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Geo-engineering in vogue…

Filed under: — gavin @ 28 June 2006

There was an interesting article in the NY Times this week on possible geo-engineering solutions to the global warming problem. The story revolves around a paper that Paul Crutzen (Nobel Prize winner for chemistry related to the CFC/ozone depletion link) has written about deliberately adding sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere to increase the albedo and cool the planet – analogous to the natural effects of volcanoes. The paper is being published in Climatic Change, but unusually, with a suite of commentary articles by other scientists. This is because geo-engineering solutions do not have a good pedigree and, regardless of their merit or true potential, are often seized upon by people who for various reasons do not want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, these ideas keep popping up naturally since significant emission cuts continue to be seen as difficult to achieve, and so should be considered fairly. After all, if there was a cheaper way to deal with the CO2 problem, or even a way to buy time, shouldn’t we take it?

First a little history [Update: See Spencer Weart’s essay on the history of climate modification ideas]. Geo-engineering ideas first reached the public in the 60s when there was still a lot of enthusiasm for technical fixes of the world’s problems. One example was suggested by the Soviets who wanted to melt the Arctic (either using soot or nuclear devices) in order to warm up their frozen North. More recently, there was a proposal to dam the Straits of Gibraltar in order to prevent more saline Mediterranean Sea water (because of the Aswan Dam) from affecting the North Atlantic conveyor circulation (no, it didn’t make sense to us either). With such a pedigree, geo-engineering is generally seen as fringe entertainment at best, although some of the new ideas concerning atmospheric carbon dioxide sequestration are being looked into seriously.

Edward Teller is the scientist most associated publicly with the idea of creating a stratospheric shield to prevent excessive global warming, though he built on an idea from Freeman Dyson (who has subsequently become a bit of global warming contrarian)*. However, as Teller’s collaborator Stanislaw Ulam once said after discussing some new ideas with him: “Edward is full of enthusiasm about these possibilities; this is perhaps an indication they will not work”. And given Teller’s estrangement from the scientific community in his later years, it was not likely that the concept would be taken very seriously, and indeed it hasn’t been.

*Which in turn built on a idea from Budyko…(see comment below).

But now Paul Crutzen has stepped into the fray. He has a much more solid reputation amongst climate scientists than Teller, and thus his ideas will be taken more seriously. I haven’t seen the new paper yet (it’s out in August) but there are a number of questions that need to be addressed before any geo-engineering proposal combatting global warming should be thought of as anything more than an interesting idea. First, the idea has to actually work, second, the side effects need to be minimal, and third, it has to be able to keep up with an increasing forcing from ever higher greenhouse gas levels, and fourth, it has to be cheaper than the simply reducing emissions at source. These are formidable hurdles.

Would it work? In most of the cases under discussion the target is the global mean temperature, and so something that balances the global radiative forcing of greenhouse gas increases is likely to ‘work’. However, having no global mean forcing is not the same as having no climate change. A world with higher GHGs and more stratospheric aerosols is not the same as a world with neither.

Thus there will be side effects. For the stratospheric sulphate idea, these fall into two classes – changes to the physical climate as a function of the changes in heating profiles in solar and longwave radiation, and chemical and ecological effects from the addition of so much sulphur to the system. Physically, one could expect a slight decrease in surface evaporation (a ‘dimming’ effect) and related changes to precipitation, a warming of the tropopause and lower stratosphere (and changes in static stability), increased Eurasian ‘winter warming’ effects (related to shifts in the wind patterns as are seen in the aftermath of volcanoes). Chemically, there will be an increase in ozone depletion (due to increases in heterogeneous surface chemistry in the stratosphere), increases in acid rain, possibly an increase in high cirrus cloud cover due to indirect effects of the sulphates on cloud lifetime. Light characteristics (the ratio of diffuse to direct sunlight) will change, and the biosphere may react to that. Dealing with the legal liability for these predictable consequences would promise to be a lively area of class action litigation…. On the positive side, sunsets will probably be more colorful.

Could it keep up? GHGs (particularly CO2) are accumulating in the atmosphere and so even with constant present-day emissions, the problem will continue to get worse. Any sulphates put in the stratosphere will only last a couple of years or so and need to be constantly updated to maintain concentrations. Therefore the need for the stratospheric sulphates will continue to increase much faster than any growth of CO2 emissions. This ever-increasing demand, coupled with the impossibility of stopping once this path is embarked upon is possibly the biggest concern.

How expensive would it be? I will leave the detailed costing to others, but stemming from the last point, the cost will continue to rise indefinitely into the future unless this proposal is coupled with an concomitant effort to reduce CO2 emissions (and concentrations) such that the need for the sulphates will diminish in time.

Crutzen’s paper may well address these issues comprehensively (and I look forward to seeing it) but, in my opinion, the proposals are unlikely to gain much traction. Maybe an analogy is useful to see why. Think of the climate as a small boat on a rather choppy ocean. Under normal circumstances the boat will rock to and fro, and there is a finite risk that the boat could be overturned by a rogue wave. But now one of the passengers has decided to stand up and is deliberately rocking the boat ever more violently. Someone suggests that this is likely to increase the chances of the boat capsizing. Another passenger then proposes that with his knowledge of chaotic dynamics he can counterbalance the first passenger and indeed, counter the natural rocking caused by the waves. But to do so he needs a huge array of sensors and enormous computational resources to be ready to react efficiently but still wouldn’t be able to guarantee absolute stability, and indeed, since the system is untested it might make things worse.

So is the answer to a known and increasing human influence on climate an ever more elaborate system to control the climate? Or should the person rocking the boat just sit down?

270 Responses to “Geo-engineering in vogue…”

  1. 151
    Grant says:

    Re: #150

    “An object in space, orbiting either the earth or sun, will only spend a small amount of time between the two.”

    An object in low-altitude earth orbit spends almost half the time blocking sunlight from reaching the earth.

  2. 152
    Hank Roberts says:

    Grant, look here for the L1 point, suitable for shadow square placement (requiring adjustment every month or so)

    And here for numbers useful to calculate the size required at that distance, to block the sun

  3. 153
    Hank Roberts says:

    > how to separate it from nitrogen
    See Ray Pierrehumbert’s website, publication list, most recent article, where he refers to the new designs for clean-burning coal plants. Feed oxygen, not air; burn in a sealed system; output of CO2 has no nitrogen, already suitable for sequestration.

  4. 154
    C. W. Magee says:

    Re: 145.
    That paper explicitly does not address the costs involved in permanent spent fuel disopasal.
    On the other hand, it does not try to cost climate change from CO2…

  5. 155
    W. Hall says:

    The “geoengineering” debate deserves to get more public exposure than the better-known popular debate between anthropogenic climate change “sceptics” and mainstream climate change scientists and activists.

    If the geoengineering debate WERE getting more exposure in the light of popular “common sense”, the onus would be falling on the climate change “sceptics” to prove that geoengineering proposals, including ideas like Teller’s sunshield idea, or something approximating it, are NOT already being implemented on a very large scale.

    Any legal problems this might cause should not be the concern of scientists reporting on what is or is not true.

    The loudmouthed (and largely successful) populism of the climate change deniers is only possible because of a POLITICAL stance among climate experts they (you) may one day find it extremely difficult, in retrospect, to defend.

  6. 156
    Vince says:

    109 I would probably agree with you more than you think. Just because we can’t estimate “all” costs, or economic externalities, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. As an engineer, I try to estimate whatever I can, and then try to determine if any other issues would be more or less conservative to the design. The point I was trying to make in posts 36, 65, and 96 is this: We know that burning fossil fuels has external costs such as: 1) health care costs (asthma, bronchitis, lost time from work, premature deaths, etc.), 2) DOD costs (wars for natural resources, military basis in ‘strategic locations’), 3) national security costs of depending on certain forms of energy, and 4) global warming costs (droughts, famines, stronger hurricanes…..?). (This list is by no means all-inclusive.) When these costs are estimated (1 and 2 are easy, 3 and 4 would be difficult) and added to the price of a gallon of gasoline, or a Kw-hr of energy from your power plant, then I believe that conservation/efficiency measures would be the most cost-effective method to reduce CO2, as opposed to nuclear, coal-to-liquids, CO2 sequestration, etc. This is especially true when coupled to new ways of designing, such as near-zero-energy homes. Other methods may be needed in the future, but not now.

    There is so much to be gained on the energy-efficiency side that very few other things make sense until we tackle that problem. (And with the money we save, we’ll be able to afford it.) One example: the typical vehicle takes in 100 units of energy (fuel), blows 33 units out the exhaust, gives off 33 units to the radiator (i.e., atmosphere) and delivers 34 units to the wheels, which propels the vehicle and the driver from point A to point B. A Toyota Prius may actually deliver up to 40 units of energy to the wheels….but I’m not an expert here. Assuming a 2000 lb vehicle and a 200 lb driver, roughly 10% of the 34 units actually performs useful work in moving the driver from A to B. The rest is moving the sluggish, dead, weight known as an automobile. The service you want your energy to perform is moving you from A to B, the vehicle has to come because we can’t think of a better way to do it yet. So, of the original 100 units of energy, 3.4 units is doing useful work. That means the vehicle is roughly 96% INefficienct!!! In my mind, R&D should start pushing to reduce that 96%. Before I get too many complaints about vehicle weight and safety, think Formula 1 race cars: light, strong, safe!

    We can debate forever as to why people don’t–or don’t want to–understand these issues, why consumers are willing to be lead by marketing to buy more horsepower in their vehicles when they really want torque, why people believe their ignorant leaders, etc. However, as supposedly educated researchers–and consumers–we should know better. And we can start increasing demand for energy-efficiency by the choices we make now.

  7. 157
    Steve Sadlov says:

    Imagine the EIR’s for some of the things being discussed in this thread. Most of these proposals would not even make it past the initial review stage.

  8. 158
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #121 – As a person who also has geological academic training, I am shocked that a person who purports to be a geologist would ever put the words “stable” and “state” together regarding anything having to do with the Earth. It is telling that the first place I ever saw that phrase used in a similar context was in an Ernest Callenbach book I read back in my youthful ecoradical days.

  9. 159
    Steve Sadlov says:

    Re: #133 – I would not discount that. And in typical, overly shallow Western intellectual fashion, we think we are doing this amazing “soft power” thing by limiting China’s energy input, but at some point, like Germany between the wars, China begins to get other ideas than simply remaining hemmed in. World War ensues. How’s that for dark? :)

  10. 160
    Steve Sadlov says:

    Re: #149 – Indeed, it is a classic exercise in standing in the hole and digging. I think there is a vast misperception regarding what are the aims of so called “deniers” (a label pasted on even me). Forget that term. I am not a denier, I am an analyzer. My analysis is that Man has had a degree of negative impact on the environment. I lack confidence that we even know just how negative it is. Some things we might do, with good intentions, thinking we are correcting one of the purported root causes of the overall negative impact, may do substantial unforeseen harm. Here, of all places, the phrase, DO NO HARM applies. It really boils down to the following. We are where we are in terms of PP CO2. Either it is at a supreme “pay the piper point” in which case we ought to let the Earth heal itself on its own innate time scale, or, we are no where near that point, and therefore, healing becomes a nice-to-have. In either case, Man inexorably will continue to improve, through fits and starts, stewardship. Our population will peak in this century. Our technology will continue to improve energy efficiency. Etc. What I would suggest is that letting Nature takes its course in response to what we have done, and what Nature’s own forces have done, is probably the least of all Evils. We know this innately. We know it in our souls. And we also have plenty of science to back up these intuitions. So, now you all have seen from me, “the skeptic” and “the denier” – my own little take on Gaia. LOL!

  11. 161
    John McCormick says:

    Geoengineering ideas I’ve seen oh this thread address mainly tampering with solar insolation to diminish surface warming. Temperature increase equals: expansion of the tropical zone (observed); increased SST (observed); meltback of Arctic ice and change of Arctic ecosystem (under observation); meltback of global glaciers and temperature increase at higher elevations (observed); melting tundra and permafrost with their CO2 and CH4 feedback (in intensive care unit). And, we can add diminished snowpack and early melt in the Western North America and more frequent and extensive fires in the West (positive feedbacks).

    Higher temperatures beget higher temperatures, in my lifetime, despite increased cloudiness.

    As the earth’s human population approaches 7 billion –a time likely to coincide with China achieving the #1 CO2 emiter status, my pessimism needle is heading towards the red zone.

    Positive feedbacks are like a swarm of killer bees coming at us from every direction. Swatting them becomes useless as their venom weakens and eventually kills us. Should we have started the aerial spraying before the swarm arrived? Would there be time and will the chemicals be effective — at which point someone might advocate a non-pesticide approach?

    Having said this, I am hot and cold about encouraging geoengineering,and certainly about advocating any particular line of research or end product.

    I am reading David Keith’s papers on geoengineering and there is much to be considered before taking steps towards realistic research efforts, e.g., greater concern for ocean acidity being high on my list. And how does geoengineering address ocean uptake of CO2 and diminished CO2 sink capability?

    In the tipping point thread I said there is no reason to believe we can function OK as the temperature approaches the (tipping point???) 2 degree mark.

    For the sake of continuing civility around the planet, bio-engineering must also be a high priority. Stronger drought, pest and heat resistent crops and silviculture may be our means to buying a little, precious time to come upon a long term solution.

    I believe there will be universal understanding of the climate problem when barley and hops yields drop dramatically and beer sells at $14 per six pack.

    Further point about tipping: when (and if) we see a tippng point in the earth’s heat balance it will be too late. There will not be time to regain the balance on a global scale.

    A serious discussion on including —ALSO— adaptive measures to the world community’s approach to climate change is in order.

  12. 162
    Dan Robinson says:

    Re #153 “Feed oxygen, not air; burn in a sealed system; output of CO2 has no nitrogen, already suitable for sequestration.”

    So then to separate the O2 from the air, I guess you’d use the new ceramic O2 filters? Would this maybe also involve redesign of fireboxes for higher temperatures?

    My proposal is to use compression and counter-current cooling to liquify CO2 from normal emission gases, or eventually air. Cool compressed gas first with counter-current water flow, flash-freeze most of the water from the gasses, continue compressing and cooling with counter-current expanding N2. The compressor would be something like that on a jet engine, many fans on one long shaft, surrounded by a cooling jacket. Condense SOx at the same time, or separately, to use for cloud seeding. Can these be done without the energy needs producing more CO2 than sequestered?

  13. 163
    Hank Roberts says:

    Interesting questions– you’d be wanting answers from someone competent in thermodynamics and engineering; I would guess these have been addressed for next generation coal burning plants. You might want to ask a reference librarian for help finding work already done. Or search the Patent Office.

  14. 164

    Re: #161

    I believe there will be universal understanding of the climate problem when barley and hops yields drop dramatically and beer sells at $14 per six pack.

    There was an article in the Seattle P-I this morning about the AGW driven massive impending reduction in US wine growing areas over the next 50 years. This makes me hopeful that the “Brie and Bordeaux” crowd will join a bipartisan effort to save the future of booze ;-).

  15. 165
    Hank Roberts says:

    Here’s a company with an interesting idea for feeding the fungi that make topsoil hold together (a good idea).

    The idea, which I can’t evaluate for sense or cost/benefit, is to capture CO2 by passing it through charcoal with ammonia, then bury that as fertilizer. If they can prove it out, and avoid concentrating the heavy metals, it’d be promising.

    The role of the fungi in soils is better explained here (and correctly spelled)

  16. 166
    Daniel Curewitz says:

    RE: #158,

    No need to be insulting, Steve. Using the words “stable” and “state” is perfectly reasonable assuming one is referring to a fairly well-constrained time frame and a specified spatial scale.

    Since we are talking about the climate system, and are talking about “geo-engineering” and therefore implicitly talking about very short time frames, usage of the word “stable” seems to me to be reasonably justified.

    Why so nasty and dismissive?


  17. 167
    Daniel Curewitz says:

    RE: #158, and my reply at #166…

    Oh. Right. Burkian Conservatives, “The West’s Last Stand” and other forms of Hard-Right propaganda…including climate change contrarianism.

    Never mind.

  18. 168
    Hank Roberts says:

    >160 “I am not a denier, I am an analyzer…. We are …Either … at a point …, or, we are no where near that point.”

    You’re a decider! That’s the criterion for judging, in horseshoes games.

  19. 169
    Brian Gordon says:

    Re: 160: Do no harm

    Steve – how is reducing human-caused GHG emissions risking more harm than not? Or are you referring only to geo-engineering projects?

  20. 170
    John McCormick says:

    And Steve does the acronym LOL at end of your sign-off mean “Lack Of Listening”. There is ample coverage of the increasing acidity of the oceans–CO2 related, right? Lower pH, lower sink capacity. More atmospheric CO2, more heat. More heat, more permafrost and tundra melt. More melt, more CO2 and CH4. More heat. Joannie M asks: Where are the clouds? Bring on the clouds.

    If ocean loading of CO2 is not diminished, there is no hope to stop a runaway warming, is there?

    You’ve got to do a better job of communicating if you call yourself an analyzer.

  21. 171
    Socrates says:

    Have any of you been observing the skies since the late 1990’s? If so, how do you explain how aircraft have already been creating artificial sky cover similar to some of the so-called future geo-engineering strategies. After 9/11, when all the airways were shut down except for those allowing the Bin Laden family to leave, the skies were clear and the temperature noticeably rose. How come the skies look so different nowadays compared to before the late 1990’s? Why are “contrails” not dissipating like they used to and instead are expanding over hours, turning blue and partly cloudy skies into mucky white ones? You don’t suppose such operations have already been underway for close to ten years?

  22. 172
    W. Hall says:

    172 – with rare exceptions, such as Paul Moyer at NBC Los Angeles

    the media doesn’t touch this subject.

    And neither do scientists, unless it is to debunk.

    Whatever the legal problems that might be invoked to justify the silence, it is a policy that aids and abets loudmouthed populist climate change “sceptics”.

    The most powerul possible argument against them is not being utilized.

  23. 173
    John McCormick says:

    Socrates, African dust and China’s aerosol pollution are easily tracked via satellite. Those particales, as I understand, act as nucleii (sponges) and absorb moisture. Thus, contails become clouds of larger droplets and more concentrated. Does this sound like a layperson’s explanation or can RC chime in here.

    I cannot keep my small garden alive in Northern Virginia because too many cloudy days are defeating me. Warmer world means more evaporation and clouds. At least that is what we are being told by the models. Maybe we are seeing increased cloud cover around the globe, in part, driven by global aerosol tracks and mostly by warmer land and seas.

  24. 174
    Socrates says:

    Hi John McCormick, thanks for the response. I must be up front and admit that I am cluless when it comes to science. I am only saying that aircraft are mucking up our skies. This is the gorilla in the room. Explain the aircraft creating fake cloud cover since the late 90’s. Most of us concerned with this truth have already had enough of fake pilots telling us it is natural water vapour. The composition of the skies have changed drastically, and to the human eye, this appears to be man-made.

  25. 175
    W. Hall says:

    Admittedly this is a scientific elite discussion thread and most participants probably don’t want their high-level debate to be diluted by the mundane realities of applied geoengineering, as opposed to the subject’s theoretical aspect.

    But I ask you, (ladies and?) gentlemen, if we concerned citizens cannot depend on the expertise of science to answer these questions we believe are so urgent (and we have difficulty in understanding why the experts do not show the same concern) then to whom are we to turn?

    And is it not after all your planet too? And is it not true that discussion of how “geoengineering” appears to be well and truly under implementation – the point almost media coverage of the subject ignores -could change the political balance of forces radically in favour of those who want to see decisive action on climate change?

    Can someone just follow the link to the Paul Moyer KNBC news item, watch it, and say something???

  26. 176
    Hank Roberts says:

    I live in the N. Cal. area favored for cruise missile tests and skunkworks flights, I’ve seen odd things go overhead while camping around Clear Lake for the past twenty years, both high enough to mistake for south-to-north meteors and low enough to shake the campground. That’s the direct route with the fewest people between the places in California that secret aircraft are based and the North Pole. I don’t think anything unusual is happening, for most values of unusual. The pulsed contrails are pretty well documented as aerospike engine tracks in the aerospace journals, the military can always use vast amounts of fuel to go higher and faster than civilian aircraft.

    Yes, I’m sure there are attempts being made to affect weather and climate. Heck, if we’re real lucky, maybe the HAARP system can make the ionosphere into a big broad infrared laser and bleed off lots of the excess heat energy from the atmosphere, or something equally silly.

    If there’s a way to make planets get rid of excess heat in narrow bands, we ought to get the SETI telescopes in orbit to look for big bright infrared beacons around nearby stars, in hope of finding proof it can be done.

    But I don’t think the military has a clue about climate change beyond what’s being done in public, or things would have gotten inexplicably worse by now, eh? You can trust them to try to use any such competence to break things instead of fix the world, and we don’t have a lot of evidence.

    Contrails from likely aerospike engines aren’t all that big a deal any more, even if it’s still a secret, and that technology may have already gone beyond mere Air and Space Week speculation.

    And thanks to Lovelock et al. we can detect chemicals in the atmosphere at fantastically low levels. If something were being done, it’d be showing up in grad student lab work with electron capture detectors all over the world, along with the traces from nuclear plants and other stuff people watch for all the time.

  27. 177
    T Hewitt says:

    As for the school of thought, that any geo-engineering is bad. We are already (unintentionally) doing it on a massive scale. Many geologic processes, have already been
    modified by significant (order of magnitude) factors from their “natural” values. Erosion is one of these, net erosion from land is hugely greater than it was before modern man.
    Particulates, are another area, dust blowing off Africa is -if I remember correctly estimated to be 50times greater than it was a century ago. Then look at land use, in the US
    we have already paved a land area greater than the state of Ohio, and conversiom of forest to farmland, and changes of ecology of grazed land is very large. So adding one more
    (reverable, and planned) intervention doesn’t materially increase the risks.
    Some things gotta be considered by looking at the relative sizes of things. The proposed addition of sulphates is very small when compared to current emissions, so any additional
    effect of acidification is likewise small. Enhancing erosion to absorb CO2 is of course not a good solution, in any case the time scale for weathering to modify CO2 by geologic
    processes is on the order of a million years, So even at 10x natural (roughly where I think we are currently at), that still take 100,000 years to do the job.
    There are many proposals to capture CO2 from air, for sequestration, the real issue is cost. It is much cheaper to capture it at the smokestack, as the concentration is much higher,
    and even here adoption is likely to be very slow.
    In any case the geologic record does show abrupt climate change happens even without human intervention, this implies either large rapid forcing, or the existance of powerful
    positive feedbacks in the system (or at least the similar -but non-identical climate systems of the past), so we should take the possibility that the planet may pass some sort
    of tipping point, whether caused by man, or nature seriously, having some sort of potential geo-interventions available sounds like a very sensible policy to me.
    One note about the potential of overdoing cooling. It is much easier to intervence to warm climate, this could be done both via GHG’s, or other efforts such as using crop dusters
    to spread a thin layer of soot or dirt onto ice/snow. I don’t think we need worry about the possibility of uncontrollable cooling, that is too easy to reverse.

  28. 178
    W. Hall says:

    Posting 176: to T. Hewitt. Having said that geoengineering could be O.K., would you like to say whether in your opinion schemes like Teller’s “Sunshield” idea, or some variant of it, should be facilitated by legalization or explicitly prohibited?

    And would you like to venture an opinion on whether such a scheme may in fact be have been under implementation for years now?

    Somebody, somewhere, sometime, has to grasp the nettle about all this, don’t you think?

    Your defending geoengineering suggests that you DO think something like that.

    Would you like to see more Paul Moyers in the mass media?

  29. 179
    Brian Gordon says:

    Re: 177: “As for the school of thought, that any geo-engineering is bad. We are already (unintentionally) doing it on a massive scale…. So adding one more (reverable, and planned) intervention doesn’t materially increase the risks.”

    Yes, we’ve done lots of geoengineering so far, and based on its track record, we have enough data to conclude that geoengineering projects are extremely risky, impose that risk on many who did not choose that risk, and generally lead to worse conditions in the future. The examples you gave: erosion, dust from Africa, paving the world, deforestation – are you suggesting these are models we can follow?

  30. 180
    W. Hall says:

    So should practices of this kind be legalized or banned?

  31. 181
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Geo-engineering is worthwhile as a side discussion. Considering that research funds are always limited, it should not be a major priority. Resources would be better spent in climate science and developing technologies to reduce emissions.

    If the worst-case climate change scenarios began to occur then geo-engineering might have to be taken seriously, but until then there are more important issues to examine.

    I am reminded of the quote by the climate scientist Broeker: “Climate is an angry beast and we are poking at it with sticks”. I think geo-engineering is like petting a beast after we made it angry by poking it. Hoping that petting the beast will make it less angry is a pretty risky proposition!

  32. 182
    W. Hall says:

    176 Hank Roberts, when you say you don’t think anything unusual is happening, why do you use the term “unusual”?

    The scattering of aluminum particles or sulphuric acid to modulate climate is clearly recommended in the 2001 IPPC report
    not to mention numerous reports of the American Academy of Sciences.

    If it is being so clearly recommended, why do you use the term “unusual” to describe it?

    If one is to speak of something being unusual, wouldn’t it be more unusual for something to be so clearly advocated and then not implemented?

    [Response: I don’t know where you get the impression that the IPCC section ‘recommends’ this. All I can see is a description. -gavin]

  33. 183
    Hank Roberts says:

    People in labs worlwide look every day for changes in airborne particulates, fallout, aerosols, acid rain, pesticides and such, so by “unusual” I mean something unfamiliar being found and reported. If it’s happening secretly, and can’t be detected by any normal method, either it has an effect on weather and climate — and will show up as a forcing or unusual pattern of events — or it doesn’t, and won’t. Time will tell.

  34. 184
    Hank Roberts says:

    Yes, there’s plenty of funny stuff going on. This first one is more interesting, found via the Internet Archive from, under /Aircraft/military/aurora.jpg

    The other one is just funny:

  35. 185
    John McCormick says:

    Mr. Oâ??Sullivan,

    I was relieved to see that rare recognition of the limited research dollars usually available. When I think of the 20-30 year time line when CO2 concentrations plus other climate-forcing gases (possibly 16% of CO2 concentration) and weigh that against the (20-30 year time frame) massive federal indebtedness to retirees and funding for health and debt service, etc., I wonder if there will be sufficient federal dollars to keep the Coast Guard operating.

    Given the confluence of higher concentrations of climate-forcing gases and the fiscal trainwreck Americans are facing, discussing federal dollars adds to the reality of any discusssion about climate change and particularly about geoengineering fixes.

    My personal view is there will not be continued Asian bailout of our debt since China and India will need their surplus cash to import more expensive oil and build energy infrastructures. Without China’s purchase of our bonds, interest rates will climb; federal payment of interest on larger debt will increase; inflation will follow.

    Have I set myself up for an economist’s reply that it is good to have debt in times of inflation?

    Back on topic: this thread could delve deeper into who and how to pay for the suggestions and proposed remedies posted inthis thread. Consumer debt is nearing $2.5 trillion so homeowners will be hard pressed to invest large capital into making homes and cars energy efficient (Amory Lovins view of fast payback notwithstanding.

    I do urge RealClimate to give some space to discussion of measures to prepare for the worst case which might be coming at us faster that we realize.

    Adaptation deserves equal time with geoengineering and is far more realistic in dollar cost and impact terms. As an environmentalist and parent, I see this as an ancillary effort and by no means abandonment of every effort to massively reduce climate forcing emissions and particularly since we are discovering the pH of the oceans is increasing.

    Mr. Oâ??Sullivan, do you have a comment on adaptive measures that might be discussed?

  36. 186
    W. Hall says:

    181, I take your point on geoengineering as a side discussion. But it is after all the focus of this thread. And if, as at least â?? I would estimate, half of the posters here object to geoengineering being seen as a solution to climate change, what if some of the most controversial geoengineering proposals, including the sunscreen aerosol spraying proposals, are already a reality?

    If geoengineering is not just a bunch of proposals but an ongoing massive â?? albeit unacknowledged â?? practice, then oneâ??s attitude to it is no longer a matter of academic discussion. We are called upon to take a stand: should it be banned, or should it be legalized so that it can be carried on with transparency and public accountability?

    Someone asserting that geoengineering is not just proposals but well-established practice is often challenged to prove this allegation. But to demand proof is to shift the ground of the debate.

    Geoenginering proposals have emerged mostly from individuals and institutions with a prehistory of involvement in nuclear weapons development and other high-tech projects involving military, or what are defined as military, or â??national securityâ?? projects. These projects have not come into being as a result of demand by a free market or a process of democratic policy formulation. The political reflexes and habits of mind formed by the Cold War and the nuclear arms race have shaped their content.

    â??National securityâ?? projects often take the form of a provocative and divisive proposal generating spontaneous opposition, the defeat of which opposition then becomes the purpose of the project. This reflex can be seen as much in Edward Tellerâ??s â??Sunscreenâ?? proposal as in his earlier H-Bomb and Star Wars schemes. Look at what he says: â??The director of the U.S. Global Change Research Programâ??s Co-ordination office has been promoting geoengineering for three decades. But for some reason this option isnâ??t as fashionable as all-out war on fossil fuels and the people who use them.â?? The implication is that the purpose of geoengineering is to defeat those who want to wage a â??war on fossil fuelsâ??.

    To embark secretly on implementation of a sunscreen project (which would â?? as a number of posters have pointed out â?? in any case face many legal obstacles) fit in very well with an aggressive political stance. Anyone who, based on the evidence of his senses, tries to argue publicly that implementation is evidently already occurring can
    then be identified as an opponent.

    Gavin Schmidt says that the IPCC in its reports does not â??recommendâ?? the large scale spraying of aerosols for climate mitigation purposes. It just â??describesâ?? the idea. For me to argue that the IPCC recommends this practice, or even that the practice is being implemented, is evidently controversial, just as it would have been if I had argued during the Cold War that the United States should accept Soviet â??disarmamentâ?? proposals because they are genuine.

    Considerable numbers of citizens in America and throughout the world are convinced, that â??geoengineeringâ??, including the most controversial type of geoengineering, isnâ??t just a set of proposals but something that is happening, in a big way, and has been happening for years. Many, if not most, of these people, are in favour of radical action on climate.. If given some space in recognized public discussion we could
    be opposing the forces of political immobilism and inertia much more effectively than they are being opposed currently.

    As beezel pointed out above in posting 59: â??Perhaps discussing possible geotechnical solutions is a good way of demonstrating to the public the magnitude of the problem.â??

    Yes, and even moreso if we are arguing that the â??geotechnical solutionsâ?? are not just on the drawing board but are an established reality, whatever collateral damage this is causing.

  37. 187
    Fernando Magyar says:


    I beleive you meant the PH of the oceans is decreasing ;-).

    As a parent myself I am actively seeking alternatives to our runaway consumerist lifestyle. I am trying to do my part with conservation wherever I can.

    My parents may have had the excuse that they didn’t have the information available to make informed decisions. We don’t have the excuse of ignorance any longer. We will be held accountable by our children if we do nothing. I beleive that we have to find creative ways to change the way we do things and that means thinking outside the box or maybe the truncated octahedron. Here is a group that has some interesting ideas to start off the discussion of how we might do some things differently.

  38. 188
    John McCormick says:

    To RC readers. my apology; I do know the concern is that ocean pH is decreasing. Maybe my eyesight as well.

    And, Fernando, thanks for that link.

  39. 189
    Socrates says:

    I am appreciative that the few of us arguing that geo-engineering seems to have already commenced have not been censored. So, is there universal agreement here that the “chemtrail” problem is due to chinese aerosol pollution and African dust? Or is this issue so new to you that you are all mostly dumbfounded to offer a position. I am sure you have all been busy during the day and haven’t been observing clear skies being consistently mucked up by aircraft. Please, is there any of you out there who can watch the short KNBC report and offer some explanation to the multitude of eyewitness claims that planes are NOW creating artificial cloud cover? Don’t be scared.

    You see, one needn’t be a scientist to see that the skies are looking mighty strange. Those of us who aren’t wish scientists would get their heads out of the sand and pay heed to our concerns. Thank you.

  40. 190
    jay inslee says:

    Those who have not seen a comprehensive, focused, appropriately scaled plan to build a new clean energy future for the nation may want to review the New Apollo Energy Act, H.R. 2828, which I have introduced in the United States House of Representatives. It is based on the prinicple that baby steps will be woefully inadequate to face the task at hand in combatting global warming. We clearly need a national effort on the scale of the original Apollo space program,using all of the technologies available for efficiency and clean energy production, from soup to nuts. The bill is available in summary form at my site at and a full copy through a link at that site. It is fair to say that this bill comprises the most global collection of strategies available to us to reduce our Co2 output yet introudced in Congress. Nothing else would be equal to the challenge. It would certainly seem wise to adopt such proactive approaches to reduce Co2 before trying radicaly retroactive tactics such as loading the atmosphere with So2. Even if this were to effectively deal with climate changes, it would not stop the ocean acidification now threatening major biological systems world wide.

    Representative Jay Inslee
    1st District, Washington

  41. 191
    W. Hall says:

    “It would certainly seem wise to adopt such proactive approaches to reduce Co2 before trying radically retroactive tactics such as loading the atmosphere with So2. Even if this were to effectively deal with climate changes, it would not stop the ocean acidification now threatening major biological systems world wide.”

    Representative Jay Inslee, does this amount to an assertion that radically retroactive tactics such as loading the atmosphere with SO2 are not actually being carried out? If so, on what evidence do you base that assertion?

    And how do you explain the content of the Paul Moyer KNBC news item. Have you watched it?

  42. 192
    W. Hall says:

    Of course contributors here who are in favour of geoengineering will be obliged to take the opposite position to Representative Inslee. It will not be proper for them to argue that geoengineering should continue illegally. They will have to argue for legalization, and employ their scientific expertise to decide what should be legal and what not.

  43. 193
    Fernando Magyar says:

    I’m not sure what the merits of Paul Moyer’s KNBC news item are. It doesn’t provide any real facts one way or the other and comes across as your typical sensationalist piece. That’s not to say I would be surprised that our fearless leaders are engaged in such activities and have decided that we the American people shouldn’t be informed of such things. In any case I will withhold judgement until more information becomes available. Just for the record my trust in both our government and the news media are at an all time low which is why I come to sites such as this to get facts on which to base my opinions. I also thought it was ironic that piece was prefaced by an automobile advertisement. Maybe it’s time to add a global health warning label to internal combustion engines such as the surgeon general’s warning on packages of cigarettes.

  44. 194
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    Guilt-free Climate Engineering (no contrails, acid rain or space mirrors required)

    This morning I happened to see the rebroadcast of the Lou Dobbs news/analysis program on CNN where in between the latest war and illegal immigration news was a segment about what to do about climate change. The guests included Michael Mann of hockey stick fame and Real Climate’s Gavin Schmidt. Of note was that Dobbs didn’t feel compelled to include one of the “climate skeptics,” instead disposing of the issue of is climate change happening and are we responsible at the outset. The discussion instead focussed on solutions. And those remedies were to reduce fossil energy emissions, replace SUVs with smaller cars, find a way to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass and seek more efficient uses of energy.

    All of these are of course, part of the solution to the climate change problem and the guests said there was still time to implement them before it was too late. However, I doubt that many of these changes will come in time. Although gas prices may spike for a while this summer, the inflation adjusted all-time high in the U.S. was set in 1980 and in today’s dollars would be around $4.72/gallon. So don’t expect to see those Explorers, Tacomas and Yukons parked on the side of the road any time soon and their drivers walking to the nearest Prius dealership or bikeshop.

    So are there any more geoengineering ideas that might be implemented sooner rather than later that haven’t already been beaten to death on this thread and that might give us a little more time to make all those energy-related changes proposed by Rep. Inslee a reality?

    Here’s one I came up with the other day after reading an LA Times article about the latest on-site observations of the deterioration of the Greenland ice sheet. To fill in the cracks that have developed and are allowing meltwater to percolate down under the ice sheet and out into the Atlantic, why not fill them in with ice? That’s right, use Greenland’s most abundant natural resource to help stabilize the ice sheet. The ice is readily available, white or nearly so and already frozen. Using heavy equipment such as bulldozers and excavators, the ice can be harvested from unbroken areas of the ice sheet and pushed into the cracks. In the winter, the filled in crack will freeze over. This should greatly reduce the amount of melting the next summer and the amount of water that is draining into the ocean. If this process could be used on a large enough scale and could reduce the amount of melting significantly, it would buy us more time, the one thing we really don’t have in abundance.

    So if there are any glaciologists out there reading this, let me know if this is a really cool idea or am I just going to give a lot of people a heart attack from shoveling snow or ice.

  45. 195
    Fernando Magyar says:


    “The discussion instead focussed on solutions. And those remedies were to reduce fossil energy emissions, replace SUVs with smaller cars, find a way to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass and seek more efficient uses of energy…
    Although gas prices may spike for a while this summer, the inflation adjusted all-time high in the U.S. was set in 1980 and in today’s dollars would be around $4.72/gallon. So don’t expect to see those Explorers, Tacomas and Yukons parked on the side of the road any time soon and their drivers walking to the nearest Prius dealership or bikeshop.”

    Why not?!

    Ok, my car gets about 45 to 50 mpg and emitts about 4200lbs of CO2 for my yearly driving. The SUV’s you mention get about 12 mpg and average about 14000 lbs of CO2 for the same amount of driving that I do. BTW most of that driving is done with only one occupant in the vehicle. You want guilt free, that’s fine then pay through the nose for it in CO2 taxes. Sell me the gas at $5.00 a gallon which I am willing to pay today and quite frankly beleive is cheap. I also think we will see those prices sooner rather than later and that it won’t be a mere summer spike. My brother and sister live in Germany and already pay more than that. Then charge $15.00 a gallon to the folks who insist they need to drive to the office in an SUV every dayand give the money to terrapass or some other organization that will invest it in alternative energy. Then you can have no guilt.

  46. 196
    W. Hall says:

    194. Alvia Gaskill. If you want to change the political climate in such a way as to get reality through the heads of Explorer, Tacoma and Yukon owners, unleash “chemtrails” activists against anthropogenic climate change “sceptics”. It is as simple as that. You don’t have to do anything yourself. Just get out of the way.

  47. 197
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rep. Inslee — good to see you here. Thank you. I hope your bill will get feedback from the climatologists (I’m not one of the scientists).

  48. 198
    Brian Gordon says:

    Rep. Inslee – I thought there was lots of good stuff in your bill. As a Canadian, though, I’ll still be voting Green next time. :-) The cars are going to have to go.

    Sooner or later, gas prices will go up, and keep going up. The stuff has to run out sooner or later. Even if we find more, the Middle East oil fields aren’t looking too reliable for the foreseeable future. Venezuela is building facilities to enable selling to their oil to China instead of the US. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll realize we can’t keep burning it even if the supply were unlimited.

  49. 199
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    #186 (W. Hall)
    I don’t dismiss geo-engineering, but I am uncertain of its value.

    Many things people are doing change climate on the local and global scales. However, initiating changes in the climate is a far cry from controlling the climate. I think the term “geo-engineering” is inaccurate because it implies that we will be able to control the climate as if we are turning the thermostat up or down like we do in our homes.

    If we undertake geo-engineering projects will they be effective? Will there be side effects? Will these side effects create new problems or make existing problems worse?

    If we use a cost-benefit analysis I think reducing pollution will have a greater and more predictable benefit than geo-engineering.

    Going back to Broecker’s angry beast analogy, if we have made the beast angry by poking it with sticks it would be a lot harder to tame it (geo-engineering) than to just stop poking it (reduce pollution)!

    #190 (Rep. Jay Inslee) thank you for introducing the New Apollo Energy Act. It would be great to see the U.S. regain it’s leadership in pollution control and environmental protection. Thank you also for telling the public about it. Hopefully once the the public is informed we will back the New Apollo Energy Program.

  50. 200
    W. Hall says:

    199. Joseph O’Sullivan, personally I think that most geoengineering ideas are almost unbelievably terrible. Look at Gregory Benford’s classic account from ten years back in “Reason” magazine:

    But for me, and for many others, the crucial reality is that these ideas are not just ideas. Aerosol spraying of the planet from aircraft is going on on an unbelievably huge scale. This is what we have concluded.

    The reality is being kept almost completely out of the awareness of the public, for a number of reasons.

    Firstly, and this is indirectly acknowledged by Gavin Schmidt, the agencies who have undertaken the relevant geoengineering projects have not yet found out how to legalize what they are doing.

    Secondly, a section of them are not all that interested in trying to legalize it anyway. They have got used to working in secrecy behind the “national security” label, and it suits them to keep working that way.

    Thirdly, the decision makers in this world habitually operate through turning different groups in society against each other. In the case of geoengineering, the divide-and-rule strategy operates through stigmatizing as “conspiracy theorists” people who have concluded, and are saying, that “geoengineering” is not just a theory but is an ongoing, and very large scale, programme.

    This effectively removes them/us from respectable discourse, so that the climate change debate, instead of being a debate – as it should be – between proponents and opponents of “geoengineering”, becomes a largely phony debate between concerned climate change activists and scientists, and frequently cynical and/or insincere climate change “sceptics”.

    Another reason for the secrecy of “geoengineering” programmes must be “national security” interest in using “the weather as weapon”. Those who want to use the weather as a weapon like being able to strike invisibly and unaccountably. Ambiguity, which is or should be intolerable to citizens on the receiving end of geoengineering/weather as weapon treatment (is this being done to help us or to harm us?) is not at all intolerable for those for whom these techniques are toys for them to play with.

    What is the answer to all this? For a start, the geoengineering discussion must be got out into the public arena and must begin to replace the sterile argument (particularly popular in the United States) about the degree to which climate change is anthropogenic.