Engineering the Earth: From Wacky to Necessary?

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Thursday, October 21, 2010

Engineering the Earth: From Wacky to Necessary?

Well, the self-appointed guardians of the earth are tired of trying to change peoples' minds about global warming. So now they'll just change the globe instead.

The failure of Congress to pass "climate change" legislation has, as you might expect, prompted some strong reactions. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman cites this failure in calling for the creation of a third political party that will allow us to do what's needed to "move forward" as a country.

Others are contemplating a different way "forward": instead of transforming politics, they want to reinvent and transform the planet.

According to the Washington Post, ideas once considered "downright wacky" are getting serious attention here and in Britain. These ideas involve "playing God with the weather in the hope of slowing global warming."

The technical term is "geo-engineering." The notion is that if humans won't change their behavior, then the only way to avert catastrophe is to change the earth.

The goal of geo-engineering is to modify the environment, particularly the atmosphere and the oceans, in a way that mitigates the impact of increased CO2 emissions.  For instance, if greenhouse gases are trapping too much heat in the atmosphere, you could, in theory, spray particles that could cause sunlight to be reflected back out into space. Or more ambitiously, you could look for a way to remove "excess" CO2 from the atmosphere.

"Playing God" is, of course, risky business, as anyone who has ever watched a science fiction movie can tell you. Our attempts to combat global warming could themselves trigger "radical shifts in the climate" and kill millions. It may also unintentionally affect fragile ecosystems and the species that depend on them.

Stated simply, the unintended consequences could be severe—we don't know how the world works nearly well enough to predict the outcome.

But that's not to going stop us from trying. Part of the reason for the strange new respect for the previously "downright wacky" is the fear that "some nut case" might go ahead and actually do it on his own.

It's not hard to understand why. The same people who worry about "nut cases" have spent the past 20 years warning us that a few degrees are all that stands between us and the apocalypse. Their preferred mode of argumentation has been fearmongering.

Any attempt to question the scientific basis for man-made global warming has been compared to Holocaust denial. They've told people that the principal environmental problem is too many people living too long at too high a standard. Little wonder that they fear "some nutcase" taking premature actions that could kill countless numbers of people.

What's telling is that no one in the debate seems to object to the whole idea of "playing God." No one seems to wonder about the hubris of what is being proposed. Is there no end to human hubris? Have we gotten used to the idea that we're really in control of everything? I mean, we speak of "designer genes" for the human species—is a "designer planet" that surprising?

So, we propose to become Frankenstein in order to stop would-be Frankensteins. If this doesn't make sense to you, that's because it's nonsensical. Either way, hubris gets the monster built.

And, like in the movies, it's the villagers who get hurt. And that's not "wacky," it's evil, a very human kind of evil.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: October 21, 2010