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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

James Wimberley warns about Black Helicopters. Kevin Drum agrees. Paul Krugman thinks they understate the danger.

Wimberley just topped the post criticizing Glenn Greenwald for being to soft on the Obama administration in the "huh are you sure those are the same facts" derby.

Also James Wimberly and Kevin Drum agree that Sulfer Dioxide (SO_2) is the same thing as Sulfate (SO_4). They are wrong. 4 is not equal to 2. Sulfer Dioxide is not Sulfate or even Sulfuric Acid (H_2S=_4). It is a much much more vicious chemical.

The critique of the proposal to send sulfer dioxide up 18 mile tubes would be more convincing coming from people who refreshed their memories of High School chemistry enough to not claim that a different molecule is involved.

I quote Wimberley "One of Levitt and Dubner’s unfounded enthusiasms is for geoengineering solutions to CO2 forcing, specifically massive injection of sulphate aerosols ino the atmosphere to shield the earth from solar radiation by artificial smog." OK at least the next words are "Not being an expert ..." You don't say ?

Here is Drum

"they're fans of the idea of pumping huge amounts of sulfates into the stratosphere in order to reflect a little bit of sunlight back into space and away from earth."

OK now let's ask the Wikipedia if sulfer dioxide is sulfate (or a sulfate)

Here is Sulfate see 4 oxygens not 2
Here is Sulfur Dioxide. See 2 oxygens not 4 (as the name suggests)

I think the fact that two of the smartest people in the known universe made the exact same high school level error suggests that people are in a bit too much of a rush to denounce geoengineering.

Moving up from the molecular scale, Wimberley argues that for geoengineering to work there must be an unaccountable not responsible (in the constitutional sense) international technocratic committee in charge. Hence the black helicopters.

He writes
2. For the same reasons, the measures cannot be national or regional in scale. They will be inherently global in their effects, even if carried out by or in a single country. The political cover accordingly has to be global.

and concludes

I conclude that the only possible locus for the Monnet-style delegation is to an agency under the fig-leaf auspices of the United Nations. It could have an anodyne title: “The executive subcommittee of IPCC Working Group III on technological mitigation”. The crucial word is executive. It would decide stuff, and give orders to the relevant agencies of member countries like NASA. The budget would have to be unlimited. Only very brave and knowledgeable people would volunteer; and they would need the equivalent of a witness protection programme for their personal safety.

Kevin Drum mostly agrees again

Everything seems easier when it's just an academic exercise. But geoengineering isn't something that a single country can pull off. It's a global problem, after all. That means treaties and conferences and endless debate over costs and benefits and what the target temperatures ought to be and who's responsible for side effects.

Paul Krugman thinks that Drum and Wimberley are unaware of the risks of geoengineering

Having somebody — who? The United States? The United Nations? The Coalition of the Willing? — pump sulfur into the atmosphere through an 18-mile tube, or cut off sunlight with a giant orbital mirror, would either (a) require many years of hard negotiations or (b) quite possibly set off World War III.

What planet are these people living on and trying to save ?

Why would the USA spewing S0_2 out of 18 mile chimneys be so different from spewing SO_2 out of thousand foot chimneys ? Since when has international law prevented anyone from putting anything other than chemical weapons in the atmosphere ?

Why would the world let us destroy the world with CO_2 but not add some SO_2 ?

I mean if you assume that the world can prevent countries from emitting pollutants then there is no problem to solve.

Look let me ask a broader question: When has the rest of the world ever prevented the USA from doing something inside US borders that the US decided to do ?

And a still broader two. Do you really think that "international law" is a useful descriptive term related to planet earth ? Is there any evidence that so called international law has any power to restrain the USA ?

Finally specifically for Wimberley. You have heard of the Federal Reserve Board haven't you ? They don't have any black helicopters at the Fed last I heard. The US senate does delegate immense power to executive bodies provided they exclude foreigners. This is also the body that gave the President the authority to start WW III and the constitution be damned.

I think that Levitt and Dubner have driven the blogosphere crazy with acute irritation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


The 18 mile tube idea is based on the fact that there the SO2 would not come into contact with water and interact with clouds. SO2 + H2O makes a mild (Sulfurous) acid which used to cause acid rain before SO2 was captured from powerstations burning oil and coal and is now purified and used to produce industrial sulphuric acid.

Sulphuric acid (H2SO4) is much stronger and is made using SO3 + H2O. This produces the Sulphate salts which are not produced directly from SO2.

We can be certain that SO2 causes problems when mixed with water and is damaging to ecosystems (it is a preservative used in alcoholic drinks.) Hence the 18 mile tubes to avoid contact between the two.

This solution would rely upon the SO2 remaining less dense than the air below it so that it didn't fall and enter clouds. It is frightening that this can be proposed without any control over the SO2 when it is up there. It could be far more damaging than the greenhouse effect itself. There was an old layd who swallowed a spider....