I just watched the movie "Snowpiercer" the other night, a film about which I'd read some good reviews, and it was pretty meh. Definitely overrated. But that's not the point. The point is that it's based on just about the least realistic premise in the history of cinema. Or is it?
Here's the plot: In 2014, humanity's efforts to combat global warming end up freezing the Earth and killing all life on the planet. The only human survivors left are the few hundred who have managed to board a long train, the Snowpiercer, that travels continuously along a track that circles the snow-covered globe.
On the train, the rich people live in opulent pleasure cars at the front, near the almighty perpetual motion engine, while the poor are stacked like sardines near the caboose. The poor people revolt and storm the front, and there are lots of guns and other weapons, and you can probably guess the rest.
But the central conceit of the movie -- the notion that we could accidentally freeze the planet -- is what I found interesting. It seemed preposterous and more than a little hubristic, but that was before I woke up a couple of days ago and read two stories about the emerging field of geo-engineering.
Geo-engineering, as it turns out, involves exactly what caused the trouble in "Snowpiercer" in the first place. It's the unproven science of combating rising temperatures by actively cooling the planet. Some of the ideas geo-engineers have come up with include using artificial trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the air and using aircraft to spray aerosol particles at high altitudes to form a sort of sunblock in the atmosphere.
What a great idea, I thought, as I read about geo-engineering for the first time. What could possibly go wrong? As mankind has shown time and time again, intervening in the course of nature -- for example, by introducing rabbits to Australia -- never leads to negative, unintended consequences. It's always a success. It just depends on what your definition of "success" is.
That's what's so great about geo-engineering: To be successful, all you have to do is lower temperatures, consequences be damned. And there will most certainly be consequences. On that, as evidenced by the two stories I read, scientists are in clear agreement.
The first story, teased by the lovely headline "Climate fixes 'could harm billions,'" opened with this sentence: "Schemes to tackle climate change could prove disastrous for billions of people but might be required for the good of the planet, scientists say."
Just so we're clear, the definition of "disastrous," according to Merriam-Webster, is causing great suffering or loss. But that's going to happen to poor people in Third World countries, so they don't really count. Their well-being doesn't factor in when one considers what's good for the planet. The important thing is that the rest of us stay cool.
The second story, reached via a link that read, "Climate fix could make warming worse," talked about how studies suggest that spraying aerosols into the sky could cut rainfall in the tropics by 30 percent, leading to devastating conditions in Asia, Africa and South America.
I find it awesome that despite the distinct possibility that it won't work and the near certainty of disastrous side effects and suffering for billions of people if it does, scientists are still pursuing geo-engineering. As one scientist noted, "Personally, I find this stuff terrifying, but we have to compare it to doing nothing."
So what he's saying is that you can have things the way they are now or we can dry up the rainforests and bring disaster upon billions of people. Given those choices, obviously you're going to choose the latter option. I mean, who wouldn't? I don't know about you, but I think the real disaster is that I sweat more in the summer than I used to. That's got to stop, regardless of how many billions have to suffer.
We all know that there is a zero percent chance of people changing their behaviors and reducing their carbon footprints enough to stop global warming. That's just not going to happen, so we may be facing a future in which geo-engineering is our only hope. I know that sounds terrifying, but so are sweaty people, so we've got to do what we've got to do.
And just in case we overdo what we've got to do, I'm saving up for a ticket to the front of the train.
Todd Hartley directed a sequel called "Nipplepiercer." It didn't do very well at the box office. To read more or leave a comment, please visit zerobudget.net.