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  1. As a member of the Mars Society for the last several years, I’ve heard much talk of “terraforming” Mars to make it a warmer and wetter world suitable for human habitation. This notion is extremely controversial withing the Mars settlement advocate community; there being a split between ‘greens’ who love the idea, and ‘reds’ who hate it. Aside from the value or detriment of such a project’s effect on its target planet, a side benefit may be to learn a fair amount about what could possibly be done to Earth to produce the opposite effect; to ‘areoform’ our planet so to speak (although the goal is not to go so far as to create another Mars).

    Comment by Max Wyvern — 25 Oct 2007 @ 2:21 PM

  2. To Caldeira’s credit he does say “This is not to say we should give up trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

    But, being from Ankara, Turkey, this idea really bothers me. I grew up there and Ankara is geographically in a large basin surrounded all around by mountains. And there’s lots of coal in Turkey so that’s what we used to burn, and talk about thermal inversion and ominous black skies!! We had to wear uniforms to school and I remember my white sleeves turning not gray or brown but black! by the end of the school day. And black water washing off my face when I got home and tried to clean up. Even as a 12 year-old I remember thinking if this is the soot that’s clinging onto my face and clothes in one day, what’s happening to my lungs?

    So burning coal was outlawed in Ankara, and we imported lots and lots of biogas from the then Soviet Union. But the air literally cleared! Fast. Sure, burning methane (biogas) produces a lot of CO2, but coal produces a lot of CO2 and soot! So if you have to pick the lesser of two evils…

    I realize it isn’t the same thing to have soot at eye level and injecting aerosols into the stratophere. And they will probably do this in the middle of the ocean or something far from people; but I find it ethically paradoxical to fight pollution with more pollution.

    Comment by Figen Mekik — 25 Oct 2007 @ 2:40 PM

  3. I sure hope so Ray. This follows a Wall Street Journal article I pasted here somewhere arguing for the same thing, by Reagan’s former assistant defense secretary in charge of star wars. It’s the same old do anything except stop the gas approach. How nice the NYT has followed suit with pie-in-the-sky op-ed’s. Expect more.

    We have some serious aerosols around here in LA now. They blotted out the sun two days ago in the afternoon. It was cooler, but eerie, like a nuclear winter.

    Comment by Mark A. York — 25 Oct 2007 @ 2:45 PM

  4. Oh but the scary part is that some will grab hold of this nightmare and proclaim: “Problem? What problem? I got yer solution right here…”

    Are we doomed to perish from our own collective madness?

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 25 Oct 2007 @ 2:50 PM

  5. I am more concerned that some misplaced sense of squeamishness will lead to solutions like these being underinvestigated, when they may turn out to be necessary. Can you guarantee that CO2 emissions will be reduced enough, or even sincerely claim that it is likely the world will get its act together and reduce them enough?

    If not, then don’t be obstructive.

    Comment by Paul Dietz — 25 Oct 2007 @ 3:09 PM

  6. Any country could unilaterally do this sort of thing. I’ve even heard it suggested as a weapon.

    ” Stop stealing our sunshine or we’ll bomb you back to the stone age.”

    Comment by J.C.H. — 25 Oct 2007 @ 3:19 PM

  7. The highly similar WSJ op-ed piece that Mark A. York mentions was surely “Thinking Big on Global Warming” by Fred C. Ikle and Lowell Wood on Oct. 15. And just as Figen Mekik, above, points out that the NYT piece “does say ‘This is not to say we should give up trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,'” the WSJ piece said, “Clearly, we need both: adequately explored geo-engineering options for contingent climate stabilization, and truly effective, practical measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.” Please note, though, that the WSJ piece also said: “But beware. Do not try to sell climate geo-engineering to committed enemies of fossil fuels. Although several geo-engineering options appear to be highly cost-effective, ideological opposition to them is often fierce. Fashionable blogs are replete with conspiracy theories and misinformed attacks. Because of this intimidating opposition, no serious geo-engineering research programs have been started.” I suppose that means that some writers of WSJ op-eds would call RC a “fashionable blog” that’s conspiratorially impeding research. That’d be easier to believe if it didn’t come from an op-ed page where the fashion used to be to declare it impossible that humans could affect climate at all, but where the fashion now is to declare that we can outright engineer it.

    Comment by Steven T. Corneliussen — 25 Oct 2007 @ 3:44 PM

  8. Re:5
    When it comes to climate issues, it seems to me that noone can guarantee anything until after the fact. I am a computer programmer, not a climate expert, but what I do know is that the more variables you throw into your program, the more unexpected things are going to happen. And those unexpected things are never the things you want to happen. So please – no more anthropogenic variables in the atmosphere!

    Comment by Anders Lundqvist — 25 Oct 2007 @ 3:58 PM

  9. The main problem that I have with the anti space crowd, is that they utterly fail to understand that the pursuit of a space based solar power satellite solution (as opposed to sunshade solution) will very likely generate the scientific and technological maturity which will enable us to chemically engineer ourselves out of the problem on the ground, at the source.

    The key term is ‘space based’. In the beginning we won’t be beaming energy back to Earth, we will be trying to figure out what to do with at the source – in space.

    Comment by Thomas Lee Elifritz — 25 Oct 2007 @ 4:05 PM

  10. Covering a problem with another problem is hardly a solution…

    Comment by Tom Geauvreau — 25 Oct 2007 @ 4:18 PM

  11. Well, we better hurry, either way!

    Another variable with possibly unexpected consequences has been discovered – wind strength on the southern ocean. This, combined with continued growth in emissions is making bad rapidly worse.

    Unexpected Growth In Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

    ScienceDaily (Oct. 23, 2007) — A team of scientists has found that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) growth has increased 35 percent faster than expected since 2000.
    The study also states that global CO2 emissions were up to 9.9 billion tons of carbon in 2006, 35 percent above emissions in 1990…

    “What we are seeing is a decrease in the planet’s ability to absorb carbon emissions due to human activity,” Dr Canadell says.

    “Fifty years ago, for every tonne of CO2 emitted, 600kg were removed by land and ocean sinks. However, in 2006, only 550kg were removed per tonne and that amount is falling.”

    The decline in global sink efficiency suggests that stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 is even more difficult to achieve than previously thought. We found that nearly half of the decline in the efficiency of the ocean CO2 sink is due to the intensification of the winds in the Southern Ocean.”

    The Southern Ocean winds have increased in response to greenhouse gases and ozone depletion. The increase in winds has led to a release of natural CO2 stored in the deep ocean, which is preventing further absorption of the greenhouse gas.

    Comment by Nigel Williams — 25 Oct 2007 @ 4:23 PM

  12. Ray,
    You say that if we are going to continue burning fossil fuels at today’s rate or even greater, then because the life time of CO2 can be up to 1000 years, we will have to keep sending aerosols up into the stratosphere for that time. But the oil, coal and uranium are starting to run out, so how willwe be able to fuel this sulphate ejection system for the next millenium?

    OTOH, even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow the climate would still warm, the Arctic sea ice will disappear, and the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets follow it.

    Comment by Alastair McDonald — 25 Oct 2007 @ 4:31 PM

  13. If we are going to explore (controlled) geo-engineering, there are ideas that make a lot more sense than the “Tellerian” sulfate aerosols pipe dreams. First there are many conservation measures that hold an enormous virtual supply. Only problem is, the right wingers/libertarians will freak out and unleash massive mind manipulation campaigns the moment anyone tries to pass legislation to generalize conservation measures as more than voluntary.
    So, why not systematically drill the Earth to the magma so we can generalize the use of geothermal heat? Not easy, but a lot less risky, a lot more predictable, leading to a possibly unlimited supply of totally clean electricity with the complete eradication of fossil fuel generated power. The corresponding expense might not be that much different than the gigantic subsidies expected by the nuclear industry, without all the waste and safety problems. What’s not to like?

    Comment by Philippe Chantreau — 25 Oct 2007 @ 4:48 PM

  14. There is probably a law of human behavior that someone can cite here. Something to the effect that people tend to become squeamish or otherwise averse to the truly difficult task of challenging a culture’s norms of behavior, especially norms that may currently benefit their particular tribe or socio-economic group, even if those norms can be shown to be potentially lethal to the individual or group in the long term. To a number of WSJ readers and others, life styles or philosophies that threaten to dislodge them from their sweet spots on the pipelines of energy and wealth must be very very unsettling, enough to make them hope that deus ex machina solutions may allow them to stay at their current comfort level without any major unforseen negative consequences.

    Comment by Stephen Pranulis — 25 Oct 2007 @ 4:53 PM

  15. Actually we don’t need to go to the extremes that Mr. Caldeira suggests. Since we receive about 245 watts/m^2 at the surface after allowing for geometry and albedo, and a doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels increases the energy rate by approx. 4.5 w/m^2, what’s needed is to to reduce the energy received by the Sun by that amount or more. The answer is obvious, as any fool can plainly see. Move the planet further from the Sun! We’re currently at a mean distance of about 150 million kilometers away from Old Sol. If we we’re to move to about 153 million kilometers, we could reduce the amount we receive by about 10 watts per square meter, down to about 235.

    We need to be careful of course not to overshoot. We wouldn’t want to become a satellite of say Neptune, and we’d have to be prepared for the inevitable consequences of earthquakes and seismic sea waves and God knows what else that would ensue from the force and accompanying acceleration necessary to move our mass, but these are details. I write this to you from my rubber room, where other inmates have their own ideas such as salting the oceans with iron, leading to a proliferation of algae blooms and possible destruction of plankton and with consequences for life up the food chain.

    The Earth isn’t a science lab, where you can purposefully perform an experiment and then negate all the results, good and bad. As Raypierre says, we’re already conducting an experiment by burning fossil fuels, and look what we’re possibly facing as a result! Scientists and engineers surely do love to think about this stuff, but they should remain thought experiments, until something practical and cost effective comes along. Ray’s analogy of the sunshade as well as other geo-technical solutions, as a lifeboat is very effective. This lifeboat is leaking badly.

    Perhaps the worst aspect of these technical “solutions” is that they give a de-facto green light to continue to put more CO2 into the atmosphere, Since oil production is expected to peak within decades if not sooner, nations will turn more and more to coal, which as Figen pointed out in an earlier post is a very dirty fuel.

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 25 Oct 2007 @ 5:08 PM

  16. raypierre: “The problem is that by the time we know enough to have any confidence at all in this lifeboat, CO2 may have risen to the point where the lifeboat becomes not just a backup, but a necessity.”

    Can we be so sure that we haven’t already reached this point? It at least seems plausible that our best feasible efforts could still leave us with an intolerable carbon dioxide burden. It sounds like a good idea to start studying the possible down sides to geoengineering schemes now.

    Once we effectively stop emitting greenhouse gases we should be able to sequester carbon dioxide from the air fast enough to bring it down to an acceptable level at modest cost within a few centuries. That is, if we survive long enough with our technological civilization intact.

    [Response: A proven way to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it would change a lot of things — in effect it would change CO2 from a “from here to eternity” problem into something more reversible. It would open up a few more possibilities for deferring action until the right technology is developed, and then intensively applying it. The IPCC carbon capture and storage report suggests that growing biomass and burning it with carbon capture might work, to some extent. This, too, is a kind of untested lifeboat, and it would be dangerous to count on it before it’s proven technically feasible. I like it somewhat better than the aerosol sunshade, because you only have to sequester each bit of CO2 once. You don’t have to recapture it and do it over again the next year — assuming the sequestration isn’t leaky. –raypierre]

    Comment by Greg Simpson — 25 Oct 2007 @ 5:55 PM

  17. The problem with geo-engineering solutions is that we literally have no idea of what the consequences would be. When people have “tinkered with nature” in the past hoping for a quick-fix, it has invariably meant a worse disaster than the one they were trying to avoid.

    We should always keep in mind the history of the misinformed attempt to eradicate the Australian grey back beetle by importing Cane Toads from South America in 1835. With the beetles living too high to be food, the Cane Toads have been invading the whole Continent since, at rates of 5 to 50 km/year and seemingly unstoppable.

    One wonders what we would do if injecting sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere were to cause a planet-wide cooling event far beyond the original intentions

    Comment by Maurizio Morabito — 25 Oct 2007 @ 5:56 PM

  18. 1. Yucca Mountain is full of nuclear fuel that needs to be reprocessed. We used to reprocess spent fuel rods until 1/2 ton of enriched uranium somehow wound up in Israel.
    2. Reference:
    by Alex Gabbard
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory
    Oak Ridge, TN
    Selections from the 19th Annual Conference
    March 14,15,16, 1996
    Nashville, Tennessee

    Published by the
    Edited by Jack D. Arters, Ed.D.
    Conference Director
    The truth is, all natural rocks contain most natural elements. Coal is a rock.
    The average concentration of uranium in coal is 1 or 2 parts per million. Illinois
    coal contains up to 103 parts per million uranium. A 1000 million watt coal
    fired power plant burns 4 million tons of coal each year. If you multiply 4
    million tons by 1 part per million, you get 4 tons of uranium. Most of that is
    U238. About .7% is U235. 4 tons = 8000 pounds. 8000 pounds times .7% =
    56 pounds of U235. An average 1 billion watt coal fired power plant puts out 56
    to 112 pounds of U235 every year. There are only 2 places the uranium can go:
    Up the stack or into the cinders.
    Since a reactor full fuel load is around 11 tons of 2% U235 and 98% U238, and
    one load lasts about 10 years, and what one coal fired power plant puts into the
    air and cinders fully fuels a nuclear power plant.
    Compare 4 Million tons per year with 1.1 tons per year. 1.1 divided by 4 Million
    = 2.75 E -7 = .000000275 =.0000275%. Remember that only 2% of that is
    U235. The nuclear power plant needs ~44 pounds of U235 per year. The coal
    fired power plant burns coal by the trainload. The nuclear power plant consumes
    U235 in such small quantities yearly that you could carry that much weight in a
    3. See the rest of Alex Gabbard’s article. U238 can be bred into Plutonium and
    Thorium can be bred into Uranium. We can fuel our nuclear power plants for
    CENTURIES just by extracting uranium and thorium from coal cinders and
    4. See:

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 25 Oct 2007 @ 6:04 PM

  19. My personal opinion is that actually deploying aerosols would delay making the changes that need to be made anyway. However, I believe we must study the issue (but not by diverting existing research money) because if the ice starts to slide in Greenland or WAIS, we may find this is cheaper than trying to move cities and hundreds of millions of people and animals or building enormous levies. Still, the research should be kept in context: a desperate measure for desperate times. In that regard, it may be helpful to quote a Aldo V. Da Rosa’s textbook, Fundamentals of Renewable Energy Processes:

    “Since increased concentrations of CO2 can lead to global warming, some people have proposed increasing the emission of SO2 to stabilize the temperature because of the cooling effect of this gas. Even ignoring the vegetation-killing acid rain that would result, this proposal is the equivalent to balancing a listing boat by piling stones on the other side.”

    Indeed, should we have to resort to geoengineering, we are in a listing lifeboat.

    Comment by Earl Killian — 25 Oct 2007 @ 6:19 PM

  20. The proposal of Gregory Benford et al. to pump nanoparticles with a size range that would selectively reflect UV radiation seems more seductive. About a million tons (per year?) could be fired by heavy artillery guns, or delivered by high flying planes, etc. The winds at altitude would disperse the particles very quickly.

    Since the particles have a relatively short (a few months) life at altitude, before falling back to earth, this would be akin to a small volcano erupting every few months or years.

    On the upside, this could increase plant growth rates and lifetimes at high latitudes, reduce skin cancer incidence, and cool the planet.

    On the downside, while this does nothing to neutralize the acidification of the oceans, it could give humans the false impression that CO2 is no longer a problem, and so let’s burn that coal/shale/tar as fast as we can. There is also the question of whether the nanoparticles would be health hazards, though the very low concentrations would suggest they are not.

    Is there anything in international law that would prohibit a very rich tycoon or nation from doing this unilaterally, if only to try to validate the concept?

    Comment by jimvj — 25 Oct 2007 @ 6:22 PM

  21. Please excuse the ignorance of my question but it popped into my head: wouldn’t injecting sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere produce sulfuric acid rain?

    [Response: The amount you would inject into the stratosphere would be small compared to what coal burning power plants already put into the troposphere, so the incremental effect globally on acid rain probably wouldn’t be the real problem. If the aerosols get concentrated in polar subsiding zones due to some unexpected stratospheric circulation — much as Titan’s haze congregates at the pole — that could be bad news regionally for the Nordic countries, I suppose. –raypierre]

    Comment by Figen Mekik — 25 Oct 2007 @ 6:29 PM

  22. Re #5, I for one intend to be as obstructive as possible to any such ideas until 1) I can be assured that they are absolutely necessary for survival. And 2) that those who are proposing such solutions have a deep understanding of the consequences. I am very much against maintaining the current status quo.

    To paraphrase Albert Einstein, you can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created the problems in the first place.

    I would defer to Donella Meadows to say it better than I ever could, we need fewer, not more technological fixes:

    What we need is a paradigm shift away from our current economic model of continuos economic growth. Yeah, I know that that is heresy but what we have now hasn’t worked.

    Go to this site to see an example of what a great thing technological solutions really are, every piece of plastic floating out in the Pacific Ocean today, was an engineered solution to some problem, well it looks like they didn’t think very much about the problems those solutions would create:

    Plastic Trash Vortex Menaces Pacific Sealife: Study
    by Deborah Zabarenko

    I think anyone advocating geo engineered solutions to climate change should take a sailboat ride out into the Trash Vortex in the Pacific.

    OTH, there may be the beginning of a silver lining in Peak Oil coming a bit sooner than expected:
    The report on coal is also very interesting:

    Comment by Fernando Magyar — 25 Oct 2007 @ 6:56 PM

  23. Prof Makik, (21) I had the same thought. However, according to some calculations in Nature (Nature 447, 132-136 (10 May 2007) a few months ago, the amount of sulfur to be sent to the stratosphere (2 million tones/yr) to cool the planet would a small amount of what we annually put into the troposphere (>100 million tones SO2/yr).

    Comment by Dan W — 25 Oct 2007 @ 7:56 PM

  24. Ray, what are these experiments doing now in the upper atmosphere?

    I know it’s a favorite of the conspiracy people, but there’s a lot of academic work published.

    I can’t believe there’s a way to prime the pump of the upper atmosphere by tickling it from the ground to increase the heat export.

    But I do wonder what they’re doing with this system now, and what the folks doing this work would think of having something like a barium sulfate cloud dumped into the upper atmosphere and how they might interact.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 25 Oct 2007 @ 8:36 PM

  25. Thanks Dan W!

    Comment by Figen Mekik — 25 Oct 2007 @ 8:45 PM

  26. I’m still entirely unconvinced by the idea. I see several problems with aerosols as “offsetting” the CO2. For one thing, they aren’t completely opposite in effect so I would suspect a lot of global inhomogenities in climate. Another thing, is you just replace one problem with another- more pollution, more acid rain, still not very good for ocean chemistry and the ocean acidification problem. There is also the difference in atmospheric residence time or the fact you’d have to keep increasing aerosols as CO2 increases, and at larger rates. What if in 200 years the aerosols stop? What if a pipe breaks? The CO2 is still there and that warming will show up big, and you get abrupt climate change.

    I think someone like Daniel Quinn would see such suggestions as just an example of how humans like to do more things that don’t work to fix lifestyles that don’t work- rather than say “how do we fix what is wrong” we should ask “how do we get the way we want.” — Chris

    Comment by Chris — 25 Oct 2007 @ 9:16 PM

  27. What we need to do in this situation is already a given, and we are currently proceeding down the path that will give us the results we need. Furthermore, this direction we are taking is past the point of no return. In short, we need to cull the herd and soon enough it will be happening. I conjecture in 200 years 80-90 percent of species will become extinct, and humans will lose about 80 percent of the population, a conservative estimate. The remaining people and surviving plant and animal life will have to adapt to 130 degree land temperatures, with the oceans being slightly cooler. There is even an outside chance we go the way of the other planets and become inhospitable to life. Hopefully there will be some relics of life on this planet after a few million years, that show we even existed. Anyways, tell your grandkids to think twice about having kids, for they may suffer because of a hot environment. We always talk about the world we leave our grandkids, the time to talk to them about what is to come has arrived.

    Comment by PaulM — 25 Oct 2007 @ 9:52 PM

  28. Would devoting 10% a year to the problem be worth it? I doubt that, too, in comparison to more pressing research needs.

    If we understand GW so well, what are the pressing research needs?

    We know the earth is warming.
    Most say it is man made.
    According to this site we know how CO2 and temp increase are related.

    I guess what we don’t know is how things like ocean currents, jet streams will respond, but what is there to study until it happens?

    [Response: We know enough to essentially rule out a very small climate sensitivity, but there’s still a lot to learn about how bad things could get on the high end. Changes in the ocean, ocean chemistry and biology on land and ocean need a lot of study. There’s all that ice dynamics stuff that had to be left out of the IPCC because it couldn’t be properly modelled yet. There’s a lot to learn about regional climate change. A lot to be learned about the carbon cycle on both ocean and land. Basically, there’s a lot to be learned about just how bad things could get. Also, of course, a lot to be learned about how to emit less CO2. –raypierre]

    Comment by Larry — 25 Oct 2007 @ 10:02 PM

  29. My idea of a thriller novel, with at least the plot potential of State Of Fear, has for years been a group of rogue scientists who drill down to near the magma of a volcano on a remote Indonesian island and drop a nuclear bomb down there to break things loose and start a real volcanic reaction–leaving us with lots of sulfates in the atmosphere. Why not use Mother Nature by giving her a little nudge? And the ending would have the mandatory blond (female) scientist member of the team ride the bomb down into the intense heat of the magma like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove. Any takers?

    Comment by Lou Miller — 25 Oct 2007 @ 10:13 PM

  30. Einstein once said that a problem can not be solved at the same level of awareness that caused it. Geoengineering is more of the same thinking that got us to where we find ourselves today – in big trouble.

    Our world’s industrial and economic systems are out of alignment with the earth’s ecosytem. The sooner we reach that level of awareness – focusing on renewable, clean energy, closed loop recycling, and making the waste from one process the fuel for another – the sooner we will solve the problem of which AGW is a very dangerous symptom.

    Comment by Andrew — 25 Oct 2007 @ 10:18 PM

  31. Absolutely not, no fighting pollution with pollution! There is more room for creative solutions though, worth while geoengineering: extraction of CO2 complementing trees, yes by all means… We already know what happens when we tinker with the environment, a wide range of unexpected transformations occur. Like the melting of a wide region of Polar ice causes all kinds of meteorological dynamical changes causing droughts several thousand miles away. Adding sulfur to the statosphere would do some real serious direct or indirect chemical chain reactions, already known by past volcanic events, when stratospheric Ozone concentrations dip after strong eruptions.

    Comment by Wayne Davidson — 25 Oct 2007 @ 10:21 PM

  32. So, first the WSJ runs article after article denying or belittling the significance of human caused global warming. Then they turn around and run an article advocating that massive amounts be spent to mitigate it by sending pollution up into the atmosphere! Anybody see a contradiction here?

    Comment by John Reimann — 25 Oct 2007 @ 11:05 PM

  33. Let me offer a rather more practical solution: explode a few nuclear bombs every now and then. Not enough to cause a full-scale nuclear winter, just a bit of nuclear autumn.

    I say this is practical because if it’s done early, the explosions can be targeted to uninhabited places, whereas if the world keeps on dithering, we’ll likely see a larger number exploded in inhabited ones.

    [Response: Umm, I know you’re just being ironic, but if I may for the moment pretend to take you seriously, I should point out that virtually all of the soot aerosols that cause nuclear winter come from combustibles ignited by the blast, not the blast itself. In the current theories the large(ish) climate effects come about because cities have a very hign combustible density. So, sorry, but nuking uninhabited areas wouldn’t do the trick, unless you’re talking about evacuating cities and doing large scale nuclear demolition. –raypierre]

    Comment by James — 25 Oct 2007 @ 11:10 PM

  34. Sounds like George Bush better not get involved “deciding” anything in this direction.What is amazing to me is that Cheney and Addington have seen to it that Bush’s Presidential powers deprive the rest of us any input, either in the inane policy of pre-emptive war, torture, warrantless wiretaps or anything else. Just imagine what might happen if a US Justice Dept were to now conjure up powers for George that would allow him to act unilaterally in the “war on global warming”. Frightening prospect of the US dumping sulfates into the atmosphere purposely, or using their nuclear arsenal to activate volcanoes. Wow! Such hair-brained ideas I have not seen for a lifetime. Surely this web-site is not going to pay serious lip-service to such utter nonsense! Get serious.

    Comment by Vern Johnson — 25 Oct 2007 @ 11:31 PM

  35. A minor contribution to the idea bank.

    Looking at the Arctic ice event this year, it seems to me that a major part of that particular problem came with warm waters flowing through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Sea. It is a narrow (85 km) and very shallow (55 m)strait with a continuous northward flow (1 m/s) that siphons warm surface water from the Pacific. See the thermal maps at

    A dam to cut this flow sounds like an easily doable engineering project. Not too expensive, either. The modification could even be considered reversible, in principle at least.

    Comment by Pekka J. Kostamo — 25 Oct 2007 @ 11:52 PM

  36. In addition to reducing greenhouse emissions, we can upwell cold water and nutrients to cool the surface and increase ocean food production. This will convert CO2 to orgnic matter. The pumping can be done with power derived by a heat engine from the solar thermal energy stored in the ocean surface water.

    Comment by Richard LaRosa — 26 Oct 2007 @ 12:16 AM

  37. Why is there not more attention paid to white? The oil companies possibly would not lose a dime on a large reduction in CO2 emissions. Just have the reduction in hydrocarbon emissions dedicated instead to making massive amounts of quality white sheeting. The carbon would be sequestered. The oil companies would get their cash. Ordinary people would feel involved in fixing this mess by covering large areas of the ground with white film. It seems to me there are areas of the earth that could dedicate some land to be white year round without causing devastation to the environment. In other areas, roll it all back up and store it until the next season.

    Comment by J.C.H. — 26 Oct 2007 @ 12:52 AM

  38. RE 33 and reply

    Comment by Chris — 26 Oct 2007 @ 1:50 AM

  39. Geoengineering the atmosphere?
    A dangerous thing to even think about. If we get it wrong we could plunge into manmade global cooling, and what would that bring? Unstable weather patterns; reduction in crop growing season; large increase in cold-related deaths of humans; loss of Polar bears starving because they can’t get at the fish through the thicker ice; etc, etc.

    Comment by PHE — 26 Oct 2007 @ 1:56 AM

  40. Raypierre

    I asked many times now, without a single answer, which is the opinion of realclimate contributors concerning the relative freshening of SH oceans.(look at Hadley SST data for example)
    I think you are agree that thermal flux in the ocean can change considerably the amplitude of global warming.
    At the limit the oceans are sufficiently cold to absorb completely the GHG warming.(mean temperature about 4/5°C)
    Is there some reality in this idea?
    For example the poleward shift of trade winds in SH?

    Can you, please, answer me?

    Comment by Pascal — 26 Oct 2007 @ 2:07 AM

  41. Looks like we need a lot of geo-engineering to fix things, especially if the news everyday is bad.

    First a piece in The Guardian today to make you miserable and then some news from France to cheer you all up.

    ‘Uncertainty’ over climate change
    Press Association
    Friday October 26, 2007 6:43 AM

    Uncertainty about the extent of future global warming is in itself an indicator of serious climate change to come, scientists have claimed.

    In most areas of science, uncertainty weakens evidence and makes it harder to prove a hypothesis.

    But two US experts argue that climate change is different, because of the way its uncertainty is a reflection of sensitivity.

    “Feedbacks” in the climate system that can magnify global warming are so wide ranging and unpredictable that it becomes difficult to make firm forecasts.

    However, these are the very factors that are likely to contribute to high levels of warming.

    Scientists Dr Gerard Roe and Professor Marcia Baker, from the University of Washington in Seattle, have now produced a mathematical equation for climate modellers designed to take uncertainty into account. It links the probability of warming with built-in uncertainty about the physical process that affect how much warming will occur.

    Current projections point to average world temperatures to rise between 1.1C and 6.41C between 1990 and 2100. The equation shows that more extreme temperature changes – perhaps 15F (8C) – are possible, though not probable.

    “Uncertainty and sensitivity have to go hand in hand. They’re inextricable,” said Dr Roe, whose research is published today in the journal Science. “We’re used to systems in which reducing the uncertainty in the physics means reducing the uncertainty in the response by about the same proportion. But that’s not how climate change works.”

    An example of a feedback is the way a carbon dioxide-rich warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour, which is in itself a greenhouse gas. The increased water vapour then amplifies the effect on temperature caused by the original increase in carbon dioxide.

    “The kicker is that small uncertainties in the physical processes are amplified into large uncertainties in the climate response, and there is nothing we can do about that,” said Dr Roe.

    Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2007, All Rights Reserved.

    And the news from France is that Mr Sarkozy yesterday announced that carbon taxes will be introduced in conjunction with a review of the tax system. If France can do it then the rest of Europe can and dare I say it the US and other states too.

    The devil is always in the detail so let’s wait and see what the French proposals are but we need carbon taxes urgently as the background for improving on current and developing new technology.

    Comment by Eachran — 26 Oct 2007 @ 2:38 AM

  42. On another part of RC there was the following post. “This is off topic, but can anyone direct me to an explanation of the differences between the NASA temperature anomaly analysis and the Hadley center’s? I know the primary difference is at the poles, but I don’t understand the details.


    Comment by cce — 21 October 2007 @ 2:37 AM”

    I could not find any answer, but I am extremely interested in any answer, particularly if it could include the data from NCDC/NOAA. Can anyone lead me to any sort of answer?

    Comment by Jim Cripwell — 26 Oct 2007 @ 5:00 AM

  43. These sorts of proposals to do something even more outrageous to try and counteract the last outrageous act remind me of a song from my childhood:

    There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
    I don’t know why she swallowed that fly–
    Perhaps she’ll die.

    There was an old lady who swallowed a spider,
    That wiggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.
    She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
    I don’t know why she swallowed that fly-
    Perhaps she’ll die.


    There was an old lady who swallowed a cow.
    I don’t know how she swallowed a cow!
    She swallowed the cow to catch the dog …
    She swallowed the dog to catch the cat …
    She swallowed the cat to catch the bird …

    There was an old lady who swallowed a horse–
    she’s dead, of course.

    Clearly I internalised this important philosophical lesson at an early age, and thus find myself instinctively back away from such well-meaning suggestions.

    Comment by Kevin — 26 Oct 2007 @ 5:25 AM

  44. Re #33 While using nuclear explosions to solve the problem of AGW is almost certainly less political acceptable than the alternative of building thousands of nuclear power stations, it could produce a solution that would be more effective if the situation becomes urgent.

    Ray, you responded that “… virtually all of the soot aerosols that cause nuclear winter come from combustibles ignited by the blast,” and that “… the large(ish) climate effects come about because cities have a very hign combustible density.” OTOH, if a nuclear weapon was exploded on or under the ocean surface, then water vapour would be ejected into the stratosphere.

    This could be done in the central Pacific Ocean, where it would be far from human habitation. It might require the evacuation of some islanders, but since rising sea levels will mean their evacuation anyway, this would not be a net loss. Another advantage is that the substance being injected is natural being water (i.e. no acid rain), and its persistence in the stratosphere is known to be short.

    Moreover, we do have experience of nuclear explosions over water. The Operation Crossroads tests by the US Navy in 1946 produced a frozen UK in the Spring of 1947. Weapon testing by the USSR in the Arctic during October 1961 resulted in heavy snowfalls in the UK in the winter of 1962/3 but it is difficult to draw conclusions since natural variability, the solar cycle and El & La Nini can also affect the global and local temperatures.

    Let’s hope that one of your colleagues at the Harvard meeting has given it some consideration.

    Comment by Alastair McDonald — 26 Oct 2007 @ 5:31 AM

  45. A cheap and sustainable method to produce electricity and water without CO2 emissions is the CETO wave energy technology. Its right here right now, only political and business lobbying stands in the way of a solution to this crisis. Our civilisation is in a race against time, all of our talk is going on while the clock is ticking and the threshold is approcaching quickly. GO FIGURE.

    Comment by simon Edmonds — 26 Oct 2007 @ 5:36 AM

  46. #23 Dan W: Can you say “taller smokestacks”?

    The other inmates agree ;-)

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 26 Oct 2007 @ 6:15 AM

  47. re 40: “only political and business lobbying stands in the way of a solution to this crisis.”

    Right! While promising, this is still unproven technology–in the sense of being able to generate and deliver power economically. There is no one solution.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 26 Oct 2007 @ 7:09 AM

  48. One interesting thing about this is that (as far as I know) it could be done by a single nation or any coalition that has the resources. Contrast with the effort to reduce CO2 which requires agreements among all major emitting nations.

    So, a group of nations that are being most injured by global warming could do it.

    Of course, feasibility would depend on the cost and the sort of pressures that might come from the rest of the international community.

    Comment by Tom Adams — 26 Oct 2007 @ 7:59 AM

  49. Number 45 has touched upon the only viable solution and number thirty reinforces this idea, for you cannot solve a problem with the same level of awareness indeed, and 45 and wave energy theory is “getting warmer” to the solution, pardon the pun. Remember, matter has the quality of acting either as a particle of wave, and the whole particle theory while intelligently presented, tended to push out the wave theory, and we have been going down that path ever since. Not to push quantum mechanics on anyone, but therein holds the solution, not only giving the planet energy it needs, but also cleaning up the planet also. We humans tend to take the path when the light bulb goes off, but in the case of atoms as matter it closed the door on waves from the get-go, and we went down that road and here we are. Needless to say, this round of humanity didn’t make the grade, and unless one doesn’t mind an oven environment we actually need to scrap ourselves and start from scratch. Maybe the next batch of intelligent creatures will fare better. The earth is like a remote village that never really got the chance to see what else is out there, at least not yet.

    Comment by PaulM — 26 Oct 2007 @ 8:06 AM

  50. We need geoengineering of people’s minds. Obviously, there are forces at work trying to prevent action on reducing CO2 production. If they can stall long enough, they will succeed and by default, we will be forced into grandiose geoengineering strategies to save ourselves. The science fiction lover in me appreciates such scenarios and fixes and even at times thinks such fixes will lead us into technological advances we wouldn’t have had without such a crisis, but the ordinary human in me fears our hubris.

    “Swallowing the Horse” — sounds like a great title for a science article on geoengineering and its potential foibles.

    [Response: Gee, I wish I had thought of that title before I wrote that post. Can I keep it in mind for the future? In a similar vein, you could think of the old Ray Ventura song, “Tout va tres bien, Madame la Marquise.”]

    Comment by Surly — 26 Oct 2007 @ 8:27 AM

  51. Raypierre: “A Pinatubo or two a year forever.” That depends on the time frame and the goals. Assuming 1 Pinatubo = 6MT S, the amount that ultimately was converted to aerosol, the quantities required to offset all new forcing from 2000-2100 range from 0.5 Pinatubos by 2030 to 1 Pinatubo by 2070. This also assumes any negative forcing from tropospheric aerosols steadily decreases and is gone by 2050. Otherwise, even less aerosol is needed.

    If the goal is to offset all forcing from 1700-2100, then 0.5 Pinatubos are required by 2015, 1 by 2050 and 1.5 by 2100.

    To get a 75% reduction from 2000 to 2050, a target to prevent the 2 degree C rise, requires 0.5 Pinatubos by 2050.

    Of course, we still don’t know what the threshold is for reducing incoming sunlight that would prevent harmful climate change. That’s why the modeling work and field trials are required. It may be much less than the above.

    A point of technical clarification since this gets messed up everywhere and by everybody. You can’t inject sulfuric acid aerosols. They have to be created. They don’t come in 5-gal buckets either, although Ken’s analogy was a good one for the general audience he was trying to reach.

    I covered the problems, perceived and real with this in the Tierney blog response. With regard to ozone, it has been estimated that mid latitude ozone depletion reached 3-7% or thereabouts with Pinatubo. However, there were no reports of surface damage from increased UV from this.

    Given that we wouldn’t have to get much farther than 0.5 Pinatubos before 2050, this gives plenty of time to see if there are any ozone depletion effects. Plus, the ozone destroying chemicals are decreasing at the same time, so by 2050, there may be no issue here at all.

    There is also no evidence that Pinatubo led to significant increases in cirrus clouds. Remember, the troposphere cooled during the Pinatubo aerosol period, not warmed. Also, note that aerosol droplets from volcanic eruptions are much more dispersed than those from say aircraft exhaust plumes that do produce a form of cirrus clouds under certain conditions.

    The concern that reduced sunlight may impact photosynthesis also seems without merit. Again, there is no evidence of Pinatubo causing problems with this, either due to a reduction in total radiation or a decrease in beam vs. diffuse, beam being around 40% normally (that’s the disk of the sun).

    The main concern and rightly so, is a decrease in global precipitation due to less evaporation due to less sunlight reaching the surface. The threshold has to be determined at which this would become a problem and as I said in the Tierney blog, varying the aerosol distribution latitudinally and vertically might be able to counter this. Again, the modeling must be done.

    It should also be said that modeling studies need to examine not only the potential downsides of the aerosol approach, but also the benefits as well as ways to do it in a beneficial way.

    I am growing tired of the BUT YOU SEE THIS MIGHT GO WRONG response that is automatically generated when we haven’t done much more than make rather rudimentary engineering concept proposals. Let’s find out if it can work before we decide it won’t.

    The argument that going the aerosol route will result in a committment of hundreds of years discounts unnecessarily further technological advances. For example, air capture of CO2 is not possible on a climatologically significant scale in 2007, but may be in 2057.

    The argument about international agreements seems a little specious also. Isn’t that the same argument that said we shouldn’t try Kyoto? Granted, Kyoto has not lived up to expectations, but it didn’t take 50 years to negotiate.

    One thing that was correct in Raypierre’s analysis. If we wait too long to investigate this and the other geoengineering technologies, we may have to use them, but at a time not of our choosing and under conditions resembling a global triage.

    Comment by Alvia Gaskill — 26 Oct 2007 @ 8:44 AM

  52. Re: #41

    “In most areas of science, uncertainty weakens evidence and makes it harder to prove a hypothesis.

    But two US experts argue that climate change is different, because of the way its uncertainty is a reflection of sensitivity.”

    Am I the only one that bristles when things like this are said? Specifically the “but this is different” part. Typically, when people stand up and say “but this is different”, they’re deluding themselves. Remember the “new economy” where profits don’t matter? What idiocy! Remember “cold fusion”? Remember all the perpetual motion devices that have been “invented”?

    And it’s doubly troubling for scientists to claim that uncertainty in relationships evokes certainty in conclusions. It doesn’t. It actually evokes uncertainty in conclusions and to claim otherwise is not supportable.

    I’m sure that some out there will say that using the best information we have as inputs gives the corresponding range of outputs (from major impact to catastrophic impact) and that those results demand that action be taken. But it still comes down to models that contain significant uncertainties with respect to our fundamental understanding of systemic interactions and therefore MUST be viewed as lacking in accuracy.

    Comment by dean_1230 — 26 Oct 2007 @ 9:05 AM

  53. re: #41

    “. . . but we need carbon taxes urgently . . .”

    Can anyone tell me the reduction in CO2 emissions per unit of carbon tax? From that we can calculate the the amount of tax required to reduce emissions to an ‘ineffective’ level and additionally the total tax costs for such a program. What is the time constant for the effects of a carbon tax to be detected in the atmosphere?

    BTW, what is the emissions level required to significantly abate future Global Warming?

    The penultimate paragraph in this piece is interesting.


    Comment by Dan Hughes — 26 Oct 2007 @ 9:13 AM

  54. Martin Vermeer (46). I like that idea. The Chinese would only need to build a couple and with their recent interest in high altitude engineering (Qinghai–Tibet railway) they may be up to the task of a 20km+ tall smokestack…

    Actually the Nature article includes a diagram (I have no idea how serious it is) that shows some kind of facility (It does not appear to be a power plant) with a ~35km flexible hose teathered to a “high altitude blimp” injecting SO2 into the stratosphere. The article also includes a diagram of the outer space Frizbee like sunshades (16 trillion!) Raypierre mentioned in the first paragraph. These diagrams give the article a certain “Popular Science” like feel. I half expected to turn the page and read about the latest advances in the field of flying cars.

    Lou Miller (29), a somewhat similar plot was presented in the ‘60’s sci-fi movie “A Crack in the World” In this case the bomb down the volcano stopped the world from splitting in half. It ends with the attractive blond scientist admiring our new second moon…

    Comment by Dan W — 26 Oct 2007 @ 9:14 AM

  55. Doesn’t anybody in here comprehend the lunacy of ‘engineering the atmosphere’?

    The more we study the atmosphere, the more there is to learn. We know so little about it that we cannot safely predict the outcome from changing a single input.

    And we somehow propose the notion that we can engineer a ‘solution’ to a problem whose parameters are not yet nailed down?

    Solving an unknown with an unknown is somehow a comforting thought?

    It scares the daylights out of me…

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 26 Oct 2007 @ 9:22 AM

  56. Is nuclear fusion was to be cracked by 2080 would it be too late or in time to resolve our energy needs? People would like a technology fix as it shows us that progress is all around and that we can still use technology to resolve our issues whilst progressing into the future.

    Comment by Pete Best — 26 Oct 2007 @ 9:36 AM

  57. Re #55:

    I sure do! It’s the ultimate in human arrogance to believe that we know enough about the system to understand all of the side-effects that would be created.

    Comment by dean_1230 — 26 Oct 2007 @ 9:45 AM

  58. Tracking back on Alvia Gaskill, I found many articles already dealing with this subject. One example:

    “Inadvertent geoengineering of the climate is already under way,” says Alan Robock, a professor of meteorology at Rutgers University. “Trying to counter that with advertent geoengineering when we have no idea of the consequences is a very bad and dangerous idea.”

    Focusing on the idea of injecting sulfates into the stratosphere, he identified a series of risks with the scheme after studying the impact of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991. These included a decrease in ozone, enhanced ultraviolet radiation and acid rain caused by sulfates turning to sulfuric acid.

    “And we wouldn’t have blue skies any more. Skies would turn grey across the globe and psychologically that could have a very negative impact.”

    I repeat that the danger of floating concepts such as this, is that CO2-emitters will use it as an opportunity to argue that it would be “less expensive and less disruptive” to allow them to avoid serious reductions in output. After all, if we are going to “need” this sort of geo-engineering anyway, why go through the expense of grafting carbon reduction technology onto their processes, (can you here it now?) “unnecessarily increasing the cost of energy so that it is out of reach of poor and underdeveloped countries (not to mention, poor people in developed countries).

    In only a year of following this issue, I am still completely certain that this argument will gain traction as the concept of geo-engineering our way out of global warming becomes more popular.

    End result: an increase in white noise and FURTHER DELAY.

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 26 Oct 2007 @ 9:52 AM

  59. Off Topic: GEO4 is out

    The new Global Environment Outlook 4. 550 pages.

    A quote from a short story on it in the Guardian Unlimited below followed by a link to the multimedia report itself…

    Climate change is a global priority that demands political leadership, but there has been “a remarkable lack of urgency” in the response, which the report characterised as “woefully inadequate”.

    The report’s authors say its objective is “not to present a dark and gloomy scenario, but an urgent call to action”.

    It warns that tackling the problems may affect the vested interests of powerful groups, and that the environment must be moved to the core of decision-making.

    The report said irreversible damage to the world’s climate will be likely unless greenhouse gas emissions drop to below 50% of their 1990 levels before 2050.

    Environmental failures ‘put humanity at risk’
    · UN report bemoans lack of urgency by governments
    · Five-year study involved more than 1,400 scientists
    Martin Hodgson, The Guardian Friday, October 26 2007

    GEO-4 Report
    United Nations Environment Programme
    environment for development

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 26 Oct 2007 @ 9:52 AM

  60. You don’t have to recapture it and do it over again the next year — assuming the sequestration isn’t leaky. –raypierre]

    Considering the number of people who could be killed due to a leaky bit of fizzy CO2 sequestering, I’m not real sanguine about the technology.

    Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 26 Oct 2007 @ 9:58 AM

  61. If I am following the evidence correctly, increase in man made Co2 will cause a greater heating during warming trends, even though apparently the initial warming periods seem to be naturally caused. Which makes sense.
    Currently the natural forces are in a warming trend and increasing the warming trend through manmade emmissions may cause a more rapid warming.
    My question concerns policy.
    Assuming global warming is true, it could then be argued that curtailing manmade emmissions could help moderate the current rise in temperatures.
    But what happens if the natural causes reverse and start a cooling period? Would not a rise in level of manmade emmissions then help moderate the cooling earth? Wouldn’t that be a very good thing?
    Should we begin a policy to reduce emmissions if by time the effects are felt in the environment the natural causes have reversed the warming trend? Wouldn’t we then be contributing to global cooling? Wouldn’t that be a very bad thing?

    Comment by JerryC — 26 Oct 2007 @ 10:02 AM

  62. This seems as good a place as any to ask this question…

    Several months ago, the Economist ran an article about a proposal made by Alfred Wong of UCLA at the AGU to directly expunge CO2 from the atmosphere. Some details are given in the article, but briefly, the idea was to ionize CO2 over the arctic with giant lasers. The CO2 ions would circle around the Earth’s magnetic field lines at a precise frequency. A huge RF transmitter tuned to that frequency could give them more energy, which would cause them to follow the field lines… straight up into space.

    He claimed to have done calculations showing that the CO2 expunged this way would dwarf the CO2 produced by whatever powered the laser/RF transmitter.

    This would not seem to suffer from any of the problems with geongineering mentioned in this article. Directly removing CO2 from the atmosphere is a very clean solution- carbon expulsion trumps CCS any day of the week.

    But I haven’t heard anything about it since. Why not? Is there some obvious flaw that has escaped me? Did someone discover an error in his calculations? Or can he just not get funding?

    Comment by chapter1 — 26 Oct 2007 @ 10:04 AM

  63. > a nuclear weapon was exploded on or under the ocean surface,
    > then water vapour would be ejected into the stratosphere.

    Alastair, please. THINK. You can look this stuff up.

    If there’s a more truly evil way to use a nuclear weapon than other use, setting it off underwater is that.

    “In case of water surface bursts, the particles tend to be rather lighter and smaller, producing less local fallout but extending over a greater area. The particles contain mostly sea salts with some water; these can have a cloud seeding effect causing local rainout and areas of high local fallout. Fallout from a seawater burst is difficult to remove once it has soaked into porous surfaces because the fission products are present as metallic ions which become chemically bonded to many surfaces…..”

    Fermi suggested there may be no intelligent life in the universe, outside of brief episodes confined to planetary surfaces before they develop science and end themselves. How can people be so smart and so incredibly stupid?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 26 Oct 2007 @ 10:15 AM

  64. Paul M: Have no fear, there will be traces of our civilization millions of years hence. About 1980, some forward thinking people erected a granite monument near here with some advice for survivors or whoever cares to read these words of advice:
    (In 8 modern languages and 4 ancient ones:

    Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
    Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.
    Unite humanity with a living new language.
    Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason.
    Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
    Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
    Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
    Balance personal rights with social duties.
    Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite.
    Be not a cancer on the earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature.

    Comment by catman306 — 26 Oct 2007 @ 10:45 AM

  65. “…What do you do if nations disagree about what kind of climate they want…” is no more an issue for geoengineering than it is for truly effective Kyoto-like agreements. Both require some agreed cost-benefit about optimal global climate.

    Comment by John Nielsen-Gammon — 26 Oct 2007 @ 10:52 AM

  66. Walt Bennett re:55,
    I think that most people probably share your reservations. The problem is that any time we cary out some grand scheme to resolve a big problem, the law of unintended consequences tends to bite us on our collective posteriors. I’m sure the internal combustion engine seemed like an excellent idea at the time, too.
    We should also remember that many of the economic remedies being bandied about will be perceived similarly by economy and business types. In reality, our understanding of economics is much cruder than our understanding of atmospheric dynamics, so understanding the unintended consequences and risks posed by a carbon tax or cap and trade scheme is even more difficult. At least with greenhouse gas molecules, they aren’t saying, “Hmm, how can I scam the system and get rich off of this development.”

    So, I suppose we will bandy solutions back and forth for awhile, each camp suggesting changes in the other’s bailiwick that they don’t fully understand. Scientists may want a change in the economics, while economists would like to see a change in the physics. Neither is likely to be realized.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 26 Oct 2007 @ 10:57 AM

  67. re #53:

    Can anyone tell me the reduction in CO2 emissions per unit of carbon tax? From that we can calculate the the amount of tax required to reduce emissions to an ‘ineffective’ level and additionally the total tax costs for such a program. What is the time constant for the effects of a carbon tax to be detected in the atmosphere?

    A good place to start is:

    with some numbers at:

    and elsewhere.

    Comment by Bob Arning — 26 Oct 2007 @ 11:02 AM

  68. Iron fertilization of the oceans is a cheap and low tech method to sequester CO2 faster than normal.
    It is also far safer than injecting sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere
    and is much longer acting.

    As a side benefit, sea life will flourish.

    Pretty much a win-win!

    Comment by Andrew — 26 Oct 2007 @ 11:07 AM

  69. Re. #53, Dan Hughes:

    BTW, what is the emissions level required to significantly abate future Global Warming?

    See #59.

    The penultimate paragraph in this piece is interesting.

    IMO it’s misleading, because the US administration is still insisting (a) on only discussing emissions intensity targets (for reducing, not total emissions, but only the rate of growth of US emissions), and US emissions intensity will reduce even under business as usual; and (b) the US administration is still insisting on only considering voluntary targets, despite the fact that even many major US corporations are calling for mandatory caps and despite the fact that there is no evidence that their existing voluntary targets have made any difference.

    Comment by Dave Rado — 26 Oct 2007 @ 11:29 AM

  70. The docket for the Clean Air Act documents other problems with sulfates in the air. Acid rain. Health effects.

    Have we forgotten? Any culture that forgets so rapidly deserves to fail.

    Comment by Aaron Lewis — 26 Oct 2007 @ 11:35 AM

  71. This is off topic, but I was hoping someone could explain the difference (or point me in the right direction) between NASA’s temperature analysis and Hadley’s. I know the primary difference has to do with the poles — NASA uses data that the Hadley (and the satellites) don’t deal with. However, I don’t understand the details. Any pointers?


    Comment by cce — 26 Oct 2007 @ 11:48 AM

  72. The best geoengineering that I can think of is the process of pumping CO2 from the air by growing biomass, using pyrolysis to generate bio-oil and biochar from the biomass, then returning the biochar to the soil where it aids in maintaining fertility while sequestering carbon for centuries, AKA terra preta. Here is a good review paper:,%20381-387,%202007%20Lehmann.pdf

    Comment by Gary Rondeau — 26 Oct 2007 @ 12:06 PM

  73. Carbon dioxide will have climate and ocean chemistry consequences lasting tens of thousands of years or longer. The environmental risks associated with continued CO2 emission loom large.

    Therefore, I am in favor of outlawing CO2 emissions as soon as possible (perhaps grandfathering existing CO2-emitting devices). Actions that increase climate (and chemical) risk and destruction of natural habitat clearly need to be curtailed.

    We seem to be in relatively near-term risk of losing Arctic ecosystems and being committed to losing at least parts of the Greenland ice sheet. There is a significantly non-zero risk that precipitation patterns will shift in ways that could contribute to widespread hunger.

    Obviously, reducing and then eliminating CO2 emissions is the appropriate public policy response — and we should attack this problem with at least the same vigor with which we attack perceived military threats.

    That said, it is entirely possible, if not likely, that political and economic forces will respond too slowly and insufficiently to adequately reduce climate and chemical risk associated with CO2 emissions. (Of course, we should do our part to assure that this does not happen.)

    If a climate catastrophe should occur, there will be demands upon politicians to do something. Because of the thermal inertia of the oceans and the long atmospheric life-time of CO2, not to mention the inertia associated with transforming energy systems, it will be too late to forestall catastrophe through emissions reduction.

    Let’s take the worst case scenario: Let’s say that geoengineering schemes would merely screw things up further. Wouldn’t any good research program demonstrate that clearly? Wouldn’t it be good for politicians to know that there is no viable technical fix?

    I did work researching direct injection of CO2 into the ocean interior, and was a coordinating lead author for an IPCC chapter on the topic. The result of that research was basically that directly injecting CO2 into the ocean interior was not a particularly good idea, and now that option is largely off the table. [By the way, I was criticized by some at the time for coming to a conclusion that led to a reduction in research budgets.] Good research can eliminate chimeric options.

    On the other hand, let’s say that some geoengineering options would have some effectiveness at eliminating some adverse consequences of climate change (i.e., could prevent ecosystem loss, reduce hunger, etc.). It is still an open question whether we would ever want to deploy such a system, but at least we would be making decisions based on facts.

    As I see it, the main danger associated with geoengineering options is its effect on social and political systems. Just as flood insurance leads people to live in the flood plains of rivers, the perception of the existence of geoengineered climate insurance could lead people to take more climate risk, and work less diligently to reduce CO2 emissions.

    Of course there are a host of other problems associated with geoengineering schemes: There will some geographic distribution of winners and losers, with consequent political ramifications; there will be near impossibility of getting complete international consensus on deployment of such options, which implies at least some international political strife; the schemes will be imperfect, at best, at reversing climate change damage and will likely introduce new damage of some sort; these schemes will not do anything to help with ocean acidification; these schemes raise large issues associated with intergenerational equity; these schemes introduce climate risk associated with rapid cessation of deployment (perhaps associated with political turmoil or institutional breakdown); such schemes will not reverse direct CO2 effects on land ecosystems; and so on and so on.

    That said, and understanding the risks are great, it is at least possible that these schemes in some form may be able to reduce overall environmental risk. I know if I were a polar bear, I would want somebody to be looking into them.

    I suggested in my New York Times Op-Ed that 1% of our climate change technology research budget be directed in this direction with 99% directed towards emission reduction. The exact numbers are somewhat arbitrary, but my point was that putting 0% in is too little and putting a large fraction in would be taking too much emphasis away from emissions reduction.

    If we can somehow arrange that we never build another CO2-emitting device, I would happily call for the geoengineering research budget to remain at $0 per year. But given that CO2 emissions and atmospheric CO2 concentrations are higher than ever and increasing more rapidly than ever, it does not seem premature to start thinking about what we might do should disaster strike, even if only to make sure that we do not rashly do something that might merely make matters worse.

    [Response: If I were a polar bear, I’d worry about people puffing up overconfidence in the geoengineering solution to the point that the last chance at taking steps that might actually have solved the problem are passed over. While going extinct when the crisis hits, I might worry that a premature and ill-considered geo-engineering “cure” might not only fail to save me, but in the process drive ten tropical species extinct through some unanticipated effect on tropical rainfall. If something starts to go wrong, can we even do regional modelling well enough to determine whether the geoengineered aerosols are to blame? I have no objection to people thinking about these things. As I said, I’m going to Dan’s meeting at Harvard, and even looking forward to it. I just think people ought to be a bit more careful about how they talk to the public. –raypierre]

    Comment by Ken Caldeira — 26 Oct 2007 @ 12:15 PM

  74. Also, re. #53, Dan Hughes: the article you linked to (and its penultimate paragraph) is misleading in another sense as well; because no-one credible is claiming that emissions reductions at the required scale will be “easy”. Some measures that could be taken now and aren’t being would be fairly easy to implement and almost cost-free, such as introducing regulations to force US car manufacturers to increase fuel efficiency, taxing car use based on fuel efficiency, banning most tungsten and halogen light bulbs, replacing street lights with solar-powered ones (which would cover its costs after a few years); investing properly in geothermal energy research, and so on; but the scale of emissions reductions that are needed requires far more than these sorts of measures, and it certainly won’t be easy – although the refusal of the US administration to consider even the above measures indicates that they are not even slightly sincere about addressing climate change.

    However, what many economists and the IPCC are saying is:

    (a) that the economic cost of “business as usual” (as a result of the impacts of global warming) is likely to be far greater in the long term than the cost of achieving emissions reductions at the required scale,

    (b) that the cost of emissions reductions at the required scale is likely to be manageable (1% of global annual GDP to be invested in mitigation according to some economists), provided that meaningful action is taken immediately; and

    (c) that the longer governments wait before taking serious action to cut emissions, the greater the eventual emissions cut will have to be. The IPCC 2007 WGIII SPM states on page 15: “The lower the stabilization level, the more quickly this peak and decline would need to occur. Mitigation efforts over the next two to three decades will have a large impact on opportunities to achieve lower stabilization levels.” And Kallbekken and Rive 2007 states: “a 20-year delay means that we must reduce emissions at an annual rate that is 5 to 11 times greater than with early climate action.”

    But this is very different from claiming that it will be easy, as the article you linked to states that people are claiming (quite apart from the difficulties of overcoming the disinformation campaign that has so far successfully reduced support among the less well informed members of the public for the necessary measures to be taken – that also won’t be easy).

    Comment by Dave Rado — 26 Oct 2007 @ 12:45 PM

  75. Slightly off-topic, but a reminder regarding urgency: Wednesday’s TNYT (2007 Oct 24), has an article entitled China’s Green Energy Gap by Keith Bradsher starting on page C1 (Business Day section) and continued on page C4.

    The subtitle is Coal Stays King as Cleaner Fuels Can’t Keep Pace With Demand.

    Quoting two sentences: “The country built 114,000 megawatts of fossil-fuel-based generating capacity last year alone, almost all coal-fired, and is on course to complete 95,000 megawatts more this year.
    For comparison, Britian has 75,000 megawatts in operation, built over a span of decades.”

    Comment by David B. Benson — 26 Oct 2007 @ 12:57 PM

  76. Re #62:
    “Several months ago, the Economist ran an article about a proposal made by Alfred Wong of UCLA at the AGU to directly expunge CO2 from the atmosphere. Some details are given in the article, but briefly, the idea was to ionize CO2 over the arctic with giant lasers. The CO2 ions would circle around the Earth’s magnetic field lines at a precise frequency. A huge RF transmitter tuned to that frequency could give them more energy, which would cause them to follow the field lines… straight up into space.”

    It’s patently bogus. Accelerating a CO2 molecule to escape velocity (15 km/s), even with 100% efficiency, requires far energy more than the energy released burning one carbon atom and even the associated hydrogen atoms.

    Matter requires 112 MJ/kg to reach escape velocity. Oil has about 120 MJ/kg (heat) or 60 MJ/kg (electric, assuming 50% efficient). Oil releases about 3 kg of CO2 per kg of oil burned, so you would be releasing roughly 5 kg of CO2 for each kg raised to escape velocity, assuming 100% efficiency from electricity to kinetic energy.

    PS: This ignores many other issues that make this idea dead on arrival.

    Comment by Robert Edele — 26 Oct 2007 @ 1:15 PM

  77. Re: 29, the bomb down the volcano movie:

    Ever see the 1965 flick “Crack in the World”, starring Dana Andrews?

    I was thinking of a remake: drop a nuke into Erta Ale. Get some REAL rifting action in the Great Rift Valley.

    Now we just need to cast the part of the beautiful blonde plate tectonicist and her impossibly handsome geo-engineer boyfriend. Well, OK, just the blonde plate tectonicist — I can play the boyfriend. I wonder if Heather Locklear is looking for work…

    Comment by Jack — 26 Oct 2007 @ 1:23 PM

  78. Re. #73, Ken Caldeira, a thoughtful and thought-provoking post; but I wish your NYT article had been more similar in tone to your post. I can imagine denialists using your op-ed as an excuse to delay taking action on emissions, whereas the tone of your post, and its qualifications, make it much less easy to abuse in that way.

    Comment by Dave Rado — 26 Oct 2007 @ 2:16 PM

  79. Re. #56, Pete Best:

    Is nuclear fusion was to be cracked by 2080 would it be too late or in time to resolve our energy needs?

    See #59, and #74, especially point (c).

    Comment by Dave Rado — 26 Oct 2007 @ 2:28 PM

  80. Re #68 on iron fertilization. Upwelling cold water and nutrients (#36) brings up iron from the deep ocean.

    Comment by Richard LaRosa — 26 Oct 2007 @ 5:50 PM

  81. RE: 54 The blimp with the hose. This is Lowell Wood’s idea to simplify the delivery system for the sulfate aerosol precursor. He mentioned in an article in Rolling Stone that a Kevlar hose and a blimp at 85,000 ft could be used to carry sulfur dioxide.

    Several problems with this. If you have ever flown a kite and who hasn’t, you know that the longer the string the harder it is to control. The highest altitude that a tethered blimp (called an aerostat) has ever reached for an extended period of time is around 15,000 ft. Thus, it would be considered a major technological advance to tether a blimp floating in the Overworld stratosphere.

    There is presently interest in developing high altitude aerostats for the space and defense departments and to serve as a platform to generate electricity (windmills in the sky). To date, however, these remain concepts with little progress in the hardware department.

    From a lift standpoint, it could be done as the blimp would be able to support the hose and tether. The effect of high altitude winds on the aerostat and the hose and tether could cause catastrophic failure.

    The low temperatures could also cause the sulfur dioxide to liquify. SO2 has a boiling point of -10C at sea level and the temperatures at 20-35Km range from -33 to -53C. If the SO2 was generated from burning elemental S in air, the moisture in the air could be carried up the hose and freeze, adding weight to the hose as well as potentially blocking it. If dry SO2 were used from an existing source of the gas, liquification is likely unless it is very hot.

    Since I am assuming the pressure in the hose will still be 1 atm, I did not consider any decrease in boiling point with altitude. Hydrogen sulfide has a boiling point of -60C and would be a better candidate.

    The pressure required to pump the SO2 or H2S 85,000 ft may also be problematic as these gases are heavier than air. In my opinion, F-15s and MIG 31’s along with stratospheric balloons containing a mixture of hydrogen and H2S are the most practical delivery systems in 2007.

    Comment by Alvia Gaskill — 26 Oct 2007 @ 7:28 PM

  82. Re #76: “It’s patently bogus. Accelerating a CO2 molecule to escape velocity (15 km/s), even with 100% efficiency, requires far energy more than the energy released burning one carbon atom and even the associated hydrogen atoms.”

    Not sure if you read the article, but the idea had nothing to do with accelerating ions to escape velocity. (Also, I don’t think that the concept of escape velocity is meaningful for a single molecule, given that it tends to collide with other molecules rather frequently.) I’m not going to try again to summarize, so please consult the article if you have questions.

    Not sure what the other problems you allude to are, but I’ be interested to hear them.

    Comment by chapter1 — 26 Oct 2007 @ 7:31 PM

  83. Re #63


    You wrote: “Fermi suggested there may be no intelligent life in the universe, outside of brief episodes confined to planetary surfaces before they develop science and end themselves.” I think he was probably correct :-(

    You also wrote that he continued “How can people be so smart and so incredibly stupid?”

    I just cannot believe that he had ME in mind when he said that!

    However, I am smart enough to see that mankind is stupid enough to cause its own destruction. And I am now coming to terms with the fact that I am too stupid to prevent it. So, reluctantly, I have to agree with you and Fermi that I too, like the rest of humanity, am stupid.

    Fermi is also famous for his paradox which is the apparent contradiction between the high probability of extraterrestrial civilizations’ existence and the lack of contact with such civilizations.

    It is solved easily if one accepts that any evolving civilisation which develops will inevitably burn up its fossil fuels before it has time to realise that they are the only means of escape from their planet. In other words they will exhaust their resources before they discover their importance. Just like the Easter Islanders!

    As Private Frazer said “Waur doomed!”

    Comment by Alastair McDonald — 26 Oct 2007 @ 7:52 PM

  84. A littledimensionalanalysis is a dangerous thing, but Crutzen has been on the aerosol case since 1980or so.

    Could it be that having struggled for a literal generation to achieve a modicum of realism in 3-D GCM’s, modelers are abashed that quasi 2-D albedo modification offers more coolth per buck than manhandling and warehousing hundreds of tons of greenhouse gases per capita. Surfaces happen.

    Comment by Russell Seitz — 26 Oct 2007 @ 8:27 PM

  85. What are we worrying about? Global warming is good for your health! Check it out:
    US Press Secretary Dana Perino told journalists that global warming isn’t that bad: after all, “many people die from cold-related deaths every winter. And there are studies that say that climate change in certain areas of the world would help those individuals.”

    (sigh) About Kevin’s comment #43 about swallowing a horse. We all swallowed the horse(and all the manure that goes with it) when the Supremes annointed Present Occupant and his merry band of jokers.

    Getting back to the topic of global engineering,Ken Caldeira makes a good case for studying the proposal. It deserves that. We shouldn’t want to be Luddites and reject any good faith effort out of hand. It’s a shame that we have to act like this with our backs to the wall. For every watt/m^2 of Sunlight that’s blocked, we ought to require a reduction of a certain amount of Gt/yr of carbon from going into the atmosphere.

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 26 Oct 2007 @ 9:29 PM

  86. Re. #56, Pete Best: [Is nuclear fusion was to be cracked by 2080 would it be too late or in time to resolve our energy needs?]

    I don’t see that as at all relevant. Nuclear fission works now. It can do anything that fusion can (unless you’re planning on technical miracles like cold fusion), such as replacing coal-fired generation within a few decades. The only real obstacle is hysteria on the part of some of the public.

    If someone came up with a working fusion design this year, it most likely wouldn’t be any cheaper or better, and the people who scream “Omigawd, it’s nuclear! We’re all gonna die!” would scream just as loud at nuclear fusion as they do at nuclear fission.

    Comment by James — 26 Oct 2007 @ 10:00 PM

  87. Knowledge and understanding of the world ocean and its proper use are essential to reinforce our GHG reduction efforts. We can use solar absorber rafts to evaporate seawater to enhance orographic rainfall on the east coast of Australia. We can use arrays of ocean current turbines in the Antilles Island passages to steer some current around the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to lower sea level in the Gulf and provide electric power to the Antilles islands for desalination. #36 provides global cooling and nutrient supply.

    Comment by Richard LaRosa — 26 Oct 2007 @ 11:02 PM

  88. Alastair, I was paraphrasing Fermi, not quoting, just to be clear that those aren’t direct quotes of Fermi himself.

    The example here, thinking it smart to increase aerosols while continuing to emit CO2, despite the rate of change in the physical chemistry of the oceans — science known far more precisely than the physics of the atmosphere — is a classic.

    How can smart people be so utterly stupid about pH change?

    If we could point to aliens doing this to our planet we’d recognize an enemy without hesitation. Instead we don’t point at each other, we wave hands instead.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Oct 2007 @ 12:28 AM

  89. Chapter1, I can only hope there’s some sense to that idea, though the math ought to be published and looked at by someone competent to address it. The idea of building huge lasers pointed up over the North Pole will undoubtedly be very interesting to Mr. Putin and others who are already worried about the USA building an advanced anti-missile system using rockets. The only thing they’d find more threatening would be building them in orbit, I imagine. I’ve wondered if the HAARP system had some way to prime a pump just to get CO2 in the upper atmosphere more likely to radiate in the infrared; the notion of tickling it so it will actually depart the planet seems like a lovely one, if there’s any substance to it. But I’m puzzled why big lasers would be needed, especially ground-based ones — how much brighter than the Sun in the designated wavelength would some such installation have to be, to be doing anything more than sunlight does now?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Oct 2007 @ 12:36 AM

  90. Here’s an earlier article found by searching for mention of Dr. Wong, UCLA and AGU; closest I’ve come. Anyone else found anything?
    Electromagnetic Wave Interaction with the Auroral Plasma
    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – View as HTML
    Alfred Wong… Geophysical Union (AGU), San Francisco, California, December 1996. …

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Oct 2007 @ 12:46 AM

  91. 20> The proposal of Gregory Benford et al. to pump nanoparticles with a size range that would selectively reflect UV radiation seems more seductive.

    I believe they also advocate using CaCO3 rather than sulfate. Does anyone know why everyone else seems to prefer sulfate particles? Is it just because there is more sulfate data, since that is what volcanoes produce?

    Comment by Steve Reynolds — 27 Oct 2007 @ 12:52 AM

  92. Re. #86, actually your post strikes me as irrational. It is not “hysterical”, for example, to point out that there is still no concensus on a long term plan for the disposal of the nuclear waste that is guaranteed to be both safe and affordable. Or to point out that this waste will be highly radioactive for many centuries. Or to point out that the published costs of nuclear-generated electricity never take into account the total lifetime cost of nuclear plants, including decommissioning, maintenance and waste disposal, so one is never able to compare like with like (it’s the only form of electricity in which overall costs are ignored). Or to point out that when Britain privatised its electricity industry it suddenly found that had to heavily subsidise its nuclear industry because it was so inefficient compared with all other forms of electricity generation that were in use, and its costs had previously been hidden. Or to point out that many accidents and leaks in nuclear plants have happened, although most were covered up at the time, that at least one has been extremely serious (Chernobyl), and at least one another has come very close to being (Three Mile Island). Or to point out that if a terrorist flew a plane into a nuclear reactor it would be far more serious than 09/11.

    I’m fairly agnostic, these are difficult issues; but in my view anyone on either side of the nuclear debate who characterises the other side as all being irrational are themselves being irrational.

    [Response: Nuclear has its share of problems, but if it comes down to a choice between building nuclear or building coal, nuclear starts to look better. Especially if building coal means you are going to have to bet the bank on geoengineering working. I’m a big believer in wedges, and I imagine we can count on nuclear for one or two of our stabilization without unacceptable risk. As for the economics, the right thing to do would be to get rid of nuclear subsidies, and instead put on a sizeable carbon tax. With that, nuclear may start to outcompete coal +sequestration, or for that matter maybe all the renewables we all love would become the winners. –raypierre ]

    Comment by Dave Rado — 27 Oct 2007 @ 1:25 AM

  93. re: #92 in which raypierre said,” … and instead put on a sizeable carbon tax.”

    I asked above at #53, Can anyone tell me the reduction in CO2 emissions per unit of carbon tax?

    Still no answers. If the question doesn’t make sense tell me why.

    As someone once said, “Those who refuse to do arithmetic are doomed to talk nonsense.”

    Comment by Dan Hughes — 27 Oct 2007 @ 5:23 AM

  94. chapter 1 posts:

    [[But I haven’t heard anything about it since. Why not? Is there some obvious flaw that has escaped me? Did someone discover an error in his calculations? Or can he just not get funding?]]

    The idea of making the CO2 in the atmosphere escape to space misses one very obvious point. You need to impart escape velocity to each kilogram of CO2 that leaves. Figure out the kinetic energy of a kilogram of CO2 at escape velocity (Ve = 11,200 m/s), and multiply by the number of kilograms of CO2 you want to remove. That gives you an absolute minimum figure for the amount of energy needed to do it. The proposal of using lasers to ionize CO2 and spin it into the Earth’s magnetic field is interesting, but the highest efficiency lasers I am aware of are CO2 lasers, which convert 25% of the input electricity to beam power — so multiply the energy cost by a factor of four. Do you see the objection?

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 27 Oct 2007 @ 6:29 AM

  95. [[Nuclear fission works now. It can do anything that fusion can (unless you’re planning on technical miracles like cold fusion), such as replacing coal-fired generation within a few decades. The only real obstacle is hysteria on the part of some of the public. ]]

    There are other obstacles as well, such as the facts that nuclear power plants take a long time and a lot of material to build, release radioactive material into the environment in “unplanned releases,” generate waste which must be kept isolated from the biosphere for as much as 10,000 years, and create more potential bomb material cruising around the economy. Oh, and occasional catastrophic accidents are possible, too.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 27 Oct 2007 @ 6:57 AM

    Health Physics. 93(5):547-559, November 2007. (abstract only);jsessionid=Hjshk1ZkqPpJfsdfgnTn0cPn0c3Zkprfv3pxNvccCPc7jfgBf7vn!1071114923!181195629!8091!-1

    “… research on the next generation of nuclear energy systems that can be made available to the market by 2030 or earlier, and that can offer significant advances toward these challenging goals; in particular, six candidate reactor system designs have been identified. These future nuclear power systems will require advances in materials, reactor physics, as well as thermal-hydraulics to realize their full potential. However, all of these designs must demonstrate enhanced safety above and beyond current light water reactor systems if the next generation of nuclear power plants is to grow in number far beyond the current population. This paper reviews the advanced Generation-IV reactor systems and the key safety phenomena that must be considered to guarantee that enhanced safety can be assured in future nuclear reactor systems.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Oct 2007 @ 7:22 AM

  97. Nature perfected many ‘bioengineering’ solutions long before men came on the scene … one could do well by simply noticing the methods it uses that have been proven over aeons to work …

    Microscopic phytotplankton species expend substantial parts of their very limited energy budget making dimethyl sulphide which simply escapes from them and passes up into the atmosphere, creating sulphate aerosols as it breaks down with hydroxl radicals and ozone …

    Why do they expend energy on this wasteful loss of energy and resources , obviously it is not an intelligent act, they have no brain, but rather it could be seen as a mechanism that evolved as-it-were by chance , a system that endures ad thus has shown that it works , by which they make the storms which interestingly whisk them up from the ocean and spread them worldwide … are they are simply ‘buying’ a transport mechanism then? It appears from paleo-science that there is more to it than that, the clouds that they generate as a control mechanism on the earth’s temperature, this is yet another feedback mechanism for survival of all life on the planet and has been working for aeons of time, right back to the earliest life here… the planet was made more hospitable to life by life itself, geo-engineering on grand scale by the tiniest of plants in the sea… which outstrips the cleverest of plans by humans to geo-engineer and more relevantly does no harm to the planet …

    One only has to cite that CO2 from human greed in exploiting buried animals and plants being recycled [oil and coal] -over a criminally short period of time without gaining anything much in sense or future sustainable energy from the massive resource- this which we see as waste could so easily be turned back into living biomass by nature , nature has such massive power to expand and cope with our problem if only we would let it, even help it , rather than standing by and letting it die out and make things worse as the dying seas yield up even more CO2 and methane and much more besides…

    Simply put, we NEED the seas that we are currently almost half way to killing [half of coral reefs already dead or severely damaged and dying , phytoplankton unable to make their defensive carbonate ‘shells’ because of CO2 acidification of the oceans … these are the base feed of most life in the oceans, fisheries are failing because their food is being killed by us, and we are of course next in line to starve… it makes little sense since we know all this …]

    We still have a tiny window of time in which to expand life in the seas , The very safest place to sequestrate our CO2 that nature is used to handling in recycling … and we can harvest the seas again as they become productive, we CAN farm then responsibly as they expand from being dead … [most of the ocean is dead , but from lack of only micro-nutriment , it takes less to bring it to life than the land , but nature has never found the way for most of the sea .. only patches of it and in dynamic moving fashion with only some more lasting areas [sea upwellings of deep water for instance]

    Instead the current dozen projects on ‘the geritol solution’ simply waste their [and our!] very limited time window on dumping 100 times more iron than is needed into the sea with even more acid to get a simple algal bloom , some of which [at worst it seems only 1%] falls to the bottom when the whole lot dies…. it is insanely short-sighted, dangerous, and inefficient, when a hundredth of the same iron, slowly increased in the ocean would cause the existing ecosystem to expand naturally and take up many times the amount of Co2 and store it as increased biomass , all recyclable by nature and a massive carbon sink – with only the minutest help from mankind of supplying a miniscule amount of iron which nature nevertheless never has managed to prevent from precipitating out in sea-water and sinking to the depths … despite many creatures that slow the process down to a crawl , just not quite slowly enough though to let much of the oceans come alive … only man can do that, to save the oceans from mankind and for mankind …

    We have such a small time window, and we really are clever enough to put this together and get it right first time as is now seemingly required if we are to be prudent and aim NOT at brinkmanship in pushing the planet to the limits it can bear, but to maximise the chance of survival of most life on which we depend …

    There is casual talk of ‘ONLY’ 50% of species dying out with our latest plans to limit our behaviour … if one killed even 10% of species on the planet it would ensure our eventual death and the death of most life here eventually, because essential nutriments , most elements of chemistry, are recycled by various species… the whole only works as a whole,…

    One cannot cut out a man’s liver and say he has only lost a small percentage of his body, he will live… he will live for a whole, but he will surely die soon …

    the planet is no different, different species do the work of recycling all the elements so the whole works… the whole will die quickly if even a few ‘key’ species are lost ,and their life in turn depends on other species … we just cannot afford to do what we are doing, we know it, yet are not putting it together fast enough, the window of opportunity is closing fast and faster with time, the feedbacks are vicious already against us and getting more so…

    nature is the biggest force we have to help us and she needs a little help because she just doesn’t operate as quickly as the problem we have throw against her, it is killing her and thus will kill us , because she feeds us too … we do not live on money or oil, but on food … we cannot afford to kill more species and yet we are talking about our most ambitious plans doing just that … we are going the wrong way with inadequate plans that do not take account of all we know, and we do seriously not have time for this mistake …
    We have no moral right not to put right the mess we made of the planet already by being greedy and lazy and complacent … we owe that to nature … she needs our help because the problem is too large without our help to solve one small problem she never mastered which we now understand and can help her with so she can clear up our mess and save us too …

    Comment by Roger William Chamberlin — 27 Oct 2007 @ 7:33 AM

  98. Re #92:

    I once heard someone say of the ‘no-nukes’ environmentalists that if they ever found out that the Sun was a run-away nuclear reaction, they’d sue to shut it down. :-)

    Now, not being an expert in either fusion or fission (I know just enough to be completely wrong), the issue of long term storage of the spent fuel is THE reason we need to keep pushing for fusion.

    This also points out why determining whether CO2 is the cause or a sympton of global warming is so important. Everyone (environmentalists, EPA, power companies) agree that the sulfur and mercury pollutants of coal-fired plants are an environmental problem, but the technologies for scrubbing those pollutants are relatively well known. While expensive, they’re no where near the cost of carbon sequestration.

    Assume for a moment that the denialists are correct and that CO2 is not causing global warming, then the obvious solution to the energy crisis in the US is coal (at least in the near term). The coal reserves in the US are sufficient for delivering power for at least a century and potentially much, much longer. That would allow us to wean ourselves off of oil (a fuel that we are quickly running out of) while giving us time to find other options. Green options like solar, wind, geothermal; Advanced nuclear options like fusion.

    I am a big proponent of an electrical economy. We need to move off of oil as our fuel-source in the near term (20 years or so) on our own terms or we’ll be confronted with doing it on Oil’s terms (“sorry guys, there ain’t no more… whatcha gonna do now?”).

    I see this as more important in the near term than reducing CO2 output to control global warming (mainly because the US contribution to CO2 as a percentage of the overall world production is dwindling). The efficiencies gained by going to an electrically powered transporation system could offset most if not all of the added production. For example, the cost of energy required to move a car using electricity is approximately 1/4th that of using oil. If we allow enough coal fired plants to supply the required electricity for our cars, one source I have read said that we’d only need 20 plants. Our electrical power grid now is designed to supply peak production but runs well under peak for most of the day (especially the overnight hours). A rechargeable electric car would even out the peaks and power plants could be designed to run at higher efficiencies due to a smaller delta between peak and off-peak.

    This would also allow for the introduction of green power sources whenever they become available. all we’d have to do is build the new power plant (be it solar, fusion, cold-fusion, etc) and turn off the old power plant. That would have absolutely no effect on the transportation system.

    And in the meantime, we could walk away from the morass called the Mideast

    Comment by dean — 27 Oct 2007 @ 8:44 AM

  99. RE # 92

    Dave, I disagree with your comment that:

    [in my view anyone on either side of the nuclear debate who characterizes the other side as all being irrational are themselves being irrational.]

    You likely are fairly agnostic about a nuclear power future but you also repeat the same litany of complaints the anti-nuke crowd throws up at every conceivable opportunity. Ironically, most of those voices tell us at every opportunity that civilization has only a decade or two to save the planet’s ecosystem from a global warming free fall that triggers eventual total chaos…meters of sea level rise, perpetual drought…. add your scenario here.

    Now, compare that sliver of open window opportunity to the anti-nuke campaigners slogans of disposal challenges, costs and risks for thousands of years. Is that a rational balancing of concerns or are those voices so ignorant of the progress being made by engineers in South Africa, China, France and elsewhere to take the pebble bed nuclear reactor to the commercial deployment stage in this next decade.

    Global warming is not an environmental problem. The environment is the victim. It is an engineering and environmental challenge of superhuman dimensions.

    That the environmental community and activists are not heavily endowed in the science and engineering side of the issue they are so passionate about (and no more passionate than I) is understandable. It takes time and diverts attention from their campaigning to push back and grapple with the hard facts of the modern world and the rapidly expanding lesser-developed world.

    Electricity and petroleum are on a level with food and water to maintain survival of a massive civil population. As US population grows so does its demand of electricity and oil. All the hand waiving and admonitions of less-is-beautiful advocates will not change the direction of the increasing demand for electricity and oil throughout the world.

    Until we environmentalists put down the placards and banners and come to grips with the massive challenge of meeting the needs of an expanding world economy our movement will forever be typecast as made up of ludites and dreamers who really believe Americans will bicycle and walk to work even if the weather is ugly.

    The world does not work as the anti-nuke campaigners think it does. If there is an analogy to that thinking, I say it is the neo-con belief the US can dictate its terms of democracy-forming of people and nations we have no fundamental understanding who they are and how they operate.

    Search the pebble bed literature and see if some of your concerns might be alleviated, if only a bit.

    Comment by John McCormick — 27 Oct 2007 @ 9:12 AM

  100. RE: 91 Benford’s idea (as best I understand it) is to use diatomaceous earth milled to 0.1 micron in diameter and release this over the Arctic to selectively scatter (not reflect) UV light back into space and then apply the strategy globally.

    See this website for more information on aerosol scattering.

    Selectively scattering UV would be difficult, since the UV wavelength range is between 280-400nm with the largest part that reaches the surface between 320-400nm. Particles 0.1 micron in diameter, 100nm would be small enough that they would tend to accumulate together and soon the particles would become large enough to scatter not only UV, but also visible light.

    Solid materials like the diatomaceous earth would also be candidates to absorb water vapor, further increasing their size and reducing their atmospheric lifetime.

    I haven’t seen any estimates from him as to the expected residence times for the aerosol particles, except in a presentation where it seemed he was thinking they would last two seasons. In the Arctic, the sunlight is compressed into a six months period, so that would be the only time that a sunlight scattering scheme would be useful. MacCracken suggested a similar approach in his Climate Change paper last year, also to minimize the presence of the surfaces on which ozone depletion reactions occur when the polar spring arrives.

    Benford says that the diatomaceous earth, unlike the sulfuric acid aerosol would be less chemically reactive and thus safer to use. However, the sulfuric acid aerosol doesn’t participate in chemical reactions that destroy ozone. It only provides a surface on which the reactions can occur. The diatomaceous earth probably can also.

    The reason why sulfate aerosols rather than solid particles are being considered is primarily atmospheric residence time and partly because of the experience with volcanic aerosols.

    As a practical matter, I think it highly unlikely that the quantities of particles he envisions can be manufactured. That said, delivery into the lower stratosphere over the poles is possible with current aircraft like the 747 that can fly at 40,000 ft.

    Release in the Overworld (>54,000ft) for a global program could be done with fighters, but since the bulk density of such nanomaterials is around one fourth that of liquid H2S or SO2, the number of flights to achieve the same release would be much larger. Unless releases could be done gradually, clumping of the material would likely result in it just falling rapidly to the surface. In either case, the dust could get into the airplane engines and cause them to fail.

    Delivery of such particles with artillery guns isn’t practical with available technology. Delivery by stratospheric balloons is possible, although since the release would have to be all at once, most of the material would probably clump together and fall rapidly from the sky.

    Designing balloon delivery systems where a port would open and the dust would gradually be released greatly complicates a program that would have to launch more than 1000 balloons per day to achieve its goals.

    Comment by Alvia Gaskill — 27 Oct 2007 @ 9:46 AM

  101. RE # 92

    Dave, I disagree with your comment that:

    [in my view anyone on either side of the nuclear debate who characterizes the other side as all being irrational are themselves being irrational.]

    You likely are fairly agnostic about a nuclear power future but you also repeat the same litany of complaints the anti-nuke crowd throws up at every conceivable opportunity. Ironically, most of those voices tell us at every opportunity that civilization has only a decade or two to save the planet’s ecosystem from a global warming free fall that triggers eventual total chaos…meters of sea level rise, perpetual drought…. add your scenario here.

    Now, compare that sliver of open window opportunity to the anti-nuke campaigners slogans of disposal challenges, costs and risks for thousands of years. Is that a rational balancing of concerns or are those voices so ignorant of the progress being made by engineers in South Africa, China, France and elsewhere to take the pebble bed nuclear reactor to the commercial deployment stage in this next decade.

    Global warming is not an environmental problem. The environment is the victim. It is an engineering and environmental challenge of superhuman dimensions.

    That the environmental community and activists are not heavily endowed in the science and engineering side of the issue they are so passionate about (and no more passionate than I) is understandable. It takes time and diverts attention from their campaigning to push back and grapple with the hard facts of the modern world and the rapidly expanding lesser-developed world.

    Electricity and petroleum are on a level with food and water to maintain survival of a massive civil population. As US population grows so does its demand of electricity and oil. All the hand waiving and admonitions of less-is-beautiful advocates will not change the direction of the increasing demand for electricity and oil throughout the world.

    Until we environmentalists put down the placards and banners and come to grips with the massive challenge of meeting the needs of an expanding world economy our movement will forever be typecast as made up of ludites and dreamers who really believe Americans will bicycle and walk to work even if the weather is ugly.

    The world does not work as the anti-nuke campaigners think it does. If there is an analogy to that thinking, I say it is the neo-con belief the US can dictate its terms of democracy-forming of people and nations we have no fundamental understanding who they are and how they operate.

    Search the pebble bed literature and see if some of your concerns might be alleviated, if only a bit.

    Comment by John L. McCormick — 27 Oct 2007 @ 10:21 AM

  102. Dean wrote:
    > Assume for a moment that … CO2 is not causing global warming

    Makes no difference; CO2 from coal is changing ocean chemistry far faster than it’s changing the climate.

    You should know this.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Oct 2007 @ 10:25 AM

  103. Dan Hughes (93) — Of course nobody actually knows what size carbon tax causes how much CO2 emmision reduction. I’ve seen an estimate that $20–30 per tonne of carbon will cause (some) people to forego burning fossil fuels. But currently more than that is required to sequester carbon dioxide, although the sequestration could be subsidized.

    [Response: Also, the relationship between carbon tax and reduction is nonlinear, since the different opportunities for reducing emissions come with different costs. There are a fair number of rather cheap reductions out there that could be stimulated by a low carbon tax, but after a while you use those up, and have to have a higher tax to induce more. An alternate way to estimate reductions is to look at the incremental cost of a particular carbon-abating technology, e.g. building an IGCC coal plant and sequestering instead of building a pulverized coal plant. But basically, it’s hard to know how the ingenuity of market participants will play out, which is why the basic idea seems to have been to implement a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system with some initial guess of price, then adjust it after more data comes in. Europe’s problem was that they over-allocated permits, resulting in a crash of price. That experiment is therefore not yielding much information at the moment.

    Another thing to keep in mind is the distinction between the gross cost of a carbon tax and the net cost. If you charge $100 a ton for Carbon, that doesn’t add up to $100 a ton cost for the whole economy. Some of that will be added back in to GDP through the spending the power company will do to build IGCC plants, and if the tax is made revenue-neutral through tax credits on hybrid vehicles or even just used to build more schools or pay for university tuition, you get something back into the economy. Certainly, the net cost to the economy is a lot less than the gross cost. It’s the sort of question that economists, in principle, should be able to answer, but I myself don’t have a lot of confidence in the kinds of models economists use to address such things. I’m sure there are economic studies out there that could shed some light on this issue, but don’t expect miracles with regard to accurate forecasts. –raypierre]

    Comment by David B. Benson — 27 Oct 2007 @ 11:02 AM

  104. Hank,

    Actually i wasn’t aware of that… thanks for giving me something to study up on.

    If that’s the problem, then why the heck are we complaining about global warming? Isn’t the real problem going to be the acidification of the seas? That’s a much more tangible problem with much closer timelines. And yet, you never hear a headline about that… it’s always about how we’ll be roasting in 100 years.

    [Response: It’s an issue that comes and goes in the public mind. A while back Nick Kristof of the NYT devoted a whole column to it, even referring to “the savants at RealClimate” (presumably meaning Dave Archer in this instance). But really, don’t you think we can worry about more than one thing at a time? Heat is a problem, and so is acidification. I guess the attraction of acidification is that the chemistry of it is so simple it’s hard to take cheap shots at. Heat is different — the basic physics is simple, but it has a lot of fancy add-ons that give us the present IPCC uncertainty. That makes it easier for skeptics to take pot-shots at, in a way that can be made do sound convincing to the uninformed. –raypierre]

    Comment by dean — 27 Oct 2007 @ 11:05 AM

  105. Re # 104 dean ” Isn’t the real problem going to be the acidification of the seas? …you never hear a headline about that… ”

    I guess it depends on where you look (or, in your case, listen) for headlines:
    etc., etc.

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 27 Oct 2007 @ 11:52 AM

  106. Re #92: [Re. #86, actually your post strikes me as irrational.]

    I should point out that in that post I was comparing fusion to fission, and most of your counter-points would most likely apply just as well to both, at least so far as we can extrapolate to a presently non-working technology. But to respond to a few points that haven’t been adequately addressed (at least in the last few threads).

    […there is still no concensus on a long term plan for the disposal of the nuclear waste that is guaranteed to be both safe and affordable.]

    However, the primary reason there isn’t such a consensus is the anti-nuclear lobby’s insistance that any such plan is unworkable, because nuclear waste is infinitely dangerous.

    [Or to point out that this waste will be highly radioactive for many centuries.]

    Indeed, just as the ore from which the fuel was derived had been radioactive for several billion years.

    […published costs of nuclear-generated electricity never take into account the total lifetime cost of nuclear plants, including decommissioning, maintenance and waste disposal, so one is never able to compare like with like (it’s the only form of electricity in which overall costs are ignored)]

    This is hardly true. To begin with the petty, I’ve never seen an analysis of wind or solar that included decomissioning costs, either. What will we do with all those old solar cells & windmill blades in 50 years?

    The real flaw in that argument, though, is that the price of fossil-fuel power does not include the costs of waste disposal AT ALL. Their waste is just dumped into the atmosphere, and isn’t this site all about discussing the problems that is causing? Add the costs of GW to the fossil fuel price, and see how they stack up.

    [Or to point out that if a terrorist flew a plane into a nuclear reactor it would be far more serious than 09/11.]

    How so? You might remember that it wasn’t the impact of the planes that brought down the far more fragile WTC towers. It was ultimately the weight of the towers themselves. Fly a plane into a nuclear reactor with a proper containment structure, and you just put a thin plating of aluminum on the outside.

    As to the effects of nuclear accidents in general, consider that Chernobyl was a “worse than worst case” accident, yet the Earth kept on ticking just fine: no temperature increase, no Arctic ice melt, no ocean acidification… Indeed, it seems that for most creatures life in the so-called “dead zone” is a distinct improvement on previous condidtions.

    [Response: OK, enough on nuclear. This could go on forever, but let’s not do that here. The best take-home point from this thread is that the fossil fuel industry does not pay for disposal of its CO2 waste at all. Everybody ought to start thinking of CO2 from fossil fuels as on a par with nuclear waste, and figure out how to level the playing field. Let’s please leave it at that. –raypierre]

    Comment by James — 27 Oct 2007 @ 12:16 PM

  107. Isn’t the problem really just our insistence on centralized production of electrical power? If I were king, all new energy requirements would be met by small local, non fossil fuel power sources: wind, tidal, geo-thermal, methane capture, solar, etc. Excess power would be fed into the grid. Fossil fuel plants would be phased out. Small is beautiful, and can be very green. Oh, almost forgot. Conservation would become a social value again. How has wasting electricity become a symbol of wealth? Who let that happen?

    Comment by catman306 — 27 Oct 2007 @ 4:41 PM

  108. catman308 (108) — Grid stability suffers under plans like yours which rely to heavily on non-steady sources such as wind and solar. This does not mean the problem cannot be solved, just that it has not be so far.

    recently reported on some organization starting to build a combined power plant using wind (when available) and biomass when there is no wind. This has the distinct advantage that the power sent to the grid is stable and reliable.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 27 Oct 2007 @ 5:18 PM

  109. Regarding chapter 1’s reference to Dr. Wong’s proposal to send C02 molecules into space ,, there are questions other than the energy required to emit them. He doesn’t seem to be suggesting that we use thrust to rid them of the atmosphere, but rather the use of an electromagnetic “staircase”.( Theorically it’s possible to walk out into space given a long enough staircase).

    The fly in the ointment here is that the Earth since its beginning, has contained the same elements in the same amounts, with minor losses into space due to the space program. How much will we disturb this balance by ejecting carbon and oxygen atoms out of the system? If Dr. Wong is talking about significant amounts, our planet will have a different composition than it has had in all of the years of its existence.All six thousand years!(just kidding). In addition carbon and oxygen are essential elements for life in all it’s forms. Do we really want to deplete the Earth of their presence?

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 27 Oct 2007 @ 6:38 PM

  110. >really want to deplete the Earth … ?

    Probably. Mars and Venus still have mostly CO2 atmospheres.
    You can look at the total amount of carbon versus the amount in the atmosphere and figure the longterm difference is trivial.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Oct 2007 @ 9:45 PM

  111. “Would diverting 1% of the world’s climate research funds into this problem clarify the issues in time? I doubt it. Would devoting 10% a year to the problem be worth it? I doubt that, too, in comparison to more pressing research needs.”

    Really? We already have plenty of very secure research outlining what appears probable to happen, and it looks quite horrible. We’re not going to learn, with more research, “oops, sorry nothing will happen, Rush Limbaugh was right.”

    I don’t know about “diverting” but allocating at least 10% of the scale of this this effort to exploring emergency mitigation is prudent risk management, even knowing full well how unpleasant the schemes are likely to to be.

    Avoiding looking at it completely is, in my opinion, analogous to strident opposition to nuclear power plants, hoping for some (physically unlikely) breakthrough in completely clean energy which can substitute for nukes and coal in scale and continuity, all the while new coal plants get built.

    Comment by Matthew Kennel — 27 Oct 2007 @ 10:11 PM

  112. Thanks Ray for your inline response above

    I think the oceans get less discussion partly because the “so what?” problem is greater for ocean biogeochemistry — what’s going to change and how can we tell? It’s much newer as an area of study.

    Good article here, a reminder that the beasties we rely on to take CO2 and turn it into nice sedimentary limestone layers are relatively recently evolved on Earth, not much older than our own primate line in fact. Until they came along able to live out in the deep sea and make sediment worldwide, most life in the ocean was in the shallows along the edge of the continents.

    The coccolithophores may have invented the planet that invented us.

    “A coccolithophore concept for constraining the Cenozoic carbon cycle
    J. Henderiks and R. E. M. Rickaby
    Biogeosciences Discuss.: 16 Published: 19 June 2007

    Abstract. An urgent question for future climate, in light of
    increased burning of fossil fuels, is the temperature sensi-
    tivity of the climate system to atmospheric carbon dioxide
    (pCO2). To date, no direct proxy for past levels of pCO2 exists beyond the reach of the polar ice core records. We pro-
    pose a new methodology for placing a constraint on pCO2 over the Cenozoic based on the physiological plasticity of extant coccolithophores. Specifically, our premise is that the contrasting calcification tolerance of various extant species of coccolithophore to raised pCO2 reflects an “evolutionary memory” of past atmospheric composition. The different times of evolution of certain morphospecies allows an upper constraint of past pCO2 to be placed on Cenozoic timeslices.

    “Further, our hypothesis has implications for the response of
    marine calcifiers to ocean acidification. Geologically “an-
    cient” species, which have survived large changes in ocean
    chemistry, are likely more resilient to predicted acidification….

    “… our ideas have implications for the future ocean. With fossil fuel burning and a predicted decrease in pH of ∼0.3 over the next 100 years (The Royal Society, 2005), the larger species will likely have an advantage over the now prosperous E. huxleyi, as the car-
    bonate system of the ocean reverses towards the acidity of the
    past. C. pelagicus has weathered large and abrupt changes in
    conditions in the geological past, e.g. the Palaeocene-Eocene
    thermal maximum (Gibbs et al., 2006), with no apparent im-
    pact on physiology, but the adaptive strategies of newcomer
    E. huxleyi may differ significantly, potentially leading to fu-
    ture non-calcifying descendants.”

    Scary? Only if you think about it.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 Oct 2007 @ 12:14 AM

  113. #103 David Benson: I’ve seen an estimate that $20–30 per tonne of carbon will cause (some) people to forego burning fossil fuels. But currently more than that is required to sequester carbon dioxide, although the sequestration could be subsidized.

    Terrapass is charging folks $11/ton for carbon credits. Notet that driving a hummer requires just $80 to offset a year of CO2 production (roughly 6.2 metric tons) from driving.

    A hummer driver would spend about $3000 on gas for this year of driving. So, your figure would add about $240 to the $3000 gas bill. I doubt that would cause a hummer driver to change.

    I suspect a CO2 tax of $200/ton would start to make it economically challenging for drivers, as that would put CO2 tax at about 50% of gas cost for a hummer driver.

    Note, however, that a Prius puts about 1.9T of CO2 per year, so that would be a $400 tax to the prius driver, and it’s about the same % that they would have spent on gas, too.

    Comment by Matt — 28 Oct 2007 @ 7:04 AM

  114. re: # 103

    Do I correctly understand the situation to be that a ‘solution’ to the problem has been proposed and yet the effectiveness of that solution is not known? We mere engineers can’t get away with those kinds of solutions. Hand-waving doesn’t work, the hard work with arithmetic has to be done.

    Let me try again, but with a harder question. What level of carbon tax is necessary to ensure that at some time in the future the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will stabilize? Or even more difficult, what level of carbon tax is necessary to ensure that the Global Average Temperature will not increase above that already ‘in the pipeline’?

    Can carbon taxes be implemented in such a way that they are not regressive relative to persons who can ill-afford increased costs in energy-related products and services that are essential to their health and well-being?

    Failure to address such questions on a rational and quantitative basis explains in part why Lomborg has been able to gain traction.

    Can anyone point me to quantitative studies about the effectiveness of carbon taxes on reductions in CO2 emissions?

    Comment by Dan Hughes — 28 Oct 2007 @ 7:35 AM

  115. RE # 114

    Dan, Charlie KIomanoff’s web page at has a wide variety of material relating to impact, effect and analysis on carbon taxes including his Congressional testimony. It is not the Wharton School page but it can link you to more of the material you want to read.

    Comment by John McCormick — 28 Oct 2007 @ 8:43 AM

  116. I agree with Paul Dietz and Alvia Gaskill 1000% Please, this is no time to be a luddie about the geoengineering solutions! Global warming is worse than what “rational” scientists estimated.

    ’91 volcano eruption has dramatically shown the cooling effect which is mostly beneficial. Please, stop obstructing the geoengineering solutions – this is NOT the time to encouraging runaway greenhouse effect!!

    The time for the age of “niave and cautious” scientists is over. It is time for real engineers to provide social and engineering solutions (ie. ban coal, cool the earth, go to space, use bicycles, etc.). DO you really want to continue with the global warming experiment to see a dead planet or, at least, uninhabitable to the current species??

    I’m sorry for being an alarmist but I’m sick and tired of seeing a lot of naive outlook on life from this blogger.

    [Response: All you name-calling guys flinging around the “luddite” insult ought to get your history straight before parading your ignorance in public. Ned Ludd and his band of merry men were worried about the impacts of a technology that worked (all too well, from their standpoint). I, on the other hand, am worried about the impact of a technology that has unknown consequences for the environment, and which in some regards is definitely known not to work — c.f the fact that it does nothing for ocean acidification, and also the implications of the mismatch in time scale between aerosols and CO2. –raypierre]

    Comment by Wacko — 28 Oct 2007 @ 10:29 AM

  117. Re #113: [I suspect a CO2 tax of $200/ton would start to make it economically challenging for drivers…]

    It might be more effective to look at the effects of a carbon tax on electric generation. Currently fossil-fuel generation is cheaper than most non-CO2 producing types, largely because the plant operators don’t have to pay to dispose of their waste products. So then we just compute the price per ton needed to make fossil fuel generation more expensive than alternatives.

    And to change the subject back towards the thread: May I offer my own geoengineering solution? Balloons. Lots & lots of large, reflecting balloons floating around in the stratosphere, each doing its bit to increase the albedo.

    [Response: Did you mean ton C or ton CO2? Exercise for the readers: If that’s per ton C, how much does the tax add to the cost of a gallon (or litre) of gasoline? How does your answer change if that number is per tonne CO2 instead? –raypierre]

    Comment by James — 28 Oct 2007 @ 12:12 PM

  118. James (117) — That is quite clever, but it does not solve the problem that the oceans are becoming more acid, killing the corals, etc.

    I see no solution but to lower the CO2 concentrations to ‘basify’ the oceans.

    [Response: In fact, if geoengineering works, it will almost certainly make the problem of ocean acidification worse. If we can increase atmospheric CO2 without rich nations suffering, say, killer heat waves, then it’s more likely that we’ll just continue burning all the coal ’til it’s gone. If the only problem is acidification of the ocean, it’s made more invisible, and easier to ignore. –raypierre]

    Comment by David B. Benson — 28 Oct 2007 @ 2:45 PM

  119. 1. Pump cold ocean water up from 1000 m depth and distribute it at the surface. I have a very tentative design using one cold-water pipe with two pumping plants, each bringing up 5 m3/s. We need to upwell about a million cubic meters per second to accomplish noticeable cooling of the ocean surface and the overlying atmosphere. Therefore 100,000 of these pumping stations are required. Pumping power is derived from the solar energy stored in the ocean surface by means of a heat engine that uses the temperature differential between the surface water and the upwelled water. This ocean thermal energy conversion has been under development for more than 90 years with no real success because the developers have attempted to export net power. Even in the tropical ocean, the temperature differential is so small that the heat engine can just about run itself with enough power left over to support housekeeping functions. Much of the available temperature differential is lost in the temperature drops of the evaporator and condenser heat exchangers. Attempts to export net power increase these temperature drops, leaving less temperature differential for the turbine working fluid, which lowers the engine efficiency and requires excessively large structures. The upwelling system maximizes efficiency by exporting only cold water and the nutrients that are dissolved in it. This enables phytoplankton to increase their food production. The benefits of cooling and increased primary production are spread over a large population, so the economic model provides no revenue stream to finance the development and operation of the system. So in addition to technical evaluation, we will need to improve the economics. Perhaps sufficient altruism will result from a proper appreciation of the global warming and fishery depletion threats to our collective survival. If the upwelling is done in the Caribbean, there would be economic benefit from the reduction of hurricane potential intensity, as explained in No. 3 below.

    2. Use floating solar collectors to evaporate seawater to increase orographic rainfall. Australia furnishes an ideal situation because it has a central desert which heats up by afternoon during most of the year. Heated air, which rises, is replaced by air drawn in from the coast. A mountain range on the east coast causes this ocean air to rise and expand, causing precipitation that provides fresh water to the inland slopes of the mountains. This was a fertile area used for agriculture and water supply, but it is suffering from a drought. A large area of the southeast coastal waters covered with solar evaporator rafts could increase the moisture content of this air inflow and provide needed rainfall. Of course it is not easy to maintain a uniform depth of seawater on a solar collector tray that is heaving and tilting in a rough sea. You don’t want to be heating some water only to have it slosh out of the tray when it rides a wave before it can evaporate. We will need some pumps operated by a photovoltaic panel to keep the water spread out over the evaporator tray. No battery storage is needed because the evaporator only works when the sun shines. The economic model is better here because the equipment and the benefits are concentrated near the heavily populated capital region of Australia. The development and operation could be supported through taxation.

    3. Ocean turbine arrays in the pasages between the Antilles Islands can provide electric power for utility customers and desalination plants on the islands. In addition, the turbine arrays can provide sufficient back pressure to cause some of the North and South Equatorial Current water to flow around the Antilles chain instead of entering the Caribbean Sea and passing through the Gulf of Mexico. The outflow from the Gulf is restricted by a decrease in depth and a narrow channel between the Florida coast and the Bahama Islands. The flow in this portion of the path is driven by gravity. Reduction of the flow volume would allow sea level to be lower in the Gulf of Mexico. My very approximate calculations indicate that extraction of 3 gigawatts from the current in the Antilles passages would lower the Gulf sea level by 1 cm. The proportionality between power extraction and sea level lowering might hold to greater values. In addition to pollution-free power for the Antilles Islands, the lowering of the Gulf sea level would benefit New Orleans and other cities. Furthermore the reduction of the Loop Current transport through the Gulf of Mexico would decrease its direct interference with the oil and gas operations in the Gulf, and reduce the amount of warm water accumulated inside the Loop and warm-core rings which detach from the Loop. Passing hurricanes gain strength from these warm water pockets, so this project would result in some decrease in the potential intensity of hurricanes in the Gulf, which would benefit the oil and gas industry. The economic model for this project looks encouraging.

    Comment by Richard LaRosa — 28 Oct 2007 @ 3:21 PM

  120. quote the problem that the oceans are becoming more acid, killing the corals, etc. unquote

    Well, if the oceans are not taking up CO2 as fast as expected, the acidification (actually it’s a reduction in alkalinity but let’s not quibble) rate will not proceed so quickly. Some news is good news. I was always suspicious of the study by the RS anyway: it relied on models and on studies of mixing in bays where wave action on the shore would have ensured complete equalisation of partial pressures.

    The important observation is that there is an imbalance between the ocean and the atmosphere. The CO2 in the atmosphere should be going into the water but it isn’t. Why not? The wind speed is increasing. Why is that? If it’s windier then we’d expect more wave breaking to increase mixing.

    The comments about cooling are getting a little hysterical. Might I suggest that everyone read the proposal by Latham, Salter et al about using atomised water sprays — more hygroscopic nuclei in deficient areas of the ocean should raise albedo by increasing stratocumulus cover in the boundary layer — to cool selected areas? Wind-powered, instantly switch-offable if it looks like a bad idea, the proposal works by raising the Earth’s albedo. Looks good to me — Palle’s studies would suggest to the scientifically naive that albedo drop (about 7 or 8 watts/m^2 in 20 years) is a more potent cause of warming than CO2 (2 – 3 watts/ m^2). Latham and Salter’s proposal is a good, harmless way of buying time. (I don’t know where you will find it on line — I got a copy from one of the authors.)

    Comment by Julian Flood — 28 Oct 2007 @ 5:16 PM

  121. CO2 dissolving in the ocean worldwide is physical chemistry.

    Dissolved CO2 being removed from the ocean, and clouds formed over the ocean, on our time scale, looks to be mostly biology.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 Oct 2007 @ 6:47 PM

  122. Re #68,
    “As a side benefit, sea life will flourish.

    Pretty much a win-win!’

    What makes you so sure? If you read further in that very same Wiki entry you can find plenty of reason to doubt that this would work on a large scale. You know, while were at it we might try terra forming Mars too.

    “Precautionary principle

    Critics argue as follows. We do not know the possible side-effects of large-scale iron fertilization. Not enough research has been done. We should not risk iron fertilization on the scale needed to affect global CO2 levels or animal populations. Creating blooms in naturally iron-poor areas of the ocean is like watering the desert: you are completely changing one type of ecosystem into another.”

    Comment by Fernando Magyar — 28 Oct 2007 @ 7:38 PM

  123. Re # 120 Julian Flood: “…the acidification (actually it’s a reduction in alkalinity but let’s not quibble)…”

    You are technically correct, and I suppose you could call it dealkalinization. However, term acidification has long been used to describe the reduction in pH of a solution due to the addition of acid (e.g., titrating seawater, from, say, pH 8.2 to pH 7.5 by the addition of HCl or by increasing PCO2).

    Re #119 Richard LaRosa:
    I don’t suppose you have considered the impact of such a scheme on plankton and plankton-based food chains, or microbial decomposition pathways in surface waters, etc? If so, I would be curious to know what you concluded, and where this analysis has been published.

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 28 Oct 2007 @ 9:07 PM

  124. Re #118: [That is quite clever, but it does not solve the problem that the oceans are becoming more acid, killing the corals, etc.]

    I think of geoengineering as analogous to a coronary bypass: it keeps you alive for now, but if you don’t use that time to address the underlying causes – stop smoking, exercising more, etc – pretty soon you’re back for another, maybe a transplant, or maybe just dead.

    Likewise, a geoengineering “solution” just deals with the first order problems of increased temperature caused accumulated CO2 to date. Keep on increasing the CO2, and even if you don’t overwhelm the geoengineering, the second & third order problems become more important.

    Though I think an albedo reduction could help with some of those problems, too. Cool the planet a bit, and that should increase the amount of CO2 held in oceans, and increase the oceans biological productivity, which would remove some CO2.

    Comment by James — 29 Oct 2007 @ 11:04 AM

  125. Rather than sulfates, why not use slaked lime? It would cool, absorb CO2, and increase the pH of the Oceans when it got there. The burning process from limestone could be backended with a CO2 capture system, which CO2 could then be combined with ammonia to produce urea and sunk in an ocean trench (surrounded by concrete or something). Like sulphates, calcium carbonate is a natural constituent of air, so there’s little risk to the biosphere.

    Richard LaRosa # 119…

    Why not a bunch of geothermal power stations along the mid-Atlantic Ridge? The warm water would naturally float to the top, no pumps or pipes needed. The nutrients would fertilize algal blooms that would not only add to CO2 uptake but to the overall sink.

    The long-term problem I see with all this is that the only really expandable place for carbon to go as we burn fossil fuels is the bottom of the ocean. This involves a real risk of eutrification, which could be a much more serious problem than a few degrees temperature rise.

    [Response: Acidification yes, but not eutrophication. CO2 is not a limiting nutrient in the Ocean. –raypierre]

    Comment by AK — 29 Oct 2007 @ 3:01 PM

  126. Re #9 The problem I have with the idea that a big space program will cure our ills is the notion that somehow a lot of R&D to do that is innately more productive than a lot of other R&D. I expect the improvements in technology needed to make large scale space solar power arrays would improve the prospects for solar power here on Earth, and undercut them due to the high cost of doing it in space. We don’t need the big space program, we need the R&D. Now, if the energy transmission aspects of space power proposals could feed Central Australian solar farms to Europe or North America economically… or (more ironically) Middle East solar farms…

    On climate engineering – it deserves looking into but the confidence levels re indirect as well as direct consequences need to be very high.

    Comment by Ken — 29 Oct 2007 @ 5:14 PM

  127. Re:123 Chuck Booth. Upwelling cold deep water brings up the macro nutrients (nitrate and phosphate ions) and micronutrients (iron) that are abundantly dissolved in the deep water. These are needed by the phytoplankton to replace the nutrients that they use up in the surface water. I have some calculations of the additional biomass that will be created by upwelling a million cubic meters/sec, but I need to study the books that I have bought to be sure of my estimates. In particular, since sufficient ocean thermal energy (to run the heat engine) is available only in the tropics, the calculations must be specifically for the tropical ocean. This will involve species different from those involved in food chains in the temperate regions where natural upwelling brings up the nutrients. I hope to get some answers that can be published.

    Comment by Richard LaRosa — 29 Oct 2007 @ 6:47 PM

  128. Re:125 AK, I’m trying to bring up cold water for surface cooling. I know it has nutrients dissolved in it. Don’t want warm water and don’t know what’s coming from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

    Comment by Richard LaRosa — 29 Oct 2007 @ 7:04 PM

  129. Re#125, we want cold water for surface cooling. It’s heavy and won’t float to the top. This takes power, about 1.8 megawatt per pumping station. 100,000 stations take 180 gigawatts, supplied by the sunshine that heats the surface water.

    Comment by Richard LaRosa — 29 Oct 2007 @ 9:38 PM


    ——excerpt follows, see link for full story ——-

    Foster City-based Planktos Inc. has invested $2 million in a controversial effort to spread as much as 100 tons of pulverized iron across a vast swath of ocean to stimulate the growth of carbon dioxide-gobbling phytoplankton. …

    Planktos will sprinkle iron dust around a 100 kilometer by 100 kilometer zone of open ocean and Coleman predicts the plankton community will mature within six months.

    He is confident Planktos can have a certified product to market within 12 to 18 months. The entire effort is expected to cost $2 million.

    Once the company has received certification from U.S. and international officials, Planktos will be able to sell the carbon credits more cheaply than its competitors. Prices currently average $5 to $10 a ton. ….

    —- end excerpt ——-

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 29 Oct 2007 @ 10:51 PM

  131. Re 130: This Planktos story is a good illustration of the risks of geo-engineering! They proposed to dump iron near the Galapagos archipelago of all places. Fortunately I read in the link provided that this bet is off. But it does illustrate that even smart engineers forget to take into account ‘trivia’ like doing your initial experiments near a biological hotspot. If enterprises like this one manage to find investment capital, it is likely that some poor 3rd world country will give out a concession, and potential damage will not be sufficiently scrutinized. If corruption would come into play, things could turn out even worse.

    Comment by Bob Schmitz — 30 Oct 2007 @ 12:35 AM

  132. Here’s why biofuel isn’t enough of an answer, well stated:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 30 Oct 2007 @ 10:49 AM

  133. RE: 73 Going Public

    There’s an argument to be made in not sugar coating geoengineering as OTS technologies. But as I’ve pointed out before, the more typical response is to exaggerate the negative consequences, often without a sound basis for doing so.

    The other response is to attempt to censor the discussion, although with the recent upwelling of symposia (AGU in December), high-level meetings (Boston) and journal publications (Phil. Trans Royal Soc.), it seems unlikely that discussion time is over.

    The issue of censorship comes up in a recent issue of Science.

    Tinkering With the Climate to Get Hearing at Harvard Meeting
    Eli Kintisch
    Should scientists and engineers seriously consider large-scale
    alterations of the climate to stave off the worst effects of global
    warming? Several dozen top U.S. climate scientists will explore that
    controversial question next month in a 2-day invitation-only workshop
    at Harvard University designed to explore whether direct interventions
    might be needed to supplement efforts to reduce greenhouse gas

    Curbing greenhouse warming manually, so to speak, could offer a more
    immediate and possibly simpler solution to climate change than the
    massive overhaul of energy systems that would be needed to cut global
    greenhouse gas emissions. Ideas include removing CO2 from the
    atmosphere by forcing air through absorbers or stimulating plankton
    growth, and shading the planet with aerosols. But many prominent
    climate scientists have been leery of even discussing such
    possibilities for fear that they could provide policymakers with an
    excuse not to cut carbon emissions, or that the technology comes with
    serious side effects. As a result, says Harvard geochemist Daniel
    Schrag, who is organizing the meeting, discussions have occurred
    mostly among advocates. “I wanted to get the mainstream climate
    community … to look closely at this thing,” he says.

    The 8 to 9 November meeting will include climate heavyweights such as
    James Hansen of NASA, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of
    Technology in Cambridge, and Mark Cane of Columbia University. Its
    focus will be on ways to lower the atmosphere’s temperature, including
    releasing massive amounts of sulfates into the atmosphere to mimic the
    natural cooling effects of volcanic eruptions. Such an approach was
    publicized last year by Nobelist Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist
    at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany (Science,
    20 October 2006, p. 401).

    Scientists pondering geoengineering ideas argue that such cooling
    schemes could be hard to control and wouldn’t address the
    acidification of the oceans caused by CO2. Others worry that any
    discussion of the topic will undermine political momentum to cut
    greenhouse gas emissions. These include atmospheric scientist
    Elisabeth Moyer, who before leaving Harvard for the University of
    Chicago told Schrag that the conference should be held off campus or
    without publicity. “I had concerns about lending the conference the
    prestige of the Harvard name. … The conference can be viewed as an
    endorsement [of geoengineering],” she says. Even so, Moyer thinks that
    “it is critical to discuss the idea.”
    Hansen says better forest practices, advanced agriculture techniques,
    and geologic carbon sequestration could supplement the real emission
    cuts required to stave off dangerous climate change and avoid the need
    for geoengineering efforts. He hopes to spread that message at the
    meeting. “The potential for stabilizing climate is more than
    realized,” he says. But he agrees with Schrag that geoengineering
    should still be explored, as future policymakers might seek to do it
    whether or not scientists understand it. “I don’t think scientists
    should shy away” from the topic, he says.

    The fact that the meeting is taking place at all marks a new phase of
    urgency among climate scientists, says modeler Ken Caldeira of the
    Carnegie Institution of Washington in Stanford, California. In a 1998
    paper, Caldeira called the aerosol approach “a promising strategy,”
    although he argued that emissions cuts remain “the most prudent”
    course of action. “A decade later, a bunch of people are coming to the
    same point,” says Caldeira.

    Note the response of Elisabeth Moyer who is quoted as saying she thought the meetings should be held off campus or without publicity. Perhaps in an underground parking garage and Bob Woodward can take notes?

    The meeting is billed as a chance for all kinds of views to be expressed, not just those of supporters of geo. Good luck and maybe bring a taser just in case.

    A similar meeting was held almost a year ago at Moffet Field and was treated by some of the media like a war was being planned. BTW, where is the report on that meeting?

    The second example concerns the response from those would be Woodwards, the bloggers and is a virtual tutorial on exaggeration. This one comes by way of the folks operating the grist mill.

    The mill workers apparently need some time off. They’ve been working way too hard. Working conditions must be Medieval at best.

    The Grist Man has imagined a conspiracy that would dwarf anything Scully and Muldar ever had to contend with. NRDC in bed with Exxon and BP. And Stanford and Princeton too! Oh my!

    He lumps all the geo ideas together, from aerosols to moving the Earth out of its orbit.

    But the biggest geo threat is carbon capture and sequestration, which he sees as the real get out of jail free card for big oil, big coal, big natural gas, big auto and any other biggies I may have left out. He thinks this will serve as a distraction for the funding and attention needed to develop renewable energy.

    This is kind of ironic, since the term geoengineering was originally coined to describe ocean disposal of carbon dioxide from power plants. He classifies the Stanford/NRDC work as geo, but the convention has been to treat carbon capture as a separate approach and their web site does so. Although geo is listed as one of the research areas funded by the Stanford grant program, to my knowledge, no work has been done.

    Grist Man correctly points out some of the potential problems with carbon capture, from leaking back into the atmosphere to how the technology will get transferred to China and India, implying they won’t be smart enough to use it properly.

    The Conspiracy Bus also veers off the NJ Turnpike and down a steep embankment when he implies that Princeton is conducting significant geo research at the behest of BP. The only geo research I found concerns some modeling of the efficiency of iron fertilization that was inconclusive. They are, however, carrying out studies related to carbon capture and sequestration.

    So by blurring the distinction between geoengineering and carbon capture, this blogger attempts to delegitimize any effort to continue to use fossil fuels and at the expense of geoengineering. As if it doesn’t get enough bad publicity already.

    Comment by Alvia Gaskill — 30 Oct 2007 @ 11:33 AM

  134. Re 128, 129 Richard LaRosa…

    Sorry, I thought you were trying to fertilize algae with nutrient-rich bottom water. But I’m curious, if you bring cold, saline bottom water to the surface without warming it, what’s keeping it from turning around and floating back down?

    Some other thoughts…

    How about towing some icebergs from the polar regions out into the tropical doldrums? They’d not only cool the top water, but lighten it by diluting it. Not only that, but they might produce enough fog to increase the albedo by a significant amount.

    Speaking of albedo, how about a bunch of aluminized foam plastic “popcorn”. Just set it floating. One thing about that, if the effect turned out wrong, you could probably just gather it up like you would an oil spill.

    Or you could use pumice, real or artificial.

    Comment by AK — 30 Oct 2007 @ 1:51 PM

  135. Some thoughts about geoengineering ideas……they are endless and limited only by our imagination; the most far-out can qualify for entry into the discussion if the sponsor cares to offer it.

    Good thing we are not discussing this in a legislative session or policy-formation Cabinet meeting.

    The foregoing commentary is evidence the world community will never get a collective handle on geoengineering because the ideas appear not much more than throwing paper in the air and hoping the ones that land on the x mark will actually be feasible. Humans are now more judicious when it comes to unilateral action on which the World Court can render a judgement.

    Comment by John L. McCormick — 30 Oct 2007 @ 3:11 PM

  136. Re#134 AK,as you point out, cold deep water brought to the surface will sink unless it is distributed widely enough to mix with the surface water and reach an equilibrium temperature that will keep it near the top. The only method I have found so far is to discharge the cold water through a long perforated hose. This adds to the pumping power requirement. If the pumping plant is in a steady ocean surface current, the discharge hose can trail downstream. In a shifting ocean current the long hose can be a problem, especially if the current reverses, as in a tidal flow. I wish I could find a better way to spread the cold water at the surface.

    Comment by Richard LaRosa — 30 Oct 2007 @ 6:31 PM

  137. All of this serious discussion of geo-engineering projects is enough to make me scared of you.

    I do not believe that geo-engineering is a fit topic for scientists.

    Engineers, maybe, but then that’s what they do.

    Scientists figure out how things work. If you like fancy ideas, write a novel.

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 30 Oct 2007 @ 6:47 PM

  138. Re #135…

    IMO the way a discussion like this one could be most valuable is as a search for valuable, out-of-the-box ideas. It seems to me that a preliminary feasibility screen could be applied to every idea that comes up, rather than allowing them to depend on how hard a “sponsor” wants to push them.

    The more “far-out” an idea is, the less likely it is to have already been considered by experts and deemed unfeasible. This means the possibility always exists that an idea that comes up in a discussion like this might turn out to be the “magic bullet” that could cheaply and effectively solve the immediate “problem” of excess CO2.

    Personally I’m not at all sanguine about the existing climate models, and the possibility of a “tipping point” waiting unseen right ahead should not be neglected. This doesn’t (IMO) justify “turning out the lights”, but if something could be implemented to reduce CO2 to 280 PPM in a decade or so, and the side effects seemed predictable and containable, it should probably be considered.

    Along this line…

    An idea that I came up with a little while ago, that I’m coming to like more and more as I think about it, is to genetically engineer a new version of peat moss to be very fast-growing and tolerate brackish water and tropical climates. For containment, it could be designed without some essential parts of the reproductive apparatus (vegetative growth only) and made vulnerable to certain poisons or dependent on certain trace materials.

    Peat bogs generally contain their carbon until somebody digs them up, so given some minimal low-level hydrological engineering large area carbon sinks could be set up quickly, and if they work, the process could be expanded rapidly.

    I would guess the current level of knowledge of genetic engineering is up to such a project.

    Comment by AK — 30 Oct 2007 @ 9:24 PM

  139. > peat moss
    The mass of the hypothetical peat moss would end up about equivalent to the mass of coal and oil burned, and the volume would be much greater. I suspect there are problems with the numbers involved there. The genetic engineering needed to make anything that complicated, let alone that manageable, is far beyond the current state of that art.

    Hey, why not invent a form of calcite-shell-forming plankton that would build floating cities instead?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 30 Oct 2007 @ 10:02 PM

  140. Re#137 Walt Bennett, my work is based on sound science and engineering. I have worked on my ideas for some time and have attempted to quantify them. People should examine them and ask detailed critical questions rather than dismiss them out of fear or ignorance.

    Comment by Richard LaRosa — 30 Oct 2007 @ 11:17 PM

  141. Re #139: [The mass of the hypothetical peat moss would end up about equivalent to the mass of coal and oil burned…]

    And what’s to stop people from burning that peat as a source of energy?

    [Hey, why not invent a form of calcite-shell-forming plankton that would build floating cities instead?]

    I think it’s already been done, with the floating cities conveniently anchored, too. Coral :-)

    Comment by James — 30 Oct 2007 @ 11:19 PM

  142. > burning that peat
    If you want to _remove_ the excess carbon dioxide, that’s out.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 30 Oct 2007 @ 11:56 PM

  143. Re: #140,

    In my layman’s opinion it is sheer hubris to believe we can safely geo-engineer any aspect of the environment. As I stated previously, our understanding of the atmosphere is so primitive that we cannot meaningfully anticipate the consequences of changing a single input.

    From this lofty perch we propose that we can leap off the cliff and teach ourselves to fly?

    A little humility toward the grand complexity of nature would seem to be in order.

    I do not dismiss the fact that work has been put in on this. Work gets put in on all kinds of ideas. Think away! No harm in thinking about things, right? Conducting some experiments and so forth.

    How you envision translating a little bit of knowledge into an action as definitive as an attempt to change global climate is staggering.

    There is a very serious skeptical argument to be made, and perhaps I am not the one to make it, though I have tried.

    Bottom line: the only way to know if ideas this large work, is to try them. Then you are stuck with the consequences, good or bad.

    The only approach that makes sense to me is to identify human activities that already influence the climate, and to moderate those activities. As the flower children might have said: to get in better harmony with nature.

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 31 Oct 2007 @ 8:26 AM

  144. Walt, I think you are doing just fine. Serious skeptical arguments might also miss the details that apparently escaped the ethanol industry and perhaps will doom the cellulosic enthanol industry.

    Take a moment to read (link below) the objective appraisal of the liklihood of cellulosic ethanol becoming commercial anytime soon, or ever, they will do themseles a large favor by not investing a dime in that dead end idea.

    Wish we had thought a bit more of the whole system and how pieces must fit when the Democratic candidates dished up corn ethanol to get the farm vote. We are really not a clever specie; we just think we are.

    And is the ethanol craze a varient of geo-engineering? 2007/ 10/fuelish-fantasies.html

    Comment by John L. McCormick — 31 Oct 2007 @ 9:52 AM

  145. RE# 144

    Walt, try this link, the pervious one was broken.

    Comment by John L. McCormick — 31 Oct 2007 @ 9:56 AM

  146. It is interesting to me that the remediation approaches currently being considered for climate change can be classified into two categories:
    1)Geoengineering–approaches ranging from fertilizing the oceans to detonation of many nukes
    2)Econo-engineering (a term I just coined)–which looks at policy/fiscal changes ranging from cap and trade, carbon taxes, etc. to forcing everybody to live like the Amish.

    It is also interesting that those who understand the science are largely horrified by the geoengineering approaches, while those who are of a more business/economy bent (and are past the denial stage) are horrified by the econo-engineering approaches. In part, this may be due to the natural human tendency to attribute any adverse consequence to SEP (somebody else’s problem). However, I think it also reflects our level of comfort with our own state of knowledge about our specialties. Those who understand climate and geo/eco-sciences know we are altering the climate, since this is a very robust conclusion. We are much less comfortable with making predictions for what the consequences will be, and we have no comfort at all with our ability to predict the consequences of geoengineering efforts for a system as complicated as the global ecosystem.
    Similarly, I think most economists are comfortable with the conclusion that markets tend to work efficiently. They also know that most well meaning efforts to “improve” markets do more harm than good–in part because there is always somebody who wil try to work a scam on the market intervention.

    So we have the prospect of climate remediation playing havoc with the ecosystem or with the economy, and we don’t have sufficient understanding of either to fully anticipate the unintended consequences. And at the same time, we know that if we do nothing, the results will likely be severe for both the ecosystem and the economy. I can see why folks are a little nervous.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 31 Oct 2007 @ 10:27 AM

  147. RE: 143 If we can’t understand the impact of changing inputs, then we better not attempt to reduce emissions, right?

    The scale and duration of any geoengineering experiment would have to be determined in advance so as to maximize the amount of knowledge to be gained, while limiting any negative impacts.

    Release 50 tons of H2S in the upper stratosphere once and there won’t be a measureable effect of any kind. Do 5000 tons a day for 6 months and there probably will. Likewise with proposals to increase clouds, redirect ocean currents, etc.

    Some have pointed out correctly that because natural variations or at least those that we are now calling natural can be confused with impacts from geoengineering, separating the natural from the man-made may be difficult.

    Pinatubo at one time was blamed for the midwest flooding in 1993 and a corresponding drought in the Sahel. However, there was flooding this year also in the midwest, although not as great as in 1993, obviously not due to a volcano. And there are droughts in Africa all the time that are expected to worsen due to global warming, irrespective of any geoengineering tests.

    At what scale would an aerosol test or program cause regional or global weather changes? Some of this can probably be estimated using modeling and data from previous volcanic eruptions, but the truth is, we will just have to perform the experiments in order to find out.

    The good news is that such experiments can probably be terminated after a few weeks or months, well before any long term changes have occurred. My desert cover plan involved a series of stages beginning with modeling and proceeding to progressively larger field trials. The same approach would likely be followed for any geoengineering project.

    I must emphasize that I was never in favor of doing field trials without first exhausting what we could learn from modeling and other implementation related studies. Where I differ from Ken Caldeira, Mike MacCracken, Paul Crutzen and various others is that I believe that the modeling and implementation work needs to be fast tracked and that this be treated as a “right now” emergency instead of one some unknown number of decades hence.

    To convince me otherwise, someone is going to have to show me with some certainty how real progress is going to be made on reducing emissions. To date, I am unconvinced.

    If we attempt to study this issue to death because we really don’t want to do it in the first place, we may wind up studying our own death and everybody else’s.

    RE: 137 Should “scientists” stay out of geoengineering and leave it to the “engineers.” Well, I got some news for you. There are no scientists or engineers. There are people who carry out studies in fields that involve these disciplines, but very few people are so limited in their knowledge base that they can’t contribute outside their field.

    Why do you think Google is hiring all those people who aren’t computer programmers or is it software “engineers” they call themselves these days to assist in organizing all the information in the world and placing ads next to it?

    To successfully develop geoengineering technologies is going to require the efforts of people from a wide range of backgrounds, just like the IPCC reports that aren’t all prepared by climate modelers.

    The basic science has to be addressed first, however, since it is that which drives the technology. Without Einstein’s E = mc2 there is no atomic bomb or nuclear power plant.

    So the scientist, whether a chemist or physicist by education or experience has a lot to contribute to the identification and development of geoengineering technologies. He just can’t do it all by himself.

    Comment by Alvia Gaskill — 31 Oct 2007 @ 11:16 AM

  148. Re #143: [In my layman’s opinion it is sheer hubris to believe we can safely geo-engineer any aspect of the environment.]

    Unfortunately we have been engaged in an unintentional geoengineering experiment: adding large amounts of CO2 to a planet’s atmosphere. The jury’s still out on whether we can do this safely, but the evidence to date is not looking good.

    We’ll see what happens, but it seems only prudent to think about what might be done in case the experiment starts to burn down the lab :-)

    Comment by James — 31 Oct 2007 @ 12:29 PM

  149. Re: #139

    peat moss

    The mass of the hypothetical peat moss would end up about equivalent to the mass of coal and oil burned, and the volume would be much greater. I suspect there are problems with the numbers involved there. The genetic engineering needed to make anything that complicated, let alone that manageable, is far beyond the current state of that art.

    You’d need some quite extensive, and deep, peat bogs. However, AFAIK the amount of anthropogenic CO2 in the air is only a fraction of that created by burning all that oil and coal. IMO the best thing to do with it would be to gather it up periodically, wrap it in something waterproof, and drop it in a trench or alluvial fan.

    My back-of-the-envelope calculation says that removing 100 PPM from 5×10^8 Km^2 surface at 10 tons/meter^2 at 10% density (the rest being water) would take up 5000 Km^3. At 10 meters thickness that’s half a million Km^2, which is a pretty big deal. At 100 Meters thickness, it’s 50,000 Km^2, which is a manageable area, but growing that depth of peat bog might take more sophisticated hydrologic engineering.

    As for genetic engineering, I doubt “dropping out” a few genes necessary for the reproductive process would be difficult, and a little research a while back showed me that the regulation process of RuBisCo is already being studied in C4 grasses. Obviously, similar studies would have to be made of sphagnum, and perhaps a gene for RuBisCo and part of the regulatory process would have to be spliced in from some other plant.

    I’ll take your word for it that this sort of thing is beyond current technology, but I wonder how long it would stay that way, especially if there were a strong focus on it. The big advantage of this plan (IMO) is that it doesn’t really involve tinkering with the global system, just something not much bigger than agriculture.

    Comment by AK — 31 Oct 2007 @ 12:58 PM

  150. Re: #147,

    [RE: 143 If we can’t understand the impact of changing inputs, then we better not attempt to reduce emissions, right?]

    That came off a bit glib, and it also inverts my point. “Reducing emissions” is not an action, it is a reaction to “Increasing emissions and learning that they harm the environment”.

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 31 Oct 2007 @ 1:05 PM

  151. Re: #147,

    [To convince me otherwise, someone is going to have to show me with some certainty how real progress is going to be made on reducing emissions. To date, I am unconvinced.]

    You nailed the problem on the head.

    As long as people put forward seemingly serious suggestions that we can seed the stratosphere and tune the temperature (with no collateral ill effects), not only will people line up to believe it, they will bet on it. Why? Because it permits them to continue to change nothing. The path of least resistance.

    Thus, would-be geo-engineers actually contribute to the lethargic pace of change. We can keep on dreaming that we won’t have to.

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 31 Oct 2007 @ 1:09 PM

  152. Ray (under comment 16) suggests that burning biomass and sequestering the carbon might be a more benign approach than pumping masses of sulphates into the atmosphere. I have no doubt that trying to re-engineer the atmosphere could make matters worse, but I also fear that plans to use bioenergy with C&C on such a large scale as to theoretically reduce atmospheric CO2 could very quickly lead to biological collapse.

    Lermit and Read are two of the proponents of such ‘geo-engineering’ with biomass. They speak of using 500 million hectares of land by 2030 (by comparison, India has 329 million hectares). With a population which by then could be above 7 billion, with climate change, desertification and water shortages already reducing the amount of arable land worldwide, that will leave virtually no space for ecosystems and for biodiversity (and almost certainly too little land for food for everybody). Ecosystems play an essential role in helping to regulate the carbon cycle, rainfall patterns, for maintaining soil and the hydrological cycle. Do we really think that we can survive by transforming most of our planet into virtually sterile monocultures? That we can get away with replacing our biodiverse natural forests with short-rotation timber plantations, without depleting soil and groundwater? Surely, if we want to have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, we need to drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions AND protect our remaining ecosystems, whilst undoing some of the harm already done to natural forests, wetlands and grasslands!

    Comment by Almuth Ernsting — 31 Oct 2007 @ 6:00 PM

  153. I found an interesting document, Magnitude and Significance of Carbon Burial in Lakes, reserviors, and Northern Peatlands, dating from 1999. I couldn’t find a later version and don’t know if the info is still considered accurate, but here are some interesting quotes:

    Wetlands that accumulate more than 30 cm of organic peat are called peatlands (Gorham, 1991). In Europe, they are called mires. Peatlands are concentrated in northern Russia, the Baltic States, Fennoscandia, Canada, and the Northern United States (particularly in Alaska) where they make up 9.7 percent of the total land surface (Gorham, 1995). It is estimated that the total area of unmined northern peatlands is 3.3×10^12 m^2 (Gorham, 1991). The estimated present average rate of OC accumulation in northern peatlands is 29 g/m^2/yr (Gorham, 1991). Using this rate for all northern peatlands, their total OC burial amounts to 96 Tg/yr (table 1).

    Globally, continental margins only amount to 12 percent of the area of the world oceans, but they are estimated to account for 44 percent of the present burial of OC in the oceans (Emerson and Hedges, 1988). Very little OC accumulates in the deep ocean basins, mainly because any organic matter produced in surface waters decomposes before it gets to the bottom. Estimates of OC burial in all oceans of the world vary, but tend to be about 100 Tg/yr (table 1).


    The total annual OC accumulation in lakes (54 Tg), reservoirs (265 Tg), and northern peatlands (96 Tg) is 415 Tg (table 1). Despite the total area of these three carbon sinks being only about 2 percent of the world ocean’s surface area, they bury more than four times more carbon than the oceans (table 1).

    It should be noted that the drainage of peatlands for forestry and agriculture, and use of peat as fuel, is releasing carbon to the atmosphere. Gorham (1991) estimated that such processes release about 35 Tg/yr from northern peatlands, and more southerly regions may actually be releasing more carbon from drained peatlends than is fixed in undrained sites. On the other hand, cultural eutrophication may have increased lake sedimentation of OC four- to five-fold in small lakes, an increase of 23-32 Tg/yr.

    Comment by AK — 31 Oct 2007 @ 6:11 PM

  154. Almuth Ernsting (152) — There are people who study such issues and the results are often reported in

    Roughly, about 400 exajoules of bioenergy can be put into production without heroic measures and without competing with the production of food and animal feeds. Some portion of the biomass for that could be used to produce biocoal for sequestration in abandoned mines or carbon landfills. I consider this the only long-range solution, at least so far.

    Since any biomass will do, there isn’t a need for monocultures, necessarily. For example, the natural tall grass prairie may well be more productive than even monoculture corn or switchgrass.

    I agree with your last sentence.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 31 Oct 2007 @ 6:37 PM

  155. > biomass

    —- excerpt follows, see link for the full text, recommended —–

    … this entire discussion is not taking place reasonably- it’s highly emotional, with a careful avoidance of rational dissection.

    “Here are the multiple reasons, in order of intractability, in modest but not complete detail. And for those of you not aware, this IS an area where some consider me an “expert” – I’ve been asked to speak at multiple conferences, including one specifically on “cellulosic ethanol”.

    Barrier #1) Fire.
    … Will such fields always burn? Of course not. Will they burn often enough to make the whole proposition uneconomic? YES. … Any switchgrass growing region will be uninhabitable. ….

    Other cellulosic feedstocks will have similar fire problems, even hybrid willow. In order to be economic, these intrinsically flammable materials have to be grown in the highest density possible- increasing the fire hazard. ….

    Barrier #2) Storage.
    … We’re talking here about setting up a large scale industry. All the pieces have to fit together…..

    … Ever see a dead tree suddenly turn liquid? That’s what they’re saying they’ll be able to do, in 5 years. Believe me, the fungi and bacteria would do it now, if they could. … Turns out the cellulose in there is just really hard to get at.

    My plea is for hard, hard thinking, before we commit our hope and precious resources to blind fantasies. We don’t have time or resources to waste. We need more discipline in our projections for the future. Does this work? Does this fit in place? What happens next? And next?….

    —— end excerpt —— See link for full text

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 31 Oct 2007 @ 6:53 PM

  156. Limbaugh Says NAS Gambled on Geoengineering

    The link was too long, so you may have to paste it in to get to it.

    The Big Man has chimed in about Ken’s NY Times article. But as usual, the facts seem to not quite get in the way of a good story.

    Limbaugh’s transcript does not completely mirror the actual words in the article, although the most egregious divergence from the truth may be, could be, probably is some kind of error in transcription. You be the judge.


    Global Warming Update

    October 29, 2007

    Here’s another idea on how to cool the globe. This is a guy, Ken Caldeira, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology. Folks, this was in the New York Times. This is an op-ed. It is not a spoof. It is not satire. “Despite growing interest in clean energy technology it looks as if we’re not going to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide any time soon. The amount in the atmosphere today exceeds the most pessimistic forecasts made just a few years ago. It’s increasing faster than anybody had foreseen.” Yeah, and the temperature rise is negligible! That’s for another moment. “Even if we could stop adding the greenhouse gases tomorrow, the earth would continue warming for decades and remain hot for centuries. We would still face the threat of water from melting glaciers lapping at our doorsteps.

    “What can be done? One idea is to counteract warming by tossing small particles into the atmosphere above where the jets fly. This strategy may sound far-fetched, but it has the potential to cool the earth within months. Mount Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines that blew up in 1991, shows how this works. The eruption resulted in sulfate particles in the stratosphere that reflected the sun’s rays back to space and as a consequence the earth briefly cooled. If we could pour a five-gallon bucket’s worth of sulfate particles per second into the stratosphere it, might be enough to keep the earth from warming for 50 years. Tossing twice as much sulfate up there could protect us into the next century. A 1992 lottery for the National Academy of Sciences suggests that naval artillery, rockets, and aircraft exhaust could all be used to send the particles up. The least expensive option might be to use a fire hose suspended from a series of balloons. Scientists have yet to analyze the engineering involved but the hurdles appear surmountable.” So we’re going to pollute our way out of it! This is what I said way back when. Pollution is what cools the earth. Mt. Pinatubo was pollution. This guy has resorted to this. They’re getting desperate. Hoses, fire hoses attached to balloons? That’s a huge hose, and how many hoses are you going to need? Hoses! Sorry.


    Now NAS may eventually weigh in again on geoengineering, but I kinda doubt they will use a lottery to pick the winners. The original article, which he does link to, uses the word “report” instead of lottery. But I can just see some of the lazier news outlets, especially the lockstep right wing ones seizing on the lottery thing, so I wanted to set the record straight and of course, beat up on old Rush.

    Prof. Limbaugh also shares his wisdom about the paleoclimate, climate sensitivity and hurricanes. And need I remind everyone, millions of people listen to and believe this guy.

    His characterization of the aerosol as pollution has also been used here and elsewhere in articles, blogs, etc. It would not be considered pollution in that the chemical is a product performing a task. You could call the eventual rainout of the aerosol pollution, but if the levels are low enough, EPA would say the levels are de minimis, i.e., so far below regulatory levels as to be of no risk.

    [Response: I like the idea of running a lottery, since it would make it impossible to ignore what a gamble geoengineering schemes are. Why. you could even fund the system by selling the lottery tickets! People could place bets on who will suffer drought, what parts of the world will be too cold, what parts would remain too warm, changes in hurricanes, etc. Many possibilities there. –raypierre]

    Comment by Alvia Gaskill — 31 Oct 2007 @ 8:55 PM

  157. Workshop Report on Managing Solar Radiation

    I finally found this report today. It was published in April, but only released October 4, 2007 and is a summary of the Moffett Field meeting last November. I’m not sure when it was posted, but it had to be very recently.

    The aerosol, marine cloud and L1 point sunshade were the focus of the discussions.

    Many of the same issues that have been discussed here were covered. There was little attention paid to implementation and more to potential impacts. More questions were raised than answered.

    I’m not sure that the meeting at Harvard will be able to cover any more ground than at this meeting, since many of the unanswered questions require research as yet not undertaken and there have only been a few papers published since that are relevant.

    A general recommendation was to standardize the assumptions made in modeling so results from different studies could be compared.

    All told, very interesting reading, quite appropriate for Halloween!!

    Comment by Alvia Gaskill — 31 Oct 2007 @ 11:23 PM

  158. Re 154: Biopact appears to be a website run by industry (Equator Energies, a biofuel consultancy company), which poses as a citizens’ group (see:

    You say that 400 exajoules can be gained from bioenergy without displacing food or animal feed. I’ve read a few of the studies about the global potential for bioenergy and the optimistic forecasts all assume that there will be no climate change between now and 2050 and that agricultural yields will continue to rise year on year. Desertification and freshwater depletion are being ignored in those forecasts, too. Those assumptions are clearly questionable. You also say that bioenergy does not have to come from monocultures. That’s true, as far as heat and power is concerned (though monocultures tend to be the reality). However, we can’t assume that constantly removing vast amounts of biomass is sustainable. The idea behind ‘biomass for geo-engineering’ is that we can effectively speed up the terrestrial carbon cycle without triggering some form of ecological collapse. There’s no evidence that we can. A healthy ecosystem in a stable climate has approximately ZERO net primary productivity – that’s confirmed by the IPCC. With current carbon dioxide fertiilsation ecosystems have some primary productivity – but that is limited and new evidence suggests it may be shrinking. And a recent paper by Helmut Haberl and others ( finds that humans already use 23.8% of the net primary productivity of the terrestrial biosphere resulting in severe ecosystem degradation and bio-geochemical changes, and that large-scale biomass expansion would greatly increase those pressures. The idea that we can exploit ever more of the biosphere for fuel and now for geo-engineering without having to pay a price for it seems quite dangerous to me.

    Comment by Almuth Ernsting — 1 Nov 2007 @ 7:16 AM

  159. Well here’s another layman’s contribution to the discussion: the energy of the future will not involve combustion. Turbines for large generation supplemented with alternative sources such as wind and solar, especially at the super-local level. The turbines can be powered by dams or by natural sources of steam.

    Vehicles will run on pure electricity taken off of the grid, or a combination of electricity and hydrogen fuel cells of some sort.

    Two step approach: clean up the grid, and get vehicle electricity from the grid. Putting our minds to it, we can get there in 20 to 30 years.

    Coal must be abandoned as soon as possible. All this chatter about it being a ‘natural resource’, ‘nature’s gift to man’ and so on is almost laughable. It is a form of rock that contains high amounts of carbon, and so it burns. Lots of things burn. These are nature’s gift to man? Nature seems to think it’s actually the airborne release of particles it had seen fit to store in the earth. Hmm.

    “Clean coal” is a fantasy taught by coal producers. Coal is inherently dirty, and it is so dawggone expensive to clean it that the energy companies really don’t want to do it. They have managed to trap some particulates at some plants but nowhere near all, and many don’t trap anything at all. As for sequestering CO2, now we are back in the geoengineering camp.

    Biomass is another fantasy, but as has been pointed out, it has huge problems before it even gets off the drawing board.

    Sustainable energy that does not involve burning something – is man smart enough? The sun provides enormous energy to the earth, most of which we do not use. When will our concerted efforts to tap that free, clean, renewable resource get serious?

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 1 Nov 2007 @ 8:37 AM

  160. Bringing up bottom water has two major issues which I have not seen addressed here:

    1 – Bottom water contains a lot of dissolved carbon. This carbon will be released when it is brought to the surface.

    2 – The coldness of the bottom water is a reservoir, not a permanent sink, for heat. It is refilled by the coldness of the poles, and artificial pumping, which will increase poleward warm currents (by mechanical pushing), will warm the arctic by pushing more warm equatorial water towards the poles.

    Comment by Robert Edele — 1 Nov 2007 @ 9:14 AM

  161. Almuth, thanks for the pointer. Sad to know, good to know.

    As my friend linked above
    pointed out, it makes people very, very unhappy to hear. But false hope hurts other people worse later.

    Did you find IP numbers for the consultant and for the website? It’d be interesting to check if the consultancy has been blogflogging their business pretending to be grassroots people.

    Astroturf biofuel. Feh.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Nov 2007 @ 9:42 AM

  162. Hank Roberts (155) — Nothing new there. Following Biopact makes it clear that ethanol from corn is an expensive way to trade one for one. Etc.

    Almuth Ernsting (158) — Biopact states their goals quite clearly on their site. Consultancy is one of these. There is no ‘posing’.

    Constantly removing biomass is going to have to be sustainable until we have put enough of the excess carbon in the active carbon cycle back underground. About 350 gigatonnes ought to do it. Since we have already sped up the carbon cycle by increasing CO2, we ought to slow it back down. What makes you think the current ecosystem is healthy?

    I am sure that a price will be paid, one way or another. However, I don’t see anything better on the horizon.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 1 Nov 2007 @ 12:54 PM

  163. David, what’s new there is the whole list.

    — the assessment of the size and unavoidable consequences of the fire risk — for corn, for switchgrass, or any other large scale farmed fuel.
    — the lack of actual success creating enzymes that will break down cellulose, then break down lignin, and the problem of controlling such an enzyme given that bacteria and fungi live by breaking down these plant products now, and are good at transducing genes.

    Biopact says their staff is volunteer; but they’re also a private consulting firm. How does this work? Can you point to more information, or name anyone else who works for either company that could explain more?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Nov 2007 @ 1:35 PM

  164. Walt Bennett (159) — Biomass is not a fantasy as billions of dollars are currently being invested in it. Only in the United States (and Canada, somewhat) is the approach bizzare, to say the least.

    Almuth Ernsting (158) — Let’s see: in Inner Mongolia sand willow is being planted to control the desertification. This willow makes a fine bio-degradable packaging material, so the peasants improve their income by planting and cutting, part-time. Seems a win-win to me. Much the same ought to be done in the Sahel to slow or stop desertification.

    Much of the soil on the island of Madagascar has been severely degraded by slash-and-burn agriculture. Those currently unproductive areas are instead being turned into biofuels plantations. Looks positive to me in that people will now be interested in improving the soils and have the income to do so. And on and on…

    The optimistic bioenergy projections are on the order of 1200 exajoules. To accomplish this would require massive investments as well as changes in the practice of agriculture, world-wide. However, the readily obtainable 400 exajoules is considered to be half the energy requirement for 2050. The remainder will have to come from other, less renewable, sources such as wind and solar. Less renewable in the sense that eventually all the metal ores will be gone.

    The world is going to change. The question is in what way? I propose some biocoal sequestration as far less risky and less expensive than sequestering carbon dioxide (which also affects the active carbon cycle). But either is better than maintaining that merely becoming carbon-neutral is going to suffice.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 1 Nov 2007 @ 1:47 PM

  165. Hank Roberts (163) — By following Biopact daily, none of those problems are news to me, except that I hadn’t thought about fire risk. However, even that can be avoided by using the wet biomass processes, hydrothermal liquification for biodiesel or microbial fuel-cells for electricity, for example. The former has a pilot plant running now on some of Amsterdam’s clarifcation sludge (sewage). Another is being built in New England, to run on forestry wastes. The microbial fuel-cells, while promising, are still in a research stage.

    At the top of the Biopact site there are virtual buttons to click. I know nothing more than is obtainable there, but I guess that

    is a volunteer effort by the same people who do the consulting. In principle the consultancy does not have to make all of the information they collect publically available, although I suppose this might help to create future consulting opportunities as well.

    While I read what they put up, and often follow their links, that does not mean I agree with them on every particular. Having said that, they are both knowledgable and thoughtful. I respect their judgements, in the main.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 1 Nov 2007 @ 2:37 PM

  166. David, the fire problem is primary.

    The fact that it’s being ignored is the whole point of that site — it’s fundamental, it’s not an economic approach because of fire risk. The consultants are hyping the idea and enrolling volunteer members to push a business model there and it’s basically flawed.

    There simply isn’t enough primary productivity on the planet from sunlight — via biological growth and burning — to make up for human fossil fuel use.

    The writer at ‘Little Blog’ is right about this. You’ve got to show the downside of solutions or you lead people into wasting time and money. Some profit. We all lose. The numbers don’t work on this.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Nov 2007 @ 2:53 PM

  167. Re: #163,

    [Walt Bennett (159) — Biomass is not a fantasy as billions of dollars are currently being invested in it. Only in the United States (and Canada, somewhat) is the approach bizzare, to say the least.]

    I am reading that biomass will not replace fossil fuels based on the scale and economics involved.

    Am I right or wrong on this?

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 1 Nov 2007 @ 2:57 PM

  168. Walt, this may help:
    “;… The Ecological Footprint (EF) has received considerable attention as a useful indicator in the context of sustainable development. So far, it has mostly been applied as a static indicator. Here, we have derived a set of long-term EF scenarios for 17 world regions using the IMAGE 2.2 implementation of the IPCCs SRES scenarios….”

    There will certainly be some opportunities.
    The link I posted above is to a biologist/farmer who’s consulted on this sort of thing for decades and recently blogged on the cautions you don’t see addressed by enthusiasts in the business.

    — switchgrass burns, like any potential biofuel that’s grown dry.
    Harvested and stored, it’s flammable. Stored damp, it’s spontaneously combustible. That sort of consideration has to be calculated, and spelled out.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Nov 2007 @ 5:12 PM

  169. Hank Roberts (166) and Walt Bennett (167) — Ever since 1970 I’be lived here, surrounded by the wheat fields of the Palouse. Every year the wheat matures and is left to dry in the fields. Every year the wheat is harvested when completely dry. Ever year there are a few few fires during harvest or the subsequent stubble cutting operations. Every year the volunteer rural fire department runs their tanker truck to some field to extinguiish the fire. Some years even when the wind is blowing.

    It is a known and insurable risk. And for bioenergy, simply cut the biomass while still green and moist.

    There is enough biomass potential to completely replace the entire (current) fossil fuel consumption of the world, recently estimated to be 388 exajoules worth. Several different studies have been conducted and 400 exajoules from biomass is not a high estimate.

    Biomass is currently replacing fossil oil in many countries because they can grow the biomass and produce biodiesel or even ethanol for less than the current prices for petroleum products.

    The PRC is investing over one billion (US$) in DR Congo for biofuel production. I doubt they read Biopact. They certainly did not consult with the associated consultancy first.

    So you are both just simply wrong to doubt that it is economic to produce biofuels. Brazilians make a good living from it. Do not use the United States Government’s misbegotten approach as indicating economic or even environmental good sense.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 1 Nov 2007 @ 5:16 PM

  170. Re: #169,

    [Biomass is currently replacing fossil oil in many countries because they can grow the biomass and produce biodiesel or even ethanol for less than the current prices for petroleum products.]

    Cab you cite sources for this?

    Regarding fire, would it be reasonable to assume that we are anticipating dedicating more acreage to farming than we now do? And that this land will grow this type of crop, and probably existing acreage will switch over to it as well, based on market conditions. In other words, I don’t know what the multiple would be, but whatever it is, that is the increased chance of such a fire. Now, can you also multiply the number of people and equipment available to fight these fires?

    Logic tells me that would be a difficult leap in assumptions to make.

    Aside from all other concerns, when was the last time man took a giant technological leap backward? Isn’t human history marked by gains in efficiency?

    If biomass is somehow a more efficient way to fuel mankind than fossil fuels are, I must be missing something.

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 1 Nov 2007 @ 6:18 PM

  171. Walt,
    Having traveled a fair amount in Brazil, I can speak somewhat to the effectiveness of an ethanol for gasoline switch. Brazil has managed to do it pretty effectively, much to the relief of its balance of payments. The thing is that at some level, the success of Brazil’s ethanol program depends on the productivity of its sugar plantations and on the availability of cheap (almost slave) labor. Sugar cane is inherently more viable for ethanol production than is, say, corn. However, harvesting sugar cane is labor intensive and brutally difficult work. Even so, the alcohol boom has brought a measure of growth back to Brazil’s Northeast, and the massive underemployed workforce is glad for the work.
    Unfortunately, the expansion of the cane plantations has impacted environmental quality, and in order to meet future energy demands further expansion into wilderness areas will be needed.
    Celulosic alcohol production could significantly increase production as these operations produce a lot of celulosic waste.

    Other promising developments I’ve heard about are use of algae to create biodiesel and even aviation fuel. Algae tend to be more efficient at turning sunlight into calories, but this is still a decade or two from viability. Moreover, the fact of the matter is that plants just aren’t that efficient at turning sunlight into energy. The main advantage is that you can use plants to generate substitutes for petroleum distillates, and our economic infrastructure is biased toward use of these distillates.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 2 Nov 2007 @ 9:27 AM

  172. > cut the biomass while green and moist

    You didn’t read “storage and spontaneous combustion” — you can’t store that stuff wet. Nobody does.

    > Palouse

    Humans can’t see rates of change that destroy environments.

    This is the same advice I give myself: Look at where you live, that you consider a good example of what you think wise for others to do.

    In the Palouse, you’re living on very recent soil, mostly windblown silt dropped ten thousand years ago at the end of the previous glaciation, being eroded very fast by agriculture. Transient!


    “… today virtually all of the Palouse Prairie is planted in agricultural crops. The native prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States …. Once abundant birds and small mammals are few. The intensive roadbed-to-roadbed farming practiced today across the Palouse leaves few fences and fewer fencerows. Many once intermittent streams are farmed; many perennial streams with large wet meadows adjacent to them are now intermittent or deeply incised…. Agriculture has changed the hydrograph increasing peak runoff flows and shortening the length of runoff. The result is more intense erosion and loss of perennial prairie streams. As early as the 1930s soil scientists were noting significant downcutting of regional rivers (Victor 1935) and expansion of channel width. Higher faster runoff caused steams to downcut quickly, effectively lowering the water table in immediately adjacent meadows. On the South Palouse River, this process was so efficient that by 1900 farming was possible where it had been too wet previously (Victor 1935). Replacement of perennial grasses with annual crops resulted in more overland flow and less infiltration, which translates at a watershed level to higher peak flows that subside more quickly than in the past. Once perennial prairie streams are now often dry by mid-summer….
    ————–end excerpt————

    Look, all of us live in areas where human activity is degrading the environment. Without looking for baseline information all of us will mistake the transient situation we live in for healthy normal conditions that can be sustained. Not so.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Nov 2007 @ 12:23 PM

  173. Re: #171


    All true. However, our economic infrastructure was not geared toward petroleum distillates until the internal combustion engine came along.

    What I foresee is a more efficient engine which produces more power with less fuel, and that fuel, whatever it is, is plentiful, cheap to refine and safe to use. It will also either be low emission or will be easy to clean before release.

    I still believe that engine and fuel system will involve water. If I knew how, I’d go off and make my fortune.

    The implication that we will invent a solution which is based on sustaining the petroleum industry is, as I have said before, shortsighted and pessimistic. We can do better than to enslave masses of the population in reaping grass for ethanol.

    By the way, what about the plants which will need to be built to process the grass into ethanol? How clean will they be? How many will be needed? And what of the fact that ethanol cannot be transported in the same way as gasoline?

    I see real problems with the concept of biomass for fuel, and you raised several of them yourself.

    I think my point was valid: human history is marked by advances in efficiency, and I believe that the solution to this issue will be marked similarly.

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 2 Nov 2007 @ 12:43 PM

  174. Walt Bennett (170) — Follow

    and you will discover many reviews of articles about this conversion. As Eli Rabett points out, breakthoughs in energy are rare. Greater efficiency is unlikely. Ethanol is largely a poor idea, there are better possible biofuels. All the the different processing techniques to convert biomass into biofuels are much cleaner, to put it mildly, than petroleum processing plants.

    Hank Roberts (172) — The biomass goes immediately into the processing unit. Isn’t stored in the usual manner.

    As for the Palouse, several decades ago there was considerable soil loss. Changed argicultural practices have significantly reduced soil loss. And no, it doesn’t look like the orginal Palouse prairie any more than Iowa looks like the original tall grass prairie.

    To put the problem of sequestering carbon in perspective, TNYT of 2007 Oct 26, page C1, states words to the effect that cement production accounts for 5% of the carbon added to the active carbon cycle. That’s 420 megatonness of caron per year. To offset that would require producing about 470 megatonnes of bioanthracite to be sequestered in carbon landfills, by weight almost one-half of the coal production in the United States.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 2 Nov 2007 @ 2:16 PM

  175. Re: #174

    [As Eli Rabett points out, breakthoughs in energy are rare. Greater efficiency is unlikely.]

    Hence the term “breakthrough”, eh? :-)

    They do happen. And they mark the advancement of man.

    The question is not, in my mind, is biofuel useful on a small scale?

    The question is, can biomass replace fossil fuels? the issues I’ve seen raised have not been adequately addressed and pose real issues of scale.

    I stand by my assertion that man does not take giant technological leaps backward.

    Am I confused? Is biomass a more efficient process than fossil fuel?

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 2 Nov 2007 @ 5:34 PM

  176. David, I have no doubt that the problem of a sustainable economy is one that can be solved. I am sure biofuels is a part of the solution. I have very little faith that we wil in fact solve the problems facing us. The automobile/fossil fuel economy has been problematic from the beginning, and probably hasn’t made political or economic sense since the mid ’70s. Yet it persists because there are lots of powerful interests whose wealth depends on it. Corn-based ethanol will probably grow tremendously in the US not because of its technical merits, but because of the agriculture (not farm) lobby. Sugar-based ethanol is here for the foreseeable future in Brazil because it solves a lot of political and economic problems in Brazil’s underdeveloped Northeast.
    Scientists will call for an economic fix, while economists and businesses will hold out for a technical fix. Neither will happen. For all the praises we humans heap on the bulge of neurons at the top of our spinal chord, I see no evidence that it has conferred upon us any evolutionary advantage over, say, yeast. We still consume and multiply until we render our environment uninhabitable, and then we die back.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 2 Nov 2007 @ 5:51 PM

  177. > biomass goes immediately into the processing unit …

    But this really does require geoengineering:

    — mobile processing units following the harvest?
    — year-round growing seasons and the planting staggered so there is always just the right amount of material being harvested to keep the processing unit working?
    — transportation for the output from the processing unit?

    That’s why the fellow I linked to is pointing to this as just one of the many problems he lists — as an example, the “ethanol glut” in the Midwest now — they can’t store or ship more so they can’t use what they’ve got, and they can’t store what they can’t use, so they don’t buy what they can’t store, so the price to the farmer has collapsed.

    Without a thorough plan for an entire new industry, you have idle capacity, or flammable product, just sitting there.

    You could do an excellent “due diligence” investment worksheet for such an industry (as for any bioengineering idea) — the kind of complete study of problems and down sides that aren’t showing up at the PR sites.

    This is where we’re really going to need those skeptical accounting types — as the wave of new ideas starts being marketed. Because at least the old industries do know fairly well what their economics are. The new ideas don’t.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Nov 2007 @ 5:59 PM

  178. Re#160 “bottom water contains a lot of dissolved carbon” I’m checking Sarmiento and Gruber “Ocean Biogeochemical Dynamics” and it will take me a while to be sure I have a correct understanding. Without upwelling in the tropical ocean the phytoplankton use up the N, P, and Fe in the sunlit layer and these nutrients are not replaced from below because of thermal stratification. All I want to do is replace the nutrients in the surface layer. If by dissolved carbon you mean dissolved organic matter, this is particulate organic matter where the particles are so small that they don’t sink. Their concentration is greatest at the surface and on the way down the organic matter is remineralized. That is, the photosynthesis process is reversed and the organic matter is changed back to nitrate and phosphate ions and the carbon is in the form of CO2. I have to check the book, but I think the CO2 gets to the surface even without the pumped upwelling. However, we need to pump up the 1000-m water to get the nutrients to the surface in order for phytoplankton to convert the CO2 back into organic matter. So I think the pumped upwelling just increases the production in the food chainand doesn’t increase the CO2 in the atmosphere

    Your second comment: Yes, the cold water is finite, but there is an awful lot of it down there and our pumping rate of one million cubic meters per second is quite feeble, so it will last long enough for us to figure out some other way to cool the surface and bring up nutrients so we can feed ourselves. If the pumping stations are moored in the Caribbean, the cold water that they bring up will be added to the current that eventually becomes the Gulf stream, so the atmosphere and the surface water gets cooled, and a bit less heat reaches the Arctic. I don’t think this “pushes” any warm water north, but it does add cold water to the current. I see that this might increase the flow through the Gulf of Mexico, which brings up the idea of using turbines in the Antilles passages tocreate some back pressure that diverts some of the Equatorial current water around the Caribbean Sea and directly into the Gulf Stream. The upwelling and the Antilles turbines work together.

    Comment by Richard LaRosa — 2 Nov 2007 @ 11:52 PM

  179. In response to this comment in #116 that states:
    “— c.f the fact that it does nothing for ocean acidification, and also the implications of the mismatch in time scale between aerosols and CO2. –raypierre]”

    Indeed, that particular potential solution does nothing for ocean acidification. Another engineering or social solution is required to address the acidification issue. But you obviously think that a single geoengineering solution has to be solve-it-all problem aka “a silver bullet”. I got news for you: there is NO such thing as a “silver bullet”! Several, not one, geoengineering projects are required to counteract the dangerous global warming negative feedback. No geoengineering projects = adios, humanity by year 2100.

    Reducing global warming requires several geoengineering efforts and massive social changes. It is extremely dumb, naive, and luddite-like to think that NO geoengineering project is needed to combat global warming. I repeat, it will take BOTH geoengineering and massive change in society’s behavior(ie. swtich to public transportation, slower-paced lifestyle, cycling as the norm, get local produce, end mindless consumerism, shutdown/outlaw all coal plants, switch to alternative energy, etc.).

    Back to that comment about “the implications of the mismatch in time scale between aerosols and CO2.” Can you care to explain what it is? No wonder scientists still can’t communicate to the public effectively. I wished we still have Carl Sagan alive today but instead we have “media-unfriendly” scientists who still haven’t a clue on how to effectively communicate scientific results/process to the public.

    [Response: Carbon dioxide stays up there for 1000 years. Sulfate aerosols stay up there for one or two years. So, to cancel out the effect of carbon dioxide by aerosols, even assuming everything else works fine, you have to assume that humanity will stay rich enough and organized enough to put up some new aerosols every year for the next thousand years. Maybe more. You dig? That clear enough for you? I’m just repeating what I said in the original post, but I hope you’ll be able to understand it this time. I don’t think Carl Sagan could have done any better, “billions and billions” notwithstanding. –raypierre]

    Comment by Wacko — 3 Nov 2007 @ 7:53 AM

  180. Hank Roberts (177) — I’ll let you do your own research on all of this. Biopact is only one place to start. Suffice it to say that ethanol production in Brazil and India works fine, producing incomes for rather poor people who otherwise would not have employment. It doesn’t work (well) in the U.S. because of the heavy hand of the federal govenment subsidies using the wrong feedstock.

    Nonetheless, the general concept of biofuels is a workable, economic, and carbon-neutral concept. Let the (regulated) economy determine what proportion of energy is produced by photosynthesis and what proportion by other sustainable methods.

    I’ll estimate that by 2050 (if we still have a civilization then) about 25-50% will be produced from biomass.

    My central point remains that some portion needs to be turned into biocoal for sequestration. lowering the amount of carbon in the active carbon cycle.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 3 Nov 2007 @ 12:45 PM

  181. Richard, this may help:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Nov 2007 @ 2:33 PM

  182. Good cautions to potential biofuels investors here, about thermodynamics and how little MBAs understand this:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Nov 2007 @ 4:13 PM

  183. Re. #180, David B. Benson:

    biofuels is a workable, economic, and carbon-neutral concept

    It would only be carbon neutral if no fertilizers were being used in biofuel crop farms, if no forests were being cleared to make way for biofuel crop farms, if the conversion of crops to biofuel only used renewable energy, and if the fuel was being transported in a carbon-neutral way. As things stand, there is little sign that these conditions are being met, for the most part.

    Comment by Dave Rado — 3 Nov 2007 @ 5:00 PM

  184. Dave Rado (181) — I agree all of that is required to actually become fully carbon-neutral, except the bits about fertilizers and conversion. Fertilizers, when required (which is not often in the tropics), can also be produced entirely via biofuels. In the U.S. too much nitrogen fertilizer is used and this is bad from the standpoint of global warming, but this is a separate issue from the production of biofuels. Finally, the conversion can either use biofuels or else is exothermic.

    The only forests in question are the tropical rain forests in Southeast Asia, cleared for oil palms. This clearing is quite a bad idea from the standpoint of carbon cycle inputs, although does provide a cash income to the people living there. Biopact passed along the suggestion that environmental organizations could buy their own oil palm plantation and use the profits to purchase and protect some segments of tropical rain forest.

    Transport by ocean vessel does not use much energy. However, with over 90,000 vessels in the world’s ocean vessel fleet, this segment of the world economy produces about 2.7% of the carbon being added to the active carbon cycle. That is 227 million tonnes of carbon per year and considered to be more than averagely harmful because of the black carbon (soot) component. Of course, with enough production of biodiesel and bio-bunker oil, all of this transport sector could become carbon-neutral as well.

    Finally, both train engines and truck engines will perform well using biodiesel. It is simply a matter of making enough of it in a carbon-neutral manner.

    Still, these concerns are ones which you may care to raise in the comment sections of Biopact:

    Comment by David B. Benson — 3 Nov 2007 @ 5:28 PM

  185. Equator Energy (Equator Oils?), Agrooils, and Gruppo Jatropha

    “Agroils Srl is the first Italian biofuels consulting company…”

    “Equator Energy brings together a variety of specific competences … This unique blend makes Equator Energy an ideal mediator between investors …”

    Gruppo Jatropha
    Leo Dartelaan 20, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium
    ABSTRACT: Conceptual analysis of a village-based biofuel and energy production system ….

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Nov 2007 @ 6:47 PM

  186. RE: 179 Raypierre, you must not give Roger Angel, Klaus Lackner, David Keith and other scientists/engineers as yet unidentified/unborn any credit for being able to make progress in finding ways to block sunlight by other means or reduce emissions and atmospheric CO2 levels.

    Certainly, if the aerosol strategy were to be adopted as a partial or total delaying tactic, it would require a time commitment of some number of decades, but not likely 1000 years. Only some of the CO2 from an emission source today would remain in the air 1000 years from now, so the real time frame is probably a couple of hundred years. In the absence of any other progress, this would require such an effort to be sustained and that could be rather onerous, but it isn’t a realistic way to look at the issue.

    Also, what kind of scenario prevents a low tech low cost tactic like this from being employed? WWIII? A global economic depression? If you are assuming the collapse of human civilization from some other cause, then I suppose we don’t have to worry about climate change anyway.

    Comment by Alvia Gaskill — 4 Nov 2007 @ 8:26 AM

  187. re Raypierre’s response in 179

    Minor quibble.

    Sagan never said “billions and billions”.

    It was Johnny Carson.

    [Response: Yeah, I guess I knew that. I just couldn’t help myself. “Billions and Billions,…” it just rolls off the tongue so nicely. I am a great admirer of Carl Sagan. –raypierre]

    From: “Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium” Chpt 1:

    “I never said it. Oh, I said there are maybe 100 billion galaxies and 10 billion trillion stars. It’s hard to talk about the Cosmos without using big numbers, I said “billion” many times on the Cosmos television series, which was seen by a great many people. But I never said “billions and billions.” For one thing, it’s too imprecise. How many billion are “billions and billions?” …

    “But Johnny Carson – on whose TONIGHT SHOW I’d appeared almost thirty times over the years – said it. He’d dress up in a corduroy jacket, a turtleneck sweater, and something like a mop for a wig. He had created a rough imitation of me, a kind of Doppelganger, that went around saying “billions and billions” on late-night television. … (Despite the “disguise”, Carson – a serious amateur astronomer – would often make my imitation talk real science.)”

    Comment by J.S. McIntyre — 5 Nov 2007 @ 10:55 AM

  188. Any geo-engineering option would have at least the following two consequences:
    1) unforeseen negative consequences on the environment/climate
    2) a reduced effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

    When something “unnatural” is put into nature (or an unnatural amount of a natural substance), negative consequences are almost inevitable. DDT, asbestos, CFC’s, etc. The risks of such a massive undertaking as pumping huge amounts of sulfate aerosol into the stratosphere are huge. Also the climatic risks. I’ve heard about calculations that show that such a stratospheric sulfate layer could very well create local warming in the Arctic, just an example of creating more problems that you’re trying to solve.
    The lobby-groups that now argue so strongly against mitigation, they would jump at the idea of geo-engineering. It gives them the perfect argument against mitigation. If those lobby groups are already so influential today with their dis-information campaigns, how much more influence would their line of thinking become when geo-engineering is a serious candidate?

    Comment by Darrel — 5 Nov 2007 @ 11:12 AM

  189. David, you’ve posted the biopact link over 50 times at RC. Biopact overlaps addresses and people with Agrioils, Equator Oils, Equator Energy, and Gruppo Jatropa. Do you know how to find out about this group’s organization, nonprofit status, or who’s on its paid staff? I find overlaps but nothing specific identifying how it’s put together and it’s very perplexing to me from outside. Who works for who?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Nov 2007 @ 11:45 AM

  190. Hank Roberts (189) — I don’t know and can only surmise. However, Biopact has a contact us link which you could use to ask.

    I find it to be a useful source of quite reliable information. They are perhaps not sufficently negative regarding ethanol-from-corn or biodiesel-from-rapeseed, but they certainly are (properly) negative regarding the feasibility of using algae as part of a solution anytime soon. In general they simply report developments without overly editorializing about them.

    Yes, I provide the link for people who appear to be interested in learning more about biofuels, which I am convinced will have to be part of any economic solution to our current dilemma.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 5 Nov 2007 @ 2:38 PM

  191. > Biopact … about

    As of February 2007, they plan to become a nonprofit and publish their finances, so we can hope to see information eventually.
    … soon our finances will be publicly available, as we are registering the group as a non-profit.
    Please allow us to quickly sketch the context in which Biopact came into existence. It might take away some of the suspicion.
    Biopact was created in late 2005 by a group of young academics in Belgium ….Biopact Team (a list of our ‘members’ will be available soon) by Biopact at 6:49 AM on 26 Feb 2007
    ——–end excerpt——

    I find there’s nothing new about my questions, so I’ll wait and see if Grist’s thread gets updated at some point with answers.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Nov 2007 @ 4:33 PM

  192. Here is a link providing access to reports (testimony) regarding black carbon. Professor Jacobson’s paper makes it quite clear that biodiesel is no better than fossil diesel in this regard:

    Comment by David B. Benson — 5 Nov 2007 @ 5:25 PM

  193. Here’s James Lovelock talking about the justification for his geo-engineering plan which was published in Nature Lovelock & Rapley ‘Ocean pipes could help the Earth to cure itself’ Nature 449, 403 (27 September 2007) | doi:10.1038/449403a.

    See the Realtime webcast at:

    Comment by Alastair McDonald — 6 Nov 2007 @ 11:01 AM

  194. re 187

    Yeah, I guess I knew that. I just couldn’t help myself. “Billions and Billions,…” it just rolls off the tongue so nicely. I am a great admirer of Carl Sagan. –raypierre

    As were many of us. I miss him still, and read his books and pull out my disks of Cosmos from time to time just to listen to him speak. He came along at the right time, was in the right place, and was able to do something about it.

    But this got me to thinking about the complaint re “no more Sagans”. We’re that it were so simple. It is not easy to get in front of hundreds and thousands of people and discuss science extemporaneously with the ease, wit and ability to take large ideas and make them palatable to the average person with no real science background. You never, ever got the sense he was talking down to his audience, or that he felt some things were just too difficult to discuss. If anything, he was too good; he made it seem almost romantic to the exclusion of the hard and tedious work involved with scientific research.

    Most important, perhaps, was the singular sense you got that he believed in people, in humanity, that we had it in ourselves to do great things.

    But what Wacko doesn’t understand is that for all the reasons I outlined above, finding a new Sagan is no easy thing. It isn’t that scientists are media unfriendly or can’t communicate scientific concepts. To the contrary; we see plenty of good examples in a number of media, from magazines to books to programs we see on PBS. (There are dogs out there, as well, but that is not the point,) And understanding science for laypeople (such as myself) requires hard work, a willingness to push the brain cells a little bit.

    What Sagan brought to the table wasn’t just the science; it was why the science mattered, why it was important. He was able to show how it affects us, how it influenced our world, what it tells us about ourselves and the possibilities it opens for our future. At the core of everything he was doing, he connected the dots. That was his true genius.

    And genius like that doesn’t get manufactured.

    Comment by J.S. McIntyre — 7 Nov 2007 @ 12:15 AM

  195. I nominate Dr. Hansen as the new Sagan.

    I already feel that way about him.

    Let Dr. Hansen host a series of public television programs, explaining AGW theory and helping laypeople understand how robust it is.

    (Of course his critics will no doubt pick apart the program’s funding, but all that matters is what the viewing public chooses to believe.)

    Comment by Walt Bennett — 7 Nov 2007 @ 10:42 AM

  196. I thought the current news and links on Terra Preta (TP)soils and closed-loop pyrolysis of Biomass would interest you. Carbon to the soil for a really long time

    This technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
    SCIAM Article May 15 07;

    After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

    Could you please consider looking for a champion for this orphaned Terra Preta Carbon Soil Technology.

    The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

    S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

    A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

    Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

    for the 2007 Farm Bill

    (…PLEASE!!……….Contact your Senators & Repps in Support of S.1884……..NOW!!…)

    Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.

    Potential Carbon Emissions Reductions from Biomass by 2030by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt
    National Renewable Energy Laboratory

    The organization 25×25 (see 25x’25 – Home) released it’s (first-ever, 55-page )”Action Plan” ; see; http://www.25××25/documents/IP%20Documents/ActionPlanFinalWEB_04-19-07.pdf
    On page 29 , as one of four foci for recommended RD&D, the plan lists: “The development of biochar, animal agriculture residues and other non-fossil fuel based fertilizers, toward the end of integrating energy production with enhanced soil quality and carbon sequestration.”
    and on p 32, recommended as part of an expanded database aspect of infrastructure: “Information on the application of carbon as fertilizer and existing carbon credit trading systems.”

    I feel 25×25 is now the premier US advocacy organization for all forms of renewable energy, but way out in front on biomass topics.

    There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture and waste stream, all that farm & cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG should be returned to the Soil.

    Even with all the big corporations coming to the GHG negotiation table, like Exxon, Alcoa, .etc, we still need to keep watch as the Democrats/Enviromentalist try to influence how carbon management is legislated in the USA. Carbon must have a fair price, that fair price and the changes in the view of how the soil carbon cycle now can be used as a massive sink verses it now being viewed as a wash, will be of particular value to farmers and a global cool breath of fresh air for us all.

    If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I’ve been drafted to co-administer.

    It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and probably many others who’s back round I don’t know have joined.

    Also Here is the Latest BIG Terra Preta Soil news;

    The Honolulu Advertiser: “The nation’s leading manufacturer of charcoal has licensed a University of Hawai’i process for turning green waste into barbecue briquets.”


    ConocoPhillips Establishes $22.5 Million Pyrolysis Program at Iowa State 04/10/07

    Glomalin, the recently discovered soil protien, may be the secret to to TP soils productivity;

    Here is my current Terra Preta posting which condenses the most important stories and links;

    Terra Preta Soils Technology To Master the Carbon Cycle

    Man has been controlling the carbon cycle , and there for the weather, since the invention of agriculture, all be it was as unintentional, as our current airliner contrails are in affecting global dimming. This unintentional warm stability in climate has over 10,000 years, allowed us to develop to the point that now we know what we did,………… and that now……… we are over doing it.

    The prehistoric and historic records gives a logical thrust for soil carbon sequestration.
    I wonder what the soil biome carbon concentration was REALLY like before the cutting and burning of the world’s forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till and reforestation have started to help rebuild it. It makes implementing Terra Preta soil technology like an act of penitence, a returning of the misplaced carbon to where it belongs.

    On the Scale of CO2 remediation:

    It is my understanding that atmospheric CO2 stands at 379 PPM, to stabilize the climate we need to reduce it to 350 PPM by the removal of 230 Billion tons of carbon.

    The best estimates I’ve found are that the total loss of forest and soil carbon (combined
    pre-industrial and industrial) has been about 200-240 billion tons. Of
    that, the soils are estimated to account for about 1/3, and the vegetation
    the other 2/3.

    Since man controls 24 billion tons in his agriculture then it seems we have plenty to work with in sequestering our fossil fuel CO2 emissions as stable charcoal in the soil.

    As Dr. Lehmann at Cornell points out, “Closed-Loop Pyrolysis systems such as Dr. Danny Day’s are the only way to make a fuel that is actually carbon negative”. and that ” a strategy combining biochar with biofuels could ultimately offset 9.5 billion tons of carbon per year-an amount equal to the total current fossil fuel emissions! ”

    Terra Preta Soils Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X FertilityToo

    This some what orphaned new soil technology speaks to so many different interests and disciplines that it has not been embraced fully by any. I’m sure you will see both the potential of this system and the convergence needed for it’s implementation.

    The integrated energy strategy offered by Charcoal based Terra Preta Soil technology may
    provide the only path to sustain our agricultural and fossil fueled power
    structure without climate degradation, other than nuclear power.

    The economics look good, and truly great if we had CO2 cap & trade or a Carbon tax in place.

    .Nature article, Aug 06: Putting the carbon back Black is the new green:

    Here’s the Cornell page for an over view:

    University of Beyreuth TP Program, Germany

    This Earth Science Forum thread on these soils contains further links, and has been viewed by 19,000 self-selected folks. ( I post everything I find on Amazon Dark Soils, ADS here):

    There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.

    Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.

    The reason TP has elicited such interest on the Agricultural/horticultural side of it’s benefits is this one static:

    One gram of charcoal cooked to 650 C Has a surface area of 400 m2 (for soil microbes & fungus to live on), now for conversion fun:

    One ton of charcoal has a surface area of 400,000 Acres!! which is equal to 625 square miles!! Rockingham Co. VA. , where I live, is only 851 Sq. miles

    Now at a middle of the road application rate of 2 lbs/sq ft (which equals 1000 sqft/ton) or 43 tons/acre yields 26,000 Sq miles of surface area per Acre. VA is 39,594 Sq miles.

    What this suggest to me is a potential of sequestering virgin forest amounts of carbon just in the soil alone, without counting the forest on top.

    To take just one fairly representative example, in the classic Rothampstead experiments in England where arable land was allowed to revert to deciduous temperate woodland, soil organic carbon increased 300-400% from around 20 t/ha to 60-80 t/ha (or about 20-40 tons per acre) in less than a century (Jenkinson & Rayner 1977). The rapidity with which organic carbon can build up in soils is also indicated by examples of buried steppe soils formed during short-lived interstadial phases in Russia and Ukraine. Even though such warm, relatively moist phases usually lasted only a few hundred years, and started out from the skeletal loess desert/semi-desert soils of glacial conditions (with which they are inter-leaved), these buried steppe soils have all the rich organic content of a present-day chernozem soil that has had many thousands of years to build up its carbon (E. Zelikson, Russian Academy of Sciences, pers. comm., May 1994).

    All the Bio-Char Companies and equipment manufactures I’ve found:

    Carbon Diversion

    Eprida: Sustainable Solutions for Global Concerns

    BEST Pyrolysis, Inc. | Slow Pyrolysis – Biomass – Clean Energy – Renewable Ene

    Dynamotive Energy Systems | The Evolution of Energy

    Ensyn – Environmentally Friendly Energy and Chemicals

    Agri-Therm, developing bio oils from agricultural waste

    Advanced BioRefinery Inc.

    Technology Review: Turning Slash into Cash

    The International Agrichar Initiative (IAI) conference held at Terrigal, NSW, Australia in 2007. ( ) ( The papers from this conference are now being posted at their home page)

    If pre-Columbian Kayopo Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 15% of the Amazon basin using “Slash & CHAR” verses “Slash & Burn”, it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.

    Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of energy return over energy input (EROEI) for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.

    We need this super community of wee beasties to work in concert with us by populating them into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.

    Erich J. Knight
    Shenandoah Gardens
    1047 Dave Berry Rd.
    McGaheysville, VA. 22840
    (540) 289-9750

    Comment by Erich J. Knight — 7 Nov 2007 @ 11:30 AM


    This is yet another proposal for a process to remove CO2 from the atmosphere much faster than natural weathering. There are a whole lot of these, varying in detail considerably. If any of them actually produces a salable material in the end rather than a waste product to be disposed of, it’d be much more attractive economically.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Nov 2007 @ 12:36 PM

  198. Erich J. Knight (196) — I generally agree. However, the usual estimate of the additional carbon anthropogenically added to the active carbon cycle is about 500 billion tonnes (Gt) with the current concentraion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere being 385 ppm, much higher than the pre-industrial figure of about 280 ppm. Removing 350 Gt would take the radiative forcing due to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back to about that of 1950, 315 ppm.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 8 Nov 2007 @ 3:03 PM

  199. Potential problems with BECS (Bioenergy with carbon sequestration)

    (which includes a bit more about Biopact for Hank Roberts and others)

    Comment by David B. Benson — 10 Nov 2007 @ 1:54 PM

  200. I posted this link in the Carbon Sink thread, but I’ll cross post it here for anybody not interested in the carbon sink:

    Giving Climate Change a Kick

    CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS–Top climate scientists have cautiously endorsed the need to study schemes to reverse global warming that involve directly tinkering with Earth’s climate. Their position on geoengineering, which will likely be controversial, was staked out at an invitation-only meeting that ended here today. It’s based on a growing concern about the rapid pace of global change and continued anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.

    via Chris C. Mooney.

    Comment by AK — 11 Nov 2007 @ 4:28 PM

  201. I asked KEn Caldeira these question on the 5th of september 2007, may be someone can answer them over here.

    “With great interest I have read the articles (or article) about adding SO2 into the atmosphere, in order to cool the Earth.
    I agree that the best way to counter global warming in the long term is to immediately cut the emission of greenhouse
    gasses, but as you have stated in other articles this is unlikely to happen, even with the most recent proposals.
    20 billion ton of CO2 emitted somewhere during this century per year means we will almost triple the current emission rates…

    I do not agree with you remark (if you were stated correctly) that adding SO2 into the atmosphere is a last resort and
    should only be deployed when we have reached some point of no return. I wonder if SO2 is any good by the way, given the current
    acidification of the worlds’ oceans by CO2. I don’t know if the amounts of SO2 needed to cool the Earth will have an significant
    effect on the acidity of the oceans. Do you?

    A point is: what qualifies as a point of no return? To me personally this point is already reached for instance. If we look at the
    current situation at the North Pole and the effects of such a small amount of sea-ice (area) and the feedback mechanism involved
    over there, a further melt in itself is dangerous as it will accelerate global warming. Ice-bears that drown really are so awful to see
    or hear about. But that is just my point of view.

    But I see many advantages in cooling the Earth (after thorough research and experiments on the downsides of each mechanism
    – A cooler world is better in absorbing Co2
    – Absorbing more CO2 means a slowing of acidification of the seas
    – Methane hydrates and other methane sources become increasingly unstable in a warmer world,
    which could result in catastrophic warming if a huge amount of destabilized methane hydrates
    would be released into the atmosphere (which seems to have happened in the past)

    Another thing is that the economy is adapting (or will adapt) to the change. People will start to grow other crops and
    become dependent on it (it is already happening now). Other opportunities will arise. If we would suggest to change
    it back all of a sudden in 2050 (of instance), this probably would lead to yet another argument of economists and therefore
    politicians not to do anything. I am afraid it takes nothing short of a catastrophe before anyone will accept changes that could be detrimental
    to the economy

    The richest countries are situated in the temperate zone. Many people like a warmer climate over there. In Holland, this
    years’ summer has been only somewhat warmer than normal and it has been rainy. Many people think of it is a very bad summer.
    If cooling the Earth would lead to summers that where normal from 1951-1980, people would not accept it. Although it is far away,
    I think it is reasonable to think that people would not vote for politicians that would suggest cooling back to the
    1951-1980 standard. If we look at the current reasons why people vote for someone or don’t, in general, it is their
    personal lives. Many people believe money equals happiness and many politicians aim at that thought in order
    to get people voting for them. I believe that we are too opportunistic to look beyond what we believe is good for
    ourselves and start looking what is good for life on Earth. The best predictor for future behavior is someone’s past
    I see great difficulty in practice in deploying geo engineering schemes only when things get out of hand, because the
    perception of what is “out of hand” is clearly different among scientists as compared to the general public and most politicians….

    Another thing is that we do not know what is exactly needed to reverse a system that has spinned out of balance so
    much to get it back again. Suppose Greenland starts to melt, or the West Antarctic ice sheet because of a warming of
    2 K over 100 years. Is a cooling of 2 K in 10 years enough to stop this process?? Or do we need 3K cooling, or 4 K?

    If it is 3 K (for whatever reason), consider this: some or many species will adapt ( I hope so) to the warming we witness
    and will witness in the near future. Now if adapting to the current rate of warming is indeed a great task for many
    species, how do you suppose nature will react if we would deploy a geo-engineering scheme that would drop the
    temperature in Earth by 3K (for instance, what is unacceptable warming? What is needed? When will we need it?)
    over a decade or two??

    In short I think deploying geo engineering only when some imaginary threshold has been reached near, 2050 (for instance),
    could very well have very big practical, political and natural implications. In many recent publications on this subject
    (at least the ones I have read), these have not been taking into account. Many rush to state it is a last resort and thus these
    things should only be deployed when we have no other option. Many state that the best thing is to cut emissions now.
    True, but it won’t happen (fast enough). We do not have the influence we want to, because the general public is oblivious about
    science, knows little about research and is not too impressed by scientists in general.

    I question whether politicians will see it as an option by then.
    Whether the general public will see it as an option and if deployed but then, the implications are not much worse that doing it now.
    Simply put: adaptation to small changes in general seem more easy than to big changes. We should research and deploy geo engineering
    schemes to cool the Earth as soon as possible.”

    That is what I asked him. Sorry for the errors in English.

    Researching geo engineering seems very logical to me, just look how much we have done till now and what the results are: kust an ongoing continuing rise and politicians who are as keen as ever on explioting more oil (Putin in the Artic, new oilfields in Brazil etcetcetc).

    Best regards,
    Jorge Sereno

    Comment by Jorge Sereno — 21 Nov 2007 @ 12:48 PM

  202. It seems to me that the argument for doing research into geoengineering approaches to mitigate warming is a compelling one, for the following reasons:

    * the scientific evidence suggests that we need to make real cuts in emissions, real soon. Ultimately, we have to get down to near-zero net emissions. Otherwise, we get really, really unacceptable consequences.
    * Progress thus far suggests that we will not make such cuts. Maybe this will chance once George W. Bush hauls his sorry backside out of the White House, maybe not. Clinton/Gore couldn’t get substantive action on climate change done either.
    * Therefore, we are left with two alternatives – a) take the really, really unacceptable consequences, b) or apply some kind of geoengineering.

    I would prefer “neither”, but given the choice I’d sure like option b) to be available.

    As a non-expert, ultimately, the only geoengineering approach I really like is sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequestering it, but it’s likely to take decades to deploy on the kind of scale necessary. But an approach that reduces insolation for a few decades might buy us that time.

    So, yes, I reckon there should be considerable amounts of money to see whether there are emergency geoengineering approaches available to us that aren’t worse than the disease.

    Comment by Robert Merkel — 22 Nov 2007 @ 2:13 AM

  203. It kind of amazes me how quickly “skeptics” move from saying we don’t understand enough about climate to attribute the current warming trend to CO2–the portion of the climate system we probably understand best–to saying we need to start geo-engineering with aerosols–where we have greatest uncertainty.
    They go from “warming is better than cooling” to “let’s start squirting SO2 into the atmosphere to cool the climate” on a dime.
    Isn’t it interesting how they go from saying “We don’t trust the models” to advocating actions that we cannot even begin to model with confidence.
    It would seem that they can advocate only two courses–dangerous inaction or reckless intervention.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 22 Nov 2007 @ 8:40 AM

  204. Re #203

    Ray Ladbury Says:
    22 November 2007 at 8:40 AM

    It kind of amazes me how quickly “skeptics” move from saying we don’t understand enough about climate to attribute the current warming trend to CO2–the portion of the climate system we probably understand best–to saying we need to start geo-engineering with aerosols–where we have greatest uncertainty.
    They go from “warming is better than cooling” to “let’s start squirting SO2 into the atmosphere to cool the climate” on a dime.
    Isn’t it interesting how they go from saying “We don’t trust the models” to advocating actions that we cannot even begin to model with confidence.
    It would seem that they can advocate only two courses–dangerous inaction or reckless intervention.

    I thought one of the reasons for confidence in the models was that they predicted the results of pinatubo so well.

    As for uncertainty, I’d say iron fertilization is probably a good deal more unpredictable than an artificial volcanic eruption.

    Comment by AK — 25 Nov 2007 @ 1:48 PM

  205. This isn’t geoengineering, but it may be in the right direction:

    “… Integrated gasification combined cycle technology uses a coal gasification system to convert coal into a synthesis gas (syngas). The syngas is processed to remove sulfur, mercury and ash before being sent to a traditional combined cycle power plant ….. regulators also were supportive of Duke Energy studying capture and sequestration of a portion of the plant’s carbon emissions. If the study is successful, carbon dioxide capture and sequestration equipment could be added to the plant….”

    And the ash, presumably, can be mined for heavy elements that don’t come out in gas form as sulfur and mercury do. Nice idea, first try I gather, hope it works.

    In disclosure, my family bought a little Duke Energy stock decades ago; I’ve hung onto it hoping they get smart about the future.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Nov 2007 @ 8:49 PM

  206. Re 205 and ocean fertilization with iron:

    New research discredits a $100 billion fix to global warming

    VIRGINIA KEY, FL (November 29, 2007) — Scientists have revealed an important discovery that raises doubts concerning the viability of plans to fertilize the ocean to solve global warming, a projected $100 billion venture.

    Research performed at Stanford and Oregon State Universities, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, suggests that ocean fertilization may not be an effective method of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a major contributor to global warming. Ocean fertilization, the process of adding iron or other nutrients to the ocean to cause large algal blooms, has been proposed as a possible solution to global warming because the growing algae absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.

    However, this process, which is analogous to adding fertilizer to a lawn to help the grass grow, only reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if the carbon incorporated into the algae sinks to deeper waters. This process, which scientists call the “Biological Pump”, has been thought to be dependent on the abundance of algae in the top layers of the ocean. The more algae in a bloom, the more carbon is transported, or “pumped”, from the atmosphere to the deep ocean.

    To test this theory, researchers compared the abundance of algae in the surface waters of the world’s oceans with the amount of carbon actually sinking to deep water. They found clear seasonal patterns in both algal abundance and carbon sinking rates. However, the relationship between the two was surprising: less carbon was transported to deep water during a summertime bloom than during the rest of the year. This analysis has never been done before and required designing specialized mathematical algorithms.

    “By jumping a mathematical hurdle we found a new globally synchronous signal,” said Dr. Lutz.

    “This discovery is very surprising”, said lead author Dr. Michael Lutz, now at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “If, during natural plankton blooms, less carbon actually sinks to deep water than during the rest of the year, then it suggests that the Biological Pump leaks. More material is recycled in shallow water and less sinks to depth, which makes sense if you consider how this ecosystem has evolved in a way to minimize loss”, said Lutz. “Ocean fertilization schemes, which resemble an artificial summer, may not remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as has been suggested because they ignore the natural processes revealed by this research”. …

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 30 Nov 2007 @ 10:28 AM

  207. I recall also seeing work on ocean sediments indicating that during the dusty-dry climates when lots of windblown dust is in the air, plankton did not bloom in the oceans in proportion to the added minerals.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 30 Nov 2007 @ 12:33 PM

  208. Well, I said it was unpredictable, didn’t I? :)

    The scary thing is, if it’s a bloom of poisonous algae, it might well prevent feeding by larger animals, perhaps even zooplankton. Wouldn’t that be a can of worms.

    Comment by AK — 30 Nov 2007 @ 6:28 PM

  209. It’s too bad, because I really want this solution to work. Planktos has this amazingly seductive marketing about regrowing the “floating forests” and increasing ocean biomass hugely. If only…

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 30 Nov 2007 @ 8:14 PM

  210. Martin and I have been discussing variously wacky solutions, and I have one that’s almost as visionary as Space Solar Power, and arguably more wacky:

    Artificial hurricanes.

    By that I mean an artificial mountain, created of air-inflated graphite reinforced polycarbonate (or cheaper equivalent), perhaps 17 kilometers tall and a third or half that in diameter at the base. There is a hollow tube up the center, perhaps 250 meters in diameter at the base, and a kilometer at the top. It’s open at the top, and saturated air at the bottom is pulled upward by the low pressure 2-5 Km up, condensing and following the pseudo-adiabat until it equalizes with the pressure at 17 Km.

    At a throat velocity of 50 meters/sec, and a pressure drop of 1/10th atmosphere at the bottom, that’s a potential 25 gigawatts of wind energy, continuous. Capturing most of the precipitated water, it yields ~30 tons/sec of fresh water. Assuming capture at a height over 5 Km, that yields 1.5 gigawatts hydropower, a mere drop in the bucket (but every little bit counts).

    By controlling the mixing activity at the top, cirrus formation could probably be almost completely suppressed, helping to mitigate the effects of CO2 forcing.

    Of course, you might want to shut it down during the dry part of the Madden-Julian oscillation. Maybe you could build several dozen of them, spaced so you always have the same number running.

    This way, you could get carbon-free power, fresh water, and CO2 mitigation all from the same installations. With luck you could also reduce the number and power of destructive storms. By using a large portion of the energy for pumping water to where it’s needed, you can reduce the impact of intermittency (as long as you maintain an appropriate reservoir at the target end). Note this last point also applies to combined solar power/desalination plants in general.

    As for the cost of building such huge structures out of plastic and pressurized air, the cost of such things could be expected to drop substantially due to economies of scale, and by being made “smart”, they could be much lighter, using much less material, and still be able to respond to major storms without self-destructing.

    Comment by AK — 1 Dec 2007 @ 12:35 PM

  211. RE artificial hurricanes in 210, check out the Atmospheric Vortex Engine.

    Clever stuff — I wouldn’t mind having one in my backyard.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 1 Dec 2007 @ 2:34 PM

  212. Thanks, Jim.

    I like it, but if you’re going to get real power out of it, your vortex has to reach the tropopause, which means, in the tropical seas, an artificial hot tower at best. Preventing the updraft at 2-5 Km height from skipping away would be a real challenge, since the entire energy generating process is working at that height. I suspect enclosing it in an artificial mountain would be easier than dynamic control from steering the air movements at the base.

    OTOH, have you ever seen a dust devil with a little cumulus on top? They can run from several hundred meters to several km tall, and are powered by the updraft in/under the cumulus. The Atmospheric Vortex Engine might be able to create and maintain a stable version of that.

    Of course, I could be wrong about the control issue. If so, it might be possible to create such large power stations at a much lower cost.

    Comment by AK — 1 Dec 2007 @ 7:12 PM

  213. Let me try to understand this: We had cooling of the earth from 1945 to about 1975 when we started reducing sulfur emsission for local pollution reasons. Taking apart what nature had put together. Now we have a warming trend very similair to what we had from 1910 to 1945 and most of it is being caused by CO2 because the feed back I get from scientists is that the 1910 to 1945 temperature data can not be trusted and most of the rise was thought to be solar. Some models say if we remove sulfur from the fuels we burn we can expect it’s contribution to warming about equivalant to that for a doubling of CO2. Should we then be looking at how to add back natures cooling compound at high elevations. Burning high sulfur jet fuel when at altitude might be one option. China is presently burning more coal than the US and Europe combined and some of it is said to have up to 5% sulfur. Could they be the reason for the nearly flat global mean surface temperature for the last ten years.
    It is really amazing the I found very few comments above about going to nuclear power when it has the best chance to stop CO2 emission from expanding.
    The other somewhat neglected subject for reducing CO2 is the planting of trees. One source I found showed that young pine tree’s growth rate increase 248% with CO2 increasing from 300 to 600 ppm. The uptake of CO2 in forest near the equater and above 40 degrees N is increasing based CO2 concentration at strategic locations. China is planting 200,000,000 trees and South Africa has an active pine forest industry on old grass land. Yes fires happen, but the burned pine trunks are being farmed and used to make caskets for those dying of AIDS. With northern forest having 25 to 50 year cycles and most wood going into structures this should give time for solar power to take hold.
    Conclusion-the world will warm from the removal of sulfur and we should at least develop a reasonable system to use it while nuclear and solar power get perfected.

    Comment by larry W — 3 Dec 2007 @ 11:37 PM

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