“Now get out of that”

Boyd’s forest dragon grabs the top story slot on BBC News (World Edition):

“Climate change could drive a million of the world’s species to extinction as soon as 2050, a scientific study says.

The authors say in the journal Nature a study of six world regions suggested a quarter of animals and plants living on the land could be forced into oblivion.

They say cutting greenhouse gases and storing the main one, carbon dioxide, could save many species from vanishing.

The United Nations says the prospect is also a threat to the billions of people who rely on Nature for their survival. “

Over at diepunyhumans, Warren features a fascinating, concurrent event of some relevence. This coverage from BBC News also:

“Scientists are studying possible ways of using engineering to help the world to adapt to increasing climate change.

A conference in Cambridge, UK, has been convened to consider possible options while ignoring “political correctness”… The meeting, on 8 and 9 January, is entitled Macro-engineering Options For Climate Change Management And Mitigation.

One speaker is Professor James Lovelock, begetter of the Gaia Hypothesis, which holds that the Earth functions as a single organism which maintains the conditions necessary for its survival.”

Me, here, in May2002:

“we have moved into the stage where fixing the planet is a design problem.”

Greg Egan‘s awesome “Permutation City”, page 32:


Maria said, “Define ‘Butterfly Effect.'” A second window opened up in front of the news report:

Butterfly Effect: This term was coined by meteorologist Edward Lorenz in the late 1970s, to dramatize the futility of trying to make long-term weather forecasts. Lorem pointed out that meteorological systems were so sensitive to their initial conditions that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could be enough to determine whether or not there was a tornado in Texas a month later. No computer model could ever include such minute details–so any attempt to forecast the weather more than a few days in advance was doomed to failure,

However, in the 1990s the term began to lose its original, pessimistic connotations. A number of researchers discovered that, although the effects of small, random influences made a chaotic system unpredictable, under certain conditions the same sensitivity could be deliberately exploited to steer the system in a chosen direction. The same kind of processes which magnified the flapping of butterflies’ wings into tornadoes could also magnify the effects of systematic intervention, allowing a degree of control out of all proportion to the energy expended.

The Butterfly Effect now commonly refers to the principle of controlling a chaotic system with minimum force, through a detailed knowledge of its dynamics. This technique has been applied in a number of fields, including chemical engineering, stock-market manipulation, fly-by-wire aeronautics, and the proposed ASEAN weather-control system. Operation Butterfly.

There was more, but Maria took the cue and switched back to the article.

Meteorologists envisage dotting the waters of the tropical western Pacific and the South China Sea with a grid of hundreds of thousands of “weather-control” rigs– solar-powered devices designed to alter the local temperature on demand by pumping water between different depths. Theoretical models suggest that a sufficient number of rigs, under elaborate computer control, could be used to influence large-scale weather patterns, “nudging ” them toward the least harmful of a number of finely balanced possible outcomes.

Eight different rig prototypes have been tested in the open ocean, but before engineers select one design for mass production, an extensive feasibility study will be conducted. Over a three-year-period, any potentially threatening typhoon will be analyzed by a computer model of the highest possible resolution, and the effects of various numbers and types of the as yet nonexistent rigs will be included in the model. If these simulations demonstrate that intervention could have yielded significant savings in life and property, ASEAN’s ministerial council will have to decide whether or not to spend the estimated sixty billion dollars required to make the system a reality. Other nations are observing the experiment with interest.

Maria leaned back from the screen, impressed. A computer model of the highest possible resolution. And they’d meant it, literally. They’d bought up all the number-crunching power on offer–paying a small fortune, but only a fraction of what it would have cost to buy the same hardware outright.

Nudging typhoons! Not yet, not in reality … but who could begrudge Operation Butterfly their brief monopoly, for such a grand experiment? Maria felt a vicarious thrill at the sheer scale of the endeavor–and then a mixture of guilt and resentment at being a mere bystander.

Look forward to seeing what the Cambridge conference [pdf] proposes. Hopefully the proceedings will be published on the web somewhere.

Professor John Schellnhuber, of the Tyndall Centre, told BBC News Online:

“Kyoto is in a very difficult position, and it may be necessary to find other exit strategies. We may find we’re in a cul-de-sac and have to think of other policies which transcend the protocol. But we must think about unconventional strategies in any case, because a back-of-envelope calculation shows we’re unlikely to do the job without them.”

There used to be a brilliant TV gameshow on UK telly in the early 80’s called “Now get out of that” in which two teams of boffins battled through traps and puzzles in the pouring rain; constructing ingenious Heath Robinson [wikipedia, image search] inventions until they ‘got out’ of their predictment.

Somehow this all reminds me of that show…

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