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An old tale as told here:

In Persia many centuries ago, the Sufi mullah or holy man Nasruddin was arrested after preaching in the great square in front of the Shah's palace. The local clerics had objected to Mullah Nasruddin's unorthodox teachings, and had demanded his arrest and execution as a heretic. Dragged by palace guards to the Shah's throne room, he was sentenced immediately to death.

As he was being taken away, however, Nasruddin cried out to the Shah: "O great Shah, if you spare me, I promise that within a year I will teach your favourite horse to sing!"

The Shah knew that Sufis often told the most outrageous fables, which sounded blasphemous to many Muslims but which were nevertheless intended as lessons to those who would learn. Thus he had been tempted to be merciful, anyway, despite the demands of his own religious advisors. Now, admiring the audacity of the old man, and being a gambler at heart, he accepted his proposal.

The next morning, Nasruddin was in the royal stable, singing hymns to the Shah's horse, a magnificent white stallion. The animal, however, was more interested in his oats and hay, and ignored him. The grooms and stablehands all shook their heads and laughed at him. "You old fool", said one. "What have you accomplished by promising to teach the Shah's horse to sing? You are bound to fail, and when you do, the Shah will not only have you killed - you'll be tortured as well, for mocking him!"

Nasruddin turned to the groom and replied: "On the contrary, I have indeed accomplished much. Remember, I have been granted another year of life, which is precious in itself. Furthermore, in that time, many things can happen. I might escape. Or I might die anyway. Or the Shah might die, and his successor will likely release all prisoners to celebrate his accession to the throne".

"Or...". Suddenly, Nasruddin smiled. "Or, perhaps, the horse will learn to sing".

By the mid-21st century many things can happen. The slow global growth of environmental awareness may continue. Beyond community blogs, beyond Wikipedia, beyond what we imagine, collective intelligence may bloom in internet-space. And transform thinking, and visions, and politics. And enable the step beyond.

In the world of the physical, learning from life the arts of abundance may replace coal with sunlight, poverty with wealth, and Earth's crushing human burden with a far lighter load. And the next generation may laugh at our fears as they draw carbon from air and put it back in Earth's depths.
------

Perhaps our horse will learn to sing.
It sometimes seems, for a moment, to hum a few notes.
What songs should we try to teach?

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 03:33:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is our political economy that has to change, and our attitude for the Earth.  

Enabling addiction will not serve.  

When the SO2 comes out of the stratophere after civilization collapses, its a snap-back:  The problems that have been masked re-assert themselves in full.  

It is stupid and cruel to buy time at the expense of the future.  

There is something wrong with humanity that we could even think it.  But that is probably why we are in the fix we are in.  

If there are any human survivors on the other side of this geological boundary, they will not thank us.  Really.  

So, to your second point, what is worth doing RIGHT NOW--what "song?"  Well, perhaps, relearning sustainable ways.  This is harder than it sounds--civilized destruction of life support is real.  And certainly it is as quixotic as singing to a horse.  

Because this is a process not of governments, but of small groups, who certainly are going to (at best) be ignored.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 04:19:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know of a snap-back effect that is so horrible that it would justify destroying civilisation for fear of what might happen if civilisation were destroyed.

Indeed, some effects are in the opposite direction: Warming delayed means less ice melted, less tundra darkened by scrub, less defrosted humus releasing CO2...
--------------

Regarding what to say, consider the difference between two situations:

  1. Those most concerned and knowledgeable regarding climate change take the lead in evaluating the facts and uncertainties of any proposed fix. They strive to keep the discussion reality based. If people and political leaderships choose to go forward, they strive to keep expectations realistic, and to keep unaddressed problems -- ocean acidification, and so on -- in clear view. They urge that a fix be a bridge to something better.

  2. Those most concerned and knowledgeable oppose the concept en mass, as if by reflex. As public discussion unfolds, they're easily positioned as merely defending their old agenda. Since the option they oppose will, in fact, stop global warming, they become the "pro-warming" faction. Right about there, the wheels come off. The hucksters win almost by default, set the agenda, stomp the losers, and tell everyone that the world is safe for coal and SUVs. Then warming is, in fact, stopped.

I prefer (1), that is, putting truth before policy. This will, in the end, lead to more influence and better policy.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 06:34:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Will civilization survive?  A loaded question I suppose, and anyway, people, if alive, will always be doing something, and that by definition that is their civilization.  

But what WE are doing is unsustainable, and we will not be doing it much longer.  So yes, OUR civilization will go, will COLLAPSE--whether we like it or not--and it is not a question of SEEKING to destroy our civilization, which is actually doing that particular job all by itself.  

I do believe good thought, including scientific knowledge, might be used--and indeed should be used--to ameliorate the consequences of what is happening now.  But the SO2 scheme is at least a double-edged sword--if it does not have more edges than that--because its capability for harm is at least as great as for good, and depends critically on who studies it and implements it and when.  To be a back-up plan, used only in need, in a context where sustainability is actually happening (not our world) is totally different from introducing it in the fore, with--as is clearly the case for some--the intention that the transition to sustainability be evaded and postponed.  In this latter scenerio SO2 will make the catastrophe of transition worse.  

Your point 2) opens an evil scenerio that never occurred to me:  A world thick with smog but kept just barely cool enough by heavy doses of stratospheric SO2, which must be perpetually increased as CO2 loading of the atmosphere continues, until we find effects from precipitating SO2 (acid rain returns) becoming important.  

Perhaps this was anticipated in Marge Percy's "Woman on the Edge of Time."  

But you are wrong to imply that this can be continued indefinitely, and that to oppose it is to be pro-warming.  It would just be another stage in the death-slide.  

Are you asking how can we persuade people to avoid this scenerio?  It is surely worth doing.  

I suspect there is a good reason to oppose stratospheric SO2 injection intuitively.  And should we find un-intuitive, logical and fact-based reasons?  That is a good idea.  

Your scenerio of point 2) is reason enough to oppose, but there is no reason not to have more facts.  

Migeru read me right.  The snap-back is not the problem of the SO2 returning, which is separate and not argued here.  It is that using SO2 to allow greater CO2 loading will mean that when the SO2 comes out of the stratosphere, the global warming will be greater and sharper than it otherwise would have been.  

This creates a more desolate post-boundary environment.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 07:04:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But what WE are doing is unsustainable, and we will not be doing it much longer.  So yes, OUR civilization will go, will COLLAPSE--whether we like it or not...

I agree that it isn't sustainable, and I don't expect it to last long by historic standards, or even by human-lifetime standards. Collapse is possible, but what I think more likely is a radical transformation (for better or worse) driven by increasingly powerful technologies. Self-destruction is one possibility, but not quite the same as collapse.

...its capability for harm is at least as great as for good, and depends critically on who studies it and implements it and when.

Yes. My main reason for bringing up this topic is that, a week ago, I realised that there may well be a "who", "when", and "why", and that we need to give this careful thought before it gets much higher on the public radar screen.

...A world thick with smog but kept just barely cool enough by heavy doses of stratospheric SO2, which must be perpetually increased as CO2 loading of the atmosphere continues, until we find effects from precipitating SO2 (acid rain returns) becoming important.

The numbers say that along an endlessly-increasing-fix path, acidity caused by SO2 would always be much less than that caused by CO2. The oceans would still acidify.

...you are wrong to imply that this can be continued indefinitely, and that to oppose it is to be pro-warming.

I'm sorry, I didn't intend to imply that it could continue indefinitely. I do think that, if the facts look as they do now, and if the debate slides in the direction that scares me, the label "pro-warming" could be made to stick.

I suspect there is a good reason to oppose stratospheric SO2 injection intuitively.  And should we find un-intuitive, logical and fact-based reasons?  That is a good idea.

Intense, sceptical evaluation is vital. I think there will be no problem in getting this to happen, however, because I can't imagine anything going forward before climate scientists model it inside-out and critics raise every imaginable objection, both good and bad. So, I recommend calling loudly for study, expecting to get it, and proceeding on that assumption.

What I'm encouraging here is that we consider which advocacy positions will and won't make sense, depending on what the facts seem to be at the time. I see pitfalls here that need to be clearly recognised and avoided.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Tue Oct 17th, 2006 at 02:48:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Analysing the sunscreen proposal is a good thing to do, staying ahead of the curve and all. But you two also raise another question that I would phrase as this:

"Sacrifice the lifeboats to plug the holes in the ship or start tearing things from the ship to make make-shift lifeboats?"

And ay, that be a mighty good question.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Oct 17th, 2006 at 09:49:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I like the image, but I don't understand how you intend for the metaphor to apply.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Wed Oct 18th, 2006 at 01:55:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is an image that has come to me during different discussions (internet and IRL), and seemed appropriate here as Gaianne is basically arguing against something that would worsen the situation in the lifeboats (snap back).

Perhaps it can be better formulated as: "At what time do you stop sacrificing the lifeboats to plug the holes in the ship and start tearing things from the ship to make make-shift lifeboats?"

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 11:38:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gaianne, do you know about biological pest control? Often the best remedy for the havoc wreaked by the introduction of an allochtonous species into an ecosystem (which becomes a pest even if it wasn't one in its home environment) is to identify a specific parasite  or predator from its home environment and introduce it in its turn.

After a few instances of this we have learnt that it is just not wise to introduce new species into an ecosystem. Because of the economic consequences of this, the US has strict controls on importation of food, let alone living beings or seeds.

It is unfortunate that the same awareness does not extend to GM foods, but eventually it must when the economic damage from it forces governments to regulate GM crops like they do foreign species.

I agree with technopolitical that it is always a good thing to know more, not less, about what can be done to mitigate the effects of our past mistakes.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 07:15:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is our political economy that has to change, and our attitude for the Earth.  Enabling addiction will not serve.

Pseudoreligious nonsense.  If this SO2 sunscreen (or some other technology) proves that no fundamental change is necessary, you still won't even consider changing your opinion.

When the SO2 comes out of the stratophere after civilization collapses,...

...nobody will be around to give a fsck about it.  So what?!  Besides, read paragraph 3 of the post to understand just how much SO2 will come out.

by ustenzel on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 06:35:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that Gaianne isn't concerned about the effects of SO2 coming out (which it would do on a steady basis, regardless), but instead about the negative effects of losing its cooling effects all at once, causing abrupt warming that might well be more ecologically damaging than slow warming.

There is a valid concern here, though I think that Gaianne gives it too much weight for several reasons:

  • First, treating the collapse of civilisation as certain claims more knowledge of the future than I think anyone can have at this point.

  • Second, the scenario requires that a collapse be both world-wide and remarkably thorough, because putting SO2 in the stratosphere isn't very difficult. Since a generous estimate of the cost is 1/5000 of GWP, an economic collapse could be 99% complete, yet the cost would be no more than 2% of the remaining GWP. (And the job could be done with technology at the WWII level or less.)

  • Third, I don't see any snap-back effects that are likely to be worse than the cumulative effect of decades of warm conditions, for example, polar melting.

(BTW, I usually avoid claiming that I know any particular person's unspoken thoughts and motives, or predicting that they will never reconsider an opinion. I'm much more comfortable making predictions that substantial groups will react in a particular way -- for example, I think that your prediction regarding Gaianne will surely prove true of many people.)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 11:40:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I usually avoid claiming that I know any particular person's unspoken thoughts and motives

So do I, but "it is our political ecomony that has to change" is a spoken thought and presented as a given, without factual support or room for a counter argument.  Without an argument, why our economy has to change, it's religion and not science.

by ustenzel on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 06:14:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You make my point for me:  

In the absence of change, we enter the scenerio implied by technopolitical's point 2).  SO2 injected into the stratosphere keeps the Earth just barely cool enough.  Making no change, we keep releasing CO2 into the lower atmosphere at an increasing rate, as a by-product of continuing and expanding industrial civilization.  As a result, the amount of SO2 that needs to be injected into the stratosphere also increases, until the precipitating SO2 DOES become an environmental problem.  We have then achieved a world that is just barely cool, and multiply polluted.  

At what point do these extra problems add to the accelerating destruction of the biosphere to the extent that it ends human life support?  That time comes.  

Fundamental change is not only necessary, it is going to happen whether or not anybody likes it.  The only question is whether there is a way to choose the better, rather than the worse, changes.  

nobody will be around to give a fsck about it.

I don't favor policies of extinction.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 07:19:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Read the article again: this isn't about avoiding change.  CO2 reduction alone will not reverse global warming, not within a timeframe of a few decades.  But a SO2 sunscreen will.  The two are orthogonal, and probably both will be necessary.

Am I still making your point for you?  Most certainly not.  This whole "but $TECHNOLOGY will not accelerate transitioning to $GREEN_PIPEDREAM and is therefore bad" argument is still religious in nature, off-topic anyway and prevents rational discussion of the proper course of action.  Besides being just wrong, that is.

by ustenzel on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 03:08:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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