“In similar climate-related conflicts, consider the Blanket War of 7298-7299, which took place on Calabar (Ymar’s Chasm). Calabar was a divided world going through late industrial-period development, whose primary energy source for several centuries had been the combustion of the large deposits of fossil carbon found beneath the icebound northern continent. The consequent release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in quantities sufficient to measurably alter its composition was, via the glass-garden effect, responsible for an increase in Calabar’s global temperature and the various consequences thereof, which in turn required measures to be taken for the smooth continuance of civilization.

“The initial measure chosen by the Coordinated Polities of Calabar – an international organization charged with peace maintenance and the promotion of international cooperation – was the use of a sunshade to reduce insolation, intended as a temporary measure to buy time for alternate energy sources to be deployed.

“In deference to Calabar’s limited domestic space capabilities, which would have made both maintenance and local control of a sunshade difficult, the Coordinated Polities (or, rather, Tsakalakia, the nation to which the task had been delegated by the CP) elected to license the means to deploy a shroud blanket. Using multiple projector towers for continuous deployment and replenishment, this maintains a haze of metamaterial ‘flakes’ in the upper atmosphere, deflecting incoming light and heat from above while permitting them to escape from below.

“Unfortunately, this did not take into account Throtal, Tsakalakia’s neighbor to the north, which would lose the increased arable land area and a longer growing season it had been enjoying in recent years and thus wished to maintain the status quo. The Throtalic Parliament, unable to extract an agreement permitting the planet’s current heated state to persist or sufficient compensation from the Coordinated Polities for these losses, had become afflicted by an unfortunate species of ‘war fever’, and in the winter of 7298, launched an invasion of Tsakalakia with the intent to seize and shut down the projector towers until accomodations could be reached.

“To their dismay, the invasion bogged down almost immediately. While the surprise attack did permit Throtal to seize two of the eleven projector towers, superior Tsakalakian forces were able to hold the line and push back those of Throtal. With additional forces from other polities being shipped to Tsakalakia to enforce the authority of the Coordinated Polities, Throtal elected in the early part of 7299 to make a demonstration tactical nuclear strike, using low-yield warheads, against six of the remaining projector towers.

“This decision proved disastrous. While it did eliminate the ability of those sites to deploy the shroud blanket, as planned, the stocks of metamaterial flakes held at those sites – sufficient for several years’ normal operation – were not destroyed by the nuclear detonation, but dispersed by it. Initially, this unplanned, unmonitored dispersal brought a low-altitude permanent night to north-central Tsakalakia and, as the plume spread with the prevailing winds, to the western two-thirds of Throtal, with an accompanying severe drop in temperature which destroyed crop yields and caused surface icing beneath the plume.

“As the months passed, however, more serious consequences became visible. As the plume dispersed and the flakes within it ascended over time closer to their proper deployment altitude, it eventually settled into an active shroud blanket substantially thicker than intended, causing a dramatic drop in global temperature with serious consequences for agriculture and logistics for every polity on Calabar – and Throtal in particular, which became almost entirely tundral. Fortunately for the planet, although not the planetary budget, they retained five operational projector towers with which to disperse first nanophages, and later a glass-garden blanket to bring global temperature back up to the desirable range.

“The obvious lesson of the Blanket War is to understand how what you’re shooting at will react before you shoot at it. The less obvious, I leave to you.”

– from a lecture series delivered at the Imperial War College

Larger Hammer

Listel (Principalities) was always a marginal world. An atmosphere too thick, clouds too hazy with hydrocarbons and too prevalent, an ecology containing some worrying chaotic irregularities, and the whole, moreover, orbiting a primary which – while not technically qualifying as a flare star – nonetheless possessed a rough and turbulent cycle that flayed the upper atmospheres of its planets with wave after wave of energetic particles.

So it did not come as a complete surprise to the local branch of the Office of the Atmohydrosphere when an inconveniently timed flare, at the peak of the cycle, coincided with a downturn in the tropical ocean ecology and thickening upper-atmospheric haze to nudge the planet’s course away from its current metastability.

It came as a slight surprise that the temperature spike was as large as it turned out to be, and as rapid in its ascent.

That it should reach the point at which destabilization of the clathrates layering Listel’s polar seabeds was threatened, raising the spectre of a further trillion tons of methane – in the best case – being abruptly belched into the planetary atmosphere no longer qualified as a surprise, and was notably described by the then Principal Administrator of the Office, Ialla Jessaris-ith-Janaris, as “something of an inconvenience”.

The solution they chose was unique.

Ordinarily, minor atmospheric imbalances are dealt with using the normal, subtle ecopoetic techniques: ocean seeding, release of tailored microbiota into the upper airs, albedo adjustment, importation of suitable plants, and so forth. But with the threat of the clathrate release hanging over their world, Principal Administrator Jessaris concluded that a larger and faster correction was needed than would be available through such techniques.

If you drive out into the Serantor Desert, you can see the Listel Carbon Depository for yourself. Make sure you choose a day on which they’re not operating, because of the cyclonic storm the plant generates, and when you pass the signs warning you to put on sunglasses, they are not joking, it is that bright, and yes, you really can see it from that far back.

That’s because the solution she came up with was the simplest, most brute-force solution imaginable: carbon-organizers, built to feed on atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane. The storms are caused by the venturi that sucks in inconceivable volumes of the upper atmosphere, feeds it through the organizer beds, and blows it out again at ground level – while spitting out flitter-sized diamond bricks as a by-product.

And those bricks are responsible for the brightness, because they pile them up into pyramids for storage – eight, huge, mile-high pyramids of shining diamond, and they’re working on a ninth. So far, they’re keeping ahead of the gas releases. It’s a magnificent sight.

It would be one of the wonders of the Worlds if they weren’t so damn embarrassed about it.

– Octavia Dalastel, “Around the Fringe in 48 Bottles”

Trope-a-Day: Global Warming

Global Warming: Yes, it happens.  The usual result, at least in the civilized worlds, is massive technofixes, from the brute force (say, giant orbiting sunshades with solar panels on the back) to the subtle and ecological; usually coupled with an extensive program to move industries off-world, into orbit at the very least.

These tend to be the preferred methods because people are perfectly aware that anything you do to atmospheric composition is the relatively easy version of this problem to solve.  But at least visible from that point on most tracks of technological development is the second heat crisis which is about literal waste heat being discharged into your atmohydrosphere, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics says there’s bugger all you can do about that, short of moving the work being done elsewhere, or giving up on this whole technological-civilization thing altogether.

And competent societies can at least try to think more than a decade or two ahead.