Indeed, an important check on humanity’s tendency for exponential growth, as well as impetus to technics themselves, appears to be war.
With regard to climate change, arguably currently threatening the global ecosystem, we have seen vast organism-caused shifts on Earth’s surface before, indeed ones orders-of-magnitude larger than anything humans have done or presumably will be able to do in the foreseeable future. The original green wildfires stemming from life’s ability to “burn” at room temperature created an atmospheric apocalypse—adding reactive O2 gas—oxygen—of which we are the happy inheritors. With regard to the much smaller addition of carbon dioxide by human beings (hundreds rather than hundreds of thousands parts per million as was the case with oxygen in the Archaean) we should perhaps be vigilant before we attempt to (quickly) fix it. On fixing things, there is a difference between something being wrong and knowing how to fix it. One danger here is techno-fixery, what might be called the “Oak Ridge Effect,” from the purported practice of engineers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. After nuclear testing, to save people from radioactivity leaked into the water supply, they added lead to the water supply, making matters much worse. Whether or not this is the case, the more we consider climate science an absolute certainty, the more likely it is that ill-considered geoengineering proposals will be put into place, lowering the chances of climate justice.
Ludwik Fleck’s analysis of thought-styles in professional science (Fleck was belatedly acknowledged as a precursor by Thomas Kuhn) is important here Fleck, a physician, noted that the effects of poisoning by the mercury used to treat syphilis became part of the description of that disease. Similarly, certain geoengineering is to increase temperatures. Certain geoengineering “solutions,” far from fixing warming could, as per the aforementioned “Oak Ridge Effect” exacerbate it. For example, it is thought that pervasive emplacement of particulate matter into the troposphere could retard the fall of rain or snow, heat the atmosphere, impede heat-loss from the Earth and then, upon finally settling to the ground, produce further heating as the particles absorb solar radiation by darkening reflective ice and snow. Moreover, if coal fly ash, an entropic waste of coal plants, is already being added to the atmosphere, it could lead to methylmercury poisoning and ozone-destroying chlorofluorohydrocarbons
Planetary temperatures were higher for hundreds of thousands of years in the Paleocene and Eocene 50 million years before humans evolved, when global mean temperatures averaged as high as 23 °C (73 °F) compared to under 15 °C (60 °F) today. At that time palm trees grew and crocodiles swam in the Arctic Circle, which was likely free of ice So, too in the Pliocene 3.3 million years ago, global mean temperatures were 3 °C higher—and global sea level was twenty-five meters higher than today Then, in the late Pliocene, massive glaciation hit, covering Greenland. Temperatures are also thought to have been higher in the Hadean Aeon 4.6 to 4 billion years ago when Earth, bombarded by meteorites, was forming as molten lava cooled. Finally, in the Archean Eon, when life is first thought to have evolved (including thermophile archaea, tolerant to this day of boiling-hot temperatures), temperatures also may have been significantly hotter Thus, Gaia has “had a temperature” multiple times. For the most part these warmings occurred before industrial humanity’s laying to waste of the concentrated energy reserves of trees, coal, and oil.
That the biosphere bounced back from these hot spells suggests that it is not helpless, but may have benefitted from complex biofeedbacks at the biotic planetary surface, similar perhaps to a person sweating if overheated. To what extent is such potential Gaian feedback accounted for in consensus models? And what do we do with the fact that the climate-change models, the vast majority of which are based on other models necessarily leave out many relevant factors? What, for example, is the global effect of cooling by evapotranspiration—the genetically underlain solar-powered thermodynamic flux of water from tree roots through the stomata of leaves and from thence into cloud cover? Has the cutting down of forests, which leads immediately to heating, been correctly incorporated into consensus models? What of variable heat from the sun (including sun spots), as well as variable heat through Earth’s liquid core to its upper mantle, such heat which it has been claimed is impossible to run convection proposed to drive Earth’s geomagnetic field in the standard geological model, now almost a century old? A lesser-known theory was proposed by a student of Harold Urey who was praised by Inge Lehmann, discoverer of Earth’s solid core. This theory proposes that Earth’s magnetic field is produced by a natural geo-reactor as uranium is fissioned, and variable heat produced, but not in the mantle, which never becomes “top-heavy” enough through thermal expansion for convection to occur Have variable geothermal and solar heat even been incorporated correctly, or at all, into consensus warming models? For better or worse, science is not democratic, and the route to knowledge, as Peirce suggests, is through investigation, not consensus
That such questions, posed scientifically, may sow doubt at the consensus side of a simplistically polarized political debate, is not sufficient reason to dismiss them. Given that Earth is a population of one, and I cannot predict with certainty how I will feel after lunch—and I have several billion other people with whom I might compare myself—does it not seem an act of almost Swiftian faith to believe without question, let alone act in all sorts of ways, on the consensus of an official intergovernmental panel such as the IPCC? Do we really have apodictic certainty about what will transpire in a year, a decade, or a century? And what about geoengineering proposals that enrich corporations and overlap with military research? And what about profits consistent with ecological prudence? Have the modelers accounted for the cyclicity of little ice ages? The current Holocene interglacial, a geological interval of warmer global average temperature lasting thousands of years, began about 12,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene. Internationally recognized scientists such as geologist Kenneth J. Hs and ecologist A. K. Dewdney, former writer of the Mathematical Recreations column at Scientific American, are among the serious, long-time students of climate change. They note that we are in an interstadial (between little ice ages) and that, in the slightly longer term we have more to fear from cold—especially triggering violent human migrations southward, as has happened in the past—than from heat.
Aristotle had two metaphors for life, one a ship in which the art of shipbuilding is built into the wood and two, a doctor operating on himself. For purposes of geoengineering, if not metaphorical accuracy and depth, the second, less profound metaphor is more to the point of our present malaise. The question on which it focuses is whether we think we stand in for the whole of life as well as its doctor or whether, in fact, the symptoms and disease of the singular patient should be more carefully studied before the rush to treatment.