Right now, I'm at Asilomar, a conference center in Pacific Grove, California, with my husband, a journalist who is covering the event taking place here, the Asilomar Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies. This is first large conference to deal with the governance issues surrounding geoengineering, or the deliberate manipulation of the earth's climate.
Geoengineering is a science being born out of desperation. We are simply not cutting greenhouse gas emissions as fast as we need to, to keep global warming at some level we can handle. And given the incredible political cowardice surrounding this subject, it appears that we won't, either, in the near future. So geoengineering would actively cool the plant, by, say, brightening clouds to make them reflect more sunlight away form the earth or building machines to suck CO2 out of the air.
There is clearly the sense here that the assembled scientists are doing the most important work on earth…trying to save human civilization from itself. At the same time, there is also just a boatload of assembled whimsy and craziness and genius, and plop yourself down next to a wild-haired professor at dinner and you may learn absolutely anything at all! One scientist told me that beavers are climate felons who contribute mightily to rising temperatures by building swamps that absorb the sun's warmth. "We ought to get rid of the real beavers and instead have cement beavers in our gardens next to the garden gnomes," he said slyly. I am having a marvelous time!
Asilomar is on the Monterey peninsula. The water here is an amazing cerulean color that I've never seen before in California. I chatted with an ocean modeler at breakfast who suggested that the key to that might be extremely fine sand particles. The place is also completely abloom at this particular moment, a spectacular riot of exotic color in which I can identify exactly two plants: rosemary and iceplant.
Compared to any ordinary country meadow in upstate New York, this part of the coast is a lousy experience. Like much of California, it is completely despoiled by the automobile. Despite its many charming Arts & Crafts buildings designed by Julia Morgan in the 1913, Asilomar itself is loads of ungardened asphalt with a few Monterey pines allowed in for good measure. And a highway runs right along the beach, making the experience of having a run along the bluffs more about car exhaust and trying not to be killed by someone pulling out of a parking spot than the scenery.
In a book about that will be published in a few weeks, my husband compares geoengineering to gardening the planet.
The generations that shaped these few miles of Pacific Ocean were crap gardeners, the kind of gardeners all about the riding mower, the weed 'n feed and the grubs-b-gone.
It's up to us now to be better gardeners on the largest scale, to start rearranging things to better reflect the ineffable beauty of our world–and what is most beautiful in our own humanity as well.