To geoengineer or not to geoengineer? ChatGPT worries more about AI

Scientists most fear that some country’s attempts to manipulate its own environment will lead to drastic, unintended consequences. But it will still happen, writes David Callaway in an article on The Independent website.


Geoengineering the climate isn’t that risky – just ask ChatGPT

George Soros ripped open a new fault in the global climate battleground last month when he told world leaders at the Munich Security Conference they should consider spraying water into the Arctic clouds to deflect sunlight and preserve the melting ice.

A magnet for conservative conspiracy theories for decades, the billionaire philanthropist had paid scant attention to global warming to date. But his leap into the contentious battle over geo-engineering the environment evoked – for some – images of a Lex Luther plot to destroy the world.

Reaction in the scientific community was swift and fierce, with respected climatologists, phyisists and atmospheric scientists drawing lines on whether to do more research into man-made manipulation of the environment, or prohibit more study entirely. The debate is reminiscent of the one we’ve had for decades about artificial intelligence, with doomsayers predicting a legion of robots enslaving the human race. Still, that hasn’t stopped it.

AI is the hottest thing in science right now. So I asked ChatGBT which technology was more threatening.

“In comparison to AI, geo-engineering is not as threatening. AI is a rapidly evolving technology that has the ability to transform virtually every aspect of our lives. It is also capable of making decisions and taking actions that can have profound and far-reaching implications. For the reason, many people fear that AI is a much greater threat than geo-engineering.”

Of course, chemically manipulating our environment, in its spookiest form, is all about AI. The nascent industries of carbon removal and storage, ocean fertilization and solar radiation management are all proving to be heavily dependent on artificial intelligence. Which is why Soros’ backing of a plan to spray saltwater into the clouds, mimicking breaking waves, is benign by comparison.

But there is nothing benign or non-threatening about the growing debate about geo-engineering. Through scientific experiment, any country, or company, could theoretically alter our global environment for its own purposes. Scientists against geo-engineering say without an international set of rules and regulations, it’s too risky to try.

Based on international efforts to control climate change to date, that’s not going to happen. Despite all our efforts to keep global carbon dioxide emissions and warming within the boundaries of the Paris Climate Accord, the world is spiraling toward climate disaster – with all the flooding, fires, and massive migration that will come with that. The International Energy Agency said just last week that global carbon dioxide emissions reached a record 38.6 billion tons in 2022.

Geo-engineering, viewed by proponents, could be a quick fix. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in the last few years in startups claiming they can remove harmful carbon from the air and sea, and store is safely in the earth. But none have figured out how to do it at scale, and how to make it inexpensive enough to make a difference. Still, the experiments continue.

Scientists most fear that some country’s attempts to manipulate its own environment will in some way scar the rest of the world. More likely it will lead to war and unintended consequences. But it will still happen. We are almost out of other options.

The first battle will be fought in the Arctic, where an international arms race is already underway, and governments will feel freer to take military and scientific risks absent of heavily-populated areas. While some, like Soros, want to try to halt the ice melting, others may be in favor of more melting to free up new military and economic shipping channels. It’s no coincidence that Russian and Chinese manuevuering in the Arctic over the last few years recently led US president Joe Biden to name America’s first Arctic ambassador.

It is somewhat odd that Soros, in his nineties, has turned to climate change– and a controversial part of it at that – from his long-established tradition of supporting evolving democracies in Eastern Europe, and fighting Aids and cancer in Africa. But he put it very succinctly in his Munich speech.

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2 thoughts on “To geoengineer or not to geoengineer? ChatGPT worries more about AI

  1. There have been some interesting assessments as to just how much extra energy a widespread use of AI via ChatGBT and others might mean. Some initial calculations are suggesting that this could fast rival the profligacy of the cyber currencies.

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