil Save The World?"

You've got to admire the sheer Mad Science audacity of this plan...

Wood's proposal was not technologically complex. It's based on the idea, well-proven by atmospheric scientists, that volcano eruptions alter the climate for months by loading the skies with tiny particles that act as mini-reflectors, shading out sunlight and cooling the Earth. Why not apply the same principles to saving the Arctic? Getting the particles into the stratosphere wouldn't be a problem -- you could generate them easily enough by burning sulfur, then dumping the particles out of high-flying 747s, spraying them into the sky with long hoses or even shooting them up there with naval artillery. They'd be invisible to the naked eye, Wood argued, and harmless to the environment. Depending on the number of particles you injected, you could not only stabilize Greenland's polar ice -- you could actually grow it. Results would be quick: If you started spraying particles into the stratosphere tomorrow, you'd see changes in the ice within a few months. And if it worked over the Arctic, it would be simple enough to expand the program to encompass the rest of the planet. In effect, you could create a global thermostat, one that people could dial up or down to suit their needs (or the needs of polar bears). [...]

To his colleagues, Crutzen's willingness to consider deliberate intervention with the planet's climate is a sign that the debate over global warming has changed. "Here is a guy who knows more about the Earth's atmosphere than anyone else alive, and he's telling us that the situation is so dire we need to think about intervening with the atmosphere on a planetary scale," one climate scientist told me. "That's frightening, of course -- but from a purely scientific point of view, it's also very interesting." [...]

"In effect, we're already engineering the climate," says Ken Caldeira, "We just don't want to admit it. You can argue that the only real difference between what we're doing today and what geoengineering advocates are proposing is a matter of intention. And frankly, the atmosphere doesn't care about what's going on in our heads."

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34 Responses:

  1. kfringe says:

    Now we're talking. That's my kind of plan. The only thing that would make it better is if we can burn teddy bears with the sulfur.

    Or kittens. I won't be fussy.

  2. korgmeister says:

    "you could generate them easily enough by burning sulfur, then dumping the particles out of high-flying 747s, spraying them into the sky with long hoses or even shooting them up there with naval artillery. They'd be invisible to the naked eye, Wood argued, and harmless to the environment."

    Hold on, what about acid rain?

    • lars_larsen says:

      It doesn't rain in the arctic.

      • Yes it does.

        Even if it didn't, the sulfuric acid would come down somewhere in some form. Sulfur seems like an odd choice for this anyway. Why not titanium dioxide or even just water ice (sprayed from aircraft in such a way that it forms very fine crystals)?

        • lars_larsen says:

          If its raining at the north pole, I think we're already fucked.

          What I really meant was, the north pole is a desert. With rainfall similar to that of the sahara. Its so fucking cold there the air can barely hold any water vapor at all. There will be very little water to interact with sulfur dioxide.

          I guess its a choice of having no ice there, or having ice there with a thin acidic layer in it. Such layers can be found in arctic ice already from ancient volcanic eruptions.

          Sulfur is a strange choice, but probably chosen because thats how volcanos "dim" the earth.

  3. tiff_seattle says:

    s engineering the climate so bad?

    I suspect that 500 years from now the ethical implications of that idea will not even be questioned.

  4. Great plan....but who decides what is too warm or too cold?

  5. dpash says:

    Why do I keep coming back to Highlander 2?

    • cjensen says:

      Highlander 2? There was no Highlander 2.

      Am I the only one who prefers global warming to an ice age? In an Ice Age, there is no Canada, no Minnesota, no New England, and no New York, but Texas, Alabama, and the rest of the American south still exist. That can't be good.

      • dpash says:

        That's what we like: Denial.

      • jakenelson says:

        Global warming is almost certain to cause an ice age for the areas you mentioned. Climate is more complicated than it seems.

        I live in Minnesota, so it's been on my mind for a while.

      • zonereyrie says:

        And with global warming coastal areas will flood, severe storms will lash the coasts more often, and the middle of the US, northern Europe, etc, become deserts.

        And then we'll have an Ice Age anyway because that's how the cycles work. Basically an Ice Age is inveitable, unless we really can engineer the climate, we're just accelerating the cycle to bring the next one earlier.

  6. saltdawg says:

    Hey, I'm down with it. Let's just test it out in Iraq first.

  7. telecart says:

    Damnit, I thought of that ages ago.

  8. ak_47 says:

    I don't think it will be efficient. I have better idea. We need to pick up some unfortunate country, which is doomed anyway (Iraq or N.Korea will do) and at proper turn of the Earth we will explode there a dozen of most powerful nuclear bombs. This explosion will nudge the Earth a little bit further form the Sun, hereby cooling our atmosphere. If there is a danger that global freezing might incur new ice age, then we just explode a dozen of bombs again at proper turn of the Earth in the same unfortuante country. So, the explosion will nugde the Earth a little towards the Sun, thus correcting previous miscalculations. In the future this country naturally will be free of any presence of men, so we will be able to fence it all around and make first in the world Earth Climate Nudgepad.

    • jkonrath says:

      There's no way to generate enough energy, even through fusion or fission, to push the Earth above its escape velocity from the sun. A dozen of the biggest hydrogen bombs ever made probably wouldn't even alter the moon's path that much. Your only hope would be to either radically increase the mass of the earth or the mass of the sun, and both of those are probably out of our means.

      The following is stolen from a usenet post on alt.destroy.the.earth:
      The gravitational binding energy of a sphere is:


      where G is the gravitational constant, M is the mass of the body and r
      is its radius (source:

      The Earth's mass is 5.9742x10^24 kg and it has a mean radius of 6,372 km
      (also from Wikipedia)

      Hence, you need to apply 2.243x10^32 J or 53.6 zettatons of TNT to
      disperse the mass of the Earth against gravitational forces only. Now,
      taking the yield of a modern nuclear warhead to be 1.2 megatons of TNT
      (MT), we'd need about 4.47x10^19 such bombs.

      That's 45 million trillion nukes.

      The whole nuclear war/nuclear winter/melt the ice caps with a nuke school of thought is a bit trite to me, because all of these methods won't cause an end to the planet, just an end to man. And most of the current discussion about global warming seems to embrace the end of man=end of earth theory. But if we cause global warming and seal the fate of every single mammal on the planet, the planet and many forms of life on the planet will continue. In fact, plants and other forms of life would thrive if we raised the temperature.

      I think the death of man = death of planet philosophy is a lot like saying "I am the center of the universe, and when I die, the entire world will stop", which is obviously the thought pattern of the average Hummer-driving suburbanite. But it's not the big picture, and as a purist, I think we need to focus on methods of destruction that will take out the entire planet as a whole, so nothing could ever live here again.

      • ak_47 says:

        But we don't want the Earth to escape its orbit. Oh no! It will be foolish thing to do. All we need is just a little correction of its orbit. Just a tiniest nudge, so eternal frost will cover the Earth. I can't wait to see how all roaches and gnats and pigeons will agonize on shining ice!

        Don't get me wrong. I don't want to destroy the Earth completely. Just all those nasty creatures that get in our way.. Plants can go, too. Boffins will invent something, that's for sure. Some bio-reactor for corpses or alike to get enough food for everyone. Of course, we will need to mate quite productively under the Earth in that circumstances. So, I think, male to female ratio as 1:10 is perfectly appropriate for this. I'm going to love that bomb, you know.

      • lars_larsen says:

        Changing the mass of the earth would NOT change its orbit around the sun at all. A baseball would happily orbit the sun in earth's place exactly the same way. Its not the mass that matters, its the velocity. If mass were important, astronauts would be ripped away from the space station the moment they stepped out of the airlock since they're a lot lighter than the station.

        Also, the idea of blowing up bombs to raise the earth's orbit wont work either. If you did that, the earth would fall right back down into a stable orbit. You'd have to speed up the earth's velocity around the sun to raise its orbit. If you set those bombs off BEHIND the earth, so it pushed it forward in its current path instead of away from the sun, then yes it would raise the earth's orbit around the sun.

        • jkonrath says:

          Changing the mass of the earth would NOT change its orbit around the sun at all.

          F = G*M*m/r^2 - big M is the sun's mass, little m is the Earth's. If you change one number in the equation, something else also has to change.

          Granted, given the fact that the Earth's mass is just under 6x10^24 kg and the sun's is just shy of 2x10^30, even changing the Earth's mass by an order of magnitude isn't going to pull it that much closer to the Sun. (And I have no idea how to bulk up the planet like that, except for some giant asteroid-capturing program.) But if you did fatten up the Earth that much, good luck on keeping the Moon in orbit. (And hey, that's a good plan, considering how much it would fuck up tides.)

          Mass isn't that much of a factor for astronauts because the difference between a 200 lb astronaut and a quarter-million pound shuttle in orbit is almost inconsequential compared to the mass of the Earth.

          And what you said about increasing the Earth's velocity to raise the orbit is exactly right. But it would take some work to do though, since the Earth is rotating, and there's no static "behind" from which to explode the nukes. Maybe you could explode them at the poles, pointing "back" somehow. And to be fair, the same method could be used to slow the Earth and drop it into a closer orbit, if you prefer a fiery death to an icy one.

          • lars_larsen says:

            I'm well aware of how to calculate gravitational force with 2 bodies. The problem is this equation finds the force, not the acceleration. More massive objects require more force to accelerate.

            The earth wants to travel in a straight line off into space. Gravity tries to accelerate the earth towards the sun. If the earth is more massive, it requires more force to accelerate it towards the sun.

            This is why objects of different mass fall at the same rate. Larger objects have more force upon them, but their inertia means they require more force to accelerate them.

            The earth has momentum (mass x velocity) trying to fly off into space. If you increase the mass, the earth will "want" to fly off into space more and be farther from the sun. If it weren't for gravity's force increasing due to increased mass this would actually happen. The only other thing you can change in the equation is the velocity, and if you speed up the earth, its momentum increases, and gravity only cares about the mass which didn't change, so its force stays the same and the orbit goes up.

            I wish I could saw I pwned you, but I didn't, Newton did.

            • deviant_ says:

              Huh? Is it "ignore F=ma" day again already?

              Newton pwned who?

              • lars_larsen says:

                Is it ignore the equivalence principle day?

                I'm not ignoring F=ma, lets use it!

                F = m1 a

                where F is the applied force, a the imparted acceleration, and m1 the inertial mass.

                Newton's Universal Law of Gravity:

                Fg = G Mg mg / r^2

                where Fg is the force of gravity, Mg is the gravitational mass of one of the bodies, mg is the gravitational mass of the other body, and r is the distance between their centers.

                If you equate the Fg from the second equation with the F of the first equation, then you can calculate the acceleration that the force of gravity produces. It is:

                g = ag = Fg/m1 = G Mg (mg/m1) / r^2

                The equivalence principle states that the gravitational mass of a body is identical to the inertial mass of the body, mg = m1, so then:

                g = G Mg / r^2

                Which is independent of the mass m1 = mg = m of the body being accelerated. Because the equivalence principle holds, the acceleration due to gravity that a body experiences is independent of the mass of the body.

                This means if you replaced the moon with a baseball, in the same position and velocity, it will happily orbit the earth feeling the same acceleration as the moon did. However, the earth will not feel the same acceleration. For example, we'd loose our tides.


                Newton pwned you too!

          • ak_47 says:

            I think that we need to ask mice to redesign whole solar system. It's extremely rigid, lacks any means of control and everything is hardcoded. It might be acceptable for beta but release version must be much more user friendly and customizable.

    • benediktus says:

      durrrr.. i saw the movie, too

  9. bdu says:

    Of course, one of the big issues with this is that it'll reduce the amount of sunlight making it to plants/soil/animals/etc.

    One of the lesser-discussed issues in the big picture is how the pollution has been simultaneously increasing temperature while reducing sunlight energy that makes it to the planet surface.

    This plan worsens one to improve the other.

  10. benediktus says:

    shouldn't we wait with that plan 'til ai overlords rely on solar power?

  11. phoenixredux says:

    "Any moron with a pack of matches can set a fire. Raining down sulfur is like an endurance trial. Mass genocide is the most exhausting activity one can engage in . . . next to soccer."