Climate Policy In Dimension
A century ago, a Victorian parson wrote a book exploring how hard two-dimensional creatures would find it to imagine our three dimensional world. We share their perplexity trying to intuit how two dimensional phenomena can determine the behavior of complex three dimensional systems like the climate of the Earth. Yet we encounter the importance of two dimensional phenomena to climate all the time. It's hard to weigh a shadow, yet you can feel the impact of one whenever you walk out of sunlight into shade.
The global warming debate ponders weighty matters, but such massive policy questions as taxing carbon by the ton or burying megatons of CO2 exist in response to something utterly weightless- the radiant energy of the sun. Global warming arises less from the weight of what humanity adds to the air as how much energy it traps between earth and sky.
Though The Greenhouse Effect is popularized as a problem in three dimensions, like lighting or fighting a fire , global warming has a profoundly two dimensional aspect. The Earth's albedo, it's basically about photons bouncing off of some surfaces and being absorbed by others.
The Earth's albedo is only skin deep.
Light and dark, black and shiny, dim and glaring , are all words describing the surfaces of things, not their massive interiors--what things weigh has little to do with how sunlight or radiant warmth interacts with their surfaces, or their interfaces with air or water. It is a capital error , economic and dimensional, for analysts to overlook the fact that two-dimensional solutions generally entail using-- or avoiding the use -- of far less mass of fuel or material than climate control policies aimed exclusively at the mass of the atmosphere in three dimensions.
At present, Earth's population is such that there is a million tons of atmosphere per capita, yet your share of the earths surface area is encompassed by a 100 meter circle. So while your portion of the earth's greenhouse gases weighs a hefty 400 tons, ten tons of paint would suffice to cover your share of the Earth's surface. An even smaller mass might yield an aerosol cloud large enough to shade your share of it too.
Carbon dioxide weighs three times as much as the carbon that goes into it , so putting some or all of it back into the ground from whence fossil fuels come is an even larger enterprise that extracting them in the first place. Like it or not carbon sequestration means venturing into the realm of macroengineering as well as macroeconomics. And playing God is something few people on Earth can afford to do withouth consulting their bank accounts- no nation can afford to ignore an order of magnitude difference in the scale of potential solutions to problems so universal as climate change ,soit behooves all of us to see to it that our politicians look up the phrase " dimensional anaysis' before they commit us to carbon trading schemes or CO2 sequestration.
Since few politicians know what their pet environmental solutions weigh, most are clueless as Flatlanders as to what they may end up costing- some have even been known to confuse the area of sea ice in two dimensions with the volume of ice caps in three. gallon of flat white paint of excellent quality , costing $20 at retail, can cover ~80 square meters. Were every American to commence painting their 3 hectare patch at the rate of one square meter per day , we'd run out of land to paint long before the end of the century. Though, like Flatland, this is not offered as a How To Guide, it does afford some idea of how such things scale in human terms.
Few carbon taxation schemes are guaranteed to run out of room for expansion after extracting only $2,000 from each intended victim.