There are several strong indicators that the earth's climate is changing, including the melting of Arctic ice. (This melting has progressed to such an extent that Canada and the US are now squabbling over the right to police the new Arctic shipping lanes.)
It seems likely that one contributor to this change is the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, which in turn is probably a result of burning gigatons of fossil fuel.
In the absence of radically new technology, we are unlikely to stop burning gigatons of fossil fuel any time soon.
If we overwhelm the earth's current climate equilibrium, we could find things moving--quite rapidly--to a new equilibrium. How rapidly? As noted in this review on our blog, climate can change in as little as a decade.
We have written about climate change several times before: here, here, and here, for example. And we have already mentioned that molecular manufacturing, due to its ability to ramp up general-purpose manufacturing capacity with astonishing speed, is perhaps the only technology that could provide an economically feasible solution.
This post is motivated by two recent pieces of news. First, James Lovelock, the scientist who developed the "Gaia" hypothesis that life helps to regulate climate, now says that the regulation is failing fast, and by the end of this century most of the earth will be uninhabitable by humans. This is, of course, a radical position, and it remains to be seen whether it will survive the avalanche of criticism it will surely attract. Separately, it remains to be seen whether he is right.
The second piece of news is that NASA's chief climate scientist, James Hansen, has gone public with claims that NASA is trying to muzzle him. He says that the trouble started when he complained about other government climate scientists being muzzled.
If the technological capabilities of molecular manufacturing are used effectively, disastrous climate change could be stopped in its tracks and reversed. A combination of global sensor arrays, massive computational resources, and large-area sunlight deflectors could allow climate to be understood and manipulated.
But if unstable climate, and/or unstable global economy, and/or unstable fossil fuel supplies, and/or institutional resistance to molecular manufacturing, conspire to halt its development before general-purpose exponential manufacturing is achieved, we may lose our best hope to solve the problem. Or, if the technology is developed but is administered poorly (perhaps because of government-imposed failures of scientific accountability), then the problem is unlikely to be solved effectively.
These scientists are saying bluntly that impending climate problems are a risk to human civilization. Hansen is quoted as saying, "We can't let it go on another 10 years like this. We've got to do something." Ten years is a very short time period--molecular manufacturing may not be developed sooner than that, and it's certain that no other technology will be able to replace fossil fuels on that time scale.
In order to understand the implications of molecular manufacturing, we need to know the context in which it will be developed. It is starting to look like global climate change (and certainly awareness of the problem) could affect that context. Substantial new findings seem to be arriving every few months. CRN will continue to monitor breaking news in climate science.