The smiling multi-billionaire plans to understand how effectively chalk in the stratosphere protects the planet from sunlight, and if the result is good, spray it there in gigantic amounts. This is potentially a fruitful idea: scientists have long shown that it is possible to achieve complete coverage of the Earth with stable ice - right up to the equator. Alas, Gates' idea is plagiarism, and not the best one. A Soviet researcher proposed a similar one half a century ago with more effective sulfur. Another thing is more interesting: such events almost destroyed humanity once. We understand the details, as well as whether we are in danger of repetition.
The founder of Microsoft gave a modest three million dollars for a very simple project: to lift two kilograms of chalk 19 kilometers and scatter them there from a height. The purpose of the event is good: to find out how effective such spraying is, how far the particles are carried. Based on this, it will be possible to accurately calculate how much chalk needs to be distributed in the stratosphere in order to … yes, you guessed it, to save the Earth from global warming.
Why is it necessary to drag 19 kilometers for this? The fact is that it is useless to spray anything in the troposphere: it rains there, taking away the dust. Let's say the Sahara throws 1, 6-1, 7 gigatons of sand and dust into the troposphere annually, but when they get into humid zones, all this dust falls out with rain. Therefore, the largest desert, although it cools the planet, does it poorly: Bill Gates needs much more.
Unfortunately, some Western scholars, in a hurry and without understanding, criticize the famous philanthropist Gates. University of Edinburgh professor Stuart Haszeldine even told the Times that
"Yes, it will cool the planet by reflecting solar radiation, but once you start doing this, it will be like throwing heroin through a vein: you have to do it over and over again to maintain the effect."
We are indignant at such an underestimation of the possibilities of the "global Cretaceous". And we'll show you why below.
Who was the first to suggest darkening the Sun in the sky?
With regard to global warming, the Western world is demonstrating approximately the same evolution as the Soviet scientific world - only much more slowly. Recall that the fact of global warming due to CO2 emissions was calculated (still on semi-empirical models) by climatologist Mikhail Budykov in the 1960s. In 1971, he presented this thesis at an international conference, where there were many American scientists - and almost all of them objected to him. After all, then the idea was in vogue that the planet was undergoing a global cooling (from the emissions of sulfur dioxide that appeared during the combustion of coal). Budyko, however, was able to show that CO2 is much stronger than SO2 (fortunately, much more of it is emitted). Ten years later, the voices of those who objected to him ceased.
But the researcher did not calm down on the very discovery of the phenomenon. He tried to assess its capabilities, and according to the first rough estimates, it seemed to him that warming could stop wind transport from the sea inland. Therefore, he thought, droughts could occur there.In the depths of Eurasia lay the bulk of the territory of the USSR, which made Budyko think about how to stop global warming?
He proposed to do this with the help of planes burning sulfur in the stratosphere. Why did he consider the best way to burn sulfur, and not spray chalk, as the current executors of Gates' plans?
The thing is that when sulfur is burned, SO2 is formed - sulphurous anhydride. At the same time, half of its mass is obtained from atmospheric oxygen, which halves the cost of transporting material to the stratosphere - and it is quite expensive. This substance in the stratosphere provides an effective anti-greenhouse effect - it prevents the sun's rays from entering the troposphere and heating the planet's surface.
One kilogram of sulfur burned in the stratosphere will counterbalance the greenhouse effect of several hundred tons of carbon dioxide. One hundred thousand tons of sulfur delivered there are all modern emissions of anthropogenic CO2. Even the least optimistic estimates point out that an annual injection of 5 million tons of SO2 into the stratosphere may be enough to drastically limit global warming.
The question naturally arises. Budyko proposed his method half a century ago. Of course, Western magazines do not write that he did it first, but the method itself, no doubt, has been mentioned there more than once since then. Why offer chalk? The chalk molecule is much heavier, meaning it will settle on the planet's surface faster and cool it less efficiently. Why choose less efficient when you can choose more efficient?
The formal answer to this question is this: SO2 is dangerous for the ozone layer, it simply destroys ozone. We wrote "formal" for a reason: the absorption spectra of ultraviolet radiation for SO2 and O3 coincide, therefore, destroying ozone, sulfur dioxide still blocks ultraviolet light. So there is no particular point in replacing it with chalk non-destructive ozone.
Perhaps the one who proposed this replacement simply wanted to immortalize his name in the fight against warming - so he tried to invent his own, original way. So to speak, import substitution of a non-local idea.
How chalk in heaven differs from heroin in Vienna
Although chalk cools the Earth less efficiently than sulfur dioxide, it is undeniably capable of doing so. Moreover, contrary to the objections of opponents, it is absolutely not necessary that the introduction of chalk into the atmosphere is really supported constantly.
As Mikhail Budyko noted, the earth's climate today (unlike the ancient, say, Mesozoic) is fundamentally unstable. This is because today there are permanent polar ice caps (they were rare for the last 500 million years) that reflect solar radiation well. Because of this, the cooling of the planet began to give a previously absent positive feedback: the colder it is on it, the more ice forms, reflecting solar radiation into space. Which will make it colder. Budyko summarizes it this way:
“It turned out that with the existing influx of solar radiation, in addition to the currently observed meteorological regime, a regime of complete glaciation of the planet with very low temperatures at all latitudes and a regime of partial glaciation, in which the ice cover occupies a significant part of the Earth's surface, can take place. The latter regime is unstable, while the regime of complete glaciation is characterized by a high degree of stability”.
This is because if glaciation gets to critically low latitudes - equatorial - then the reflectivity of the Earth will increase so much that the global average temperature will drop by tens of degrees. It will get cold everywhere, after which any terrestrial vegetation will die. Budyko noted that in the last ice age - the strongest in a very long time - the planet came critically close to this state.
Therefore, the conclusion "the introduction of chalk into the atmosphere will have to be supported again and again" is, of course, scientifically not entirely correct.If enough chalk (or sulfur dioxide) is sprayed into the atmosphere for glaciation to reach at least North Africa, further glaciation of the Earth will become self-sustaining - and the victory over global warming will thus become eternal.
Not completely eternal, of course. About 600-700 million years ago, there was cryogeny on Earth - just such a period when glaciers covered it all, including the equator. However, over time, some not yet completely clear processes nevertheless led to the melting of the ice. However, from the point of view of our species, we will talk about eternity - cryogeny lasted at least tens of millions of years.
This shows that Gates' initiative does not potentially require constant efforts at all: it only needs to give a powerful impetus to the cooling. Moreover, he will not be able to make such efforts: after the death of autotrophic terrestrial plants, which is inevitable during global glaciations, our species will hardly be able to maintain intense activity of any kind.
Actually, the scenario when the fight against global warming by spraying various compounds in the stratosphere led to the complete glaciation of the planet has already been played out in pop culture and cinema (rather, alas, mediocre). True, there the post-glacial phase of human existence is shown somewhat unrealistically: in reality, there will be no railways, of course, in such a world. Glaciers will simply blow them away - with their steady movement to the south.
Is the Gates plan feasible?
Darkening the earthly skies is the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to combat global warming. When choosing between it and literally any other alternative, one should strongly prefer blackout over anything else.
First, the rest of the fight involves reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere to pre-industrial values - from the current 410 to 280 parts per million. This will mean at least a ten percent decrease in crop yields. That is, either a mass famine, or a sharp increase in the plowing of new lands. The latter is unrealistic without reducing part of the tropical jungle, in terms of biodiversity, is much more valuable than all the forests of Russia put together (in the latter there are fewer species than in tiny Costa Rica alone).
Of course, the Gates global chalk darkening will also lead to a decrease in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere - because as the ocean cools, it will absorb more of this gas per unit volume of water. But the decline will not be as dramatic as fighting anthropogenic CO2 from the atmosphere suggested by others. This means that the clearing of tropical forests will be smoother, and native species will live a little longer.
Do not forget that global dimming will deprive plants of some of the light they absorb, which will reduce global yields by 2-5%. From this it is obvious that it is better to darken the planet. After all, the drop in the yield of cultivated plants and the biomass of wild plants will be smoother, more extended in time.
Second, the Gates method is cheap. According to calculations for sulfur dioxide, only 2-8 billion dollars a year will be enough to stop global warming without reducing anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This is very little, only the personal fortune of the same Gates is $ 138 billion. He is a kind person, so he spent more than $ 50 billion on charity. Surely, he will be able to invest a lot in this project.
To understand how insignificant these 2-8 billion a year are, let us recall: according to the most conservative estimates, the transition to renewable energy alone requires $ 4.4 trillion a year. Moreover, this is not enough to stop the warming: CO2 already accumulated in the atmosphere will heat it for many centuries, even if the anthropogenic emissions of this gas fall to zero tomorrow.
It costs a thousand times less annual cost to darken the planet - and can actually stop warming, unlike the transition to renewable energy. 2-8 billion a year is a negligible figure, at the level of 1% of the US military budget. Obviously, even this one state, if desired, will easily close global warming in a progressive way, promoted by Bill Gates.
Finally, global blackout has a third plus: as the press rightly points out, it mimics a deeply natural process.
Toba: Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Gates Global Dimming
The point is that global blackout in the history of the Earth is a regular phenomenon, and it was this that was the trigger for many ice ages. Such blackouts occur every time there is a strong eruption of an aboveground volcano. The last time was in 1991, when the volcano Pinatubo in the Philippines threw 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere (a heated heavy gas can rise significantly higher than the lighter molecules of the surrounding air).
As noted by the editors of the journal Nature: “This eruption cooled the planet by 0.5 ° C. For a year and a half, the average earth temperature returned to that which was before the invention of the steam engine."
This temperature is the holy grail for so many people on this planet. It is clear that for the sake of achieving it, they will put up with very serious sacrifices. Moreover, any other way to achieve it - besides darkening the atmosphere - will require much more sacrifices.
Of course, the Pinatubo eruption was far from the strongest. Much stronger eruptions in the 19th century gave Tambora and Krakatoa, and on February 16, 1600, Huaynaputina in Peru. Then the emission reached 50-100 million tons of SO2 at a time. As a result, even in the northern hemisphere, temperatures dropped by several years. In Russia, for example, the temperature dropped so much that there was the worst famine in its history. During 1601-1603, 127 thousand of those who died from him were buried in Moscow alone. However, famine then affected the most different parts of the planet.
But this is also a non-record example. The strongest volcanic eruption during the existence of our species is Toba, about 75 thousand years ago. Then six billion tons of sulfur dioxide got into the atmosphere. How much exactly then the temperature dropped - scientists are still arguing (figures from 1 to 15 degrees are called, the truth is probably in the region of 3-5 degrees). But geneticists are well aware that the number of people who left their genes to us during this period shrank many times. The total number of the breeding human population about 70-80 thousand years ago fell to 1000-10,000 individuals, which is extremely small.
It should be remembered that by that time people were already not only in Africa, but also in Asia. This means that no non-global event could repeatedly drop their numbers - and apart from the eruption of Toba, there are no other candidates for the role of such a global mini-apocalypse.
Conclusion: The darkening of the Earth is an ancient and well-proven method of its extremely intense cooling. Gates' events do "echo nature" in the most literal sense. Of course, it will not be brought to the scale of Toba: the level of Pinatubo, that is, a return to pre-industrial temperatures, will suffice.
But we doubt that such blackout will be implemented in practice in the next decades, and here's why.
The ideology of antihumanism and its implications in the fight against warming
The world in the last hundred years has seen the ups and downs of very curious and illogical ideologies - from Nazism to "emotional capitalism". One of the most exotic among them is antihumanism.
In the most general sense, this is a departure from the idea of some value of people as a phenomenon. The specific refraction of this ideology in the environment of conservationists and public figures was accurately summed up by Robert Zubrin:
“According to this idea, human beings are a cancer of planet Earth, a species whose aspirations and appetites threaten the“natural order of things”.
Of course, there is no "natural order of things" in the real world. Nature is always in motion and struggle, it is constantly changing. The peak of glaciation in England coincided with the absence of any terrestrial species there (for a glacier), and the peak of interglacials coincided with the habitation of hippos there. Which of these was the "natural order of things"? What exactly should we strive to restore?
Therefore, it is difficult to immediately understand what exactly a person threatens within the framework of the concept of antihumanism. A careful study of the ideas of his supporters shows: they call "natural" such a state of affairs that existed before man began to noticeably influence the environment (until 1750).
The best development of events for antihumanism is the maximum possible reduction in the number of people, and ideally, their complete elimination by reducing the possibilities for reproduction.
For truly consistent antihumanists, everything that comes from a person is bad - regardless of how it affects the environment. Darkening the planet by spraying chalk (or burning sulfur) in the atmosphere is a very bad decision for anti-humanism, because it comes from a person.
A true anti-humanist will not be at all impressed by the fact that this solution is a thousand times cheaper than combating CO2 emissions through renewable energy - and at the same time it is also effective, and unlike such a fight. He does not care at all about the waste of mankind, as a doctor does not care about the problems of a cancerous tumor in the process of anticancer therapy. Moreover, he is not even interested in the fact that the fight against certain specific manifestations is generally effective. After all, antihumanism is an irrational concept, in fact, it is just another kind of secular religion.
Because of this, its carriers prefer to reason not in a rational way, but, as anthropologists called it a hundred years ago, in a "magical" way. The essence of magical thinking is simple: symbolic actions can fulfill your desires, even if outwardly they do not look rational. “Wrong” symbolic actions will lead you to defeat, even if they seem rational.
The same Nature shows how this leads to a deterioration in attitudes towards any projects to darken the Earth: “Some conservation groups argue that the [dimming] effort is a dangerous distraction from the only permanent solution to the problem of global warming: reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The scientific outcome of such experiments is actually unimportant, notes one of the opponents of such experiments, Jim Thomas …"
So, what science says is not important for anti-humanism. The same Jim Thomas, after all, opposed GMOs - that is, for him the problem is not in global warming, but in everything that comes from a person. That is why it does not matter to him that spraying in the stratosphere will stop warming, and the fight against CO2 emissions in the foreseeable future will not.
For him and people like him, very strong voices among modern greens, something else is important: it is necessary to fight against the elimination of human influence on the environment. And the global blackout is trying to achieve the seemingly holy goal of cooling the planet by "devilish" means. That is, by the actions of a person who is similar to a cancerous tumor, and therefore the unnatural solutions to any problems brought by him should be rejected simply because they, like anthropogenic CO2, come from a person.
In light of all this, the initiative of Bill Gates, with all its formal rationality, will be rejected by the conservation mainstream. Without the unity of such a mainstream, getting this idea through Western politicians will be very difficult, if not impossible.
If all this happens, there will be no realistic way to stop the rise in temperatures in the 21st century. And this can lead to a funny result: hostility to everything anthropogenic will lead the green community to the inability to fight this very anthropogenic one. It looks like a really fun century awaits us.