Wired magazine used to be the place to go for the latest in technology. But now it covers any sexy techy idea, no matter how impractical.
Given that we all have limited time, Wired should be off every technophile’s must-read list and replaced by Technology Review, which has revamped its stodgy old self and become what once Wired aspired to be.
For me, this started with the absurd cover story by Peter Schwartz 5 years ago, “How Hydrogen Can Save America,” which claimed “What we need is a massive, Apollo-scale effort [$100 billion over ten years] to unlock the potential of hydrogen, a virtually unlimited source of power.” Uhh, no. Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not a source — except for the sun, of course, and if we really want to harness its power we should be placing big bets on solar energy. Try instead my Technology Review piece “Some clarity on the Clarity.”
Recently Wired published their most misinformed piece, “Inconvenient Truths: Get Ready to Rethink What It Means to Be Green.” RealClimate beat me to the punch debunking Wired‘s bizarre analyses in favor of using air-conditioning and against protecting old-growth forests or buying a Prius. They didn’t debunk Wired‘s claim, “Face It. Nukes Are the Most Climate-Friendly Industrial-Scale Form of Energy,” perhaps because it is so obviously absurd (see Nukes of hazard).
Now Wired has fallen into the tank containing sharks with lasers by publishing Chris Mooney’s bizarre paeon to geo-engineering and the late Edward Teller and his protÃ©gÃ© Lowell Wood — famed uber-hawkish promoters of all things dubious.
The piece, “Can a Million Tons of Sulfur Dioxide Combat Climate Change?” is true shark-bait. First off, geo-engineering is at best a very dubious, post-2040 strategy of very last resort. That goes double for the notion of injecting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, which might itself cause “potentially catastrophic drought” and would not stop catastrophic ocean acidification (see “Geo-engineering is not the answer“). As John Holdren, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said (PDF): “The ‘geo-engineering’ approaches considered so far appear to be afflicted with some combination of high costs, low leverage, and a high likelihood of serious side effects.”
Second, I personally can’t see touting any strategy supported by the likes of Wood and Teller — the leading proponents of wasting tens of billions of dollars on Star Wars space-based weapons that the physics community has long understood are wildly impractical. Thanks in large part to Wood and Teller, the United States even today is spending some $9 billion a year on Strategic Defense, even though the systems probably would not work in a real wartime situation, and they are utterly useless against the most likely nuclear threat we face — a bomb smuggled into this country. Yet we spend about one-tenth that on research, development, and deployment of the energy-efficient and renewable technologies that could cost-effective way mitigate.
Wood and Teller do not deserve positive treatment in Wired or anywhere else. I can’t understand why Mooney just parroted their disinformation:
Unlike many political conservatives in the late ’90s, Wood and Teller took climate change seriously.
[How do we know? Because they said so? Or because they promoted geo-engineering? I assert they never took climate change seriously.]
But they doubted people would ever give up enough of their costly energy-consumption habits to prevent climate-associated risks (a cynical point of view that seems to have been borne out a decade later).
[‘Cynical’ is not the word I would use to refer to the standard conservative tripe that the only way to solve global warming is for people to give up “their costly energy-consumption habits.” Obviously the deniers and delayers want people to believe that is the answer, but it is a very odd statement from genuine technologists at our national energy laboratories, who at the very least should understand the reality of clean energy technology. In any case, their view has not been “borne out” yet. What has mostly been borne out in the last decade, I would say, is that it is easier to push disinformation than information.]
Wood and Teller were just as dismissive of global greenhouse gas treaties like Kyoto as they had been of arms-control agreements during the ’80s.
[Note to Mooney — Those arms control agreements of the 1980s actually worked in moving us toward deep cuts in weapons that people had said would never happen. Why? Because we actively participated in them. Kyoto never had a chance as long as we didn’t. In short, Wood (along with Teller) was wrong in the 1980s, which should not give much confidence in his judgment today. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was president and pursuing arms control. The fact that Wood and Teller opposed even what Reagan was doing should tell you just how extreme their views are.]
They thought the only solution lay with technology: direct, aggressive intervention, either in the upper atmosphere or low Earth orbit, essentially to turn down the volume knob on solar radiation.
[Now this is (unintentionally) funny. Wood and Teller opposed mitigation (arms control), which worked, and endorsed space-based weapons, which didn’t and don’t. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you that they diss mitigation again and embrace another space-based strategy. I am rather shocked Mooney, Wired or anyone else would care what these guys think about global warming solutions.]
The more that I read these popular treatments of geo-engineering, the more I realize that legitimate geo-engineering proponents — scientists like Ken Caldeira who are genuinely worried about the dire consequences of global warming (as to oppose to the delayers, who just promote geo-engineering as an excuse to do no emissions reduction now) — miss perhaps the most fatal flaw in all geo-engineering strategies — a flaw I discussed in my book and that will be the subject of a later post.