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Playing God with Planet Earth
Thursday November 25, 2010 at 9 pm on CBC-TV
Repeating: Friday November 26, 2010 at 10 pm ET/PT on CBC News Network
Imagine a time in the not too distant future when scientists try to mimic the effects of a volcanic explosion in a desperate bid to reverse global warming. Consider a climate emergency so severe that engineers create a sulphuric sunscreen, hoping to stop the melting of polar ice, turn back the rising sea and prevent the horrific storms that would send environmental refugees running for their lives.
Playing God With Planet Earth explores the last ditch efforts of scientists and engineers trying to avert a planetary meltdown.
Rising sea levels in Saint Louis lead to the geo-engineering experiment with fatal consequences. Photo credit: John Collins
As the threat of climate change grows more urgent, scientists are considering radical and controversial schemes to rehabilitate the climate. Since none of these wild—and possibly dangerous—ideas have ever been tried before, the filmmakers used a distinctive “painted animation” technique (like a “graphic novel”) to explore these futuristic scenarios.
“Human ingenuity could temporarily roll back the effects of global warming. At the same time, it could cause catastrophic damage and spark deadly political conflict,” says director Jerry Thompson. “We’ve interviewed some of the world’s leading scientists, engineers, environmentalists, lawyers, and disaster-relief workers about the possible consequences of intentionally manipulating the climate—versus the risk of doing nothing.”
Salting the ocean with iron dust to trigger plankton blooms, shooting salt crystals into clouds to make them brighter, genetically-engineering “robo trees” to hoover carbon from the air -- these are just a few of the big ideas under consideration.
Scientists hope to mimic the effects of a volcano by spraying sulphuric acid to reverse global warming. Photo credit: John Collins
But the one form of “solar radiation management” likely to work fastest in a climate emergency would be to mimic the effects of a huge volcano by spraying clouds of sulphuric acid into the stratosphere. Jet drones or high-altitude balloons could do the job. Quick and cheap compared to breaking our addiction to carbon and retooling the industrial revolution.
Cheap and easy enough that any country feeling threatened by horrific storms or a rapidly rising sea level could decide to go it alone and launch one of these climate rehabilitation campaigns unilaterally. The problem? They might save themselves but cause unintended consequences for others by reducing rainfall, causing drought and mass starvation. Climate change and geoengineering could even lead to war.
Director Jerry Thompson with editor, Carmen Pollard. Photo credit: Rosamond Norbury
Tinkering with the atmosphere: will it save the day—or trigger disaster on a planetary scale?
Playing God With Planet Earth was developed and produced by Lightship Entertainment Inc. in association with CBC Television, with the participation of The Canada Media Fund, The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit and The Province of British Columbia Film Incentive BC. The documentary was directed and produced by Jerry and Bette Thompson, and executive produced by Terence McKeown.