What seems like a thousand years ago (I’ll never get used to print media pacing), I wrote a review of Jeff Goodell’s new book for the American Prospect. It appears in the latest issue and has now been published on their website. Here’s how it begins:
How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth’s Climate by Jeff Goodell Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 272 pages, $26.00
During the 1950s, the atomic scientist Edward Teller was eager to prove that nuclear bombs could be used in construction as earthmovers, and in 1958 he won the approval of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission for Project Chariot, a proposal to explode several multi-megaton hydrogen bombs near Point Hope, Alaska, just above the Arctic Circle. In less than two seconds, explosions equal to 160 times the power used on Hiroshima would dig a new, half-mile-long deep water harbor to help export coal.
“What objections could there possibly be to this large-scale atomic harbor-blasting project?” asked the editors of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. As it turned out, there could be objections. For instance, the Inupiats, who had been living on Point Hope for about 5,000 years, were less than enthusiastic. But progress is progress. “When we have the harbor we can create coal mines in the Arctic,” Teller reportedly said, “and they can become coal miners.”
In the end, the locals couldn’t be sold on a harbor that would be iced in for nine months of the year. (Ah, NIMBYs, what can you do?) The Soviets, however, tested peaceful nuclear explosions until 1988. And Teller never lost his faith that Big Machines could win the day; he went on to champion Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars missile-defense system.
Teller’s ghost haunts journalist Jeff Goodell’s How to Cool the Planet, an exploration of new ideas for geo-engineering, or large-scale, intentional intervention in the earth’s climatic system to solve the problem of global warming. A hair-raising question hovers over these schemes: What would someone like Teller do if he had the ability and opportunity to terraform the entire planet? Would he treat all of humanity like Inupiats?
For the rest, head over to the American Prospect.
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