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Earth Science

What If We Lost the Sky? 421

HughPickens.com (3830033) writes "Anna North writes in the NYT that a report released last week by the National Research Council calls for research into reversing climate change through a process called albedo modification: reflecting sunlight away from earth by, for instance, spraying aerosols into the atmosphere. But such a process could, some say, change the appearance of the sky — and that in turn could affect everything from our physical health to the way we see ourselves. "You'd get whiter skies. People wouldn't have blue skies anymore." says Alan Robock. "Astronomers wouldn't be happy, because you'd have a cloud up there permanently. It'd be hard to see the Milky Way anymore."

According to Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California, losing the night sky would have big consequences. "When you go outside, and you walk in a beautiful setting, and you just feel not only uplifted but you just feel stronger. There's clearly a neurophysiological basis for that," says Keltner, adding that looking up at a starry sky provides "almost a prototypical awe experience," an opportunity to feel "that you are small and modest and part of something vast." If we lose the night sky "we lose something precious and sacred." "We're finding in our lab that the experience of awe gets you to feel connected to something larger than yourself, see the humanity in other people," says Paul K. Piff. "In many ways it's kind of an antidote to narcissism." And the sky is one of the few sources of that experience that's available to almost everybody: "Not everyone has access to the ocean or giant trees, or the Grand Canyon, but we certainly all live beneath the night sky."

Alan Robock says one possible upside of adding aerosols could be beautiful red and yellow sunsets as "the yellow and red colors reflect off the bottom of this cloud." Robock recommends more research into albedo modification: "If people ever are tempted to do this, I want them to have a lot of information about what the potential benefits and risks would be so they can make an informed decision. Dr. Abdalati says deploying something like albedo modification is a last-ditch effort. "We've gotten ourselves into a climate mess. The fact that we're even talking about these kinds of things is indicative of that."
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What If We Lost the Sky?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:06AM (#49110623)

    Possibly the worst movie ever, but everyone in their world hated their lives because they had no sky.

    • Highlander II but the sky part should of been it's own movie not Highlander + a B movie scifi plot.

    • Highlander II was an abomination of a movie. I refuse to accept that it can teach us anything except how low Sean Connery will sink for a buck.

    • by durrr ( 1316311 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:54AM (#49110923)

      Another movie did it too.

      They called it Operation Dark Storm and shortly afterwards most of humanity went extinct, just like how the greenies like it.

  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:11AM (#49110639) Homepage

    Developed areas currently cover around 1% of Earth's surface already. Switching to more-reflective materials -- asphalt mixed with recycled glass, roofs with light-colored shingles instead of dark, Mediterranean-style exterior color schemes -- not only increases albedo but can mitigate heat-island effects and reduce the need to expend energy on cooling.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:42AM (#49110843)

      That sounds like a practical, reasonable plan that can be done with 19th century solutions. In other words, gay.

      We're going to need a solution, preferably more than one, that will require 3D printers, private space, and dozens of universities, think thanks, and tax-funded "private" companies to rob you blind.

      Welcome to the 21st century, don't forget to pay your rent.

    • The problem is actions like this put the burden individuals and smaller municipal governments.
      People especially Americans, do not like the government telling them what they can and can't do to their own property. Also the small local governments have limited funds, such actions will mean that the local government will need to make a serious sacrifice.
      Putting such actions in place, will only lead to the politicians who put the rule in place being kicked out, and if it continues violence will escalate.

      Now you

      • People especially Americans, do not like the government telling them what they can and can't do to their own property. Also the small local governments have limited funds, such actions will mean that the local government will need to make a serious sacrifice.

        Local governments can change local building codes to require all new construction to fit the guidelines for albedo modification. Done.

        Yeah, it won't affect existing infrastructure, but in the long term (and with AGW we're talking long term, or should

    • Whitewash the whole built environment, like Greek villages? Albedo hackers, meet the solar panel supporters. Popcorn!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by donaldm ( 919619 )

      I suppose the first thing to ask is "What can go wrong?"

      Our planet maintains a balance so far and if you start to upset that balance then you are going to have two possibilities. 1) The planet goes through a runaway greenhouse effect and effectively gets far too hot, although probably not as hot as Venus. 2) The planet goes into deep freeze and this has happened before. We can actually thank volcanic action for reversing this process.

      I can understand concern over potential global warming and am in favour of

  • by J'raxis ( 248192 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:11AM (#49110641) Homepage

    ...the plot to a really terrible movie [wikipedia.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:14AM (#49110649)
    I know we think we're all-knowing, or at least smarter than mother nature. But we just shouldn't be fucking around trying to fix something by doing something more. History is full of humans trying to fix one invasive species by introducing another to 'control' the first, and then winding up even worse off. Fix the cause of the problem rather than trying to chase around the symptoms. Or else we're all fucked.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by MightyYar ( 622222 )

      Yes, let mother nature take care of us. All hail our Goddess Earth.

      • by zm ( 257549 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:38AM (#49110809) Homepage
        Mother nature did this before. It wasn't pretty. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y... [wikipedia.org] Something tells me we shouldn't fucking do it.
        • The nice thing about us - versus an anthropomorphized "Mother Earth" - is that we don't need to throw a massive amount of volcanic ash into the air in some completely uncontrolled way. We can put some into the air and see what the effect is like. We can gradually increase or decrease the amount applied. We can stop the "eruption" at any time and let the effect quickly dissipate.

          I'm not trying to be glib about this - the ideal is to stop throwing CO2 into the air in the first place. But the fatalist approach

          • Granted, controlled artificial volcanic eruptions are neater than the Illuminati spraying beryllium nanoparticles from 747s 24x7.
            But if you don't have a orbital sunshade swarm at L1 and blackout Tuesdays, you're just not a power worth worrying about.
          • by war4peace ( 1628283 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @11:16AM (#49111593)

            Some questions:
            1. How do you plan to decrease that amount?
            2. How do you know how long you need to wait to realize you've overdone it? Suppose the temperature rises 0.5 degrees per year, so you spit some substance out. Next year there's no reduction of the trend, so you do what? Wait to see if that goes down next year or spit some more substance? Do you wait a decade? A century?

            These global mechanisms are poorly understood and overly complex as it is, the last thing I'd want is meddling with it. It's like a 2 year old shoving both hands into a running car engine to make it sound more like the lullaby his mom's singing to him every night.

        • by stjobe ( 78285 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @10:23AM (#49111169) Homepage

          Known around these parts as "eighteen-hundred-froze-to-death".

          As in "Wow, that's old. Haven't seen one of those since eighteen-hundred-froze-to-death".

          My friends usually look at me weird when I explain that the expression references 1816 and the effects of Mount Tambora exploding and putting lots and lots (and lots) of ash into the atmosphere.

    • by Half-pint HAL ( 718102 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:33AM (#49110771)
      She swallowed the spider to catch the fly....
    • we're already fucking with it, with CO2. that's not just going away

      so we need to do something to counteract that

      i think this aerosol solution is horrible, prone to all sorts of unseen side effects

      i'd like to see more of the "seeding dead parts of the ocean with iron" effort, but that may be just as full of unintended consequences

      there are solutions that are more mechanical, less about fucking with the atmosphere or ocean irreversibly in the short term. something we can roll out and recall with ease and comp

    • by asylumx ( 881307 )
      We *should* fix the cause of the problem rather than going after the symptoms, but unfortunately there's too much (political) debate about whether either the cause or the symptoms even exist to be able to do anything about it. Sad but true.
    • I know we think we're all-knowing, or at least smarter than mother nature. But we just shouldn't be fucking around trying to fix something by doing something more.

      When the alternative is we all go back to living by the salt of the earth, building our homes by hand so the only pollution we create is the waste our bodies generate... yeah, I'm all about fucking around trying to fix it by doing something.

  • by cupantae ( 1304123 ) <maroneill AT gmail DOT com> on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:14AM (#49110653)

    "You'd get whiter skies. People wouldn't have blue skies anymore."

    Living in Ireland, the sky is white or grey about half the time. You get over it.

    • "You'd get whiter skies. People wouldn't have blue skies anymore."

      Living in Ireland, the sky is white or grey about half the time. You get over it.

      The other half, it's just night time.

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:26AM (#49110739) Homepage

      Yeah, a lot of people already live in the sort of environments that they're warning against. This line got me:

      And the sky is one of the few sources of that experience that's available to almost everybody

      Is that a joke? People's ability to see the night sky varies vastly depending on where they are. In big metro area, all you can see are the brightest of stars. There's little to no majesty to it. It's when you get out into the deep, deep countryside and look up at the uncountable multitude above you that you feel little and insignificant compared to the cosmos around you. There's nothing universal [othersideofthesky.net] about ready access [oarval.org] to a dark sky. And it's getting rarer and rarer.

    • Living in Ohio, much the same.

      The open blue sky is great for meeting cultural expectations, but it's not particularly special. Once you're used to the cloud, it's actually rather uncomfortable to go somewhere with directional sunlight.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        Quite true. Last spring I went to the US (Indiana and Texas) from Iceland with my then-fiance to show him where I grew up and went to school (he grew up in Iceland). It was too bright for him in Indiana, and in Texas it was downright painful for him.

        We don't get much of that "sun beating down straight overhead" stuff here that you get in the states, it more sort of rotates around you, with really long sunrises / sunsets (sometimes with multiple sunrises / sunsets in a day as it moves past mountains).

    • The same is true in any large city, even in a sunny place, compared to the desert. Are the people of Los Angeles depressed because their skies are whiter than Arizona's?

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:14AM (#49110655) Journal
    Because the salting of pseudo-scientific facts and studies has been so successful,

    and our leadership is filled by tools bent on their own reelection above all else,

    we are likely to wait until such a measure is a the only recourse.

  • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:16AM (#49110667)

    Burn the land, boil the sea; you can't take the sky from me.

  • by L. J. Beauregard ( 111334 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:24AM (#49110705)

    What effects might the aerosols have?

    What if we use too much? Do we really want to risk a snowball Earth?

    Do we really want to risk anything on such a large scale just because some yahoo wants to roll coal?

    Can no one see that not messing with the climate any more than we have to is the conservative position, at least as "conservative" is properly defined?

    • Yeah.

      There is one thing that could be done. Pull CO2 out of the atmosphere on a large scale. That would take enormous amounts of carbon-free electricity.

      It would almost be like paying interest on a loan. Here's to hoping we can afford the payments when they come due.

      • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) *

        Yep, that sounds like some weird bitter irony:

        Problem: We can't released all of the excess stored solar energy (compacted into fossil fuel over the millennia) fast enough!
        Solution: Reduce the amount of solar energy the Earth receives now!

        Way to rob the future to pay for the past.

      • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @10:55AM (#49111431)

        Think about how much power was generated over the past 100 years of burning carbon, you're going to need more than that, probably much much more than that, to pull all that carbon out. And that's on top of all the power we'll be using in the meantime.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What effects might the aerosols have?

      What if we use too much?

      At least we'll all have great looking hair that always stays in place.

    • Can no one see that not messing with the climate any more than we have to is the conservative position, at least as "conservative" is properly defined?

      There are two fairly rational rebuttals to that, at least that I know of, and I'm on your side. The first is that we're already messing with the environment, so we might as well try to mess with it in a way that improves it. The second is that we're not going to stop messing with the environment, it's kind of what we do, so again, let's try to do it right. So both inertia and our nature work against the idea of not doing something.

      Now, with that said, there are a couple of patents on making chemtrails- uh,

  • by VanessaE ( 970834 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:24AM (#49110707) Homepage

    "We don't know who struck first, us or them, but we know that it was us that scorched the sky."

  • I'm not a climate science denier, but the people coming up with these headlines (the sky will disappear) are not doing scientists any favors with this "morning doom and gloom" machinery.
    • Actually they are doing them a favor. If you don't do anything now, we may be force to doing this later. So yeah it's helpful to understand some of the stupid things you'll need to do if you don't take sensible action now.
      • I understand throwing the drastic measures on the table to spur change, but this is just a stupid idea with drawbacks that are quite possibly worse than AGW.
    • Honestly, the whole "Climate Change" thing was to explain that "it's not really global warming"; now they want to stop climate change by cooling the earth. ... So. Global Warming.

      This kind of tampering would be a disaster.

  • by msk ( 6205 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:30AM (#49110759)

    Subject says it all.

    • by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger.gmail@com> on Monday February 23, 2015 @10:57AM (#49111445)

      Venus is a little more complicated. It's got no internal dynamo, so its magnetic field is generated by the convection of its intense atmosphere. If you cooled it or slowed it, the magnetic field would disappear and its atmosphere would be eroded by solar wind.

  • We already know the human body is essentially a giant walking blue light detector. Changing the color of the sky permanently could seriously screw with us in ways we don't even know about, let alone the ones we do already know about.

  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:36AM (#49110799)

    Any fix on this scale will come with many, many unintended consequences.

    • Don't fuck with Mother Nature

      We. Already. Did.

      I'd rather have us fuck with Mother Nature after a decade of exhaustive research, debate, and cost benefit analysis than continue fucking with Mother Nature purely based on what's most profitable at the moment (aka, what we do now).

      • by neilo_1701D ( 2765337 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @11:34AM (#49111779)

        I'd rather have us fuck with Mother Nature after a decade of exhaustive research, debate, and cost benefit analysis

        I refer you to the calicivirus experiment in Australia for a truly scary example of exhaustive research, debate and cost-benefit analysis that didn't quite work out as intended.

        Rabbit haemorrhagic disease, also known as calicivirus, was trialed in Australia to eliminate the rabbit population. Calicivirus can only infect rabbits; there is no interspecies transmission or carrier.

        The trial was conducted on Wardang Island, some 2.4 miles off the coast of South Australia in Spencer Gulf. The island was already loaded with rabbits that were cut off from the mainland, and there was no known way for any of these rabbits to cross the water.

        In 1991, the virus was introduced to the island. By 1995 it had spread to the mainland, killing 10 million rabbits within 8 weeks of it’s arrival. Those that were left developed immunity.

        So, we have an isolated island with a virus that can only be transmitted within a single species; said species can’t swim; certainly not the two miles. Yet, unintended and unforeseen consequences of this carefully planned, carefully modeled and (apparently) highly contained in a very controlled area that was heavily policed by AQIS went horribly awry and made the rabbit plague in Australia much worse, but managed to wipe out huge numbers of pets rabbits..

        We can't get it right on the small scale; how do we know we'll get it right on the planetary scale?

  • by Ashtead ( 654610 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:39AM (#49110819) Journal

    This is supposed to "reverse" the climate change? As in making it essentially perpetually cloudy? This sounds nothing so much like a nuclear winter, though without the nukes...

    How something like that is going to reverse anything, now climate being that chaotic as it is doesn't easily move forwards or backwards along some line, like a car or animal does. It will change it, sure. Probably to the nuclear winter-like conditions, as if that were anything better than today's situation. Or maybe this would also keep heat in, so we would get what is essentially a runaway greenhouse... now wasn't that what was supposedely the problem initially?

    This is just wrong on so many levels...

  • Nature... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Half-pint HAL ( 718102 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:39AM (#49110823)
    Why does TFA focus on neurophysiological handwavery rather than clear and obvious physical concerns? The loss of light at night would be a major hassle to a lot of people, and would result in increased need for electric lighting. Some nocturnal animals would likely be seriously inconvenienced, messing up the ecosystem. But the biggie -- the real biggie -- Plants Eat Light. Crop yields would decrease the world over. Still want to mess about with aerosols and the atmosphere...?
    • I came here to mention this. For some reason the people that suggest reducing the light hitting the surface always fail to grasp that it would also reduce the crop yields (along with the growth of all of the other plants, reducing their carbon uptake). It would also reduce the electricity generated from solar power plants.

  • by Ukab the Great ( 87152 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @09:48AM (#49110889)

    And more omninously, make bikinis go out of style?

  • Last time i checked we weren't the only creatures on this planet, worse yes, only, no.
    Might be a good idea think what it does for the living biomass in a whole....We are kept alive by that very same mass.

    Why try stop the warming like this? Pretty obvious, after that we can cash in for the fossil fuels that are still left to burn.


  • Our sky is mostly gray half of the year anyway. In the other half, it's mostly dark.
  • I'm pretty sure that the planet Krikkit had no sky because they were in a nebula and could not see any other stars. And as soon as they learned about other worlds, the first thought they had was they'd have to destroy everything. And then the killer robots came for us all.
  • by bknack ( 947759 ) <bknack@siliconsurfers.com> on Monday February 23, 2015 @10:13AM (#49111075) Homepage

    “Now I prefer cloudy days when the drones don’t fly. When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear. Children don’t play so often now, and have stopped going to school. Education isn’t possible as long as the drones circle overhead.”
    I added the bold.

    From: http://www.theguardian.com/wor... [theguardian.com]

    I only read this a few days ago, but was really struck by it. The reason is completely different from that covered in the original article, but I wonder at the effects the author is concerned about...


  • by rgbatduke ( 1231380 ) <rgb@ph y . d u k e.edu> on Monday February 23, 2015 @10:14AM (#49111083) Homepage

    Seriously. We have a perfect understanding of the climate. We can predict to a tenth of a degree what the weather will be two weeks or two hundred years from now anywhere on Earth. We fully understand what triggers ice ages and can hindcast the climate of the entire Pliestocene, quantitatively. Our knowledge of solar dynamics is almost perfect, so we can confidently predict the state of the sun well into the future. Our measurements of atmosphere, ocean, and land are complete so that we know the entire state of the ocean (for example) well enough to predict with complete accuracy its future evolution given any possible variation of solar input. Finally, we are perfectly capable of predicting the future course of human affairs -- global population, the distribution of that population, land use -- and can predict already precisely when we will make critical scientific and technological breakthroughs (like thermonuclear fusion or widespread LFTR fission or storage batteries that don't suck or high temperature high current superconductors) . Our knowledge of the interior of the Earth itself is at last nearly complete, so we can predict to the day when Yellowstone or other supervolcanoes will wake up and erupt continuously for ten or twenty thousand years. Finally, once we create an orbital cloud of atomic sodium (or whatever) into space, it will be easy to remove it or rearrange it if it turns out to do something completely different than we expect, such as trigger snowball earth or act in its own right like a layer of greenhouse gas between the Earth and 3 K infinity.

    Oh, wait, those are all things we don't have, and can't do, and don't know. And I absolutely shudder to think of the price tag, both in dollars and in joules.

    I swear, common sense is a lost art.

    Let's go back to discussing orbital solar cells as a solution to both energy production and screening. Adding 64 MJ/kg (times a thousand or so) to the cost of solar cells by lofting them into orbit and giving world governments potential access to an orbital superweapon just to get to 1370 W/m^2 sunlight is sheer economic brilliance compared to this one. Oh, wait! Maybe we can combine the two! We can mortgage the next 100 years of human productivity to pay for it, no problem! It's not like we have anything else to do, like ending world poverty, preventing antibiotic resistant malaria from breaking out into a worldwide pandemic, embracing rational thought at the expense of the not-great world religions, and coping with leftover hypernationalism and colonialism from the cold war. So sure, let's do it! Solar cells AND making Earth a ringed or stratospheric smog laden planet!

    What could go wrong!


  • Since I found Serenity
  • All she's done is operate a 3.5 meter telescope, shoot a laser at the moon, and paint houses.

    Besides, if we do this, we'll all end up xenophobic and composing songs that would make Paul McCartney weep. The first ET that landed on the planet would trigger a universe-wide genocide, all in the name of that which is not Krikkit.
  • This magnitude of hubris is really staggering. It's like saying:

    "Fluoride seems to lessen the occurrence of tooth cavities, so let's just fluoridate all the water supplies!"
  • by prefec2 ( 875483 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @10:47AM (#49111369)

    Great idea. First, we foster the greenhouse effect with aerosols. Second, we shield the atmosphere with more aerosols. Instead of breaking something and try to fix it by breaking another thing. It would be more wise to stop messing around. However, that would not be in the interest of the fossil fuel industry. And it is against the idea that a conservative can never do wrong.

  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @10:53AM (#49111409)
    When we try to assess effects of altering the sky and put them beside the effects of allowing global warming it is rather like asking just how we would like to die and given only two choices. So which bulldozer would we like to run over us? Sadly the public seems to completely fail to understand the huge and quickly building consequences of global warming. Our social and political structures are just not adapted to the kinds of change required. One example would be planting bamboo forests of substantial size in the US. during the first five years of life bamboo soaks up co2 quite efficiently. Bamboo can grow super fast. A 30 foot tall bamboo can actually grow in a single month. Bamboo is also a very useful product when harvested. Now try to get your state to plant a really large bamboo forest and you will find out just how fast our laws and social customs prevent such an action. Try putting a law into effect that requires all roof tops to be snow white and watch the legal horrors begin. How about enforcing a must use a clothes line law for drying clothing which would save untold amounts of fossil fuel used by clothes dryers. Tesla cars stop a lot of oil products from being used and look at the wave of resistance against electric cars. The American public is its own worst enemy.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @10:59AM (#49111455) Journal
    Almost all the migrator birds would be severely confused if they can not see the stars for extended periods of time. Many of them sense the Earth's magnetic field. But the species that have survived the periodical shifts in Earth's magnetic field and polarity reversals, they must be using celestial navigation. Losing the stars would leave them very confused.
  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @12:47PM (#49112473)
    Plants will grow less. Humans will burn more to stay warm. This does not sound like a good plan.
  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Monday February 23, 2015 @02:33PM (#49113463)

    Just paint the earth white - works during ice ages.

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray