And even if it was possible to cool the planet, this type of geo-engineering won’t stop our seas from becoming acidic and much of marine life being wiped out. It would still leave us with a much diminished planet.
Comment by Almuth Ernsting — 28 Jun 2006 @ 7:27 PM
This reminded me of a song. It begins
“I know an old lady who swallowed a fly…”
Comment by David B. Benson — 28 Jun 2006 @ 7:52 PM
I read the article. It was interesting. However, if we are going to consider radical solutions (which we should), we should also consider standing down the greenhouse gas economy, except for essential services, for some periods of time each year. We could survive not driving our cars or running our factories and businesses for a few weeks each year if we plan it carefully. Like other forms of conservation planned annual stand downs of our economy could be a significant contributor to a mix of approaches and technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Comment by Patrick Kennedy — 28 Jun 2006 @ 8:17 PM
Most credible scientists seem to suggest that reducing emissions is the only practical and prudent approach to mitigating climate change. However, geo-engineering may be worth exploring as a possible reaction to severe runaway climate impacts.
Comment by Catherine Jansen — 28 Jun 2006 @ 8:34 PM
I don’t know if most skeptics are “good faith” skeptics, but if one assumes so, one can be more understanding of the techno-fix appeal. For one, if one already adopts the skeptic position that climate isn’t changing much anyway, then the techno-fix wouldn’t be as difficult or costly in their estimation (e.g., less sulfur would need to be pumped into the atmosphere). Of course, to argue that way, one would have to eat the argument that we’re insignificant and can’t influence climate (e.g., one might have to admit that aerosols were highly responsible for cooling from 1940-1970).
I have a different reason for liking the techno-fix, and Gavin alluded to it: “if there was a cheaper way to deal with the CO2 problem, or even a way to buy time, shouldn’t we take it?” Say we need 20 years to get our sh*t together and reduce emissions, but we only have 10 before the tipping point (where ice melting becomes irreversible, for example), maybe it’s worthwhile to pump out massive amounts of harmful junk, paint roofs white, whatever is possible, to avoid that tipping point. I’m thinking (hoping in vain?) that the techno-fix approach is also a bit of a practical response to geographic non-conformity in reducing emissions. That is, if some countries simply can’t/won’t alter their emissions trajectories on the needed timeline, perhaps by forcing them to emit sulfur is a way of putting the costs on them. Alternatively, for countries too small to absorb the costs (in terms of acid rain and other pollution in their own skies) strategic siting of sulfur emissions by other countries can make them bear the costs of their refusal to reduce CO2 emissions.
I dunno much about legal and other ways that countries interact, but it seems like there must be a way to pressure them (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5121334.stm). The link is for a story about German decisions weakening the attempts of other EU countries to reduce emissions. It would be nice if pressure points could be found that act in the opposite direction.
“You don’t have to believe in climate change to believe that this is happening,” said Joanie Kleypas, an oceanographer with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a non-profit organization based in Boulder, Colo. “It’s pretty much simple thermodynamics.”
“Acidification is more frightening than a lot of the climate change issues … “
As someone said – if we are going to look at this we should at least look at the real cost of a combination of efficiency measures and renewable. I suspect the lower cost from efficiency combined with the higher cost of renewables would yield a net cost of zero to get off of fossil fuels.
I have to admit, the fact that this is being discussed makes me sick. The stratospheric sulphate will cause acid rain. If this acid rain is in any significant quantity it will send insurance bills soaring. Just look at the EPA’s acid rain projections:
“When fully implemented by the year 2010, the public health benefits of the Acid Rain Program are estimated to be valued at $50 billion annually, due to decreased mortality, hospital admissions, and emergency room visits.” http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/effects/health.html
Those are some big numbers.
There are a lot of physicists that are calling for an energy Manhattan project yet their voices fall on death ears. And it’s not just republicans that don’t seem to hear them. I mean you never see articles in the newspapers pushing for an energy Manhattan project. Those that do hear the physicists seem so say “what can we do?” and yet there seems to be so many possibilities to me. I even made a website listing them:
An energy Manhattan project would require $10 billion a year. $10 billion a year is nothing in relation to the $3 trillion energy industry or even the acid rain induced medical bills. I’m currently writing an article about this on my website to convince all the right wingers/neocons I know. Liberals are easy to convince when it comes to the environment. Republicans require a different approach. Ironically, after doing some research for this article, global warming went from primary concern to a mere “secondary” concern simply because there are so many other threats we have to deal with. Threats that seem to go ignored.
Re #3: Great (or not so great!) minds think a like. Just last night in another forum commenting on this article, I called it the “swallow a spider to catch the fly” approach. Not that I think these things aren’t worth thinking about…especially as backup plasn if we get desperate. But, I do find it ironic when these approaches are often put forward by the same folks who say that the science is fraught with uncertainties. To me, this is the sort of approach that requires far more certainty in our understanding of the full climate system than to simply try to reduce our perturbation on the system (which I guess is basically the point of Gavin’s rocking-the-boat analogy).
Nuclear energy needs and deserves climate scientists’ endorsement. Efficiency and renewables are fossil fuel tax beneficiaries’ code words. They mean whatever doesn’t work; whatever keeps the oil and gas tax money coming in.
Public money has those strings attached. Taking it and not endorsing nuclear energy is not at all a morally neutral act; it’s going along to get along.
Re #1: If a geo-technical fix has widespread unanticipated negative consequences (ala John Miller’s famous quip about fertilizing the subtropical Pacific with iron, “Give me a freighter full of iron filings and I’ll give you another ice age” – or words to that effect – we’ll have a real Tragedy of the Commons.
There are these wild swings, in posting themes. Is this a system just a trifle chaotic, perhaps ??
Just recently, we have a plea and post to look more carefully at paleoclimate, as perhaps as one of several possibilities–and reasonably measured ideas– for better understanding of the underlying present geophysics at work in global change melting , and now this really far out global engineering idea, from a Nobel prize winner, no less.
Ok, maybe chaos is bit of a natural phemonenon. But…??
from an interested, and duly amazed, non climate scientist type.
Comment by edward lanwermeyer — 28 Jun 2006 @ 11:19 PM
Oops – I meant geo-engineering fix.
As I recall,it was Willard Bascom, an engineer-turned-oceanographer who coined the slogan, ” The solution to pollution is dilution” back in the early ’70s to justify using the ocean as a dumping ground. While that sometimes works on a small scale, it clearly has backfired on a global scale. That is one of the problems with engineers – they are trained to solve practical problems but often fail to see the big picture, or fail to appreciate the esthetic components of possible solutions.
I remember hearing that the US temperature was raised noticeably after 9-11 when planes were grounded, giving credence to the theory that air plane jets act as a noticeable shadow reflecting UV away from earth. I am afraid of “our” ability to control gases in such a large proportion to make a difference, and by the time we do, if might be too late to belatedly find out another unintended consequence. I am thinking of so many 19th century colonial screwups such as goarse in NZ, brought in for farm fencing, which took over the country rapidly… So maybe there is another way to do something but more nimbly in case it backfires.
Perhaps a quick fix would be to launch into space some large object to act as a partial light shield (modular construction could be enlarged in space, honey comb form allowing some light). It need not cover the earth, just the poles. — The closer we get it to the sun, the smaller the object need be. Thrusters would make sure it would attain an orbit around the sun mimicking the Earth’s. This object would be positioned to be a partial shadow of the North pole in its summer, and the south pole in its summer. Effects would be able to be tracked immediately and if they do other unintended consequences, it could be removed immediately.
On a related note, I also remember seeing that one of the methods they are looking into for meteor deflection, is to attract it to a space craft and nudge it using thrusters. Perhaps we can use a meteor as a light shield — force it into a similar orbit shielding parts of the north pole, or south pole.
Does any of this make sense?
[Response: No, it doesn't. A meteor, or even several thousand meteors, would not have enough cross section area to block the amount of sunlight you'd need to block. There were proposals to build a shield either with mylar mirrors or with an orbiting ring of copper needles. The mirror is hard to keep in place and maintain, and the problem with the needles is that if you've overdone it and don't like the climate you like, it's hard to gather up the junk and undo the damage. --raypierre]
The Romans had a phrase for such things that they borrowed from the Greeks: Deus ex machina or ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεόςápo mēchanēs theós, (OK, I copied the last one) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_ex_machina for those of you who slept through classics.
What if we did inject sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere, and then a large volcanic eruption occurred? It would be too late to change our minds. Would we then experience a “year without a summer”, as has happened after other large eruptions? Any safe geo-engineering solution must provide the capability for almost immediate adjustments, so we can compensate for natural fluctuations that are out of our control. Civilization may be much less robust to sudden severe climate changes then it was in the 18th century.
When I was a kid in 1950′s Los Angeles, watching folks drop like flies from smog inversions, a proposed solution to air pollution was to blow up a mountain at the periphery of the Valley – using an atomic device! – so the smog would be blown into the desert through the gap in the mountains.
Hmmm. So the solution to Global Warming is… the world should generate its power using high-sulphur coal?
There is a lot of cold water at the bottom of the ocean. It can be pumped to the surface and discharged through perforated fabric hoses so that it will mix with the surface water and lower the surface temperature. The enormous pump power required to pump the enormous quantity of cold water can be supplied by using the OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) technology developed in the 70′s and later.
I can’t wait for the movie where the hero and heroine struggle to set off matching volcanoes on either side of the world with split second timing. Global warming has reach critical…a suicidal CEO is intent on thwarting their plans because his son did not get into Harvard.
There is only one number that fortells the fate for humans, and that number is how many parts per million co2 is in the atmosphere. Levels on Earth will soon force the North Atlantic current to shut down. Humans will lose the northern and southern icecaps, as well as the mountain glaciers.Superstorms will bankrupt the insurance industry as well as the reinsurance industry. Carbon taxes will bring co2 to above $170 per ton,US, and you will need a permit to exercise outside, never mind driving a vehicle. Oh, by the way, the sulpher dimming idea is just plain dumb.Also, by the way, many earthlike planets have suffered the same fate. Earth is in no way special, having thus shown so far the total paucity of vision and intelligence from the “dominant” species.Good luck, humans.PS,I thought that most people who read this website had already passed global warming 101.P.PS. if it seems that I am both arrogant and highly educated it is because I am.
This is wat i believe………..A general prediction of global warming does not just suggest that there will be an average higher world temperature. It also proposes that there will be greater variations in temperature with more extremes of local heat and cold, higher or lower precipitation, more storms and more droughts.
I do not think that cooling the planet artifically is even close to a good idea. How are we to know the consequences of our cooling actions? Who’s to say that the cloud bursting in China is not encouraging wild fires in the states? It is much better to fix the problem rather try to engineer a band aid solution.
The only real benefit to this proposal I can see is the prospect it offers of separating researchers who really don’t believe Global Warming is taking place (if there are any) from those who are merely taking the money and running their mouths according to the wishes of their paymasters.
The former will oppose this desperately, because they’ll see it as giving chemotherapy to a patient misdiagnosed with cancer; the latter will rush to embrace it because that’s what their bosses will want. Their bosses will want it, of course, because they think it may buy them a few more years to do with the world as they will, even though they will realize the scheme is ridiculous.
Certainly the idea of a solar shield at the Lagrange point between the Earth and Sun has been mooted. It’s certainly better than sulphate aerosols, with the minor problem that an accident or metorite strike could destroy the whole thing in a single go..
As others have pointed out, it would still not prevent ocean acidification, and the overall heat distribution may well change.
An interesting idea, but I’d like to see the underlying calculations. What proportion of the oceans would have to be overturned each year (the natural rate being circa 0.1%).
If we are warming water by 15K, that means that every cubic kilometer of water overturned will absorb 4.2*15*10^15 J. (~6×10^16 J)
If we take total forcing as 4W/m2 x 5.1×10^14 = 2×10^15W
(for a year, this would be 3×10^7 x 2×10^15 = 6×10^22 J)
This implies 10^6 cubic kilometers. The volume of the cold, deep oceans is around 10^9 cubic kilometers. So we could in theory do this for 1000 years before the entire ocean was warmed to 15C. This would, I believe, raise sea levels by up to 10 meters. More to the point, within a relatively short time of starting this pumping scheme, natural ocean circulation would be disrupted.
Yes, replacing coal burning with nuclear would appear to be one of the easiest, pain-free ways to reduce CO2 emissions. But that’s a bit off-topic.
as it was previously said here, it won’t prevent acidification of oceans but such molecules like sulphates are known to provoke acidic rains, and even atmospheric pollution for some sensitive organisms like lichens.
And the other question, like it was previously discussed for stabilisation of the ozone layer, is what quantities of enginered gazes would have been released to neutralise warming effects of carbone dioxide and methane ? Is the range compatible with the scale developped countries could be ready to give to such a strategy.
Really sceptic I am considering all these considerations in balance…
When will Humanity be able to live in harmony with its environnement ?
Trying to correct a problem by addind another layer of engineering is noting less that adding complexity and unpredictability to the system, running to a global disaster when no solution will remain to balance a higly modified complex oceano-atmosperic system…
The opening sentence of this thread states,” … the global warming problem.” Can anyone here direct me to documents in which are described the processes and procedures that were used to arrive at an exact and accurate specification of ” … the global warming problem.” Exact and accurate specifications in the sense of the known/proven consequences if “the problem” is neglected and the rank of “the problem” in a list of pressing issues facing humankind world wide.
This blog in my opinion continues to accelerate its movement away from its originally stated purpose. As support for this statement I point to the increasing number of threads based on issues that appear in the daily newspapers and “news releases”.
[Response: The main reason for this blog was to provide context for the public discussion of climate change. And that's what we do. For a detailed specification of the problem, read the IPCC TAR and references therein. - gavin]
I wonder why it is that these types of solutions seem more ‘possible’ than emissions reduction strategies? Is it the seductiveness of the grand project? Or perhaps, some other attribute of centralized solutions? Just what are the barriers that reductions face that these proposals avoid? Cheaper? For who, by what calculation?
Even if we didn’t face climate change, even if it were for reasons of health or aesthetics, wouldn’t pollution reduction be worthwhile anyway? Unless we can redefine what is ‘possible’, I find little reason for optimism.
The idea of spreading particles in the stratosphere to retard global warming did not originate with Dyson but, so far as I know, with the Russian climatologist Mikhail I. Budyko ca. 1974. This was in keeping with Soviet dreams of “conquering” nature, but even Soviet scientists were dubious about such schemes. See http://www.aip.org/history/climate/RainMake.htm (comments welcome).
[Response: Thanks! Serves me right for reading Teller's papers a little too uncritically. - gavin]
Speaking of geoengineering, can anyone comment on this book: “Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How humans took control of climate” by William Ruddiman? I’m looking for a copy but the publisher’s blurb on the Powells Bookstore website gave me pause because it seemed to suggest that human-caused climate forcings were all that stood between us and another ice age (which sounds too much like the Western Fuels Assn. for my taste).
Re: #11 (arguing that we must go nuclear to reduce greenhouse gases):
Here is a letter I just sent to an author proposing the same:
Dear Mr. Sweet,
I just finished your book, Kicking the Carbon Habit: Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy, and I wanted to write to commend you for it.
However, I must add (as an undergraduate nuclear engineer who later taught nuclear plant operations in the Navy and who took a a master’s in engineering management while working at the Hanford nuclear reservation, before becoming an attorney) that the discussion of nuclear power needs significant expansion to address a key issue, one that you clearly recognize as critical when discussing other forms of energy. We can call this the EROEI (energy return on energy invested).
There is a growing realization that nuclear plants require so much embedded energy that they are net energy sinks for a non-trivial period, and that nearly all of this energy causes the release of CO2.
That is, the enormous amounts of energy that go into making the plants (particularly in concrete but also in various steels) and the fuel rods (mining, milling, enriching, fabricating) is not at all insubstantial.
Thus, it is incorrect to ignore this or to say that nuclear plants are essentially zero carbon plants. Sure, they don’t emit carbon (or anything else) while burning fuel, but that’s like saying that hydrogen is a zero carbon fuel by ignoring all the carbon released in making hydrogen.
Naval nuclear plants, for example, use such high-enrichment fuel (to avoid refueling requirements) that they _never_ produce net energy. And while civilian light water reactors do not require that kind of enrichment, new nuclear plants still start out with a huge carbon and energy debt to work off, which means it is years before they produce more energy than they consumed along the way (I have heard estimates exceeding 15 years when all the construction and fuel cycle energy use is accounted for).
Given that a plant ordered tomorrow would probably not carry base load for ten years, and would probably not reach an energy profit for at least another decade, it’s very unclear whether the commitment of $100 billion for nuclear plants is a very wise investment for the United States. On a CO2 reduction per dollar basis, I suggest that the same money would be far more effectively spent on national and local rail projects (to elminate truck transport and to slash airline travel), combined heat and power plants (such as Tom Casten proposes, which you seemed to dismiss far too lightly), conservation, and small, distributed generation projects.
Again, I want to commend you for the book, especially for the sections discussing the climate modelers, which was fascinating. And I do hope you will revise and expand the third section so that it offers lay readers a more rigorous look at the energy alternatives and the net energy return they offer.
Ahhh, the surgeon heals by cutting, the medical doctor by dispensing drugs, the chemist proposes more chemical reactions.
Maybe I’m just a simple engineer, but I would agree with comment #8 whole heartedly (no offense #8). Many issues are much too complex to be looked at from one point of view. When it comes to energy use and global warming, I believe the bigger the system you look at–both thermodynamically and economically–the more efficiency and renewables become the best possible solution. When you include energy subsidies on the supply side, include health care costs due to pollution, DoD costs to maintain supplies, costs due to global warming, etc., energy efficiency is cheap and easy. We need much better designs of our systems–the technology is already there.
A good intro to this way of thinking can be found in a Harvard Business Review paper by the folks at the Rocky Mountain Institute:
The study of temperatures after 9/11 showed that the difference between the daytime high and nighttime low temperature increased. Daily temperature variations are too great for the researchers to have determined if temperatures increased in an absolute sens, or not. If we were to block sunlight and leave the CO2 in the atmosphere, we would compress the day-night temperature variations, and the compression would increase over time. I have no idea of the long-term consequences of that. I don’t believe anyone else does either.
The [Update: See Spencer Weart's essay on the history of climate modification ideas]. didn’t work for me. It just brought-up the same RealClimate article again.
[Response: Fixed. sorry!- gavin]
I seem to remember a number of suggested engineered solutions back in the early 90s or late 80s in “Newsweek” magazine (yes, quite a long time ago). I imagine they are mostly the same ones being discussed here.
I would worry in general about the cost, efficacy, and potential side effects.
Any potential particulates that could be introduced that would reflect sunlight but would not produce acid rain or other severe side effects?
Re#6- “if one already adopts the skeptic position that climate isn’t changing much anyway, then the techno-fix wouldn’t be as difficult or costly in their estimation”
I think a more appropriate skeptic position is that the climate isn’t changing much anyway due to anthropogenic GHG emissions.
Most skeptics (and even some believers of significant AGW) oppose expensive measures like Kyoto, and they would likely similarly oppose these “technical fixes” as being too costly with too little benefit and too many potential side effects.
Comment by Michael Jankowski — 29 Jun 2006 @ 1:22 PM
We have ‘geoengineered’ the planet into its current state. More of the same in a different direction will only make things much worse. We (humans in general, but industrialized humans in particular) lack the wisdom to realize this. If we do ‘buy some time’ with one of the methods mentioned, we will surely use it to pump more GHGs into the atmosphere and expand our populations and wealth, not find real solutions. Do you think the US government is suddenly going to acknowledge that climate change is real, dangerous, and human-caused, and then take drastic steps to reduce CO2 emissions?
I would suggest that geoengineering projects may initially be proposed and started by well-meaning people…and it would rapidly go to heck from there. Who better to run global-scale geoengineering projects than big multinationals? Once these companies start running the projects, concern for poorer, militarily weaker nations will become secondary, as it is now. If Africans sue the US, is the US going to pay, or change behavior? In addition, once a major industry is underway, vested interests will automatically arise to sustain that industry, even if it is causing more harm than good. The American auto industry is a prime example.
Nuclear power is also not a solution. In addition to the problems mentioned in JMG’s post #35, there is also the risk of contamination. The world is getting less stable, and climate change and increased oil prices (and reduced supply) are only going to make this worse. Do we really want to build nuclear plants in a world that is becoming less politically, economically, and socially stable? Why not spend the $100B on conservation, on car-less cities, and so on?
There is a solution, but it is not popular, because it means significantly changing “the economy,” and this has been conflated with destroying the economy. Or, as one of your most senior leaders laughably said, “The American Way of Life is not negotiable.” (He must have been warning God or Mother Nature.) Living in harmony with our environment does NOT necessarily mean a decrease in our standard of living, and it could offer a better way of life. Ultimately, it will be the only solution.
The recent licensing of a gas-centrifuge plant in the USA is part of a continuing process in which that fraction moves into the high 990s per thousand. For heavy-water-cooled and some gas-cooled reactors it has, of course, always been 1.000.
The hand-waving reference to “not at all insubstantial” energies invested in nuclear plant concrete is an appeal to innumeracy that I trust won’t get far here. Concrete requires high-temperature calcination of clinker, so that a tonne of it represents a 1.4-GJ energy investment, and this means a 1-gigawatt nuclear electric station that feeds 800 MW to a resistance-heated clinker kiln for a year would power the production of 18 million tonnes of concrete. So it can pay for its own concrete’s production in less than a month.
Something that wasn’t taken into account in the article or in the responses is that the climate is not static – it readilly changes with or without our help. The next ice age will be just as destructive as the worst case global warming predictions, is it okay that billions of people die because it’s ‘natural’ or should we do something about it? Geo-engineering will be required at some point (we’re near the end of the current interglacial period compared to the length of the previous ones) – should we investigate it now and find comprehensive solutions to climate change no matter the cause, or devote all our resources to a one-off solution to the unique problem we currently face?
The least expensive and most useful solution is probably to grab the low laying fruit in conservation and alternative energy, and make up for any shortcomings with geo-engineering. Then when mother nature throws us a curveball in the future, a field of hardened, experienced geo-engineers will be ready to save billions of lives.
re: #43– Thanks for suggesting that the energy cost of certain pieces of the nuclear process are low. I (and perhaps others here) would welcome pointers to any peer-reviewed reports you are aware of that assess the energy cost of the entire nuclear life-cycle (from mining through waste storage and monitoring) so that the overall EROEI for the entire nuclear energy life cycle can be known (the kind of thing being done for ethanol).
I think we very much need that kind of information if we are to make good choices. Certainly we would have to be able to show that kind of data to be able to get enough people to support the kind of “Coal/Nuclear Covenant” proposed by R. T. Pierrehumbert that we need [6 Chi J Intl Law ___, Winter 2006].
And there is geoengineering to deflect solar radiation. My impression
is that it’s almost certainly a bad idea. If someone could get that
to work, it could prevent the mean surface temperature of the earth
from rising, but it could not balance out the local forcings.
While I don’t find the following decisive, it is fair to point out that there is some evidence to the contrary. An anonymous correspondent on the globalchange list pointed out that the referenced section of the WGIII report addresses this point in an optimistic way.
“One of the perennial concerns about possibilities for modifying the
earth’s radiation balance has been that even if these methods could
compensate for increased GHGs in the global and annual mean, they might
have very different spatial and temporal effects and impact the
regional and seasonal climates in a very different way than GHGs.
Recent analyses using the CCM3 climate model (Govindasamy and Caldeira,
2000) suggest, however, that a 1.7% decrease in solar luminosity would
closely counterbalance a doubling of CO2 at the regional and seasonal
scale (in addition to that at the global and annual scale) despite
differences in radiative forcing patterns.”
My intuition is that models with more degrees of freedom may not yield such pleasant results. Has this been further investigated?
I’d also suggest that any geoengineering system which does not “fail safe”, i.e., quickly decay to natural conditions without explicit human maintenance, is far too dangerous to contemplate. We can’t risk iatrogenic disease in Gaia.
Scroll down to Los Angeles-San Diego VIS thumbnail (right-hand side)
Click on that, then go up to bar on top to Previous, click on that to access Index of archives.
Scroll down to 20060624 sequence of June 24, 2006 (left column currently)
Click on 20060624.1900 for most blatant image (click to enlarge)
Look at 1600, 1630, 1700, 1730, 1800 to see the evolution of a completely unnatural pattern in the atmosphere.
This is only one recent example of many weather satellite anomalies that cannot be explained as contrails left by airliners. Something is going on here that needs to be taken into account.
[Response: The image in question shows a gravity wave that is close enough to the cloud layer to affect the relative humidity as it passes through (becasue of the vertical motions associated with the wave). Gravity waves are caused by winds intersecting with mountain ranges (lee waves etc.), moist convective activity, shear in the atmosphere etc. They resemble surface waves on the ocean, but exist in the atmosphere between layers of slightly different density. You only see them when they get accentuated by clouds in air that is close to 100% saturation. No mystery there.... but it is a good image. - gavin]
I will bet one thing about the idea of spreading white films on rocky deserts: the carbon offsetting industry will soon be trying to buy up the most convenient sites as ‘low-hanging fruit’.
I wonder if there is a particular need for local geo-engineering, in particular to protect peat bogs from carbon dioxide attack, see here, by introducing certain plants, or otherwise altering their ph or salinity. Or, if it turns out that warming is a threat to them, by deploying local passive wind- or solar- mist-making devices.
Less seriously, what about combining geo-engineering with carbon sequestration and burial? That is, take the oxygen-depleted air left over, lighter than normal air, and trap it in huge white polythene balloons short of full inflation. These would float around for ages, surely, reflecting sunlight?
Sulphates? What if someone drilled deep into the Yellowstone lake and breached the magma chamber? Would this be like loosening the valve on a bicycle tyre compared with piercing it, create a sulphate-dispensing geyser system, and save humanity from a future super-volcanic blast?
RE: #25 – You are correct. And you can count me among those who would constitute an intense opposition group. For the record, if there is any move to do anything more than carbon taxes or other subtle things such as reforestation, I will personally oppose it with every means I have available. There is way too much uncertainty to justify doing anything specific to try and overtly “cool” the earth directly. Let’s put it this way, imagine the worst case warming scenarios being stated within the legitimate scientific community. Let’s say we observed that we were well into such a scenario. Realistically, what would happen would be increases in consumption taxes and massive efforts globally like what was done to contain the dust bowl – tree plantings and the like. Assuming that everything really is as stated by the most vocal proponents of AGW, then we’d do like we’ve done with ozone, eventually tweaking PP CO2 down and if the AGW view is true, slowly cooling the climate. However, assume, on the other hand, that there are feedbacks we do not completely understand. Let’s say we take the aggressive engineering centric route and put reflective material on ice, pumped up abyssal waters, and put reflectors into orbit. Not understanding the feedbacks, we might induce a return to extended glaciation mode. Let me share something, it would be very, very difficult to undo that. Billions would die. Insurance? Heck, there would be no insurance companies left. We’d be thrown back into prehistoric existance. There is no way I would go with the program on such an aggressive approach. My own science and engineering ethics are far too strong to allow it.
Re: 26 by Andrew Dodds asking for calculations on pumping up cold water from the ocean bottom. Idea was originally proposed for hurricane suppression. To reduce the surface temperature of the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico by 3.5 deg C, water from 1000 m depth must be pumped up at the rate of 1.2 million cubic meters/s. This is 4% of the Florida Current transport. Modeling is required to determine whether this upwelled water increases the Florida Current transport. I would guess that it replaces some of the Yucatan Passage surface flow with Windward Passage deep water. The Sun will reheat the water as it flows downstream, but the atmosphere will be cooled along the path. The forced upwelling will increase the thermohaline overturning.
Night flights worsen climate-change peril Jun 14, 2006 http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20060614/sc_afp/climatewarmingplanes
Restrictions on night flights could ease the aviation industry’s fast-growing contribution to global warming …
… during daytime, these clouds [contrails] have a cooling effect because they are white and thus reflect some of the Sun’s energy back into space.
Meteorologists at the University of Reading, southern England, estimated the radiation caused by contrails …
Night flights account for only 22 percent of Britain’s annual air traffic but contribute between 60 to 80 percent of the greenhouse effect from contrails, the scientists found.
The study appears in Nature …
… passenger travel is growing at the rate of around five per cent a year …
In addition to rescheduling night flights for the daytime, planes could diminish their contribution to global warming by changing their altitude.
A study published last year in the journal Transportation Research suggests that the regions of “ice-supersaturated” air where contrails form is only about 500 metres (1,650 feet) thick.
Perhaps you are right, Gavin. Did you look at the entire
sequence I suggested, showing its evolution?
Here’s a very different example from 08 June. What is
the explanation for this? Ship trails? Starting and
stopping like that? More likely, advertent aerosols to
keep the eastern Pacific cool, whether ship-generated or
Oops, the lengthy URL for the image referred to in comment 54 would not paste in your form. Once again, it is on the Naval Research Laboratory site (www.nrlmry.navy.mil/sat_products.html) on the Southwest VIS thumbnail, in the “Previous” archive for 20060608.1630
[Response: Ship tracks would be most likely. Again, these do not always appear - it is only when the ship exhaust (with all it's aerosols) finds itself in very humid (but not already cloudy) air. -gavin]
If you want to get rid of the carbon rather than cool the Earth, build a bunch of machines that run off solar/nuclear/heat pump that draw in air and remove the carbon, leaving little black blocks everywhere.
Could be done by bioengineered plants too.
To cool the Earth, we could float white stuff that was breathable on the oceans. Have to make it sink ten metres during storms or something…
There are a lot of people thinking about this, I think deliberate climate control will be the next big thing for us, even after we solve the GHG issue…
[Response: Little black blocks of carbon are no good. They'll just oxidize. Bacteria are too good at respirating carbon. You'd have to bury the blocks of carbon someplace -- sort of like growing trees then burying them someplace where they can't get oxidized. Nature can do that over a few hundred million years, but to do it on a short time scale is a lot harder. Here's a calculation you ought to do: How much energy does it take to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and pump it into a geological formation (or make it into limestone, which is more costly)? Would you be better off using that renewable energy to replace some coal burning instead? --raypierre]
If we look at the glacial cycle as a Hamiltonian energy cycle, then we are stuck at the top of the cycle at high potential heat storage and the natural phenomena causing us to go into kinetic energy phase at mid glacial is somehow stuck. In all probability, we will continue to heat up until something gives. Something will give in a thousand years or so without GHG or in 50 years with GHG. Putting out less fossil carbon is probably not enough.
In other words, we are stuck with way too much carbon, with or without man’s foul up. Sometome soon, we will have to learn how to scrub carbon from the atmosphere and store it, for at least a few hundred years, minimum. That should be enough time for us to get a longer term handle on stabilizing carbon.
The best carbon management is to simulate nature but do it much better. Ten thousand years at these temperatures means nature wants dead, deoxygenated seas and waterways, and we should get with nature’s program and help her out. We are fighting against nature if we think this garden of eden was meant to last.
[Response: There is absolutely no scientific support for your claim that "with or without man's foul up" we are stuck with too much carbon. Statements like this are just noise, and they don't help the discussion. --raypierre]
Just to play devils advocate — it seems to me there must be a nuclear solution (a la the Russians).
It wouldn’t pass all your stringent requirements, but it seems it could come into play at some point (say a few centuries from now when methane hydrates start floating up to the ocean surface at a good clip). Are there good papers available concerning geo-engineering aspects of nuclear bombs? How would you apply them most effectively? Melt the East Antarctic ice sheet to increase the pressure on hydrates, introduce stratospheric aerosols, induce upwelling of nutrient rich water, something else?
Perhaps discussing possible geotechnical solutions is a good way of demonstrating to the public the magnitude of the problem.
Adopting energy efficiency measure such as 1/5th energy consumption light bulbs and hybrid cars makes more sense to me than attempting geo engineering projects that will take years to setup and execute.
I believe it’s scientifically (and technically) impossible, but well…politically…
It’s quite easy to understand that complicated problems (such as global warming) can’t have simple solutions; but this GeoEngeneering thing alas would be a “good” campaign theme – and would brown-nose people on “America saves the world” theme…
Reagan’s “Star Wars” or Strategic Defense Initiative couldn’t work, but this “splendid idea” [in which Edward Teller was already implicated (hmmm...)] cost at least 30$ billion. See articles in Wikipedia and MSN Encarta for project backgrounds and figures. (#25, #51)
Re #44 — “#2) At what point do scientists project the “tipping point” point will occur? In other words, at which year/CO2 ppm will a runaway greenhouse effect comes into play?”
The runaway greenhouse effect is something that happens to a planet early in its history when a feedback between hot surface temperatures and water vapor in the atmosphere becomes self-reinforcing. The oceans boil, sunlight photodissociates the water vapor, the hydrogen escapes, the oxygen combines with rocks. Carbon dioxide that would have gone into sea sediments as limestone instead remains in the atmosphere after the water vapor is gone, keeping the temperature in the hundreds of degrees C.
It is not likely that this can be done to Earth, except possibly billions of years from now when the Sun goes off the main sequence. The main danger from global warming is not a runaway greenhouse, but disruption of agriculture and the economy and resulting property damage and famine.
In his book, “Collapse”, Jared Diamond asks: “Will modern technology solve our problems, or is it creating new problems faster than it solves old ones?”
If we try our hand on deliberately manipulating world climate, except by reversing the ways we have affected it already, I think I know the answer…
Regarding #53 (low hanging fruit) and some of the nuclear comments:
The low-hanging fruit is currently conservation, through better system designs: homes, building, vehicles, etc., and maybe even better city/town layouts to minimize congestion and wasted time. Insulating my parent’s 1958-era split-level home has a three-year simple payback; my Prius pays off at around 85,000 miles at $2.20/gal; Clackamas High School (Clackamas, OR, https://www.usgbc.org/chapters/cascadia/clackamas.pdf ) was built to use 44% less energy than building to standard building codes, at no extra cost. That’s an example of making money right from the start. Good system design is key. The trick is to make your system need much less energy to begin with, then it becomes much easier and economical to fulfill that energy need with wind/solar/other. Las Vegas, NV is a perfect example of wasted energy (very few homes use solar power!) and where building codes should be improved….
Growth in CO2 emissions can (probably) be stopped with current technology. Reversing it may be a problem, but we can attack that after implementing the easy and economical solutions first.
As for nuclear power, it has pretty-much lost in the somewhat-free market. Even the insurance industry won’t take on the risk–at least for the first $10B or so. There are a lot of energy subsidies floating around, but still the growth rate in nuclear power is much less than for wind and solar. Nuclear power may be needed at some time in the future, but my choice would be energy efficiency first.
One geo-engineering solution to the problem of rising atmospheric levels of CO2 is to pump it into the deep ocean:
P. G. Brewer, G. Friederich, E. T. Peltzer and F. M. Orr Jr.(1999) Direct Experiments on the Ocean Disposal of Fossil Fuel CO2. Science (16 July)
Vol. 305. no. 5682, pp. 362 – 366 http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/284/5416/943
This raises some obvious biological concerns:
B. A. Seibel and P. J. Walsh (2001) Potential Impacts of CO2 Injection on Deep-Sea Biota. Science (12 October) Vol. 294. no. 5541, pp. 319 – 320 http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/294/5541/319
[See also the Royal Society of the UK statement on ocean acidification due to rising atmospheric CO2 levels, June 2005; PDF available for free online at the Royal Society website)
Here are some alternative ideas:
K. S. Lackner (2003) A Guide to CO2 Sequestration. Science (3 June)Vol. 300. no. 5626, pp. 1677 – 1678
Abstract: Carbon capture and storage (or sequestration) is receiving increasing attention as one tool for reducing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. In his Perspective, Lackner discusses the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of carbon sequestration. He advises against sequestration in environmentally active carbon pools such as the oceans, because it may merely trade one environmental problem for another. Better sequestration options include underground injection and (possibly underground) neutralization. Taking into account carbon capture, transport, and storage, the author concludes that in the short and medium term, sequestration would almost certainly be cheaper than a full transition to nuclear, wind, or solar energy. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/300/5626/1677
Re: #47 All of the estimates I have seen for emissions of anthropogenic CO2 into the atmosphere (5-7 billion metric tons per year; IPCC 2001 report) include cement production, but this is only a small % of the total.
My understanding is that we’ve already passed the “tipping point”. Read Science at: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/311/5768/1673
“A central feature of this long baseline is this: At no time in at least the past 10 million years has the atmospheric concentration of CO2 exceeded the present value of 380 ppmv. At this time in the Miocene, there were no major ice sheets in Greenland, sea level was several meters higher than today’s (envision a very skinny Florida), and temperatures were several degrees higher.”
This is just with 380 ppm, already higher than we’ve seen in 10 million years. We will pass 400 soon, and only with the most stringent controls could we hope to level off by 550 ppm, twice the pre-industrial level.
The truth is that we are already committed to enough warming to melt the Greenland ice sheets and flood Florida and all coastal cities, exactly the scenario depicted in Gore’s documentary. The tipping point has been passed.
The only solution at this point is technological remediation. It may be unpalatable, but we really don’t have any choice. CO2 levels are already too high and have “baked in” disastrous sea level rise. It’s only a matter of time at this point. In order to save our civilization we have to either remove CO2 from the atmosphere, or else take steps to reduce forcings in other ways.
And the truth is, we’re already manipulating the climate; not just via CO2, but in the wide variety of ways that mankind changes and influences the globe. It’s time that we recognize this and begin dealing with things on a conscious and intentional level. It is a myth that we can live in a “natural” world that is somehow free of human influence. Humanity is rapidly becoming a dominant force in many aspects of the planetary ecosystem, and we can no longer afford to pretend otherwise.
He discusses both stratospheric particles (not necessarily sulfates) as well as space based shields. Those looking for more details on these proposals, like total mass requirements, will find some information here. Teller estimates costs of a few billion dollars a year starting around 2050. He points out that a ONE-TIME lump sum payment of a billion dollars invested for 50 years would generate enough interest to sustain the program indefinitely.
UCI physicist Gregory Benford further discusses these ideas in this podcast: http://www.desmogblog.com/audio/gregory-benford-podcast
He suggests a pilot program at a cost of 1/10 of this, $100 million/year, targeted at protecting the arctic region and reducing the loss of polar ice. This way we could get experience with the technology and deal with any problems that arise before committing to a full scale effort.
If these kinds of numbers hold up, remediation will be far cheaper economically than conservation could ever hope to be. If global warming can be substantially dealt with by a one time charge of fifteen cents per person, we need to rethink our strategies and our emphasis.
“And the truth is, we’re already manipulating the climate; not just via CO2, but in the wide variety of ways that mankind changes and influences the globe. It’s time that we recognize this and begin dealing with things on a conscious and intentional level. It is a myth that we can live in a “natural” world that is somehow free of human influence. Humanity is rapidly becoming a dominant force in many aspects of the planetary ecosystem, and we can no longer afford to pretend otherwise.”
A. I am opposed to geoengineering projects, until we have reduced CO2 to pre-industrial levels and then realise we still have a problem. I realise this is considered “impractical,” but only because of a commitment to doing things as they are currently done.
B. Similarly, we have other things to do in an attempt to get the planet back in some sort of equilibrium that supports human life – and all the other lives, plant and animal, that we depend upon. Things like reduce overpopulation, pollution, loss of biodiversity, etc.
C. Humanity is not “becoming a dominant force,” we are one. The only people “pretending” we are not are denialists, as far as I can tell.
D. We have to live in a “natural world,” but of course it will not be free of human influence, any more than it is free of influence by deer and ants. The question is whether, at this ‘tipping point’ in human history, we make a conscious choice to return to living sustainably, or continue on our current path, where we believe we have the wisdom to control the planet’s ecosystem. History shows very clearly that we lack sufficient knowledge, wisdom, or humanity to be trusted with global systems.
“If these kinds of numbers hold up, remediation will be far cheaper economically than conservation could ever hope to be.”
Which pretty much proves that the numbers are wrong. The only way spending money costs less than not spending money is when crooked politicians do it. This is because they subsidize certain costs, distorting the true costs.
On the general topic of geo-engineering, have any studies been done to determine the effects of massive worldwide irrigation techniques on local or global climate systems? My stepfather recently suggested this as a possibly significant factor in global change, but this was merely over dinner and wine so I’m not sure to the extent that he or others have substantiated such claims. His field of expertise is soil-plant-atmosphere processes in the Arctic, along with complex systems (well, as far as I know). Being a lay-person I can’t attest to the validity of his theory, but it does seem to intuitively make sense. Any thoughts?
#67: “It’s time that we recognize this and begin dealing with things on a conscious and intentional level.”
I imagine an alcoholic who has been told by his doctor that his alcohol consumption has already damaged his liver and he needs to stop drinking alcohol completely or he will die. Instead, he decides that he will take conscious and intentional control of the functioning of his liver through various technological interventions, and since he is so much smarter than his dumb old liver, he will be able to improve its functioning so it can handle the alcohol and he can go on drinking.
Re:71. My scheme for pumping up cold water requires much massive OTEC hardware to make a very small change in the surface temperature. There will be no increase in bottom temperature. Where did the 15 degree estimate come from?
Re:71. My scheme for pumping up cold water requires much massive OTEC hardware to make a very small change in the surface temperature. There will be no increase in bottom temperature. Where did the 15 degree estimate come from?
To me, the most hazardous aspect of the artificial stratospheric aerosol idea is the mismatch in time scales between aerosols and CO2. A good bit of the anthropogenic CO2 will stay in the atmosphere for a thousand years, whereas the aerosols will need to be renewed every few years. That means one is making the assumption that the world will remain rich enough and politically stable enough continuously over the next millennium to keep with the program. If there’s a world depression, or a global war that disrupts international cooperation for a few years, the planet would be hit with the full radiative forcing of all that CO2 in the space of just a few years. Talk about abrupt change!
The sulfate scheme is a lot like putting nuclear waste above ground in Manhattan, in a plywood shelter that needs to be rebuilt every two or three years to keep it from rotting.
I got that 15o number from Andrew Dodds comment in #26, no opinion on the accuracy of the calculation. But regardless of the exact number the principals behind your idea require that warmer water replaces the cold water you are drawing up, no? You are taking heat out of the lower atmosphere and out of the upper oceans, it must go somewhere.
Sulphate aerosol cooling need not be maintained indefinately. The danger of the current climate change is its rapidity. Perhaps if we just slowed the warming, spread it out over a few centuries it would not be such a big problem, then the aerosols could be phased out. So now we only need political stability and cheap energy for maybe five hundred years, not a millemium, no problem, right?
Oh yeah. There’s that darn ocean acidification again…so eat less sushi.
This ongoing discussion of sulphate aerosol cooling is getting too confusing because some replies are really ironic comments (meant) to dismiss the idea and that is a good thing. But,some of us may be trying to follow the logic of loading aerosols into the stratosphere.
I’d like to focus on three aspects of artificial stratospheric aerosol geoengineering idea that could help move past this seemingly nonsensical idea.
The residence time of sulphates is days to several weeks. When dissipated as sulfuric acid oceans, lakes and forests suffer unacceptable damage — intentionally increasing acidification of oceans sounds suicidal.
The source of the sulphates will likely be coal or heavy oil. What? more atmospheric CO2 to remedy climate forcing.
Finally, greenhouse warming warms the troposphere and thereby increases its depth and effectivly cools the stratopshere. Why then, would we think of further cooling the stratopshere and thereby decrease the ozone level in the statosphere over the arctic?
Can anyone help me understand the last point more clearly?
Comment by John L. McCormick — 1 Jul 2006 @ 6:18 PM
Anytime an acid chemically reacts with a carbonate compound the products are a salt, water , and carbon dioxide. Therefore, if sulfate aerosols are added to the atmosphere and generate sulfuric acid rain, as this acid reacts with limestone (calcium carbonate), the products would be calcium sulfate, water and CO2. Ultimately, you would be accelerating the chemical weathering of limestone and further INCREASING the CO2 content of the atmosphere. The carbon cycle would be in a kind of overdrive. CO2 levels could only remain stable if biological processes accelerated the carbon sequestration process to match the accelerated chemical weathering of limestone. A little inorganic precipitation of carbonates might augment the biological process, but I can’t imagine that any of these processes could match the accelerated chemical weathering of limestone which would be caused by seeding the atmosphere with acid causing aerosols. Why am I not seeing any hypotheses like this in the popular literature. Can someone please comment?
Well, I am not very impressed by the idea of just blocking sunlight as a GW solution by any means, hence the ironic comments, but my point is still valid. We do not need to hold the temperature where it is now, we just have to keep it from moving too fast. Hence the notion that any such solution can eventually be phased out and need not remain in place forever.
John, your last point: I think the cooling effect is at the earth’s surface, not in the stratosphere. Sulphates block visible light, which the stratosphere is transparent to. If anything, I’d expect some stratospheric warming from aerosols absorbing sunlight.
“Las Vegas, NV is a perfect example of wasted energy (very few homes use solar power!) and where building codes should be improved….”
Ditto For Florida. Incidentally I drive a 1993 Suzuki Swift with a manual transmission it gets over 45 mpg on the highway at 65 mph with the AC on. If I reduce my speed to 55 mph and put the AC on low and am careful with aceleration and braking I can get almost 50 mpg with this car. That is comparable to most new hybrids with the exception of the Prius and the Honda Insight which can get better gas mileage.
So before we start with geo-engineering projects I would like to see a lot more done with already existing off the shelf technology and conservation.
It may be that if there isn’t a voluntary step in this direction then it has to be mandated. I don’t recall that my quality of life was significantly diminished back in the days when we had a 55mph speed limit. I calculate my yearly CO2 output for the driving that I do to be around 4000 lbs. I know I can find ways to do even better than that.
If everybody took mass transit when possible, walked a little more, rode their bicycles for short trips, turned down their thermostats, put their airconditioners on low and bought energy efficient appliances and lightbulbs, I really don’t think it would significantly alter our quality of life.
It would however have an immediate quantitative impact on the reduction of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.
So until I see the majority of the population adopting measures of conservation I too will be in vocal opposition to any geo-engineering projects.
I know this idea won’t fly but how about attaching a fuel surcharge to the amount of CO2 a private vehicle produces, for example if you drive a small hybrid you pay $2.00 per gallon at the pump, if you drive a top of the line gas guzzling SUV you pay $10.00 a gallon for the same fuel. If you can afford the luxury than pay for it. Don’t expect the rest of society to subsidize your comfort our expense.
Comment by Fernando Magyar — 1 Jul 2006 @ 11:49 PM
The depth of the hostility towards the whole idea of geoengineering seems breathtaking to me. One may criticize a particular scheme as good or bad, but nowhere has it been proven that any and all geoengineering schemes are evil or worthless. There is a fear that such schemes may be regarded as a substitute for solving the underlying problems, and this is understandable; but this need not be so, and the underlying problems are not going to be solved overnight as some commenters too glibly suggest. I would say that 40-60 years is a reasonable minimum time to expect a transformation of society’s energy base to happen (terabucks’ worth of infrastructure will have to be replaced); but what about all the GHGs that will yet be dumped into the air in the meantime? Is it more virtuous just passively to accept the consequences of, say, 550-750 ppm carbon dioxide than to try to contain the thermal consequences until the levels can be brought back down? Where is the line between ideology and common sense?
How is a decision made globally about which fix to try? And if a geo-engineering fix turns out not to work and ends up making the situation worse, will it be possible to repair the damage? And what will it cost? And who will pay for it? Those are some of my concerns.
… nowhere has it been proven that any and all geoengineering schemes are evil or worthless
I agree, but: geoengineering is a brand-new idea, and since earth is a large and complex system, there’s an immense amount we don’t know about the consequences. Noone would argue that surgery isn’t a life-saving option for many patients. But in the *early* days of surgery, a common outcome was: the operation was a success, and the patient died.
I’m debating climate change with my parents.
Could you please give me the name of the scientist who reported on the fact that the glaciers were getting bigger on the inside, but were melting on the outside. I heard on a radio show that he was hoping to put a “stop use” on the people who were cherry picking his report to say that the glaciers were getting bigger.
Any info on this would be helpful in getting my folks to listen up to the dangers their grandchildren may be facing.
Scientist to CEI: You Used My Research To “Confuse and Mislead …
An editor of Science also said the ads misrepresent the findings of that study as well as a … The CEI ad “Glacier” quotes two studies in Science magazine, …
Ray, you were interested in the idea of setting up radiators tuned to the infrared frequencies in which the atmosphere is transparent (that IEEE paper discussed a while back).
Perhaps there’s a practical way to do it — you’ve seen the so-called ‘day-glow’ paints that are pure molecules reflecting green and orange and yellow, that are optically very bright because (I’m told) they are reflecting only one wavelength or narrow band, rather than being a mixture of different colors as pigments usually are produced.
We need a pigment that reflects efficiently in the useful infrared range, a pure paint color, for painting roofs and roads.
But — we know about ‘red tide’ blooms.
So, let’s ask someone to try to bioengineer by modifying some of our existing sea life an ‘infrared tide’ organism that will reflect from the sea surface in one of those useful frequency ranges, and
— eat up CO2
— thrive on the surface in an acidifying ocean
— reflect infrared out into space through the transparent window
— and die off and sink fairly fast so sequester material.
=== possibly producing some nice stable dense plastic ….
Of course this leads awful close to the nanotech ‘gray goo’ disaster scenario. Maybe gray goo reflects infrared (sigh).
[Response: I was much taken with the infrared transformer idea mainly because it turns into such a nice exam problem on radiative transfer. On a little reflection (no pun intended), I realized that it would be a lot simpler to just increase visible albedo and keep sunlight from turning to IR in the first place. Note that just reflecting thermal IR won't do you much good. The original scheme relied on intercepting upwelling broadband IR and converting it to IR in the IR window channels where the atmosphere is fairly transparent. That's a lot to ask of algae, bioengineered though they may be. Now, one could imagine bioengineering algae to increase ocean reflectivity, maybe even by emitting more DMSO to trigger low cloud production. However, talk about losing control -- releasing genetically modified organisms into the environment would be a hard genie to put back in the bottle. The stratospheric aerosol idea looks benign by comparison.
Some might fault Crutzen for even discussing this, since it opens the door to all sorts of abuse where people could be left with the impression that we don't need to do anything to reduce CO2 emissions since we can always engineer our way out of the problem. I myself think that there are only a very few cases where the spirit of free scientific inquiry should be quashed, and that if scientists have to start thinking to defensively about their curiosity-driven research we'll all lose. For that matter, if people start thinking about the reality of needing to sustain a livable climate by needing to maintain a worldwide campaign to renew stratospheric aerosols annually, that might be an eye-opener and start to make the whole thing more real. There are cases where I think scientists need to refrain from lines of research they'd otherwise be interested in pursuing, but I don't think this is one of those cases. Teller's drive to the H-bomb --based as much on his desire to prove his point by building his toy, as by his politics -- is a cases where one could argue that restraint would have been desirable. Developing miniature nukes or neutron bombs in the US is another, since one could argue that if we don't build such things nobody else has the research capability to do it. Similarly, I don't think scientists should be messing around with genetically-engineered bioweapons. People should be free to think about all sorts of wild and not so wild geoengineering proposals, as long as they don't get oversold as a solution. The reason I don't like the high-CO2 plus high Sulfate Aerosol proposal is that it seems like balancing a load of bricks on a broomstick and keeping the thing from toppling by giving it a nudge in the right direction each year. Better to solve the problem by taking away the bricks instead -- or not putting them up there in the first place. --raypierre]
I for one am not hostile to the idea of geo-engineering per se, only concerned that it might be held up as another excuse for maintaining the status quo by those that have a vested interest in maintaining it.
I think # 70 said it quite well by comparing the situation to that of an alcoholic looking for a technological fix to her problem.
I have no hostility toward the idea of liver transplants either, there are times when they may be necessary and its good to know the technology is available. Though the common sense solution would be to stop denying that we have a problem and cut down on the margaritas. That doesn’t mean the liver transplant won’t still be necessary.
When confronted with the truth of their problem the alcoholic usually denies it and tends to become hostile towards towards the person who tells them they should stop drinking.
I think the fact that we are even begining to discuss geo-engineering as a solution to global warming at least makes it harder to deny that we have a problem.
[OT] About tinyurl etc, I don’t like not knowing what I am clicking on. I acknowledge the utility of a short, non-comma or other weird character filled URL for all the various ways blogs are written and read, but I rarely follow a tinyurl unless the person offering it has included an indication of where it will take me. (eg “check this independent.co.uk article here: tinyurl.com/ewkirq.html”)
This post brings out an important point, the inherently conservative nature of those who worry about climate change. Typically messing about with the environment has been a favorite of both the communists and the industrialists, groups who thought the road to progress was through industrial development. Environmentalism’s roots are among rural people, farmers and landowners.
The rightward shift of evangelicals is important, because part of the price they pay to their new party is to abandon stewardship, a very important part of all religion. We are seeing this play out today with the beginning of pushback. Right now there are at least two competing petitions. The one on the nothing to worry about side has been signed by Roy Spencer and S. Fred Singer.
I definitely agree that many conservation measures don’t require anyone to give up their lifestyle. And as better home, building, and vehicle designs become more prevalent, we will be getting even more services from the money we spend on energy. Regarding encouraging people to change behavior, I think consumers should be able to buy whatever vehicle they want, but I would suggest that they have to pay the external costs up front when they buy a vehicle: i.e., up front fees for health care costs (asthma, etc.), DOD costs (fighting for oil), global warming costs (this is a more difficult one to estimate), and pollution costs (CO, Unburned HC, NOx, SOx). This would be like taking responsibility for your actions. These fees could be ‘recycled’ into rebates for people to buy the top (say) five fuel-efficient vehicles. Similar measures could be enacted for homes and buildings.
84: It may appear that some of us are hostile to geo-engineering proposals, but that is only because we (global “we”) need to be spending our money on the best buys first. Example: when the NE had the large blackout several years ago, many of our wonderful senators and congressman were tripping over themeselves to give $100 million to the energy industry to update the ‘grid.’ As a consumer, I would be willing to bet that if a complete economic/engineering analysis were done, that amount of money would be better spent on making all the homes and businesses involved, more energy efficient. That way, the amount of electricity flowing over the grid would be reduced. This not only gives the grid a longer life, but it reduces people’s electric bills, pollution, CO2, etc. More money is now available for the next step in energy efficiency, whatever that may be.
Demand is key…consumers have the ultimate control, if we are just smart enough to use it.
Comment by Vincent Belovich — 2 Jul 2006 @ 8:56 PM
>Response: There is absolutely no scientific support for your claim that “with or without man’s foul up” we are stuck with too much carbon. Statements like this are just noise, and they don’t help the discussion. –raypierre
True and I gave links (in the comments of another post) to some places you (collective realclimate – though including you singular) have refuted it.. But I think it is the next major denier talking point. So a really concise really clear rebuttal would be welcome. I wonder if the ill considered blog could do one.
If you pump cold water up to cool the planet, then that cold water will become warm. Furthermore, since in order to offset AGW you must have a net absorbtion of heat (of an amount equal to the extra AGW forcing) into the oceans, you will end up warming the oceans. You can’t get around this without seriously violating the laws of physics.
I chose 15K as a practical number for the temperature increase you could expect for a unit of water. Make that 1K and your scheme breaks down in just 70 years; the environmental side effects of overturning the entire ocean in 70 years would be fairly catastrophic, I expect.
[Response: Here's a nice little calculation for people to try their hands at. Consider one square meter of deep ocean. Compute the energy needed to lift M kilograms per second of cold water from the bottom to the surface in that square meter column (using just the potential energy, ignoring possible frictional dissipation in pipes, etc.). Then compute the effective cooling rate of the cold water flux, in Watts (which is M * Cp * dT, where dT is the temperature difference between the surface water that gets pushed aside and the cold water that replaces it). How does this flux compare with the energy flux needed to do the pumping? Is this a winner or loser? It's like an engineered hurricane, so far as mixing is concerned. Of course, you can't do this forever since ultimately the deep water will warm up, but you could do it for a long time before you run out of temperature gradient. (Bonus points for figuring out how long, based on choosing M so as to offset 4 W/m**2 from CO2). --raypierre]
RE: #82 Coby, thank you for the insight on aeorsols and cooling the stratosphere.
If this thread has helped to shoot the legs off the idea of injecting sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere, could I take another shot at understanding the stratoshpere cooling concern — and this from the standpoint of launching reflective mirrors into orbit to cool the earth’s surface.
As you said, in #82:
John, your last point: I think the cooling effect is at the earth’s surface, not in the stratosphere. Sulphates block visible light, which the stratosphere is transparent to. If anything, I’d expect some stratospheric warming from aerosols absorbing sunlight.
You helped me understand transparency of the stratosphere; but it can be heated by UV absorption, primarily in the ozone (O3) layer.
“Ozone’s impact on climate consists primarily of changes in temperature. The more ozone in a given parcel of air, the more heat it retains. Ozone generates heat in the stratosphere, both by absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and by absorbing upwelling infrared radiation from the lower atmosphere (troposphere). Consequently, decreased ozone in the stratosphere results in lower temperatures. Observations show that over recent decades, the mid to upper stratosphere (from 30 to 50 km above the Earth’s surface) has cooled by 1° to 6° C (2° to 11° F). This stratospheric cooling has taken place at the same time that greenhouse gas amounts in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) have risen. The two phenomena may be linked.”
So, any attempt to reflect sun light back into space can have the effect of cooling the stratosphere and diminishing ozone concentration. That’s a bad thing. Am I getting it?
Comment by John L. McCormick — 3 Jul 2006 @ 1:10 PM
“Those who refuse to use arithmetic are doomed to failure.”
At my workplace lunchroom there is one of those cartoon-a-day desk calendars, only this one is a collection of proverbs from many cultures. The one for tomorrow (4 July) is interesting when thinking about people arguing that global warming has a “big project” solution:
“Here’s a nice little calculation for people to try their hands at…”
And once you figure out that problem, you can try estimating the likely impact of that warm, unstratified ocean on marine phytoplankton primary productivity that currently provides about 40-50% of our atmosphere’s oxygen.
Response to comments made about geoengineering article in NY Times.
Below I have responded to some of the comments related to the Times article and the subject of geoengineering. I coauthored the plan to cover the deserts with white plastic and was quoted in the article. I also want to point out that many of the proposed solutions mentioned in the article have been discussed elsewhere in a kind of periodic reinventing of the wheel process that seems to have occurred every few years since the mid 1980′s when the problem of global climate change first began to be taken seriously. See the links and books below for a pretty thorough coverage of the topic.
R.G. Watts, Engineering Response to Global Climate Change, Lewis Publishers, CRC, New York, 1997.
J.A. Edmonds et al., Future Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Scenarios and Limitation Strategies, Noyes Publications, Park Ridge, New Jersey, 1986.
What is significant about the Times article to me is that Dr. Ralph Cicerone, president of NAS is now back on the side of promoting research in this area. Like so many scientists involved with the climate change problem, he has been to say the least, conflicted on the idea of geoengineering. In the early 90s he proposed and later changed his mind about a plan to inject large quantities of hydrocarbon gases into the stratosphere to solve the ozone depletion problem. Later in the decade, he came out against doing any geoengineering work. So for him to do a 180 on this along with Paul Crutzen picking up the Teller ball and starting to run either indicates we have reached a tipping point of sorts for geoengineering or the end of another cycle of debate on the issue.
For anything useful to come out of a debate on geoengineering, there must be serious research funding. I would doubt that more than $25 million has been spent in total since 1980 in government, academic and industry studies, hardly enough to answer any questions. The main funding agencies in the U.S: DOE, EPA, NSF, NOAA and NASA probably spend a total of less than $1 million a year on this topic if that much and most of that goes into production of “what if” journal articles, not real engineering research.
Likewise, Stanford U. received or is supposed to receive $250 million from ExxonMobil, Toyota, GM and others to sponsor academic global warming research. One of the categories is geoengineering, but to date the funding in this area is zero.
Internationally, the Blair government in Britain sponsored a macro-engineering symposium in 2004, but nothing has come from that either.
Probably the best way to include geoengineering schemes is as part of a portfolio of options that include development of new energy technologies and others to reduce GHG emissions. Within that framework, the geoengineering technologies would not be responsible for offsetting all the GHG warming and their share would be dependent on how rapidly the emission reduction technologies can be deployed. For example, if total human GHG emissions are 10GtC/yr., a set of 3-5 different geoengineering technologies could be used to offset the warming due to 5GtC.
1. RE: 2 Geoengineering won’t address acidification of the oceans.
Not true if removal of CO2 from ambient air by sorbents or increased ocean phytoplankton biomass can be made possible. The prospects for either of these working are however, not likely at present. The good news is that the level of acidification that would bring an end to us won’t occur for several hundred years giving us somewhat more wiggle room than that from the warming.
2. RE: 5 Geoengineering should be considered a quick fix to abrupt climate change.
Referring to it this way or as an insurance policy as Ralph Cicerone did in the article is misleading. Insurance policies provide for some compensation after damage has occurred. They can’t prevent damage. Calling it insurance, however, may allay some concerns, i.e., we’ll develop it, but we will only use it if we have to.
The reality is that with the possible exception of the stratospheric injection of sulfate aerosols, none of the proposed geoengineering approaches can be deployed quickly. They would take decades and thus would best be used to offset warming year-over-year. Trying to reduce warming or even CO2 levels rapidly would not be a good idea and might cause an abrupt climate shift with consequences as bad as allowing the long term change to continue.
The best answer is to not let it go that far. If we wait until atmospheric temperatures are up 5-10F and then decide something has to be done because other feedback systems are kicking in, e.g., gas hydrate releases from permafrost or ocean sediments or the northern THC has shutdown due to melt water from Greenland, then all bets are off and we are about as well prepared as the scientists in a sci-fi movie who have to take some risky gamble to save mankind from certain doom.
3. RE: 9, 17, 27, 33, 80, 81 Stratospheric sulfate aerosol injection will cause acid rain.
Acid rain is a phenomenon related to coal fired power plant emissions whereby exhaust gases from towers several hundred feet high are blown across states and cause damage to lakes and trees. The emissions are somewhat concentrated in the form of plumes and are mainly in the lower troposphere. I am not aware of any acid rain damage from e.g., the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, whose sulfate aerosols combined with dust from soil and rock associated with the eruption wound up in the stratosphere and cooled the atmosphere for about 1 year in the early 90s.
So it may be possible to use aerosol injection in the stratosphere without significant acid rain, since most of the rainout would occur over the oceans. Any other types of chemical reactions, especially those that might result in stratospheric ozone depletion would need to be known in advance. Hence, the need for some extensive research on this topic. Large volcanic eruptions on the scale of Mt. Tambora, the cause of the year without a summer in 1815 are too infrequent to worry about.
As to the call for an Energy Manhattan project, John Kerry and Roscoe Bartlett (Republican Rep. From MD and former college professor) have both called for such an effort, no doubt frustrated with the words without deeds approach of the present Administration: Clear Skies, Freedom Car, FutureGen, etc. They have cited the example of DARPA, which seems to always be at the cutting edge of engineering research, especially in robotics.
4. RE: 15, 20, 26, 48, 67. The practicality of a space-borne reflector.
The reality is that we presently lack the ability to deliver and construct such large objects in space, either in low Earth orbit or at the L1 point, 900,000 miles from Earth. Likewise, for the proposals to place lots of little mirrors or diffractors in space. When that technology becomes available is uncertain, but it is unlikely to be available in time to stop the 21st century warming. Our difficulty with completing the International Space Station is testimony to present day launch capabilities that are now easily thwarted by such problems as spray-on insulation on the side of a fuel tank.
The LLNL modeling, limited though it was, showed that a reduction of solar radiation from outside the atmosphere would not result in hot or cold spots inside the atmosphere or on the surface. Intuitively that would make sense, since the solar radiation is being reduced uniformly.
5. RE 19, 26, 52, 72, 78, 98. Transferring surface heat of the ocean to the lower depths by artificially mixing seawater at the surface and at lower depths.
We lack the capability to do this. The amount of water that would have to be transferred is just too large. Any problems caused by doing this are therefore irrelevant.
6. RE 27 Release of engineered gases to neutralize GHG warming.
There are no gases that could do this. If it got too cold, however, we could release fluorinated carbon compounds that have enormous greenhouse warming potentials (another Crutzen idea picked up by the authors of the report for the Pentagon on Abrupt Climate Change as a means of offsetting a THC shutdown). Even I had some problems with that one.
7. RE 32 Why geoengineering seems more doable than emissions reduction?
The explanation is that these options don’t require a complete overhaul of the energy, land use and food production technology and practices of human civilization. Dr. Crutzen’s sulfate aerosol project could in theory be “off the ground” within, say 5 years. It will take decades to replace nearly a billion motor vehicles, 25,000 power stations and millions of home and industrial heating systems, once alternatives to the present technologies are found. Thus, the geoengineering schemes are independent of energy and other technologies and don’t have to wait for them to be perfected.
8. RE 40 Non acid rain producing particulates to reflect sunlight.
Inert materials like aluminum oxide could be used, but their residence time is much less than the aerosols and thus their effectiveness is limited.
9. RE 41, 70, 91 and others. Geoengineering gives policymakers and industry an excuse to not reduce emissions.
A valid point and one debated at the highest levels of the U.S. government, believe it or not. The reality is that since we don’t have any GHG emissions reducing technologies and the time is drawing nigh to do something, better to stop the warming any way we can and hope the people who control the levers of power and money recognize that these are stop gaps and not solutions, designed to buy time and not a quick exit from the global warming problem.
10. RE 44: Size of the space reflector.
Around 2,000,000 square miles to offset warming due to a doubling of CO2 in low Earth orbit (200 miles up) and 1 million square miles at the L1 point, 900,000 miles from Earth. How doable does that sound?
11. RE 45. Developing geoengineering capability will help us control the Earth’s climate and prevent future ice ages, etc.
One theory has it that the introduction of man-made GHGs has prolonged the interglacial. Regardless, if we are going to continue to live on this planet and colonize other worlds, at some point controlling and manipulating the climate to prevent an ice age or for purposes of terraforming will become necessary.
12. RE 50. Industry will buy desert land in advance of coverage with white plastic or other material. What about local geoengineering?
We determined that the only way that land coverage could be done cost effectively is if the land use were either donated in return for emission reduction credits for those countries who could afford to pay (Libya, Saudi Arabia, etc.) and in return for debt forgiveness for those with lots of international debt (Mauritania, Mali, etc.).
As to targeted geoengineering, there has been some discussion among the geoengineering community (barely enough people to hold a decent 4th of July barbecue) to do some things along these lines.
One example is to slow down the melting of the Greenland ice cap by placing insulating covers over the nascent streams that now criss-cross the glaciers (visible in the Gore movie). The water in these wannabe rivers has cut channels all the way to the bedrock and now drains out into the Atlantic. Just like the open ocean water in the Arctic during the summer, the blue water accelerates the melting.
One concern is that if enough of these melt water channels combine, a large lake could be created and if it grew large enough and the water from it were suddenly released into the Atlantic, the northern THC might be disrupted, similar to what happened when Lake Agassiz in the area now occupied by the Great Lakes emptied into Hudson Bay and ultimately the N. Atlantic some 12,000 and 8000 years ago.
To prevent either this or the more likely scenario of the gradual melting of the ice cap, coverage of the open water there could slow it down. Likewise, snowmaking machines could be used to fill in the cracks with ice during the winter. Finally, we have looked at selective coverage of parts of the SW Sahara to disrupt the formation of Atlantic hurricanes.
As to the last comment about relieving the pressure on the Caldera super volcano in Yellowstone, we lack the technology to have any impact on that situation.
13. RE 51. Too much uncertainty to ever attempt geoengineering of the climate.
A lot of the uncertainty about this and other technologies will eventually go away as we learn more. Funding of research is one way for that knowledge base to be acquired. Whether individuals are strongly in favor or opposed to technologies generally has no bearing on their development and application, even among the developers. Look at nuclear weapons and genetically engineered crops. Has anybody from the government asked what you think about FutureGen or carbon capture and sequestration, two large government programs that ARE being funded?
14. RE 53 Run jet aircraft at rich fuel to air ratio to produce more soot or use high sulfur fuel.
The comment only mentioned the use of high sulfur fuel, but both have been discussed before. Again, not enough is known of the impacts. Planes also only spend some of their time in the air at or around the stratosphere.
15. RE 57 Remove CO2 from ambient air; bioengineered plants and floating white material on ocean surface. All those geoengineers.
All three of these ideas have been discussed before. The sorbent research is now being conducted by Klaus Lackner at Columbia U. The problem is that the sorbent requires too much energy to be regenerated, even with a self- generating airflow as is also proposed. Ideas proposed in the 80s called for replacing the fossil energy costs of ambient air CO2 extraction systems by building nuclear or solar plants to provide their energy. So much energy was required that it made more sense to simply generate all the electricity from solar or nuclear and forget the ambient extraction.
White plants in the desert sounds good, but the water and fertilizer are an insurmountable problem. Covering the ocean is a bad and an impractical idea, since the material will block phytoplankton access to sunlight and will eventually turn brown or green from algae, rendering it useless for reflecting sunlight.
There are also very few people thinking about any geoengineering ideas. That’s one of the problems. And it’s the same people over and over again, myself included!
16. RE 77. Once you drink the geoengineering Kool Aid, you have to keep on drinking it.
The argument is that if we decide to go with the stratospheric aerosol injection scheme, if something causes us to have to stop like a war or other catastrophe and the CO2 levels are e.g., 700ppm, then there would be an abrupt climate change brought about by the sudden increase in radiative forcing. That’s correct for this and to a certain extent any of the other plans which aim to reduce solar radiation.
But realistically, we should have solved the energy and climate change problems by the end of this century. One hundred years is a long, long time at this stage of human civilization and one should not discount the impact of future technological developments, even though they may not help us out of the present situation for 50-75 years. Just as in the paper studies of high-level nuclear waste disposal (a report on options for dealing with this I wrote in graduate school in 1977 is regrettably still pretty valid), how many people actually believe we will have to safeguard the waste for hundreds of thousands of years? Thus, the geoengineering plans shouldn’t have to be employed for longer than 100 years from today to deal with our current climate change problem. Commenter 79 is on the right track, just a little too pessimistic, while 84 is probably too optimistic.
17. RE 89: Use pigments that reflect IR to dissipate GHG generated heat.
Pigments or other materials that emit in the IR also strongly absorb in the other solar wavelengths. Unless the IR emitted was in the atmospheric window, the IR would simply be absorbed by the GHGs on the way up. Deploying the pigmented material at night only to avoid the solar radiation would not be practical. Either way it won’t work, although that hasn’t stopped people from getting patents based on the concept: R.J. Parise, Anti-Global Warming Device, U.S. Patent Application 20010000577, May 3, 2001.
So until I see the majority of the population adopting measures of conservation I too will be in vocal opposition to any geo-engineering projects.
That’s just the problem. It’s like arguing with the fire department over whether their water will ruin your antiques as your house is burning down. We need to put out the fire (uncontrollably rising temperatures) first if we are serious about this at all.
Otherwise, this degenerates into an exercise in empty moral posturing. I think you’ll be waiting a long time, and by the time your conditions are fulfilled, it may be too late to matter. BTW, I am in the camp of those who addvocate geoenginnering as a way to buy time, not as a permanent solution.
The alcoholic analogy is ingenious but flawed in one major way. If the alcoholic falls off the wagon, he takes only himself down, If you depend completely on the public to solve GW immediately through conservation and insufficient nnumbers do so to make the difference, the whole world is taken down.
if a geo-engineering fix turns out not to work and ends up making the situation worse, will it be possible to repair the damage?
This is a common objection, but when we get down to specific schemes, we often find that there is ample reason to believe that no nightmare scenario will come to pass. In the case of the sulfate idea, we already have data concerning what will happen, courtesy of volcanic eruptions. The effects are short-term unless continuously renewed. If we don’t like the effect, we need only to stop doing it and the sulfates will be gone in a year or two.
Another thought: what would injecting ozone into the middle stratosphere do?
There’s a fourth real-world question that our Science Times story, with limited space, couldn’t address: Would an engineered solution to the greenhouse problem be done unilaterally by a country most threatened by warming or by international accord?
If unilateral, it could lead to conflict (think about the old Cold War weather modification notions). But if global consent was required, how in the world could anyone get the international community — which finds it hard to settle on a common approach to preventing a global environmental problem — to agree on something like dimming the sun with space mirrors or adding pollution to the atmosphere?
Where the US is concerned, global consent is not a condition of contemporary foreign or environmental policy.
It would be a stretch to imagine any planning, on the part of the US, to actually attempt to engineer a solution to the greenhouse problem because doing so would follow an acceptance of a unilateral threat by warming. At the time of accepting that threat is real, the warming train would be so far down the tack, time and money would rule out any geoengineering scheme (e.g., positive feedback from tundra and permafrost).
However, a one trillion dollar act of desperation might be proposed by politicians in the west and southwest — digging channels to divert Arctic runoff to the Colorado and Missouri Rivers to salvage America’s ag economy and Las Vegas’ “attractions”.
Its time to put the geoenginering discussion in the barn and get about serious business of addressing glacial melt in the tropics and the consequences for downstream populations.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 4 Jul 2006 @ 10:41 AM
This worries me a lot –
You write above “… the level of acidification that would bring an end to us won’t occur for several hundred years …”
What’s your source for this statement, please? Do you have a pH level associated with that time span? Are you familiar with the work discussed here earlier?
Are you — or your source — focusing on levels that would directly cause “an end to us” (‘several hundred years’) as distinguished from the level (by 2100) when marine plankton can no longer form aragonite shells? If so, why?
A geoengineering response to climate change is one that the U.S. would seemingly embrace. It allows business as usual, and it is relatively inexpensive. It should be stressed that the Bush Administration acknowledges global warming, but does not want to take any action that would threaten economic consumption.
It is logical to assume that a geoengineering response to climate change has already been discussed in the private chambers of the U.S. government and with other governments of the world. In my view it is up to the climate science community to analyze the feasibility, risks, and effectiveness of geoengineering to offset the affects of rising concentrations of heat-trapping gasses.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 4 Jul 2006 @ 1:02 PM
Re: Free choice and geoengineering:
“I think consumers should be able to buy whatever vehicle they want, but I would suggest that they have to pay the external costs up front when they buy a vehicle: i.e., up front fees for health care costs (asthma, etc.), DOD costs (fighting for oil), global warming costs (this is a more difficult one to estimate), and pollution costs (CO, Unburned HC, NOx, SOx). This would be like taking responsibility for your actions.”
I agree with the general principle here, that of accepting reponsibility for all of one’s actions. However, I think there are several problems with this:
1. We cannot determine all the upfront “costs.” Do we in the industrialized world now have to compensate people in the developing world because we’ve “used up” the resources (including CO2 capacity in the atmosphere)? That was an upfront cost that we did not pay, but have passed along to others.
2. People will not WANT to pay all the costs or accept responsibiility. This is the same generation that is passing along the costs of their pensions to their children. Americans (and Canadians) have developed a magical “something for nothing” mentality. Also, paying now will mean a different – not necessarily worse – standard of living.
3. We are deceiving ourselves if we think we have much individual freedom of choice. Our society is set up to quietly guide us in certain acceptable ways; that’s why violence in American movies is pervasive and widely accepted, but sexuality is frowned upon. It’s why we have zillions of miles of roads rather than rail lines – the former being paid for exclusively by the government.
In the U.S., everyone has the ‘choice’ whether or not to own a car. Realistically, however, government subsidies and industry lobbying have made living without a car very difficult for most. Because of the way our society and cities are configured, owning a vehicle means increased opportunities. If the price of cars were to truly reflect their “cost,” there wouldn’t be many cars. And how do you put a price on intangibles, like clean air, being able to talk on your porch without being drowned out by a Harley, and so on?
I think the U.S. car-based economy/landscape/lifestyle qualifies as geoengineering, and it hasn’t worked out well. As usual, unintended and unforeseen consequences were…unintended and unforeseen.
Any engineering study must include as many alternatives as possible and the related results of each. If we do nothing (skip through the daisies, stick out head in the sand, etc) what will be the result? We can model outselves into insensibility, predict ourselves silly and run anticipative programs until out computers burn but we will not know truly what will happen. What did happen in the past is probably a lot easier to examine with a great measure of reliability. We do know that around 900 AD until around 1400 AD we had a large warm spell on the planet. We don’t really need any science to know this for viking history tell us it was warm enough in Greenland to support 10,000 people in an agricultural society. We know when they got there, (Eric the Red) and when they left. We also know that it was too cold to live there anymore and still is. We also know that in many parts of the world there were societies which prospered at the same time which have been found in areas which are way too dry (since around 1350 – 1450) to support anywhere near the same number of people. I am sure the minds in this commentary could add several to the following: The Anasazi culture of SW United States, The Great Zimbabwe Culture of Zimbabwe, the Songhai culture of the upper bend of the Niger river, and (this will take some imagination) the Mongol Culture of the North edge of the Gobi. (Where did Temujin get the million soldiers and the millions of horses if there weren’t higher rainfalls for six or seven generations?)
The indications are that higher temperatures have historically produced more not less rain. We can also see that lower temperatures have demonstrably produced less water in the atmosphere. History says that higher temperatures will make the deserts bloom and the steppes lush; why don’t our models?
For starters I have very serious doubts about the efficacy of geo-engineered solutions to global warming.
I don’t believe we currently have the necessary knowledge to safely embark on any of the suggested solutions. If scientists and engineers will step up to the plate and categorically state that they have unequivocal proof that a specific solution will work without having catastrophic side effects then let them present their data and I’ll be willing to listen to their arguments. Heck in the mean time we can’t even seem to be able convince our home grown deniers that a problem exists that needs a solution, so how do you suppose we are going to get a global agreement on which solutions to try?
So what I really meant was that I’d like to see the engineering being focused much more on the conservation side for now. Before we start with seeding sulfate aerosols and building space mirrors to reflect solar radiation. I’d like to see some out of the box thinking down on the ground . It might mean I have to give up my car and ride an electric scooter to work while wearing an engineered breathable waterproof impact resistant fabric to keep me safe and comfortable from the elements. I might buy that tomorrow but I’m going to be very reluctant to put my money and support behind a large scale geo-engineering project.
I would much prefer to see the focus of engineering on ideas like that if possible on a massive global scale.
Maybe we also need some serious social engineering as well so it becomes less and less acceptable to emit greenhouse producing gases in the first place.
We live in a society that can market refrigerators to Eskimos (uh, given what is occurring that might not be a good example) but I suppose you get my point. So let’s start using that talent to change behavior on a global scale.
As for the alcoholic analogy I think it is comparing society at large as behaving like a drunk in denial not just any one individual. So we are talking about all of society functioning as a single entity therefore the analogy is valid in my opinion.
Those that manifest strong or unequivocal opposition to geoengineering before any serious study has been published or examined underestimate the serious danger our planet is facing. Right now CO2 is concentrated at 380 ppm in the atmosphere. At above 400 ppm the planetary mean temperature will rise above 2 degrees Celsius by the middle of the century. With this temperature increase, positive feedbacks will be engaged that push up CO2 levels to 750 ppm. At this concentration, mammalian life on the planet is largely unviable. Therefore, it is critical that the global temperature not rise above 2 degrees Celsius.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 4 Jul 2006 @ 4:28 PM
What are your sources for those statements, George?
Have you any references to published science supporting these statements?
Why do you consider the sources you use reliable?
RE: 105. International Consensus on Geoengineering
It is doubtful that any nation would seek its own geoengineered solution to global warming, especially since the countries most likely to be the first ones most impacted are in the worst position to take such actions, e.g. countries in Africa, etc. There is a UN treaty that prohibits weather modification for hostile reasons, but it has never been tested and how do you define hostile?
An internationally approved approach would be the most likely way such a response is made. A single nation with access to naval rockets could carry out the sulfate aerosol work, but the other most likely schemes would by necessity involve more and more multilateral support. The Bush Administration did consider the floating plastic island as an alternative to Kyoto in the late summer of 2001, but decided instead to do neither. It would have been interesting to see how that one would have been sold to the UN or the UNFCC.
There was a consensus on Kyoto as well as the much smaller in scope Montreal Accords on CFC reduction. Most of the worldâ??s nations have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, although only around 40 are actually required to do anything and only a few of them are on target to meet their requirements. The geoengineering schemes wouldnâ??t require emission reductions, so countries like the U.S. and Australia couldnâ??t argue that it would harm their economies at least directly. Bottom line: international agreements have been reached in the past on global environmental issues and will be reached in the future.
The space reflector would not be noticeable at the surface and the amount of sunlight reduced would not have any impact on photosynthesis. The arguments against it are not that it would have potentially harmful side effects. Instead, it is its infeasibility that renders it a dead end option in 2006 and probably 2050 also.
We envisioned a future Kyoto-like treaty to provide the mechanism for financing and operating the desert cover. Because land in a number of different nations would be involved, their cooperation would also be required.
That said, if nothing gets accomplished internationally over the next, say 25 years and things start to go bad in China or Russia or some other place with the resources to take unilateral action, yes, then I believe that is a possibility.
Dr. Crutzenâ??s plan may be the first test of this theory of geoengineering policy, since before full-scale implementation would come the field trials. But I wouldnâ??t buy any tickets to the first launch just yet.
I think perhaps you overstate the “greening” of greenland.
We do know that around 900 AD until around 1400 AD we had a large warm spell on the planet. We don’t really need any science to know this for viking history tell us it was warm enough in Greenland to support 10,000 people in an agricultural society.
… archaeologists guess that the population may have risen to a peak of about 5,000.
This website (which is a great read!) gives a host of possible reasons (including climate change, conflict with the Inuit, raids by Basque pirates, heavy taxes and tithes) that may have contributed to the decline of Greenland settlements. You also state
We also know that it was too cold to live there anymore and still is.
Yet there *are* people living there, and have been continuously since the Norse deserted the place: the Inuit. In fact the Inuit were well-adapted to life in an icy environment; today they are threatened by the *warming* of the arctic region.
History says that higher temperatures will make the deserts bloom and the steppes lush; why don’t our models?
I’m not a paleoclimate expert, so I can’t comment intelligently on the claim that historically, warmer climate has made the deserts bloom and the steppes lush. But if I accept that as true (for the sake of argument), at least two differences are clear: 1. Past warmings were far more gradual, causing less chaos for ecosystems and giving them much more time to adapt; 2. Past warm periods didn’t have the exaggerated CO2 concentrations we’re seeing today, so were free of problems such as ocean acidification. Perhaps that’s why the models don’t show a lush, friendly environment heading our way.
“Those that manifest strong or unequivocal opposition to geoengineering…underestimate the serious danger our planet is facing. …positive feedbacks will be engaged that push up CO2 levels to 750 ppm. At this concentration, mammalian life on the planet is largely unviable.”
George, I agree that, if ‘we’ do not do something soon, humans and many other species will vanish. Perhaps we are already committed to that; the evidence is not yet conclusive. The reason I oppose geoengineering is because it is not a root cause solution, and I believe we must, as a species, finally grow up a bit and accept responsibility for being the root cause.
I do not trust us to geoengineer while also fixing the root cause as quickly as possible. We are still in denial about that! It seems more likely that we will use geoengineering to continue as we have been, or at best, slowly, slowly bribe GM to convert to ethanol.
If you ask me if humanity is worth saving at any cost (and I don’t just, or primarily, mean economic), I would say no. Geoengineering will simply allow us to do more damage to poorer countries and other species, while prolonging the run of the wealthier countries.
“…. Three years after the eruption, nearly all of the Mt. Pinatubo aerosols were gone.
“One disturbing point … is that it appears to take much longer for aerosols to be removed from polar regions than from tropical regions. The polar regions, particularly Antarctica, are particularly susceptible to major drops in stratospheric ozone.”
The one-time eruption of Pinatubo, plus a couple of Southern Hemisphere volcanoes, was enough to counterbalance about one degree Fahrenheit of warming — and produce the worst ozone depletion. Bad tradeoff, eh?
“The Pinatubo climate forcing was stronger than the opposing, warming effects of either the El NiÃ±o event or anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the period 1991-1993.
“As a result of the high stratospheric aerosol loading, mid-latitude ozone concentrations reached their lowest recorded levels during 1992-1993. Startling decreases in ozone abundance and in the rates of ozone destruction were also observed over Antarctica in 1991 and 1992. … The southern hemisphere “ozone hole” increased in 1992 to an unprecedented 27×10 km in size, and depletion rates were observed to be faster than ever before recorded … raising concern about the amount of biologically destructive ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth’s surface….”
Most of the sulfate does eventually drop out — most of it in the oceans.
Increasing the acidification of the upper ocean even faster.
Bad idea, even assuming a launching device capable of putting that amount of sulfate into the stratosphere every few years.
Suggestion for Planetary Engineers: Practice. Fix Venus first.
Geo-engineering as an excuse to continue to burn fossil fuels is wholly unsustainable. However, exploitation of some novel or unused natural mechanisms, husbanded on a large scale, may enable us to intervene to mitigate and maybe even reduce atmospheric CO2 content.
Now I wondered recently at reports of an oceanic algal bloom so large it could be seen from space. As I understand it, blue-green algae absorb CO2, or in this case maybe make use of the carbon in Carbonic acid in solution, and photosynthesize to produce biomass. If this is the case, would this also not be a counter-acidification process for the oceans, and could the algal blooms be harvested, ( e.g. by suction dredger like an oil-spill recovery tanker) and processed to provide biofuel/ soil conditioner/ some other useful product that might retain the Carbon out of atmosphere for a longer period, even if not permanently sequestered?
I’m sure there are several good reasons why not, but I thought I’d ask.
This is a good accessible introduction to the climate change science:
The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: A Guide to the Debate by Andrew E. Dessler and Edward A. Parson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. ix + 190. $34.99 (paperback). ISBN: 0 5215 3941 2
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 4 Jul 2006 @ 11:35 PM
Brian Gordon wrote: “If you ask me if humanity is worth saving at any cost (and I don’t just, or primarily, mean economic), I would say no.”
This is seemingly the key divide between those that are open to geoengineering and those that are not. The former are committed to humanity’s survival.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 4 Jul 2006 @ 11:42 PM
I am a geologist, and have been interested in some of the LANL work on CO2 stripping.
The basic idea goes like this: Use solar or wind power to force ambient atmosphere through a solution containing high concentrations of dissolved CaO, MgO, FeO, MnO or other metal oxide. Bubbling CO2-rich atmosphere through such a solution allows the CO2 to combine with the metal oxide to form a carbonate (CaCO3 – calcite, MgCO3 – Magnesite, FeCO3 – Siderite, MnCo3 – Rhodochrosite). The carbonate minerals precipitate out of the solution as a stable or metastable solid that can be formed into blocks, buried, used for building, or whatever.
There are, of course, problems: Where to get sufficient volumes of the metal oxides (they are fairly abundant in Ophiolite deposits and other minerals (Limonite, Hematite, Magnetite, Manganite, Peridotite/Olivine, Serpentinite, and etc), how to create such oxides from existing mineral deposits (requiring energy), how to force enough atmosphere through such a system (requiring energy), and how to deal with CO2 depleted atmosphere if it reaches high-enough concentrations locally to disrupt the ecological balance.
However, it seems to me that solar furnaces, wind or water generation for both the refining of the metal oxides and the forcing of atmosphere through the solution are definite possibilities.
The real problem is how to make such an effort work on a scale large enough to actually impact the atmospheric CO2 concentration.
There is a real problem with conservation alone as a “fix” to global warming: The current concentrations are essentially too high for the current climate system to remain stable, and even if humans stopped putting ANY CO2 into the atmosphere tomorrow, those concentrations would not begin to even drop for 100 or more years….that is assuming that the current levels have not reached the point where a new climate regime is already in the works and what we are seeing now is just the transition period from one stable state to a new stable state.
Conservation and prevention must remain key components of any solution to the problem, but I think that one thing that the “terraformers” have going for them is the basic idea that remediation is, indeed, a critical component of any workable solution.
Comment by Daniel Curewitz — 5 Jul 2006 @ 12:38 AM
Re # 118 In order to stimulate phytoplankton (blue greens, diatoms, or whatever) in the ocean to take up significant amounts of atmospheric CO2, you have to provide one or more limiting nutrients – iron is in short supply in large areas of the Southern Ocean, and adding iron does seem to stimulate phytoplankton blooms (see refs cited below). However, the key is the get the phytoplankton to sink to the bottom of the ocean without being eaten or decomposed. Harvesting the biomass and using it on land will release the CO2 back into the atmosphere (due to decomposition or combustion).
Here is an abstract of a brief review of this topic:
Will Ocean Fertilization Work?
Ken O. Buesseler and Philip W. Boyd
Science 4 April 2003:
Vol. 300. no. 5616, pp. 67 – 68 http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/300/5616/67
“Iron fertilization of the ocean is widely discussed as a possible strategy for extracting CO2 from the atmosphere. In their Perspective, Buesseler and Boyd analyze the results from recent fertilization experiments in the Southern Ocean. They conclude that sequestration of 30% of the carbon released annually as a result of human activities would require a region more than an order of magnitude larger than the entire area of the Southern Ocean. Iron fertilization may not be a commercially attractive option if impacts on sequestration are as low as observed to date.”
The April 16, 2004 issue of Science contained three articles on fertilizing the Southern Ocean with iron to stimulate CO2 uptake – here is a link to a commentary on those articles:
One of those articles (Buesseler et al. pp. 414 – 417)
concluded that “The flux of carbon was similar in magnitude to that of natural blooms in the Southern Ocean and thus small relative to global carbon budgets and proposed geoengineering plans to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide in the deep sea.” http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/304/5669/414
One major concern (in my mind, at least) is that we have very little information about how ocean fertilization experiments impact oceanic food webs. I recall reading a paper a few years ago (I don’t have the ref. handy, but it may have been in Physiological Zoology – now called Physiological and Biochemical Zoology) providing some evidence that phytoplankton blooms in the Southern Ocean stimulate krill populations, which in turn are eaten by marine mammals – the latter exhale the CO2 back into the atmoshpere, resulting (apparently) in very little CO2 sequestration.
Re: # 120 “This is seemingly the key divide between those that are open to geoengineering and those that are not. The former are committed to humanity’s survival.”
If George Gonzalez is implying that those who are opposed to geo-engineering are somehow not (or less) committed to humanity’s survival, I say, HOGWASH!!!
The first part may sound complicated if you do not like math, so feel free to skip to the second. I have tried to simplify it, but I have not slept so sorry.
Suppose that the temperature of the earth depends on n factors. The collection of the n factors + temperature is what we call “climate.” If you change one of the factors (like, adding CO2) and live all others unchanged, you change the temperature, thus, you have changed climate. Now, if you change one factor, and then change another factor to counterbalance the change in temperature, you may end up with no change in temperature. An example would be pumping CO2 and pumping sulfates. This would be a geo-engineering solution!
Do you see the problem with these geo-engineering solutions? Basically, you end up with the same temperature, but your CLIMATE has changed. Recall that climate is the collection of ALL n factors PLUS temperature. Thus, if you change any factor there are two ways to conserve temperature. One is to take the factor you changed and bring it back to normal. The other is to change some other factor. The first conserves climate, the latter does not.
Basically, just think of climate as a point in some mapping in (n+1) dimensional space. If you change any one of the inputs the other will have to adjust.
An example of the above can be drawn from economics. When you have an economic recession that is induced by the supply side, the level of output (GDP) will drop and the Price level (the average price in the economy) will rise. In order to counteract this, policy maker may want to increase the money supply (print more money, lower interest rates, etc.) This encourages economic activity and the level of output goes back to normal (GDP) BUT the price rises even further. Ladies and gentleman, we have some inflation.
In terms of our planet inflation may be anything. Saltier seas that grow nothing.
Finally, I assume no other interactions among the variables. In reality they do interact. So saltier seas imply no plankton which implies no fish. Then bacteria come in to eat all the dead stuff and these bacteria may bring disease.
It sucks to know that if you are in the developing world you will be punished for the actions of the more developed countries. Africa accounts for about 5% of CO2 emissions. The US, with less than 5% of the world population, accounts for over 25% of CO2 emissions. Furthermore, the changes imposed by global warming may render agricultural production impossible in many of the now-tropical climates. If you thought you were dependant on foreign industrial goods, wait until you buy food from them (if food is not scarce and can be sold…) then you will know what dependancy means.
This is simply because the man in charge gains from the burning of fossil fuels. So sad. We choose to do nothing about it and entertain ourselves watching CNN. Look, they caught a guy with a big beared! My life will improve! Oh my god, its N. Korea! Ahhh!
Ahh, I just recalled something simple learned from chemestry. Le Chatelier’s principle:
If a chemical system at equilibrium experiences a change in concentration, temperature, or total pressure, the equilibrium will shift in order to minimize that change.
I love that statement because you can apply it to other sciences as well (I apply it to economics all the time.) Now, lets keep it in a chemical context. The earth is a collection of chemical systems that form one giant system. Lets rewrite the statement with this in mind:
If a chemical system (the earth) at equilibrium (the climate as we know it) experiences a change in concentration (CO2 is becoming more concentrated), temperature, or total pressure, the equilibrium will shift in order to minimize that change.
Chemically, if you have A + B < ==> C + D at equilibrium, and then the playground bully adds more B, the reaction will move to counteract this change. Lets look at it in chronological order. Here, the numbers in parentheses will indicate possible concentrations:
A(10) + B(10) < ==> C(10) + D(10)
1) add B
A(10) + B(20) < ==> C(10) + D(10)
2) System reacts and new equilibrium is reached
A(5) + B(15) < ==> C(15) + D(15)
Now, what this means in our planetary example is the following. If you dump more CO2 the earth will do stuff to get rid of it. Stuff includes diluting it into the ocean, creating more biomass (biomass removes CO2) or killing CO2 producing organisms, like fish, cows, and , um… humans. That does not mean that we are going to die, it simply means that all those things that are bad for us will become a much more common.
There is something we can do though. If we limit our artificial (cars, factories, basically hydrocarbon burning) inputs of CO2, then we help earth in the regulating process, and those forces design to wipe us out may not come out so strong… So instead of 30,000 less humans we can have one less hydrocarbon based electrical plant.
” There is something we can do though. If we limit our artificial (cars, factories, basically hydrocarbon burning) inputs of CO2, then we help earth in the regulating process, and those forces design to wipe us out may not come out so strong… So instead of 30,000 less humans we can have one less hydrocarbon based electrical plant.”
I just returned from my lunch break at work. I’m in the Miami area and we are having a light on and off rain. I went to a fast food restaurant and parked in a completely empty parking lot. I walked into the restaurant to order my food for take out. While there I observed a long line of vehicles, most of them of the large SUV type in the drive through lane with their engines idling, AC’s running of course, while they waited their turn at the take out window.
I am the only one thinks we need to change this kind of behavior? If so then how do we start the process of education?
Ironically I was in and out of the restaurant with my food more quickly than most of the people still waiting in their cars in line. I guess we really are going to need all the geo-engineering schemes we can come up with so we can continue to lead this wonderful lifestyle.
#125 You state, “This is simply because the man in charge gains from the burning of fossil fuels. ”
Now that’s what I call a simplification. Global climate change is due solely to a single person. Will you kindly identify “the man in charge” and quantify with numerical evidence what, how much, and how he “gains”?
Ocean reflectors are a practial and safe geoengineering proposal. I guess that current GHG forcing could be offset by covering between 1-5% of the world’s tropical oceans with floating white plastic reflectors. Make them cheap, durable and resistant to discoloration from algae. Imagine something similar to a white plastic milk bottle. They could be deployed economically by fencing large areas of ocean with floating nets and then shipping the reflectors direct from the factory to the site. The density of reflectors could be restricted to allow life to continue below.
A positive side effect of this scheme would be to lower the local water temperature and help to mitigate hurricanes. It would be ideal to deploy off the east coast of Florida. If undesirable side effects were discovered, the reflectors could be simply removed by dragging in the nets.
Does anyone know of research papers examining this concept? It is mentioned briefly in the NY times article. Determining the required surface area should be relatively easy using a global climate model.
I think he meant “The Man” ;-) And now that someone has broached the topic, I thought I throw out my own crackpot piece of paranoia about The Man…
Some time after the start of Gulf War II, it occurred to me that maybe the whole point was to reduce the world oil supply and starve China’s growth since China is a leading competitor in the impending “New American Century”. On the face of it, this seems inept because China has plenty of coal. But if you add in the fact of AGW and the resulting rather nasty consequences for China (flooding of costal cities, disruption of agriculture and drying up of the Tibetan plateau watersheds) maybe this was the intended long term result? Not to mention the secondary results of similar effects upon China’s populous neighbours (i.e. India and Indochina) resulting in war and massive refugee migration?
OK, that is enough darkness for one day. Time to take my happy pills again…
RE: #131, I think I know the man in charge. His name is Wally, or something like that. He and his 299.999 million neighbors are, in fact, all in charge. They share something else in common; they are all consumers residing in the U.S.
I blame environmentalists (my peer group) for putting all the focus on the corporate “man” and thus letting us consumers off the hook. The campaign has a simple message to policy makers — make corporations clean up their powerplants; make them sell us high MGP, compact cars; make them build us 1200 sq.ft., air tight homes; and, make us ride their trains and buses. Does that sound familiar? Does that seem to be working? Do Wally and his neighbors approve of those goals?
My family outvotes me at the air conditioner thermostat and a few other household matters that will cut down our energy consumption. It is tough being green in a consumer world.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 5 Jul 2006 @ 8:33 PM
Though in general I hold Groucho Marx’s views with regards to joining clubs; I have to say John, welcome to the club. Especially since Wally’s club doesn’t want us around with inconvenient facts and suggestions about turning down the thermostat. Then again Groucho also said ” I have a mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.”
The U.S. is the largest absolute and per capita emitter of the key climate change gas: carbon dioxide. This is because U.S. urban zones are by far the most sprawled in the world. Urban sprawl results in greater energy demand for commuting and heating/cooling/powering larger homes in suburban areas.
The sprawling of our urban regions was prompted by the nation’s political and economic elite. Most obviously, through the policies of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which would only guarantee the mortgages of homes on the urban periphery. The specific economic/political benefit of urban sprawl is that it greatly expands demand for automobiles and for those consumer durables that fill those large home in suburban areas.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 6 Jul 2006 @ 1:50 PM
Hello, #125 here responding to #131,
Yes, I blame “the man” for this. Number one, he DOES benefit from oil. The top officials working for him also worked for oil companies. Their environmentalist advisor “resign” after a memo was published showing how he was ordered to alter the reports from the EPA, now that man resigned to spend more time with his family… the nex day he was hired by Exxon.
Now, I blame the man not because he is trying to make a living working for this companies. Dont get me wrong, I dont care about big business making it large (lets just say that I have drinked Star$ coffee) but I do believe in people doing their jobs. That man’s job, right now, is NOT for the oil business, it is for the American people. His top priorety should not be to gather more oil sources for his business, it should be to make the US people less dependant on oil. People respond to incentives. He has not provided the right incentives to cause great change. That is why we ave those SUVs. Make them pay a tax that reflects the damage they are creating! China has about 15% of the world s population, they produce 13% of Carbon Dioxide, the US has 5% (at most) and they produce 30% of the Carbon Dioxide. The numbers of China may seem ok, but the entire African continent produces less than 10% of emissions.
So, this is a phenomenon that has been going on for over a century. Ok, so in that case I should not blame “the man.” But today, his decisions do have enough force so that if he were to change them, he could probably improve the situation more than any one can.
#1 Carbon taxes. A high tax for business, drivers, and everyone who directly or indirectly uses carbon based fuels will cause good CHANGE. This tax can be accompanied by lower taxes in other areas (for example, a slightly lower income tax.)
#2. The US is the major economy in the world. Very competitive. “The man” took them out of the Kyoto Protocol initiative as soon as he became “the man.” This means that, if the other countries in the protocol went through with the reduction of emissions, they would lose big time. Basically, reducing emissions costs money and if, say, Germany decided to cut emissions while the US does not, their industries lose their competitive edge. The US would be able to provide lower prices for equal products.
Thus, the decison of “the man” to drop out of the Kyoto agreement, has led to countries like Germany to force very poor emissions standards in Europe. Thus, the decions of “the man’ are also affecting the way other countries behave.
#3 The US is also a technology exporter. Lets face it, very few countires produce industrial technologies. If the US industry continues to be oil dependant, the technologies they produce will be guided towards machines that ran on oil. Now, this technologies are placed on CAPITAL that uses oil. This capital is either installed in US businesses or exported and used in poorer countries that cannot developed such technologies. How is this a problem? Well, suppose that tomorrow “the man” decided to change or the US people changed “the man” altogether. New laws are passed. Well, all the “CAPITAL” is expensive. You cant just throw it away. So, you are left with a bunch of CAPITAL that operates “the old way” and until it loses its use, there will be no cheap way to change it. An example of this (I recently read it on my theory of econ growth textbook which is at home, —#131 if you want the numbers, I will look for them specially for you!) was after the development of a new furnace method to make iron. Japan (or I think it may have been China) adopted the technology very quickly about 10 years. On the other hand, the US (ironically the developer of the technology) took about 50 years to adopt it. Reason (this will make the irony less ironical..): China had no furnaces to replace, they were a poorer nation, so all the new furnaces they were making had the technology. The US on the other hand, had a bunch of furnaces (rich nation, one of the major exporters) that used the old technology. Replacing them was too costly, so they had to wait until the furnaces got very old and had to be replaced.
Now, in poorer countries it takes longer to replace capital (basically, they use it until the wheels fall off. In Nicaragua, I have seen them use buses that were used in Germany before 1945. Have you ever seen a Lada, go to Nicaragua. A better example is Cuba, it looks like the 1950s over there.) So, expect some long term effects form this capital that is being produce right now. Thanks to “the man.”
This are three reasons on the top of my hand why “the man” could make a big difference but does not. I hope its enough but if anyone is not yet convinced I’ll write a few more.
Also, by the way, a lot of US cities today are designed so that you cant get around without a car. I do not include this in my last post because it is really hard to find good evidence on it, and because I cannot blame “the man” for this. The best evidence is to live in one. Try to walk or bike somewhere… Luckly I live in a smaller one so this is not the case for me right now. I recently took a trip thought…wow! This is the hardest form of capital to change.
This should be a warning for developing countries. They should city plan taking this into account. My mom recently visited a country in an other continent and mentioned that most people got around in bikes. Good to know.
2. Over geologic time, the dominant CO2 buffer is the carbonate/silicate cycle. How there been any geoengineering proposals to increase chemical weathering rates of basalt in tropical areas? It seems like an obvious course of action would be to devegetate such areas, as this will allow increased soil erosion and mass wasting, so that the bedrock is more exposed. You could even plant bananas on the denuded areas, to recoup some of the economic costs.
Now, about devegetation. The quantity of CO2 released will bu much great. In addition, trees cooling action does not only come from their containment of CO2, but also from their containment of energy from the sun, water retension (less water vapour in the air is good, since water in gas form is a greenhouse gas.) Many other negatives on that but the biggest one will be depriving of life to animals and plants. Besides, who wants to live in a place with no vegetation…
At least here in Aus, trees increase humidity, not decrease it, because they store and then transpire water that would otherwise run off.
As for the “lag time” it takes for weathering to remove the vegitation’s equivalent of CO2, I have no idea what that would be. But if you simplify wood to C6H10O5 (a generic, infinite starch), then you need 14 times the mass of basalt (at 15% CaO) to compensate. so as long as your basalt is more than a few meters thick, weathering should provide a larger eventual sink than maintaning vegitation. On the other hand, I suppose that weathering a meter or 2 of bedrock probably takes > a century.
An earlier comment called for peer-reviewed assessment of the energy cost of the entire nuclear power process. The UK has appointed a Sustainable Development Commission to dig up such assessments of how much CO2 is emitted, and in section 4.4 of their Paper 2: Reducing CO2 emissions – nuclear and the alternatives they do:
The average amount of CO2 emitted by nuclear power in Western Europe is estimated at 16tCO2/MWh for a Pressurised Light Water Reactor (PWR)… several sources have made estimates around this figure… By contrast, coal emits around 891tCO2/MWh while gas is around 356tCO2/MWh…
… in a low carbon economy, the indirect emissions from nuclear power, along with other low carbon technologies,would be substantially reduced.
Section 7.2 gives references, many of them web-accessible.
Unless I have completely missed the point comparing CO2 emissions for coal, gas and nuclear powered disregards the embedded energy requirements that go into getting a nuclear power plant to the stage where it is producing energy and not emitting any CO2.
I seems to me that the economics at least are pointing to wind and solar being much more cost effective with lower embedded energy requirements than nuclear power plants.
Total life cycle energy costs calculations are both daunting and require assumptions. Anyone wishing to bend the result in a particular way can simply make the needed assumptions. This is as true of coal, oil and gas as nuclear. For example, while it is true that construction energy expenditures are higher for nuclear than coal, transportation and mining costs are much higher for coal, and then of course, depending on the decision of what to do with the slag heap,
coal ash “decommisioning” costs can also be high.
Most of the energy costs associated with nuclear can be generated thru electrical power which, in turn can be generated by nuclear plants (e.g. isotope separation). The US isotope separation plants were built to supply naval reactors and weapons, thus they are over-built for nuclear power generation. Life cycle energy costs are much better captured by the experience in France and Japan, which a) don’t support a huge nuclear military complex, b) have standard designs c) reprocess.
The quick synopsis is that the percent of output used as input for energy is about 2% for nuclear with centrifuge isotope separation and 5% with gaseous diffusion, coal varies between 2 and 6%, gas is about 15% because of transportation costs,
In terms of CO2 coal is 975 g/kWh, gas 608, solar 53, wind 29 and nuclear 22. FWIW.
What is the ‘cost’ of disposing of nuclear waste ‘safely’? Currrently, I imagine costing models either ignore the problem or make convenient assumptions and pass it on to someone else (future generations, taxpayers). I doubt anyone counts it as infinite, which seems the most justified at the moment.
In addition, do current costing models include the many, many non-economic costs? This includes everything from aesthetics to safety to environmental impact to the unintended consequences. (Eg: Building roads enables and causes the expansion of the number of cars. Did it also lead to the decline of rail and the growth of long-distance trucking? What will building nuke plants cause?)
Passive solar heat and hot water seem feasible, non-geoengineering goals for most new residential construction. A few changes in building codes would do more – much more safely and sustainably – than any geoengineering project.
“If I convince you to retrofit your house for energy efficiency, you can save maybe 50 per cent, but you have to do this approach person by person by person. Getting the building code changed, on the other hand, changes every single new house. The costs wouldnâ��t be noticeable. … say itâ��s a couple of per cent, are you going to see that? The bathroom fixtures cost more than that. If the building code changes on every single house, or if you canâ��t sell your house without putting a label on the door and showing what the operating costs are, and having some minimal retrofits done, then the whole market changes.”
“On what keeps urban planners up at night:
“…Almost every major city around the world is going to double in size in the next 45 years, and we have got to get some of that new construction done right or we get into way more expensive retrofits after more damage is done.”
It seems a typical form of short-term thinking, when people try to solve one problem by creating another. Maybe sulphate aerosols can cool down the climate again, but what are the consequences ? How will they interact with other substances, how much sunlight will be blocked and where ? Maybe we’ll just create another and even bigger problem with them.
The only sensible thing to do is change our way of living and finally realise that we can’t go on pretending to be the only important species on earth, realise we have an obligation to other life forms and our children to protect the planet, but that will cost, and that’s where the problem really lies, men has but one deity and that is the coin.
First let’s get the “we’re playing God” idea out of the way. We’ve been doing so, on a global as well as local scale, since we started making conscious decisions. We took it to a new level when we first started intentionally burning carbon. Now it’s time to pay the piper. It seems unlikely we’ll make enough individual and voluntary lifestyle changes in time. And the bigger question is, would we do it to support the status quo, the present economic system, efforts toward American Empire, or civilization and many species, including Homo Sapiens? (I hesitate to call us “human”, whom I’d think would posess more community spirit and forethought.)
On the other hand, science has always been “fraught with uncertainties” (#10), but without it, we’d still be very primitive hunters and gatherers. I think we’ve made some gains over that.
Intentional global dimming is a necessarily limited and short-term solution, but one that could give us time for others. It’s also one that would be slow to “backfire”, but easy to correct excesses quickly. If we saw changes in the three days after 9/11, I’m not worried about long-term effects. Time is rather critical, because oil depletion and other factors might suddenly and drasticallly reduce all our efforts, as well as our present cooling pollution, without being enough to stop self-reinforcing natural effects already in the works. It seems not so long ago we were concerned about falling temperatures, it turns out, due to air pollution. Are there maybe other products besides sulphates that might also work?
An object in space, orbiting either the earth or sun, will only spend a small amount of time between the two.
The second part of the geo-engineering solution I see is mechanical CO2 sequestration from power plant emissions, maybe eventually from the air. There’s talk about where to store it, but apparently not about how to separate it from the nitrogen. Does anyone know of a link on this? I have my own ideas about it, for those who understand such things. If we could get this going, we could regulate global temperatures, maybe locally also, to our liking. Then we could wait for fossil fuel depletion, or maybe uranium depletion, to give us a more dependable solution.
Legal liabilities are a problem of our laws, where we punish those who harm us, but aren’t so willing about helping those who help us.
> how to separate it from nitrogen
See Ray Pierrehumbert’s website, publication list, most recent article, where he refers to the new designs for clean-burning coal plants. Feed oxygen, not air; burn in a sealed system; output of CO2 has no nitrogen, already suitable for sequestration.
The “geoengineering” debate deserves to get more public exposure than the better-known popular debate between anthropogenic climate change “sceptics” and mainstream climate change scientists and activists.
If the geoengineering debate WERE getting more exposure in the light of popular “common sense”, the onus would be falling on the climate change “sceptics” to prove that geoengineering proposals, including ideas like Teller’s sunshield idea, or something approximating it, are NOT already being implemented on a very large scale.
Any legal problems this might cause should not be the concern of scientists reporting on what is or is not true.
The loudmouthed (and largely successful) populism of the climate change deniers is only possible because of a POLITICAL stance among climate experts they (you) may one day find it extremely difficult, in retrospect, to defend.
109 I would probably agree with you more than you think. Just because we can’t estimate “all” costs, or economic externalities, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. As an engineer, I try to estimate whatever I can, and then try to determine if any other issues would be more or less conservative to the design. The point I was trying to make in posts 36, 65, and 96 is this: We know that burning fossil fuels has external costs such as: 1) health care costs (asthma, bronchitis, lost time from work, premature deaths, etc.), 2) DOD costs (wars for natural resources, military basis in ‘strategic locations’), 3) national security costs of depending on certain forms of energy, and 4) global warming costs (droughts, famines, stronger hurricanes…..?). (This list is by no means all-inclusive.) When these costs are estimated (1 and 2 are easy, 3 and 4 would be difficult) and added to the price of a gallon of gasoline, or a Kw-hr of energy from your power plant, then I believe that conservation/efficiency measures would be the most cost-effective method to reduce CO2, as opposed to nuclear, coal-to-liquids, CO2 sequestration, etc. This is especially true when coupled to new ways of designing, such as near-zero-energy homes. Other methods may be needed in the future, but not now.
There is so much to be gained on the energy-efficiency side that very few other things make sense until we tackle that problem. (And with the money we save, we’ll be able to afford it.) One example: the typical vehicle takes in 100 units of energy (fuel), blows 33 units out the exhaust, gives off 33 units to the radiator (i.e., atmosphere) and delivers 34 units to the wheels, which propels the vehicle and the driver from point A to point B. A Toyota Prius may actually deliver up to 40 units of energy to the wheels….but I’m not an expert here. Assuming a 2000 lb vehicle and a 200 lb driver, roughly 10% of the 34 units actually performs useful work in moving the driver from A to B. The rest is moving the sluggish, dead, weight known as an automobile. The service you want your energy to perform is moving you from A to B, the vehicle has to come because we can’t think of a better way to do it yet. So, of the original 100 units of energy, 3.4 units is doing useful work. That means the vehicle is roughly 96% INefficienct!!! In my mind, R&D should start pushing to reduce that 96%. Before I get too many complaints about vehicle weight and safety, think Formula 1 race cars: light, strong, safe!
We can debate forever as to why people don’t–or don’t want to–understand these issues, why consumers are willing to be lead by marketing to buy more horsepower in their vehicles when they really want torque, why people believe their ignorant leaders, etc. However, as supposedly educated researchers–and consumers–we should know better. And we can start increasing demand for energy-efficiency by the choices we make now.
RE: #121 – As a person who also has geological academic training, I am shocked that a person who purports to be a geologist would ever put the words “stable” and “state” together regarding anything having to do with the Earth. It is telling that the first place I ever saw that phrase used in a similar context was in an Ernest Callenbach book I read back in my youthful ecoradical days.
Re: #133 – I would not discount that. And in typical, overly shallow Western intellectual fashion, we think we are doing this amazing “soft power” thing by limiting China’s energy input, but at some point, like Germany between the wars, China begins to get other ideas than simply remaining hemmed in. World War ensues. How’s that for dark? :)
Re: #149 – Indeed, it is a classic exercise in standing in the hole and digging. I think there is a vast misperception regarding what are the aims of so called “deniers” (a label pasted on even me). Forget that term. I am not a denier, I am an analyzer. My analysis is that Man has had a degree of negative impact on the environment. I lack confidence that we even know just how negative it is. Some things we might do, with good intentions, thinking we are correcting one of the purported root causes of the overall negative impact, may do substantial unforeseen harm. Here, of all places, the phrase, DO NO HARM applies. It really boils down to the following. We are where we are in terms of PP CO2. Either it is at a supreme “pay the piper point” in which case we ought to let the Earth heal itself on its own innate time scale, or, we are no where near that point, and therefore, healing becomes a nice-to-have. In either case, Man inexorably will continue to improve, through fits and starts, stewardship. Our population will peak in this century. Our technology will continue to improve energy efficiency. Etc. What I would suggest is that letting Nature takes its course in response to what we have done, and what Nature’s own forces have done, is probably the least of all Evils. We know this innately. We know it in our souls. And we also have plenty of science to back up these intuitions. So, now you all have seen from me, “the skeptic” and “the denier” – my own little take on Gaia. LOL!
Geoengineering ideas I’ve seen oh this thread address mainly tampering with solar insolation to diminish surface warming. Temperature increase equals: expansion of the tropical zone (observed); increased SST (observed); meltback of Arctic ice and change of Arctic ecosystem (under observation); meltback of global glaciers and temperature increase at higher elevations (observed); melting tundra and permafrost with their CO2 and CH4 feedback (in intensive care unit). And, we can add diminished snowpack and early melt in the Western North America and more frequent and extensive fires in the West (positive feedbacks).
Higher temperatures beget higher temperatures, in my lifetime, despite increased cloudiness.
As the earth’s human population approaches 7 billion –a time likely to coincide with China achieving the #1 CO2 emiter status, my pessimism needle is heading towards the red zone.
Positive feedbacks are like a swarm of killer bees coming at us from every direction. Swatting them becomes useless as their venom weakens and eventually kills us. Should we have started the aerial spraying before the swarm arrived? Would there be time and will the chemicals be effective — at which point someone might advocate a non-pesticide approach?
Having said this, I am hot and cold about encouraging geoengineering,and certainly about advocating any particular line of research or end product.
I am reading David Keith’s papers on geoengineering and there is much to be considered before taking steps towards realistic research efforts, e.g., greater concern for ocean acidity being high on my list. And how does geoengineering address ocean uptake of CO2 and diminished CO2 sink capability?
In the tipping point thread I said there is no reason to believe we can function OK as the temperature approaches the (tipping point???) 2 degree mark.
For the sake of continuing civility around the planet, bio-engineering must also be a high priority. Stronger drought, pest and heat resistent crops and silviculture may be our means to buying a little, precious time to come upon a long term solution.
I believe there will be universal understanding of the climate problem when barley and hops yields drop dramatically and beer sells at $14 per six pack.
Further point about tipping: when (and if) we see a tippng point in the earth’s heat balance it will be too late. There will not be time to regain the balance on a global scale.
A serious discussion on including —ALSO— adaptive measures to the world community’s approach to climate change is in order.
Re #153 “Feed oxygen, not air; burn in a sealed system; output of CO2 has no nitrogen, already suitable for sequestration.”
So then to separate the O2 from the air, I guess you’d use the new ceramic O2 filters? Would this maybe also involve redesign of fireboxes for higher temperatures?
My proposal is to use compression and counter-current cooling to liquify CO2 from normal emission gases, or eventually air. Cool compressed gas first with counter-current water flow, flash-freeze most of the water from the gasses, continue compressing and cooling with counter-current expanding N2. The compressor would be something like that on a jet engine, many fans on one long shaft, surrounded by a cooling jacket. Condense SOx at the same time, or separately, to use for cloud seeding. Can these be done without the energy needs producing more CO2 than sequestered?
Interesting questions– you’d be wanting answers from someone competent in thermodynamics and engineering; I would guess these have been addressed for next generation coal burning plants. You might want to ask a reference librarian for help finding work already done. Or search the Patent Office.
I believe there will be universal understanding of the climate problem when barley and hops yields drop dramatically and beer sells at $14 per six pack.
There was an article in the Seattle P-I this morning about the AGW driven massive impending reduction in US wine growing areas over the next 50 years. This makes me hopeful that the “Brie and Bordeaux” crowd will join a bipartisan effort to save the future of booze ;-).
Here’s a company with an interesting idea for feeding the fungi that make topsoil hold together (a good idea).
The idea, which I can’t evaluate for sense or cost/benefit, is to capture CO2 by passing it through charcoal with ammonia, then bury that as fertilizer. If they can prove it out, and avoid concentrating the heavy metals, it’d be promising.
No need to be insulting, Steve. Using the words “stable” and “state” is perfectly reasonable assuming one is referring to a fairly well-constrained time frame and a specified spatial scale.
Since we are talking about the climate system, and are talking about “geo-engineering” and therefore implicitly talking about very short time frames, usage of the word “stable” seems to me to be reasonably justified.
Why so nasty and dismissive?
Comment by Daniel Curewitz — 12 Jul 2006 @ 4:58 AM
RE: #158, and my reply at #166…
Oh. Right. Burkian Conservatives, “The West’s Last Stand” and other forms of Hard-Right propaganda…including climate change contrarianism.
Comment by Daniel Curewitz — 12 Jul 2006 @ 5:03 AM
>160 “I am not a denier, I am an analyzer…. We are …Either … at a point …, or, we are no where near that point.”
You’re a decider! That’s the criterion for judging, in horseshoes games.
And Steve does the acronym LOL at end of your sign-off mean “Lack Of Listening”. There is ample coverage of the increasing acidity of the oceans–CO2 related, right? Lower pH, lower sink capacity. More atmospheric CO2, more heat. More heat, more permafrost and tundra melt. More melt, more CO2 and CH4. More heat. Joannie M asks: Where are the clouds? Bring on the clouds.
If ocean loading of CO2 is not diminished, there is no hope to stop a runaway warming, is there?
You’ve got to do a better job of communicating if you call yourself an analyzer.
Have any of you been observing the skies since the late 1990′s? If so, how do you explain how aircraft have already been creating artificial sky cover similar to some of the so-called future geo-engineering strategies. After 9/11, when all the airways were shut down except for those allowing the Bin Laden family to leave, the skies were clear and the temperature noticeably rose. How come the skies look so different nowadays compared to before the late 1990′s? Why are “contrails” not dissipating like they used to and instead are expanding over hours, turning blue and partly cloudy skies into mucky white ones? You don’t suppose such operations have already been underway for close to ten years?
Socrates, African dust and China’s aerosol pollution are easily tracked via satellite. Those particales, as I understand, act as nucleii (sponges) and absorb moisture. Thus, contails become clouds of larger droplets and more concentrated. Does this sound like a layperson’s explanation or can RC chime in here.
I cannot keep my small garden alive in Northern Virginia because too many cloudy days are defeating me. Warmer world means more evaporation and clouds. At least that is what we are being told by the models. Maybe we are seeing increased cloud cover around the globe, in part, driven by global aerosol tracks and mostly by warmer land and seas.
Hi John McCormick, thanks for the response. I must be up front and admit that I am cluless when it comes to science. I am only saying that aircraft are mucking up our skies. This is the gorilla in the room. Explain the aircraft creating fake cloud cover since the late 90′s. Most of us concerned with this truth have already had enough of fake pilots telling us it is natural water vapour. The composition of the skies have changed drastically, and to the human eye, this appears to be man-made.
Admittedly this is a scientific elite discussion thread and most participants probably don’t want their high-level debate to be diluted by the mundane realities of applied geoengineering, as opposed to the subject’s theoretical aspect.
But I ask you, (ladies and?) gentlemen, if we concerned citizens cannot depend on the expertise of science to answer these questions we believe are so urgent (and we have difficulty in understanding why the experts do not show the same concern) then to whom are we to turn?
And is it not after all your planet too? And is it not true that discussion of how “geoengineering” appears to be well and truly under implementation – the point almost media coverage of the subject ignores -could change the political balance of forces radically in favour of those who want to see decisive action on climate change?
Can someone just follow the link to the Paul Moyer KNBC news item, watch it, and say something???
I live in the N. Cal. area favored for cruise missile tests and skunkworks flights, I’ve seen odd things go overhead while camping around Clear Lake for the past twenty years, both high enough to mistake for south-to-north meteors and low enough to shake the campground. That’s the direct route with the fewest people between the places in California that secret aircraft are based and the North Pole. I don’t think anything unusual is happening, for most values of unusual. The pulsed contrails are pretty well documented as aerospike engine tracks in the aerospace journals, the military can always use vast amounts of fuel to go higher and faster than civilian aircraft.
Yes, I’m sure there are attempts being made to affect weather and climate. Heck, if we’re real lucky, maybe the HAARP system can make the ionosphere into a big broad infrared laser and bleed off lots of the excess heat energy from the atmosphere, or something equally silly.
If there’s a way to make planets get rid of excess heat in narrow bands, we ought to get the SETI telescopes in orbit to look for big bright infrared beacons around nearby stars, in hope of finding proof it can be done.
But I don’t think the military has a clue about climate change beyond what’s being done in public, or things would have gotten inexplicably worse by now, eh? You can trust them to try to use any such competence to break things instead of fix the world, and we don’t have a lot of evidence.
Contrails from likely aerospike engines aren’t all that big a deal any more, even if it’s still a secret, and that technology may have already gone beyond mere Air and Space Week speculation.
And thanks to Lovelock et al. we can detect chemicals in the atmosphere at fantastically low levels. If something were being done, it’d be showing up in grad student lab work with electron capture detectors all over the world, along with the traces from nuclear plants and other stuff people watch for all the time.
As for the school of thought, that any geo-engineering is bad. We are already (unintentionally) doing it on a massive scale. Many geologic processes, have already been
modified by significant (order of magnitude) factors from their “natural” values. Erosion is one of these, net erosion from land is hugely greater than it was before modern man.
Particulates, are another area, dust blowing off Africa is -if I remember correctly estimated to be 50times greater than it was a century ago. Then look at land use, in the US
we have already paved a land area greater than the state of Ohio, and conversiom of forest to farmland, and changes of ecology of grazed land is very large. So adding one more
(reverable, and planned) intervention doesn’t materially increase the risks.
Some things gotta be considered by looking at the relative sizes of things. The proposed addition of sulphates is very small when compared to current emissions, so any additional
effect of acidification is likewise small. Enhancing erosion to absorb CO2 is of course not a good solution, in any case the time scale for weathering to modify CO2 by geologic
processes is on the order of a million years, So even at 10x natural (roughly where I think we are currently at), that still take 100,000 years to do the job.
There are many proposals to capture CO2 from air, for sequestration, the real issue is cost. It is much cheaper to capture it at the smokestack, as the concentration is much higher,
and even here adoption is likely to be very slow.
In any case the geologic record does show abrupt climate change happens even without human intervention, this implies either large rapid forcing, or the existance of powerful
positive feedbacks in the system (or at least the similar -but non-identical climate systems of the past), so we should take the possibility that the planet may pass some sort
of tipping point, whether caused by man, or nature seriously, having some sort of potential geo-interventions available sounds like a very sensible policy to me.
One note about the potential of overdoing cooling. It is much easier to intervence to warm climate, this could be done both via GHG’s, or other efforts such as using crop dusters
to spread a thin layer of soot or dirt onto ice/snow. I don’t think we need worry about the possibility of uncontrollable cooling, that is too easy to reverse.
Posting 176: to T. Hewitt. Having said that geoengineering could be O.K., would you like to say whether in your opinion schemes like Teller’s “Sunshield” idea, or some variant of it, should be facilitated by legalization or explicitly prohibited?
And would you like to venture an opinion on whether such a scheme may in fact be have been under implementation for years now?
Somebody, somewhere, sometime, has to grasp the nettle about all this, don’t you think?
Your defending geoengineering suggests that you DO think something like that.
Would you like to see more Paul Moyers in the mass media?
Re: 177: “As for the school of thought, that any geo-engineering is bad. We are already (unintentionally) doing it on a massive scale…. So adding one more (reverable, and planned) intervention doesn’t materially increase the risks.”
Yes, we’ve done lots of geoengineering so far, and based on its track record, we have enough data to conclude that geoengineering projects are extremely risky, impose that risk on many who did not choose that risk, and generally lead to worse conditions in the future. The examples you gave: erosion, dust from Africa, paving the world, deforestation – are you suggesting these are models we can follow?
Geo-engineering is worthwhile as a side discussion. Considering that research funds are always limited, it should not be a major priority. Resources would be better spent in climate science and developing technologies to reduce emissions.
If the worst-case climate change scenarios began to occur then geo-engineering might have to be taken seriously, but until then there are more important issues to examine.
I am reminded of the quote by the climate scientist Broeker: “Climate is an angry beast and we are poking at it with sticks”. I think geo-engineering is like petting a beast after we made it angry by poking it. Hoping that petting the beast will make it less angry is a pretty risky proposition!
Comment by Joseph O'Sullivan — 13 Jul 2006 @ 11:54 AM
176 Hank Roberts, when you say you don’t think anything unusual is happening, why do you use the term “unusual”?
People in labs worlwide look every day for changes in airborne particulates, fallout, aerosols, acid rain, pesticides and such, so by “unusual” I mean something unfamiliar being found and reported. If it’s happening secretly, and can’t be detected by any normal method, either it has an effect on weather and climate — and will show up as a forcing or unusual pattern of events — or it doesn’t, and won’t. Time will tell.
I was relieved to see that rare recognition of the limited research dollars usually available. When I think of the 20-30 year time line when CO2 concentrations plus other climate-forcing gases (possibly 16% of CO2 concentration) and weigh that against the (20-30 year time frame) massive federal indebtedness to retirees and funding for health and debt service, etc., I wonder if there will be sufficient federal dollars to keep the Coast Guard operating.
Given the confluence of higher concentrations of climate-forcing gases and the fiscal trainwreck Americans are facing, discussing federal dollars adds to the reality of any discusssion about climate change and particularly about geoengineering fixes.
My personal view is there will not be continued Asian bailout of our debt since China and India will need their surplus cash to import more expensive oil and build energy infrastructures. Without China’s purchase of our bonds, interest rates will climb; federal payment of interest on larger debt will increase; inflation will follow.
Have I set myself up for an economist’s reply that it is good to have debt in times of inflation?
Back on topic: this thread could delve deeper into who and how to pay for the suggestions and proposed remedies posted inthis thread. Consumer debt is nearing $2.5 trillion so homeowners will be hard pressed to invest large capital into making homes and cars energy efficient (Amory Lovins view of fast payback notwithstanding.
I do urge RealClimate to give some space to discussion of measures to prepare for the worst case which might be coming at us faster that we realize.
Adaptation deserves equal time with geoengineering and is far more realistic in dollar cost and impact terms. As an environmentalist and parent, I see this as an ancillary effort and by no means abandonment of every effort to massively reduce climate forcing emissions and particularly since we are discovering the pH of the oceans is increasing.
Mr. Oâ??Sullivan, do you have a comment on adaptive measures that might be discussed?
181, I take your point on geoengineering as a side discussion. But it is after all the focus of this thread. And if, as at least â?? I would estimate, half of the posters here object to geoengineering being seen as a solution to climate change, what if some of the most controversial geoengineering proposals, including the sunscreen aerosol spraying proposals, are already a reality?
If geoengineering is not just a bunch of proposals but an ongoing massive â?? albeit unacknowledged â?? practice, then oneâ??s attitude to it is no longer a matter of academic discussion. We are called upon to take a stand: should it be banned, or should it be legalized so that it can be carried on with transparency and public accountability?
Someone asserting that geoengineering is not just proposals but well-established practice is often challenged to prove this allegation. But to demand proof is to shift the ground of the debate.
Geoenginering proposals have emerged mostly from individuals and institutions with a prehistory of involvement in nuclear weapons development and other high-tech projects involving military, or what are defined as military, or â??national securityâ?? projects. These projects have not come into being as a result of demand by a free market or a process of democratic policy formulation. The political reflexes and habits of mind formed by the Cold War and the nuclear arms race have shaped their content.
â??National securityâ?? projects often take the form of a provocative and divisive proposal generating spontaneous opposition, the defeat of which opposition then becomes the purpose of the project. This reflex can be seen as much in Edward Tellerâ??s â??Sunscreenâ?? proposal as in his earlier H-Bomb and Star Wars schemes. Look at what he says: â??The director of the U.S. Global Change Research Programâ??s Co-ordination office has been promoting geoengineering for three decades. But for some reason this option isnâ??t as fashionable as all-out war on fossil fuels and the people who use them.â?? The implication is that the purpose of geoengineering is to defeat those who want to wage a â??war on fossil fuelsâ??.
To embark secretly on implementation of a sunscreen project (which would â?? as a number of posters have pointed out â?? in any case face many legal obstacles) fit in very well with an aggressive political stance. Anyone who, based on the evidence of his senses, tries to argue publicly that implementation is evidently already occurring can
then be identified as an opponent.
Gavin Schmidt says that the IPCC in its reports does not â??recommendâ?? the large scale spraying of aerosols for climate mitigation purposes. It just â??describesâ?? the idea. For me to argue that the IPCC recommends this practice, or even that the practice is being implemented, is evidently controversial, just as it would have been if I had argued during the Cold War that the United States should accept Soviet â??disarmamentâ?? proposals because they are genuine.
Considerable numbers of citizens in America and throughout the world are convinced, that â??geoengineeringâ??, including the most controversial type of geoengineering, isnâ??t just a set of proposals but something that is happening, in a big way, and has been happening for years. Many, if not most, of these people, are in favour of radical action on climate.. If given some space in recognized public discussion we could
be opposing the forces of political immobilism and inertia much more effectively than they are being opposed currently.
As beezel pointed out above in posting 59: â??Perhaps discussing possible geotechnical solutions is a good way of demonstrating to the public the magnitude of the problem.â??
Yes, and even moreso if we are arguing that the â??geotechnical solutionsâ?? are not just on the drawing board but are an established reality, whatever collateral damage this is causing.
I beleive you meant the PH of the oceans is decreasing ;-).
As a parent myself I am actively seeking alternatives to our runaway consumerist lifestyle. I am trying to do my part with conservation wherever I can.
My parents may have had the excuse that they didn’t have the information available to make informed decisions. We don’t have the excuse of ignorance any longer. We will be held accountable by our children if we do nothing. I beleive that we have to find creative ways to change the way we do things and that means thinking outside the box or maybe the truncated octahedron. Here is a group that has some interesting ideas to start off the discussion of how we might do some things differently. http://www.n55.dk/
Comment by Fernando Magyar — 13 Jul 2006 @ 6:25 PM
To RC readers. my apology; I do know the concern is that ocean pH is decreasing. Maybe my eyesight as well.
I am appreciative that the few of us arguing that geo-engineering seems to have already commenced have not been censored. So, is there universal agreement here that the “chemtrail” problem is due to chinese aerosol pollution and African dust? Or is this issue so new to you that you are all mostly dumbfounded to offer a position. I am sure you have all been busy during the day and haven’t been observing clear skies being consistently mucked up by aircraft. Please, is there any of you out there who can watch the short KNBC report and offer some explanation to the multitude of eyewitness claims that planes are NOW creating artificial cloud cover? Don’t be scared.
You see, one needn’t be a scientist to see that the skies are looking mighty strange. Those of us who aren’t wish scientists would get their heads out of the sand and pay heed to our concerns. Thank you.
Those who have not seen a comprehensive, focused, appropriately scaled plan to build a new clean energy future for the nation may want to review the New Apollo Energy Act, H.R. 2828, which I have introduced in the United States House of Representatives. It is based on the prinicple that baby steps will be woefully inadequate to face the task at hand in combatting global warming. We clearly need a national effort on the scale of the original Apollo space program,using all of the technologies available for efficiency and clean energy production, from soup to nuts. The bill is available in summary form at my site at http://www.house.gov/inslee and a full copy through a link at that site. It is fair to say that this bill comprises the most global collection of strategies available to us to reduce our Co2 output yet introudced in Congress. Nothing else would be equal to the challenge. It would certainly seem wise to adopt such proactive approaches to reduce Co2 before trying radicaly retroactive tactics such as loading the atmosphere with So2. Even if this were to effectively deal with climate changes, it would not stop the ocean acidification now threatening major biological systems world wide.
Representative Jay Inslee
1st District, Washington
“It would certainly seem wise to adopt such proactive approaches to reduce Co2 before trying radically retroactive tactics such as loading the atmosphere with So2. Even if this were to effectively deal with climate changes, it would not stop the ocean acidification now threatening major biological systems world wide.”
Representative Jay Inslee, does this amount to an assertion that radically retroactive tactics such as loading the atmosphere with SO2 are not actually being carried out? If so, on what evidence do you base that assertion?
And how do you explain the content of the Paul Moyer KNBC news item. Have you watched it?
Of course contributors here who are in favour of geoengineering will be obliged to take the opposite position to Representative Inslee. It will not be proper for them to argue that geoengineering should continue illegally. They will have to argue for legalization, and employ their scientific expertise to decide what should be legal and what not.
I’m not sure what the merits of Paul Moyer’s KNBC news item are. It doesn’t provide any real facts one way or the other and comes across as your typical sensationalist piece. That’s not to say I would be surprised that our fearless leaders are engaged in such activities and have decided that we the American people shouldn’t be informed of such things. In any case I will withhold judgement until more information becomes available. Just for the record my trust in both our government and the news media are at an all time low which is why I come to sites such as this to get facts on which to base my opinions. I also thought it was ironic that piece was prefaced by an automobile advertisement. Maybe it’s time to add a global health warning label to internal combustion engines such as the surgeon general’s warning on packages of cigarettes.
Comment by Fernando Magyar — 14 Jul 2006 @ 5:47 AM
Guilt-free Climate Engineering (no contrails, acid rain or space mirrors required)
This morning I happened to see the rebroadcast of the Lou Dobbs news/analysis program on CNN where in between the latest war and illegal immigration news was a segment about what to do about climate change. The guests included Michael Mann of hockey stick fame and Real Climate’s Gavin Schmidt. Of note was that Dobbs didn’t feel compelled to include one of the “climate skeptics,” instead disposing of the issue of is climate change happening and are we responsible at the outset. The discussion instead focussed on solutions. And those remedies were to reduce fossil energy emissions, replace SUVs with smaller cars, find a way to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass and seek more efficient uses of energy.
All of these are of course, part of the solution to the climate change problem and the guests said there was still time to implement them before it was too late. However, I doubt that many of these changes will come in time. Although gas prices may spike for a while this summer, the inflation adjusted all-time high in the U.S. was set in 1980 and in today’s dollars would be around $4.72/gallon. So don’t expect to see those Explorers, Tacomas and Yukons parked on the side of the road any time soon and their drivers walking to the nearest Prius dealership or bikeshop.
So are there any more geoengineering ideas that might be implemented sooner rather than later that haven’t already been beaten to death on this thread and that might give us a little more time to make all those energy-related changes proposed by Rep. Inslee a reality?
Here’s one I came up with the other day after reading an LA Times article about the latest on-site observations of the deterioration of the Greenland ice sheet. To fill in the cracks that have developed and are allowing meltwater to percolate down under the ice sheet and out into the Atlantic, why not fill them in with ice? That’s right, use Greenland’s most abundant natural resource to help stabilize the ice sheet. The ice is readily available, white or nearly so and already frozen. Using heavy equipment such as bulldozers and excavators, the ice can be harvested from unbroken areas of the ice sheet and pushed into the cracks. In the winter, the filled in crack will freeze over. This should greatly reduce the amount of melting the next summer and the amount of water that is draining into the ocean. If this process could be used on a large enough scale and could reduce the amount of melting significantly, it would buy us more time, the one thing we really don’t have in abundance.
So if there are any glaciologists out there reading this, let me know if this is a really cool idea or am I just going to give a lot of people a heart attack from shoveling snow or ice.
“The discussion instead focussed on solutions. And those remedies were to reduce fossil energy emissions, replace SUVs with smaller cars, find a way to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass and seek more efficient uses of energy…
Although gas prices may spike for a while this summer, the inflation adjusted all-time high in the U.S. was set in 1980 and in today’s dollars would be around $4.72/gallon. So don’t expect to see those Explorers, Tacomas and Yukons parked on the side of the road any time soon and their drivers walking to the nearest Prius dealership or bikeshop.”
Ok, my car gets about 45 to 50 mpg and emitts about 4200lbs of CO2 for my yearly driving. The SUV’s you mention get about 12 mpg and average about 14000 lbs of CO2 for the same amount of driving that I do. BTW most of that driving is done with only one occupant in the vehicle. You want guilt free, that’s fine then pay through the nose for it in CO2 taxes. Sell me the gas at $5.00 a gallon which I am willing to pay today and quite frankly beleive is cheap. I also think we will see those prices sooner rather than later and that it won’t be a mere summer spike. My brother and sister live in Germany and already pay more than that. Then charge $15.00 a gallon to the folks who insist they need to drive to the office in an SUV every dayand give the money to terrapass or some other organization that will invest it in alternative energy. Then you can have no guilt.
Comment by Fernando Magyar — 14 Jul 2006 @ 10:29 AM
194. Alvia Gaskill. If you want to change the political climate in such a way as to get reality through the heads of Explorer, Tacoma and Yukon owners, unleash “chemtrails” activists against anthropogenic climate change “sceptics”. It is as simple as that. You don’t have to do anything yourself. Just get out of the way.
Rep. Inslee – I thought there was lots of good stuff in your bill. As a Canadian, though, I’ll still be voting Green next time. :-) The cars are going to have to go.
Sooner or later, gas prices will go up, and keep going up. The stuff has to run out sooner or later. Even if we find more, the Middle East oil fields aren’t looking too reliable for the foreseeable future. Venezuela is building facilities to enable selling to their oil to China instead of the US. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll realize we can’t keep burning it even if the supply were unlimited.
#186 (W. Hall)
I don’t dismiss geo-engineering, but I am uncertain of its value.
Many things people are doing change climate on the local and global scales. However, initiating changes in the climate is a far cry from controlling the climate. I think the term “geo-engineering” is inaccurate because it implies that we will be able to control the climate as if we are turning the thermostat up or down like we do in our homes.
If we undertake geo-engineering projects will they be effective? Will there be side effects? Will these side effects create new problems or make existing problems worse?
If we use a cost-benefit analysis I think reducing pollution will have a greater and more predictable benefit than geo-engineering.
Going back to Broecker’s angry beast analogy, if we have made the beast angry by poking it with sticks it would be a lot harder to tame it (geo-engineering) than to just stop poking it (reduce pollution)!
#190 (Rep. Jay Inslee) thank you for introducing the New Apollo Energy Act. It would be great to see the U.S. regain it’s leadership in pollution control and environmental protection. Thank you also for telling the public about it. Hopefully once the the public is informed we will back the New Apollo Energy Program.
Comment by Joseph O'Sullivan — 14 Jul 2006 @ 5:34 PM
199. Joseph O’Sullivan, personally I think that most geoengineering ideas are almost unbelievably terrible. Look at Gregory Benford’s classic account from ten years back in “Reason” magazine: http://reason.com/9711/fe.benford.shtml
But for me, and for many others, the crucial reality is that these ideas are not just ideas. Aerosol spraying of the planet from aircraft is going on on an unbelievably huge scale. This is what we have concluded.
The reality is being kept almost completely out of the awareness of the public, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, and this is indirectly acknowledged by Gavin Schmidt, the agencies who have undertaken the relevant geoengineering projects have not yet found out how to legalize what they are doing.
Secondly, a section of them are not all that interested in trying to legalize it anyway. They have got used to working in secrecy behind the “national security” label, and it suits them to keep working that way.
Thirdly, the decision makers in this world habitually operate through turning different groups in society against each other. In the case of geoengineering, the divide-and-rule strategy operates through stigmatizing as “conspiracy theorists” people who have concluded, and are saying, that “geoengineering” is not just a theory but is an ongoing, and very large scale, programme.
This effectively removes them/us from respectable discourse, so that the climate change debate, instead of being a debate – as it should be – between proponents and opponents of “geoengineering”, becomes a largely phony debate between concerned climate change activists and scientists, and frequently cynical and/or insincere climate change “sceptics”.
Another reason for the secrecy of “geoengineering” programmes must be “national security” interest in using “the weather as weapon”. Those who want to use the weather as a weapon like being able to strike invisibly and unaccountably. Ambiguity, which is or should be intolerable to citizens on the receiving end of geoengineering/weather as weapon treatment (is this being done to help us or to harm us?) is not at all intolerable for those for whom these techniques are toys for them to play with.
What is the answer to all this? For a start, the geoengineering discussion must be got out into the public arena and must begin to replace the sterile argument (particularly popular in the United States) about the degree to which climate change is anthropogenic.
A herd of Christian archaeologists from the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration Institute claim to have discovered what they believe could be the remains of Noah’s Ark 13,000 feet up a mountain in Iran’s Elburz range. The story got lots of press but no one seems to have asked the simple question: where did the 13,000 feet of water come from and where did it go?
Now, in a similarly curious fashion — about SO2 loading into the atmosphere: as I understand, raw sulfur, in combusting coal, becomes a sulfate particle and when combined with oxygen becomes sulfur dioxide.
Can anyone please explain how a military aircraft or any aircraft can support a combustion chamber suficiently large to faciliate the oxidation of sulfur?
Can we drop the atmospheric SO2 aerosol geoengineering stuff and get on with some serious discussion? Or, maybe certain contributors can lend an opinion on the 13,000 foot sea level rise?
John, have a look at these first few Google Results
(from about 117,000 for aircraft engine pollution sulfur sulfate. (0.37 seconds) )
Atmospheric Aerosols: What Are They, and Why Are They So Important
Understanding how much sulfur-based pollution is present in the atmosphere is … emissions from the engines of several commercial and research aircraft. … http://oea.larc.nasa.gov/PAIS/Aerosols.html
That page at the bottom includes this:
“Future NASA Aerosol Studies
“NASA’s ongoing Atmospheric Effects of Aviation Project (AEAP) has measured emissions from the engines of several commercial and research aircraft. Jet engine emissions have been shown to affect the concentrations of atmospheric water vapor and aerosols, and they may affect how clouds form and the concentrations of atmospheric ozone. Few actual measurements of their effects have been made, however.”
Re the future NASA study reference, the AEAP link page says only this:
AEAP: Atmospheric Effects of Aviation Project
The AEAP Project has ended.
At the direction of Randy Kawa , http://hyperion.gsfc.nasa.gov/People/Kawa,_Randy/,
the AEAP web pages have been removed.
Does that help answer your question how the engines do this?
I do know jet fuel contains small concentrations of sulfur which, upon combustion, oxide to sulfur dioxide. However, I understood references, in this thread, to sulfur dioxide geoengineering ideas require huge additions of SO2 to the atmosphere. That was the gist of my question.
It would appear that current international and domestic flights are not sufficient to show any positive effect on reflecting solar insolation back to space. And, US EPA and the aviation industry are intent on reducing sulfur content of jet fuel.
I don’t know how many people on this thread have been persuaded by what I have been arguing.
However, the municipal council of the island of Aigina in Greece some time back passed a resolution “to file a suit against any party responsible for the conducting, according to press reports, of dangerous aerial spraying over Aigina in the framework of ongoing experiments for purposes of dealing with the greenhouse phenomenon”.
The resolution was taken at the initiative of Councillor Nektarios Koukoulis and Mayor Dimitrios Mourtzis.
The Council was given legal advice to abandon this litigation and did so. And indeed a lawsuit of this kind was not an appropriate response to the problem.
Nevertheless, the move has remained on the record, and in the minds of key people. The action of the Aigina Council could be utilized to help move public debate internationally away from sterile arguments over anthropogenic vs non-anthropogenic factors in climate change to a potentially more powerful, dramatic and effective international public debate over geoengineering.
The process could be facilitated by recent moves to have the activities of NGOs granted institutional recognition under the new Greek Constitution, something which could have a knock-on effect in Europe as a whole.
If anyone is interested in hearing my view of exactly what steps can be taken to harness the political potential of the stance against geoengineering taken by the municipal council of Aigina, Greece, I will elaborate.
There is any interesting article in the New York Times Magazine about the potential of the nuclear power industry to make a resurgence in the U.S. Nuclear power is posited as an answer, if not the answer, to global warming. If nuclear power does “take-off”, this will have dire implications for innumerable generations. Most geoengineering proposals, in contrast, have much shorter time-frames. It would be unfortunate if nuclear power is able to be established as a response to GW because more sensible geoengineering approaches were not adequately explored.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 16 Jul 2006 @ 1:37 PM
At risk of Green ire , may suggest an overlooked means of albedo modification that may appeal to those suspicious of anything so inorganic as whitewash or sulfate aerosols.
Biomass sequestration enthusuasts tend to overlook the
range of reflectivity of vegetation. While as a matter of computational convenience, most envelope back modeling assumes some low reflectivity figure for vegetation, species vary greatly from the mean value for temperate or boreal forests and grasslands.
Saltwort and silver sage exemplify the high end of the vegatation albedo spectrum, and are also naturally adopted to poor soils and scant and saline water . They can reflect roughly twice as much solar enegy as most forest types, and might be made more laucous still by selective breeding or genetic engineering. Indeed it is possible that the genes responsible for furry leaves or other reflective adoptions mught be identified and incorporated into crops or perennial plants to reduce the solar gain of agricultural regions as well as wasteland .
The very idea of propagating pale planrs will rile deep Greens , but Crutzen is a very sensible fellow in my exprience, and I hope he will float this modest proposal among the diverse species of life scientists found in the Max Planck biotreme
It is preferable to posit geoengineering as an answer to global warming, than nuclear power.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 17 Jul 2006 @ 9:55 AM
211. At least there is a public debate about nuclear power, and a general recognition that nuclear power stations EXIST. Where is the debate about geoengineering, other than on this thread? And even here it is only half a debate, because almost everyone is talking as if geoengineering is something hypothetical.
RE: 210 The idea of bioengineered plants with higher than natural reflectivity has been discussed before. See the Watts book below.
R.G. Watts, Engineering Response to Global Climate Change, Lewis Publishers, CRC, New York, 1997.
If the problems of water, fertilizer and genetic engineering can be overcome, then the issue is one of how much additional solar reflectivity can be achieved. Doubling of reflectivity from 0.1 to 0.2 albedo units doesnâ??t buy you very much, even if hundreds of thousands of square miles are covered. If this is being done in an area with native plants, like switchgrass, would the new species be acceptable as replacements and as potential sources of cellulosic ethanol?
More likely, for the plan to work, it would have to be done on essentially barren land. Unfortunately, the albedos of most barren lands are already higher than the 0.2 nominal albedo that could likely be achieved using the bioengineered plants. If the plants could be engineered to have white leaves, then there would be a better return on the landâ??s use to reflect sunlight. Even with a change from 10% to 90% reflectivity, the U.S. doesnâ??t have enough barren or other land for this to make much of a difference, once again requiring one to look to deserts or perhaps the vast grasslands of the Russian steppes. The reality is that we currently donâ??t have the ability to bioengineer plants with white leaves and this idea probably wonâ??t be able to help us out before 2050 or even later.
In my view the nuclear option is made significantly more credible because the scientific/environmental community has been pushing alternative fuels as the only answer to global warming. Since nuclear power is the only viable alternative fuel (within the context of growing global energy demand), this community is indirectly propping up nuclear power.
A world with 2,000 to 3,000 nuclear rectors is extremely freightening. We do not know what to do with the nuclear waste from the 400 or so rectors currently in existence, nor how safe they are as they age. Expanded nuclear waste also creates more opportunities for the expansion of nuclear weapons, and, hence, nuclear war.
It should also be noted that a dramatic expansion of nuclear power will not necessarily prevent the worst outcomes of climate change. There is already a lot of warming built into the atmosphere. Moreover, a number of people/countries can still rely on fossil fuels (especially coal) to meet their energy demands.
Geoengineering solutions will address global warming directly. Most geoengineering be can be undone if not working or prove to be overly harmful. Finally, geoengineering solutions can shift the dialogue from nuclear power.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 17 Jul 2006 @ 2:39 PM
Few have an existing industry that’s going to profit immensely from government money, however. Nobody’s currently in the business of launching huge shadow satellites, filling the stratosphere with reflective material, or covering the ocean with white plastic.
Well, maybe the Styrofoam industry’s already made progress at the latter, but only by accident.
I guess sequestration has the prospect of increasing the value of testing depleted oil wells for use capturing CO2 — but the Western Fuels Association would have to back the program and get government grants for replacing the current generation plants with clean ones, which would reverse years of lobbying work.
The science-fiction mindset by which and for which geoengineering proposals are formulated does not mesh with the quasi-practical and would-be participatory and political orientation of the ecologists who mobilise around renewable energy sources. The discourses are crafted for two different clienteles, who just talk past each other and/or ignore each other.
Which is more deplorable? To be insane or to be an ostrich?
We have already emitted tons of sulphates into the atmosphere — so we actually have a lot of experience with this. We have also placed numerous objects in the earth’s orbit. Thus, there is little that is fictional about such geoengineering approaches. They are realistic and practical answers to a dire problem — global warming.
Our experience with nuclear power, however, should tell us to retire this source of energy. Nuclear waste and nuclear weapons are something we already have in too great a supply. As I stated before, nuclear power is not a sure fire response to global warming.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 17 Jul 2006 @ 4:38 PM
George, you are losing my interest in your point of view regarding geoengineering.
Yes, we actually have a lot of experience with sulphates (not good record there) but I know you are proposing injection into the statosphere. Soon, that notion will topple because it has nothing to offer this multi-dimensional problem of climate forcing gas concentrations and global warming.
The idea that sulphate seeding and orbital objects are non-fictional is a fiction regardless of how loudly you profess to know better.
How about the annoying problem of diminishing ocean pH? Where do the aerosol injections help there? And, lower pH will diminish ocean CO2 sink capability. The aerosol idea is chasing its tail.
And, though I am not a member of the nuclear fan club, I accept the fact our experience with nuclear power is good enough that I would strongly resist encouraging on-line reactor retirements.
Plain facts: (a) world nukes contribute 15 percent of global twhrs which, by the way, increased 4 percent over 2004. (b) China increased electric output 12.6 percent in 2005 to 2475 twhrs (approximating global nuke output) (c) US totaled 4239 twhrs in 2005; a 2 percent increase over 2004.
George, those are not small numbers and the nuclear power contribution to the totals is a net-plus for keeping CO2 concentrations lower than they would be. In the here-and-now America, energy conservation is a hard sell (past the easy stuff) and renewables are intermittant in this base-load economy. So, US nukes generate equivalent output of 75 1000 MW coal-fired stations having 80 percent on line factor.
And, George, it is not our right to dictate electric power generation choices our children will have to call upon when they are planning new capacity.
You said, nuclear power is not a sure fire response to global warming. No. But it is reality. And, thus far, I cast my vote against sulphate injection and orbiting objects which are not.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 17 Jul 2006 @ 5:29 PM
RE # 206
Hank, I am prospecting the links you suggested and was intrigued by the work of David Travis
According to the Science News link:
Travis and his colleagues looked at the average diurnal temperature range (DTR)â??the difference between the day’s high and low temperaturesâ??reported at more than 4,000 weather stations across the continental United States. During the 3-day hiatus of air traffic last September, the average DTR was a little over 1Â°C wider than normal, even though the average DTRs computed for the 3-day periods immediately before and after that period were below normal.
Hank, this is what caught my attention and, in my opinion, argues against geoengineering surface cooling with aerosols — the lifespan of the contrails had about one day of reflective capability because they appear to have vanished immediately after the no-fly order went into effect. If the US pursued an aerolsol fix would this mean perpetual aerosol injection into the atmosphere using jet fuel exhaust?
Comment by John L. McCormick — 17 Jul 2006 @ 5:53 PM
Your dismissal of geoengineering, with all due respect, is without basis. The fact that it is not a reality is besides the point. The question is how aggressively should we pursue geoengineering solutions? More germane to this discussion is what are the downsides of geoengineering when compared to nuclear power in dealing with global warming?
On the whole, geoengineering generally involves much less risk than nuclear power. Now, risk to a certain degree is relative, contingent, and subjective. But I prefer to risk a more acidic ocean than an increasing number of nuclear rectors under various governments all over the world. In this context, the risk of major nuclear accidents is all too real. Moreover, there is the large amounts of intractable nuclear waste. Waste that can be traded on the world market for military purposes. (It has been theorized that even a limited nuclear war could knock the world off its axis.) With geoengineering, global warming might be managed and hopefully subsided within this generation and the next, but nuclear waste for all intent and purposes is forever.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 17 Jul 2006 @ 10:01 PM
It is true that whether or not geoengineering is a reality is beside the point.
But countering the aggressive politics of climate change “sceptics” would be infinitely easier and would have greater potential for success if the claims of “chemtrails” activists that it IS a reality were treated with more curiosity by those with scientific expertise and by the mass media.
Unfortunately the “sceptic” side of politics is better organized and more intelligent than “our side”, (a conception which I insist unilaterally on employing).
Saying that geoengineering involves less risk is in many ways quite strange; certainly those techniques involving satelites at L2 or sulphates carry a very strong risk of interruption followed by a *very* rapid dose of climate change. The idea that AGW could be completely solved in a single generation does seem quite strange.
Although nuclear power does carry a risk of accidents, the world will survive the odd accident; you have to weigh this against the known consequences of fossil fiel pollution. Certainly, coal kills more people every year than have died from every nuclear accident and weapon in all history; it is hence hard to declare nuclear as more dangerous.
As far as waste lifetimes go, with a proper breeder/reprocessing approach, the waste from nuclear reactors should have a half-life of 30 years. Yet attempts to introduce this over the wasteful and dangerous open fuel cycle approach have run into opposition from supposedly ‘green’ groups. CO2 will take a long time indeed to be completely removed from the biosphere.
The idea of changing the earth’s axis by nuclear weapons is, of course, pure science fiction.
Are ye so blind not to notice how strange looking the skies have become since 1997 or so? Was there a tipping point then where the African dust and Chinese and other aerosols started turning otherwise dissipating contrails into fake cloud cover? The silence towards this issue is mind boggling. There is proof that geo-engineering has already started. When are scientists going to stand up for humanity and accountability. Please explain the strange skies. For close to ten years people have been speaking out about “chemtrails” only to be labelled as tin-foil conspiracy theorists. Now reports have come out lately that contrails can create fake clouds contributing to global dimming and influencing the albedo.
I’m telling you all that you can ignore these questions all you want, but that won’t add anything to your intellectual integrity.
As a science fiction writer, I’m a little irked at the custom of describing unlikely engineering as “science fiction.” That ain’t a pejorative, people. If you want to say something is unrealistic or costs too much, say that. Nuclear power, nuclear weapons, submarines, voyages to the Moon, space stations, TV… all were “science fiction” once. Science fiction has a way of becoming reality.
For 225. At the European Social Forum meeting in Athens last May there
was a meeting of climate change activists at the end of social forum proceedings during which we had all had a chance to attend workshops, including on the trade in emissions credits and on nuclear energy, and with some (though not enough) opportunity to raise the question of geoengineering and the weather as weapon.
Even moreso than the scepticism about Kyoto that could be arising out of the real-life effects of emissions credits trading, it became clear from a deposition by Turkish activists that in Turkey they face problems mobilising people around climate change precisely because of the idea that has got about that the whole climate change issue is a “cover” for a comeback by the newly aggressive nuclear power lobby. Whether or not this is true, what was being expressed was an activist viewpoint: the viewpoint of people who are being called upon to get people out in the streets demonstrating for Kyoto and for action on climate change.
The more aggressive the nuclear power lobby becomes, the more likely it is that we will all end up turning Turk.
re: 226. “For close to ten years people have been speaking out about “chemtrails” only to be labelled as tin-foil conspiracy theorists.”
Yep, with very good reason. For years chemtrail conspiracists have claimed the miltary has been spraying various barium salts in the air to “control us” and make us sick. Real extreme wacko stuff. Now they expect a crumb of credibility after a report comes out that contrails can create clouds to contribute to global warming? Contrails are due to water vapor emissions from aircraft engines and particle emissions due to engine combustion. They are not “chemtrails” nor are the “barium salts”.
Perhaps the worst part of the chemtrail loonies is that, once presented the facts in a straight-forward manner, they are unable to learn and refuse to admit they are wrong. And then they immediately accuse those that are presenting the meteorological *facts* about contrails as being part of the vast “government conspiracy”! So, no, the chemtrail conspiracists do not deserve or have an ounce of respectibility, integrity, or credibility. And I speak from personal experiences talking with chemtrail loonies (sorry, once you have met them, there is no other acccurate word to describe them). Speaking with them is like speaking to a brick wall, basic meteorological science be darned as far as they are concerned. They are just as much an insult to science as are many of the global warming denialists. Their failure to make any sort of effort to become educated about the fundamentals of cloud formation while proceeding to attack anyone who disagrees with them is a disgrace.
[Response: Ok. that is enough on the chemtrail business. Find somewhere else to debate it. - gavin]
“I remember hydrogen bombs in the â��50s and â��60s, then they said if 16-H-bombs ignited at any given moment it would knock the planet off its axis. Nuclear warheads are many times more powerful, so what would happen if several of those were set off at once?
“… And of course in Korea and China, theyâ��re cloning Human Beings.”
As to hazy skies, wasn’t Socrates (the original) fond of logic?
Saying “you can see it, so there is proof, so you’re ignoring the proof, so you should be working to help us find evidence to prove it” is a bit circular.
Some of the Apollo astronauts, I recall, remarked on how hazy the Earth’s atmosphere appeared from space compared to how clear the atmosphere had looked to them on early Mercury and Gemini flights. At the time — decades ago now — NASA reported this somewhere while describing the use of remote sensing to detect the increases in dust and aerosol pollution that were clearly visible from space but just beginning to be detectable in ground level and aircraft sampling. Perhaps our hosts have some source at NASA who can remember or find the early studies. I can also remember aircraft pilots referring to the way the sky changed around the Mississippi on cross country flights and that this was called the East Coast Pall by meteorologists — again, the accumulating air pollution.
The flaw in the assertion that “you can just see it from the ground so it must be happening in the stratosphere” is that you’re looking through the troposphere.
Until someone, somewhere, reports some trace of something detectable, all we have is the “look, you can see it must be true” argument. Which is just silly, no matter how much you believe it, in a science forum.
Your claims of catastrophe following the implementation of certain geoengineering proposals is without scientific basis.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 18 Jul 2006 @ 10:42 AM
Excuse me, but isn’t this following quote taken from [Geo-engineering in voguevogue/ ] exactly what we are presently seeing going on worldwide with regard to the Chemtrail / Global Spraying issue that’s been ragging since the 1990′s ?
“Thus there will be side effects. For the stratospheric sulphate idea, these fall into two classes – changes to the physical climate as a function of the changes in heating profiles in solar and longwave radiation, and chemical and ecological effects from the addition of so much sulphur to the system. Physically, one could expect a slight decrease in surface evaporation (a ‘dimming’ effect) and related changes to precipitation, a warming of the tropopause and lower stratosphere (and changes in static stability), increased Eurasian ‘winter warming’ effects (related to shifts in the wind patterns as are seen in the aftermath of volcanoes). Chemically, there will be an increase in ozone depletion (due to increases in heterogenous surface chemistry in the stratosphere), increases in acid rain, possibly an increase in high cirrus cloud cover due to indirect effects of the sulphates on cloud lifetime. Light characteristics (the ratio of diffuse to direct sunlight) will change, and the biosphere may react to that. Dealing with the legal liability for these predictable consequences would promise to be a lively area of class action litigation…. On the positive side, sunsets will probably be more colorful.”
Leaving out the legal liability and litigation aspects of this above quote I believe the conditions set fourth specific to using sulfur[s] as an atmospheric screen / shield are precisely the effects that we are currently seeing taking place worldwide due to the spraying projects that we have been observing since the mid 90′s, one would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see the correlation but we must all make up our own minds.
They speak of using stratospheric sulphate as a medium yet we know that high levels of barium salts and aluminum oxides have and are probably being used due to high ground contents of same, are we looking at another veiled admission by climate scientist that points to what has become known as Chemtrail’[s] / Global Spraying ?
There is so much in this “Geo-engineering in vogue” post that it screams, “YES, we are spraying and have been for a long time”.
It’s getting more and more interesting day by day now, when do you suppose they are just going to admit the truth?
Comment by Louis Aubuchont — 18 Jul 2006 @ 12:35 PM
Will they admit the truth, or will they just allow it to emerge from discussions like the present one?
To admit the truth is to take responsibility for doing something. What if they judge that they are not in a position to take any such responsibility?
Gavin, thanks again for not censoring our comments. I also respect that you don’t want the thread to bog down into ad hominen attacks nor stray from the topic of geo-engineering like Dan’s post did.
Thanks to Dan also for pointing out through his words how debunkers often belittle people instead of debating their arguments. Plus, none of those here who have questioned the present composition of the skies have mentioned ufos or population culling. One way to get people not to envision geo-engineering possibly going on right now IS to frame this as loony tin-foil material.
I am done here. This will be my last post. I will just add that “contrails” have not been noticeably creating fake cloud cover until the late 90′s. This is the gorilla in the room that needs to be scientifically explained in order to put the “chemmies” to rest, but I promise I am done and am grateful to even have been able to express my concerns. Thanks for the nice article and good luck.
Congressman Inslee deserves our gratitude for devoting an enormous amount of time and discussion with many interests, engineers and analysts to craft the New Appolo Energy Act of 2005. It has all the appropriate technology initiatives and energy use policies. Likely, it could, if enacted and implemented in its entirety, put America first on the path to cutting projected 2050 CO2 emissions in half.
And, while I agree with his sense of urgency to move CO2 reduction targets out of the breakdown lane and into the fast lane, he has failed to grasp the role of nuclear electric generation as an element in his proposal. The word nuclear appears once and that on page 254 of the 476 page bill. There it meerly encourages nuclear technology exports. In this one element, I find The New Apollo Energy Act of 2005 deficient.
Congress has the means to reconstruct the nuclear power industry into a safe, non-proliferation and terrorist proof — even renewable — source of baseload power. The recently enacted energy bill does give quite a lot of incentives to the electric power industry to obtain licenses and permits for new construction but Wall Street will decide who builds what, where. The federal government must do more to give investors the confidence needed to capitalize new construction. Imagine new reactors built on US military land and protected by US military personnel.
I have likely said too much about nuclear power in this thread.
I realize RC is not the appropriate page to explore the nuclear component of CO2 reduction. Unfortuantely, there is no page I can find (aside from nuclear power and electric power interests–and they are not appropriate hosts for an open public discussion) willing to take on the challenge of a serious, factual next generation nuclear power discussion.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 18 Jul 2006 @ 11:24 PM
I don’t know whether Representative Inslee will be more willing to tell us his views on nuclear power than he is to answer the questions I asked him in posting 191.
I hope he is.
As far as the views are concerned that I expressed in posting 233 on the possible official line concerning “frankness” over geoengineering, I first formed these views after reading Jay Michaelson’s important text on geoengineering.
Using sulphate aerosols to keep a lid on AGW implies a continuous injection of these sulphates; if this fails for any reason, then all of the accumulated forcing would come into play immediately. Ditto with an accident involving a reflector at L2. These events are of the highly unlikely but damaging nature usually imagined by the anti-nuclear crowd.
There is no risk-free option.
The last time yellowstone blew, the output would have been several orders of magnitude greater than the entire planet’s nuclear weapon inventory. Note: Sun still rises. (Actually, unless you eject a significant chunk of the planet’s mass into space, I suspect that conservation of angular momentum would stop ANY explosion doing this).
The current heat wave gripping vast areas of the northern hemisphere indicates the vital need to plan a geoengineering approach to counter ever increasing temperatures. Current temperatures point to the very real possibility that we are already past a tipping point. This would mean that even if we emitted zero CO2 emissions tomorrow the global’s temperature will still rise to catastrophic levels.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 19 Jul 2006 @ 7:34 PM
Today’s House Energy hearing on climate included the Chairman (who reminded everyone that he is from a coal-mining state, and reducing CO2 would mean “no coal burning power plants”) saying that since the witness had just testified that aerosols reduce temperature, maybe we should be emitting more. The climatologist on the stand under oath replied “if you don’t mind your eyes burning, and not being able to see …..”
It is unfortunate that proponents of the status quo would seize upon geoengineering as a means to maintain “business as usual.” Nonetheless, this should not deter us from exploring geoengineering as a means to save the planet.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 19 Jul 2006 @ 8:10 PM
George, please try to temper your vast enthusiasm for geoengineering as if it was your Bradley tank or a starwars initiative. You are way out of your league in my humble opinion. You have yet to offer anything other than a flag waving salute to a term which has no dimensions – only your promise it will save the planet.
Do you know even a little bit about the larger concern of diminishing ocean pH? If so, would you share those concerns with us.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 19 Jul 2006 @ 10:30 PM
I consider the acid levels of the oceans to be an extremely serious concern. What I am arguing for is the modeling of geoengineering approaches, including those involving sulphate in the stratosphere, so we can make informed choices. Ultimately, we need to open up the discussion to include geoengineering. The attitude that some take that geoengineering is somehow “beyond the pale” is unscientific, and, given the plantary emergency we are facing, dangerous.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 19 Jul 2006 @ 11:14 PM
238. Here comes a remark directly addressed to George Gonzalez and his last two postings. Others are disagreeing with him, and he is answering them. So if he does not answer me, he must explain why.
238. George, if an aerosol spraying programme is already well and truly in application in the United States (and elsewhere, but that is beside the point for the purposes of this posting) would this not suggest that geoengineering is not providing a solution for the heatwave phenomenon you have referred to?
And as for posting 242, if geoengineering is as indicated already massively under way, how much weight does your argument carry that there must be discussion of geoengineering to provide us with the basis for “informed choice”?
Note that neither of these questions depend logically on any assertion that geoengineering IS in fact being implemented, so it is no answer to demand that I prove that it is. Scientific debate is based on entertaining hypotheses and examining their implications.
Thank you for your queries. Current climate change models do include the cooling effects of airborne sulphate emitted by coal burning power plants. The obvious danger is that as this sulphate dissipates from the atmosphere its cooling effect will diminish, and the warming power of CO2 will be fully engaged. It is because of such factors that I argue that we must prepare for such eventualities through geoengineering.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 20 Jul 2006 @ 9:29 AM
Good news here — 25% cut in greenhouse gases simple, easy.
Brief excerpts, see original article here:
Dramatically reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in the developing world could be as simple as installing new boilers and fluorescent lights, according to a new study by the United Nations and the World Bank.
The UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Bank recently released their final report on a pilot energy-efficiency project in the developing world’s three leading economies: Brazil, China, and India.
The report reveals that energy use in these countries can be slashed by 25 percent using simple, low-tech innovations. ….
…. Cascio cites the example of a grassroots solar-power movement emerging from the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India.
“There’s the Barefoot Solar Engineer movement, which is basically training illiterate women in Indian villages to be solar-power engineers, to be able to install and repair solar-power systems to provide power to communities that are off the grid,” Cascio said.
—– end quote —-
This certainly fits the history from the US both during the first oil crisis and during the recent electricity shortages in California — both times, people conserved energy more and faster than either industry or government thought possible.
Energy conservation is certainly the kind of proposal I feel happiest about, but on the other hand I am glad that there are people like George saying positive things about geoengineering. In fact I would like to see the debate about geoengineering entirely displace the present-day mass media climate change debate. Precisely because that debate is a diversion from the reality of geoengineering and “the weather as weapon”. It is a debate which does not confront climate change “sceptics” where they SHOULD be confronted. As a result, politically, the “sceptics” retain the upper hand, which is a disgrace.
In the NYT tomorrow there is a story on NASA that reports that: From 2002 until this year, NASAâ??s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: â??To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.â?? The phrase “to understand and protect the home planet” is now being removed by the Bush White House. The deletion of this phrase could solely mean that that the Administration does not want to concede that the planet is in danger from global warming. But it could also be an indication that the Administration is not seriously considering geoengineering as a response to climate change.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 21 Jul 2006 @ 11:19 PM
In the NYT tomorrow there is a story on NASA that reports that: From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.” The phrase “to understand and protect the home planet” is now being removed by the Bush White House from the NASA mission statement. The deletion of this phrase could solely mean that that the Administration does not want to concede that the planet is in danger from global warming. But it could also be an indication that the Administration is not seriously considering geoengineering as a response to climate change.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 21 Jul 2006 @ 11:22 PM
One thing that’s certain: no realistic reduction in CO2 will have any perceptible impact on climate for at least 30 years…and probably longer than that.
That’s makes geoengineering worth thinking about. Injecting sulfates in the atmosphere is probably the wrong strategy. But there are plenty of other possibilities. For example, the ocean has a very low albedo. And high ocean temperatures in the tropics cause stronger hurricanes. Reflective sheets or particles would both increase the albedo of the ocean reduce ocean temperatures.
Iron injection to create more algae in areas of the ocean that currently have very little algae is definitely worthy of study.
Just because there may be some bad geoengineering ideas doesn’t mean geoengineering is a bad idea.
Finaly, offer your views. I have read the documents and they are a good place to start if one is looking to start from a point of reality.
I believe this thread is desparately in need of some up front thought about legalities, rights, liabilities, etc. Maybe this thread can actually produce a very useful product.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 23 Jul 2006 @ 3:19 PM
Geo-engineering might have some potential, but as far as I know there are many uncertainties about its effectiveness and potential side effects.
As far as researching geo-engineering projects where will the research funds come from? Research funds are always limited, and there are other things that needed to be researched but are not being done at the level that is needed.
For example climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer wrote that the resources needed to study the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are lacking. “Currently the resources to do any of these at the appropriate level are lacking”, to provide a direct quote from the Ice Sheets and Sea Level Rise: Model Failure is the Key Issue post. Thanks Dr. Oppenheimer for taking the time to submit a post to RealClimate. Its always good to hear from the other members of the climate science community on RealClimate.
Considering the effects that ice sheet behavior could have on sea level, shouldn’t that be a funding priority? There are lots of question about the climate that need to be answered. Wouldn’t it be better to understand more about the climate before we try to alter it?
#250 (W. Hall) & 251 (John McCormick) proposals to add aerosols could run afoul of the Clean Air Act in the U.S., especially sulphates and metal particulates. A good summary of the Clean Air Act is here: http://www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/peg_caa/pegcaain.html
Comment by Joseph O'Sullivan — 23 Jul 2006 @ 4:56 PM
It is difficult to believe that the law, national or international, would stand in the way of an effort to save the planet. (It should be noted that environmental laws are regularly disregarded.) I would think that good sense would prompt us to ignore any statutes that stand in the way of geoengineering efforts to regulate the climate and/or CO2 atmospheric levels. If not, it would be tantamount to not putting out a fire because of laws prohibiting water damage.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 23 Jul 2006 @ 9:41 PM
George, you are not making any sense here. Read your comments before hitting the post button.
by John L. McCormick
Comment by John L. McCormick — 23 Jul 2006 @ 11:03 PM
Geoengineering and Legality
Contribution from Daniel Bodansky
‘For the purposes of this talk, Bodansky defines geoengineering as large-scale, intentional efforts to change the climate system. Climate engineering proposals include those aimed at removing GHGs from the atmosphere, for example, through afforestation or iron fertilization of plankton in the oceans and those aimed at screening out sunlight by injecting aerosols into the atmosphere to create cloud condensation nuclei and hence more clouds, by injecting dust into the stratosphere to screen out sunlight, by launching reflective balloons into the stratosphere, or by space mirrors or screens to act as a constant shield from the sun.
Proponents of geoengineering claim that its benefits include technical feasibility (injecting dust in the stratosphere with airplanes or cannons), relatively low costs ($30 billion to inject dust), and administrative feasibility (wouldn’t require complex regulatory regime; could be done unilaterally without collective action problems).
Problematic features include the fact that it is intentional (and thus attracts greater scrutiny), has global effects, involves high uncertainties (with an indeterminate risk of some thing going wrong), and non-uniform effects (winners and losers result). These features of geoengineering raise several governance issues. The fact that geoengineering is an intentional activity with global effects raises the issue of who should decide whether to proceed. Should all countries be able to participate in decision making since all will be affected and there will be both positive and negative impacts? Also, how should liability and compensation for damages be addressed?
The fact that geoengineering is an intentional activity with global effects raises the issue of who should decide whether to proceed.
There are not many precedents for how to address geoengineering in international law. Weather modification activities that took place in the 1970s are one precedent. In 1980, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) produced a set of Weather Modification Guidelines. Weather modification was defined as “Any action performed with the intention of producing artificial changes in the properties of the atmosphere for purposes such as increasing, decreasing or redistributing precipitation or cloud coverage, moderating severe storms and tropical cyclones, decreasing or suppressing hail or lightning or dissipating fog.” Recommendations of the guidelines included:
â?¢ States should undertake prior environmental assessments of prospective activities likely to affect other states or the global commons.
â?¢ States should exchange technical and scientific information on weather modification activities through the World Meteorological Organization.
â?¢ States should provide timely notice to and consult with potentially affected states.
â?¢ Weather modification activities should be conducted in a manner designed to ensure that they do not cause damage to the environment of other states or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
The second precedent was prompted by the use of weather modification by the U. S. in Vietnam for military purposes. The Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD) was adopted in 1977. It prohibits any hostile use of environmental modification techniques, but was neutral regarding the use of such techniques for peaceful purposes. Relevant provisions
â?¢ recognize the potential of environmental modification techniques to preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of present and future generations.
â?¢ state that ENMOD does not hinder the use of environmental modification techniques for peaceful purposes, and is without prejudice to the generally recognized principles and applicable rules of international law concerning the use of environmental modification for peaceful purposes.
A number of general norms in international law provide background and set the terms of the debate on whether climate geoengineering or similar activities should be allowed to proceed. These include:
â?¢ Duty to prevent transboundary harm
â?¢ Precautionary principle, which states that if there is a potential for irreversible or catastrophic harm, the burden of proof should be on those proposing the action.
â?¢ Principle of intergenerational equity
â?¢ Duty to undertake prior assessments
â?¢ Duty to provide notice to and consult with potentially affected states
The United Nation (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) is silent on the subject of geoengineering. In general, it promotes scientific cooperation and mentions a duty to minimize adverse effects from projects to mitigate climate change. Most importantly, it creates a governance structure to address climate issues, including a Conference of the Parties (CoP) and a Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).
In addition to general international norms and the FCCC, there are a number of specific norms that relate to climate engineering proposals. With respect to afforestation, if a country is planting trees in its own territory, then as a matter of international law this is a permissible exercise of national sovereignty because it takes place entirely within the country’s borders. But when one country wants to offset emissions by planting trees in another country, sovereignty and internal political issues may arise. For example, a national government may approve a tree planting scheme as part of an international agreement, but the local people may not want the trees planted in their area since it may have the effect of hindering development.
On the subject of ocean fertilization schemes, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea generally provides for freedom of the high seas for research and other peaceful uses. There is also the Antarctic Treaty System which contains no specific prohibition on ocean fertilization but establishes an effective governance system through the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings.
Regarding the space mirrors proposal, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 applies. It says that outer space is the “province of all mankind” and any state is free to engage in peaceful uses. There is a duty to avoid adverse environmental changes and to consult with other potentially affected states if there is any question about adverse effects.
Schemes to inject dust or release balloons into the atmosphere are the most problematic of the geoengineering proposals in terms of existing international law because the atmosphere above a country, including the stratosphere, is part of its air space. Nations have claimed this area and acted on their claims (e.g., by shooting down aircraft).
Geoengineering proposals involving the atmosphere thus could be viewed as an infringement and incursion on national territory.
The precautionary principle says, in essence, “when in doubt, don’t,” and this would probably be the general response to geoengineering.
Although existing international legal norms are generally permissive, they are unlikely to be a reliable guide to how the international community will react if geoengineering schemes are seriously proposed. Instead, there is likely to be a great deal of resistance. Absent some crisis, there will probably be a drive for the regulation of these activities, and perhaps for their prohibition, because it is very difficult to discern what the inadvertent consequences of such proposals might be. The precautionary principle says, in essence, “when in doubt, don’t,” and this would probably be the general response to geoengineering. Some international precedents that might be relevant to geoengineering include:
â?¢ Ban on Antarctic mineral activities
â?¢ Ban on commercial whaling and driftnet fishing
â?¢ Ban on ocean incineration and ocean dumping of low-level radioactive waste
Thus, the ultimate obstacles to geoengineering may not be technical or economic, but may instead be political.
Re 251. Even before having read all of the links (for which, thank you) I will offer the following views, so as not merely to be in the role of inquisitor:
Most geoengineering proposals seem to be extremely bad. In fact, if one is to describe them as a “cure”, then the cure seems worse than the disease. But this does not mean that “we” can or should be content with the disease as the lesser evil.
One of the roots of the disease is recognition as a partner in democratic public debate of sources that should be excluded from such debate on account of their dishonesty. Toleration of disingenuous input exploiting public ignorance is an unaffordable luxury:
Take for example this comment by Anne Ridenour on James Hansen’s decision not to participate in a recent congressional hearing on global warming:
Exposure of all the realities concerning geoengineering (including the difficulties of legalizing it and resultant vulnerabilities to litigation, including litigation from people such as Anne Ridenour) would de facto silence input such as this bad-faith criticism of James Hansen by the National Center for Public Policy research.
“Geoengineering” has climate scientists in a bind. If the mainstream political system through fears of being condemned for “censorship” is unable to cut the Gordian knot, alternative institutions must come into existence that are free from structurally inbuilt knots.
The Social Forum system that has developed within the framework of the international movement against neo-liberal globalization is one such possible institution. At the moment the social forums are other-directed, the political control taking the form of a quasi-Leftist “political correctness”. But the influx into them of more clearly thinking and better informed citizens could emancipate the forums from this limitation.
In the European Union, also, which has not yet fully crystallized politically and institutionally, there is perhaps greater leeway – and official demand – for the development of new policy-making institutions.
Already the National Center for Public Policy Research and other NGOs of this kind would not have access to the deliberations of the Social Forums of the international movement against neo-liberal globalization. This already existing “censorship” mechanism should be taken advantage of and made more conscious.
The declaration that the climate change debate “is over” must cease to be merely an assertion of one side in the debate. Today’s climate change “debate” with those described by James Hansen as “contrarians” must be evicted and replaced by a geoengineering debate whose starting point is recognition of reality.
I am normally a proponent of the precautionary principle — hence my objection to nuclear power. The difficulty is that CO2 atmospheric levels have probably already made the planet hostile to human life. It is only seemingly a matter of time before the catastrophic effects of CO2 emissions are fully felt. In light of this, geoengineering seems like a rational response. It is worth stressing that humanity abandoned the precautionary principle when it began pumping massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, and deforesting much of the planet.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 24 Jul 2006 @ 1:27 PM
From the latest ‘Guardian’: ‘If a new breed of budget long-haul airlines have their way, Brits could soon be jetting off to Asia and America on fares costing next to nothing (save the irreversible damage to the environment). It has just been announced that from mid-October tourists will be able to hop from London to Hong Kong and back for just $130.
Oasis Hong Kong Airlines is joining a small but expanding group of companies seeking to make budget flights truly global. First up was Canadian outfit Zoom, which in 2002 started to sell flights between transatlantic hotspots such as Calgary and Glasgow for $115. It was soon followed by India-based Air Sahara, taking Britons to India for less than the price of a weekly supermarket shop.
So how can airlines whisk us around the planet so cheaply? It seems that low-wage Chinese workers and weak unions in Asia, coupled with ‘pay-per-frill’ services that force passengers to cough up extra for peanuts and blankets allow airlines to keep their costs to a minimum. But not everyone is reaching for their passport. ‘These kinds of ridiculously cheap fares are completely artifical,’ says Jim Footner, a campaigner at Greenpeace. ‘The whole plan is economically and environmentally unsustainable.’
Who of the experts and insiders on this thread can provide us with an explanation for the ‘next to nothing’ fare prices phenomenon that insults our intelligence a little less than the above peanuts and blankets theories. Are these cut-price airlines (and perhaps other airlines also) receiving subsidies for geoengineering services rendered?
I ask this question to everyone, but perhaps particularly George Gonzalez
and John L. McCormick. If you don’t know, would you like to speculate?
Perhaps I (or we) should try to ask Jim Footner in what way these cheap airline ticket prices are “artificial”.
W. Hall, with regard to your including me as a possible source of speculation on the economic sustainability of cheap transcon flights, I will not ascribe to any sort of collusion between airline operators, their insurance underwriters and geoengineering scientists.
Plausable explanations might include venture capitalists free to invest speculators dollars into the business or the airlines willingness to fill their wide body cargo hold with high grade goods and deliverables for which the airline will be paid handsomely.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 25 Jul 2006 @ 5:29 PM
I imagine that airplanes would have to be specially fitted to deliver aerosols, and such a configuration would be evident to would-be passengers and/or other on-lookers (e.g., baggage handlers). I would also think that the most cost effective geoengineering operations would involve planes full of aerosols, as opposed to filling them with passengers and luggage. A covert geoengineering operation (if that is what you are suggesting) would most likely involve military flights — where airplanes are under less public scrutiny and much tighter security.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 25 Jul 2006 @ 9:05 PM
re 260 and 261. Of course this discussion on the economics of cheap flights is not taking us forward in the debate on whether geoengineering techniques should be legalized or banned. John L. McCormick has expressed interest in our pursuing that debate, and I am similarly interested.
I have no view on whether the possible explanation suggested by John L. McCormick for the cheap flight phenomenon is likely to be part of the story, or the whole story. Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to try to get organizations such as Greenpeace that are campaigning against cheap flights to be more forthcoming in their responses to the question of how such flights are possible?
As for airplanes needing to be specially fitted to deliver aerosols, in Gregory Benford’s 1996 article in Reason magazine the author says that: ‘Changing the fuel mixture in a jet engine to burn rich can leave a ribbon of fog behind for up to three months, though as it spreads it becomes invisible to the eye. These motes would also come down mostly in rain, not troubling the brow of the EPA. Fuel costs about 15 percent of airlines’ cash operating expenses, and running rich increases costs by only a few percent. For about $10 million, this method would offset the 1990 U.S. greenhouse emissions. Adding this to the cost of an airline ticket would boost prices perhaps 1 percent. An added asset is that quietly running rich on airline fuel will attract little notice, doesn’t even change sunsets, and is hard to muster a media-saturated demonstration against.’
It would seem to me that changes in the engine fuel are not something that would necessarily have to be noticed by passengers.
the aircraft that is making this remarkable ‘contrail’ is identified as a Pakistan airlines passenger airliner, not a military aircraft.
The anonymous insider to a geoengineering programme identified as ‘Deep Shield’ http://www.holmestead.ca/chemtrails/shieldproject.html
also said in one of his interviews with the activist David Stewart (a person who is contactable and probably available for on-line interrogation) that both military and civilian aircraft were involved in the programme’s operations.
David Stewart has said that he is not absolutely sure that the late
‘Deep Shield’ really was who he was claiming to be. Stewart’s interviews of the anonymous ‘insider’, cannot be treated as being of more than anecdotal significance, as he himself acknowledges. Nevertheless, the view is there, for what it is worth, that not only military aircraft are involved in geoengineering operations.
This was sent to me today. It is a synopsis of an article in the _Independent_:
“Maybe I’m Amazoned at the Way I Really Need You:
Drought could turn Amazon into desert, researchers warn”
The Amazon rainforest — soon to be called The Artist Formerly Known as the Amazon Rainforest, and then just some weird little symbol — appears to be undergoing a second year of drought, and that has researchers seriously alarmed. Starting in 2002, scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center simulated drought on a small section of the Amazon and found that after two years, the trees began to die, fall, and release more than two-thirds of their lifetime storage of carbon dioxide. Widespread desertification of the rainforest would likely spread drought into the northern hemisphere; the Amazon contains 90 billion tons of CO2, enough to accelerate global warming by 50 percent, spinning it out of control and eventually making the world uninhabitable. Computer models predict that harm to 50 percent of the Amazon would represent a tipping point — after that, the whole thing starts going down the tubes. Today, about 20 percent has been totally razed and 22 percent has been harmed by logging. Oy. It’s only Tuesday and we’re already doomed.
Comment by George A. Gonzalez — 26 Jul 2006 @ 10:07 AM
I was not my objective to silence discussion when I started posting at this thread.
Is the choice before us really one of conducting a censored or self-censoring debate or no debate at all?
The August issue of Climatic Change printed the editorial essay of Dr. Paul Crutzen — Albedo Enhancement by Stratospheric Sulfur Injection: A contribution to Resolve a Policy Dilemma.
He makes a convincing case and his strong reputation lends more rationale to his proposition.
I agree with his basic premise:
[Given the grossly disappointing international political response to the required greenhouse gas emissions, and further considering some drastic results of recent studies, research on the feasibility and environmental consequences of climate engineering of the kind presented in this paper, which might need to be deployed in the future, should not be tabooed.]
As one who has voiced concern that geoengineering the atmosphere does not address the possibly larger concern of increasing acidity of the oceans, (reducing CO2 input is likely the only remedy) I must say his approach has merit.
He advoactes cautious research steps and an initial trial that could be [stopped on short notice if undesirable and unforeseen side effects become apparent, which would allow the atmosphere to return to its prior state within a few years].
Dr. Crutzen suggests a stratospheric loading of 1-2 Tg S and that compares to the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo volcanic eruption which injected an estimated 10 Tg S into the tropical stratosphere for which [Hansen calculated a radiative cooling of 4.5 W/m2 caused by 6 Tg S, the amount of S that remained in the stratosphere as sulfate six months after the eruption from initially 10Tg s]. Since we have recently witnessed and measured his idea on a much greater scale, we should have confidence the planet could tolerate his experiment.
But, this is not my urging that we proceed! Make no mistake about this: any discussion of, or approach to, geoengineering cannot replace or diminish every conceivable effort to reduce global use of carbon-emiting fuels and deforestation.
One has to be a pessimist to arrive upon such far-reaching and risky measures as geoengineering the atmosphere in a manner suggested by Dr. Crutzen. I confess my optimism is waning fast despite the projections of expanding renewable energy deployment and using topsoil to substitute for gasoline.
This thread deserves more serious attention and discussion on last-hope measures (pulling the rip cord on the reserve parachute)and particularly pertaining to legal and societal implications.
Our children must have available to them all the options we can provide (and that includes bioengineering and 4th generation nuclear power technology) because this generation is failing miserably where it counts most; a global recognition and acceptance that a 60 to 80 percent reduction of CO2 emissions is mandatory.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 28 Jul 2006 @ 2:30 PM
There must be many people who would like to challenge your views on nuclear energy but perhaps they don’t think this thread is the place to do it.
My basic point is that the whole climate change debate would gain greater urgency if it were acknowledged that the “geoengineering” discussion is not theoretical.
Whatever problems such an acknowledgement might cause, they are less than the problems that are caused by non-acknowledgement, which is a
factor lending credibility to the cynical and humiliating contrarian jibe that climate change is a hoax. I marvel that scientists are able to stomach continual political humiliation of this kind without revolting against it.
[...] Angeles Treehugger Jeremy Elton Jacquot is less parsimonious about the geo-engineering proposals. RealClimate contributor Raymond Pierrehumberg called for a 10-year moratorium on any geo-engineering plan, [...]