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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. 201
    Hank Roberts says:

    Look, claiming you got ‘indirect acknowledgment’ from Gavin because he told you you were wrong just makes you sound like a troll. Why am I responding to this? I’ll stop now.

  2. 202
    W. Hall says:

    I also support what Representative Inslee appears to be trying to do, and I don’t care much if at this moment he isn’t answering my questions.

  3. 203
    John McCormick says:

    A herd of Christian archaeologists from the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration Institute claim to have discovered what they believe could be the remains of Noah’s Ark 13,000 feet up a mountain in Iran’s Elburz range. The story got lots of press but no one seems to have asked the simple question: where did the 13,000 feet of water come from and where did it go?

    Now, in a similarly curious fashion — about SO2 loading into the atmosphere: as I understand, raw sulfur, in combusting coal, becomes a sulfate particle and when combined with oxygen becomes sulfur dioxide.

    Can anyone please explain how a military aircraft or any aircraft can support a combustion chamber suficiently large to faciliate the oxidation of sulfur?

    Can we drop the atmospheric SO2 aerosol geoengineering stuff and get on with some serious discussion? Or, maybe certain contributors can lend an opinion on the 13,000 foot sea level rise?

  4. 204
    Hank Roberts says:

    John, have a look at these first few Google Results
    (from about 117,000 for aircraft engine pollution sulfur sulfate. (0.37 seconds) )

    Atmospheric Aerosols: What Are They, and Why Are They So Important
    Understanding how much sulfur-based pollution is present in the atmosphere is … emissions from the engines of several commercial and research aircraft. …
    That page at the bottom includes this:
    “Future NASA Aerosol Studies
    “NASA’s ongoing Atmospheric Effects of Aviation Project (AEAP) has measured emissions from the engines of several commercial and research aircraft. Jet engine emissions have been shown to affect the concentrations of atmospheric water vapor and aerosols, and they may affect how clouds form and the concentrations of atmospheric ozone. Few actual measurements of their effects have been made, however.”

    Jet fuel desulfurization likely to spread, so refiners, engine …
    Environmental advocates also point to links between high-sulfur jet fuel … Jet engine makers and aircraft makers today don’t have any reason to fear …

    AIAA – Aerospace America Online – AVIATION AND THE CHANGING …
    Reductions in the sulfur content of the fuel may also reduce the generation of sulfate aerosol outside the engine. Engines with higher overall efficiency …

    Re the future NASA study reference, the AEAP link page says only this:
    AEAP: Atmospheric Effects of Aviation Project
    The AEAP Project has ended.
    At the direction of Randy Kawa ,,_Randy/,
    the AEAP web pages have been removed.

    Does that help answer your question how the engines do this?

  5. 205
    John McCormick says:

    Hank, thank you for the helpful links.

    I do know jet fuel contains small concentrations of sulfur which, upon combustion, oxide to sulfur dioxide. However, I understood references, in this thread, to sulfur dioxide geoengineering ideas require huge additions of SO2 to the atmosphere. That was the gist of my question.

    It would appear that current international and domestic flights are not sufficient to show any positive effect on reflecting solar insolation back to space. And, US EPA and the aviation industry are intent on reducing sulfur content of jet fuel.

  6. 206
    Hank Roberts says:

    >it would appear …
    Nope, “9-11” three day shutdown:

  7. 207
    W. Hall says:

    I don’t know how many people on this thread have been persuaded by what I have been arguing.

    However, the municipal council of the island of Aigina in Greece some time back passed a resolution “to file a suit against any party responsible for the conducting, according to press reports, of dangerous aerial spraying over Aigina in the framework of ongoing experiments for purposes of dealing with the greenhouse phenomenon”.

    You can read the relevant section of the council minutes here:

    The resolution was taken at the initiative of Councillor Nektarios Koukoulis and Mayor Dimitrios Mourtzis.

    The Council was given legal advice to abandon this litigation and did so. And indeed a lawsuit of this kind was not an appropriate response to the problem.

    Nevertheless, the move has remained on the record, and in the minds of key people. The action of the Aigina Council could be utilized to help move public debate internationally away from sterile arguments over anthropogenic vs non-anthropogenic factors in climate change to a potentially more powerful, dramatic and effective international public debate over geoengineering.

    The process could be facilitated by recent moves to have the activities of NGOs granted institutional recognition under the new Greek Constitution, something which could have a knock-on effect in Europe as a whole.

    If anyone is interested in hearing my view of exactly what steps can be taken to harness the political potential of the stance against geoengineering taken by the municipal council of Aigina, Greece, I will elaborate.

  8. 208
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    There is any interesting article in the New York Times Magazine about the potential of the nuclear power industry to make a resurgence in the U.S. Nuclear power is posited as an answer, if not the answer, to global warming. If nuclear power does “take-off”, this will have dire implications for innumerable generations. Most geoengineering proposals, in contrast, have much shorter time-frames. It would be unfortunate if nuclear power is able to be established as a response to GW because more sensible geoengineering approaches were not adequately explored.

  9. 209
    W. Hall says:

    See “India in the Shadow of the Nuclear Lobby”:

    How is geoengineering going to help us deal with this nightmare?

  10. 210
    Russell Seitz says:

    Dear Gavin:

    At risk of Green ire , may suggest an overlooked means of albedo modification that may appeal to those suspicious of anything so inorganic as whitewash or sulfate aerosols.

    Biomass sequestration enthusuasts tend to overlook the
    range of reflectivity of vegetation. While as a matter of computational convenience, most envelope back modeling assumes some low reflectivity figure for vegetation, species vary greatly from the mean value for temperate or boreal forests and grasslands.

    Saltwort and silver sage exemplify the high end of the vegatation albedo spectrum, and are also naturally adopted to poor soils and scant and saline water . They can reflect roughly twice as much solar enegy as most forest types, and might be made more laucous still by selective breeding or genetic engineering. Indeed it is possible that the genes responsible for furry leaves or other reflective adoptions mught be identified and incorporated into crops or perennial plants to reduce the solar gain of agricultural regions as well as wasteland .

    The very idea of propagating pale planrs will rile deep Greens , but Crutzen is a very sensible fellow in my exprience, and I hope he will float this modest proposal among the diverse species of life scientists found in the Max Planck biotreme

  11. 211
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    re: #209

    It is preferable to posit geoengineering as an answer to global warming, than nuclear power.

  12. 212
    W. Hall says:

    211. At least there is a public debate about nuclear power, and a general recognition that nuclear power stations EXIST. Where is the debate about geoengineering, other than on this thread? And even here it is only half a debate, because almost everyone is talking as if geoengineering is something hypothetical.

  13. 213
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    RE: 210 The idea of bioengineered plants with higher than natural reflectivity has been discussed before. See the Watts book below.

    R.G. Watts, Engineering Response to Global Climate Change, Lewis Publishers, CRC, New York, 1997.

    If the problems of water, fertilizer and genetic engineering can be overcome, then the issue is one of how much additional solar reflectivity can be achieved. Doubling of reflectivity from 0.1 to 0.2 albedo units doesnâ??t buy you very much, even if hundreds of thousands of square miles are covered. If this is being done in an area with native plants, like switchgrass, would the new species be acceptable as replacements and as potential sources of cellulosic ethanol?

    More likely, for the plan to work, it would have to be done on essentially barren land. Unfortunately, the albedos of most barren lands are already higher than the 0.2 nominal albedo that could likely be achieved using the bioengineered plants. If the plants could be engineered to have white leaves, then there would be a better return on the landâ??s use to reflect sunlight. Even with a change from 10% to 90% reflectivity, the U.S. doesnâ??t have enough barren or other land for this to make much of a difference, once again requiring one to look to deserts or perhaps the vast grasslands of the Russian steppes. The reality is that we currently donâ??t have the ability to bioengineer plants with white leaves and this idea probably wonâ??t be able to help us out before 2050 or even later.

  14. 214
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    re: #212

    In my view the nuclear option is made significantly more credible because the scientific/environmental community has been pushing alternative fuels as the only answer to global warming. Since nuclear power is the only viable alternative fuel (within the context of growing global energy demand), this community is indirectly propping up nuclear power.

    A world with 2,000 to 3,000 nuclear rectors is extremely freightening. We do not know what to do with the nuclear waste from the 400 or so rectors currently in existence, nor how safe they are as they age. Expanded nuclear waste also creates more opportunities for the expansion of nuclear weapons, and, hence, nuclear war.

    It should also be noted that a dramatic expansion of nuclear power will not necessarily prevent the worst outcomes of climate change. There is already a lot of warming built into the atmosphere. Moreover, a number of people/countries can still rely on fossil fuels (especially coal) to meet their energy demands.

    Geoengineering solutions will address global warming directly. Most geoengineering be can be undone if not working or prove to be overly harmful. Finally, geoengineering solutions can shift the dialogue from nuclear power.

  15. 215
    Hank Roberts says:

    Few have an existing industry that’s going to profit immensely from government money, however. Nobody’s currently in the business of launching huge shadow satellites, filling the stratosphere with reflective material, or covering the ocean with white plastic.

    Well, maybe the Styrofoam industry’s already made progress at the latter, but only by accident.

    I guess sequestration has the prospect of increasing the value of testing depleted oil wells for use capturing CO2 — but the Western Fuels Association would have to back the program and get government grants for replacing the current generation plants with clean ones, which would reverse years of lobbying work.

  16. 216
    W. Hall says:

    The science-fiction mindset by which and for which geoengineering proposals are formulated does not mesh with the quasi-practical and would-be participatory and political orientation of the ecologists who mobilise around renewable energy sources. The discourses are crafted for two different clienteles, who just talk past each other and/or ignore each other.

    Which is more deplorable? To be insane or to be an ostrich?

  17. 217
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    re: 216

    We have already emitted tons of sulphates into the atmosphere — so we actually have a lot of experience with this. We have also placed numerous objects in the earth’s orbit. Thus, there is little that is fictional about such geoengineering approaches. They are realistic and practical answers to a dire problem — global warming.

    Our experience with nuclear power, however, should tell us to retire this source of energy. Nuclear waste and nuclear weapons are something we already have in too great a supply. As I stated before, nuclear power is not a sure fire response to global warming.

  18. 218
    John L. McCormick says:

    George, you are losing my interest in your point of view regarding geoengineering.

    Yes, we actually have a lot of experience with sulphates (not good record there) but I know you are proposing injection into the statosphere. Soon, that notion will topple because it has nothing to offer this multi-dimensional problem of climate forcing gas concentrations and global warming.

    The idea that sulphate seeding and orbital objects are non-fictional is a fiction regardless of how loudly you profess to know better.

    How about the annoying problem of diminishing ocean pH? Where do the aerosol injections help there? And, lower pH will diminish ocean CO2 sink capability. The aerosol idea is chasing its tail.

    And, though I am not a member of the nuclear fan club, I accept the fact our experience with nuclear power is good enough that I would strongly resist encouraging on-line reactor retirements.

    Plain facts: (a) world nukes contribute 15 percent of global twhrs which, by the way, increased 4 percent over 2004. (b) China increased electric output 12.6 percent in 2005 to 2475 twhrs (approximating global nuke output) (c) US totaled 4239 twhrs in 2005; a 2 percent increase over 2004.

    George, those are not small numbers and the nuclear power contribution to the totals is a net-plus for keeping CO2 concentrations lower than they would be. In the here-and-now America, energy conservation is a hard sell (past the easy stuff) and renewables are intermittant in this base-load economy. So, US nukes generate equivalent output of 75 1000 MW coal-fired stations having 80 percent on line factor.

    And, George, it is not our right to dictate electric power generation choices our children will have to call upon when they are planning new capacity.

    You said, nuclear power is not a sure fire response to global warming. No. But it is reality. And, thus far, I cast my vote against sulphate injection and orbiting objects which are not.

  19. 219
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 206

    Hank, I am prospecting the links you suggested and was intrigued by the work of David Travis

    According to the Science News link:

    Travis and his colleagues looked at the average diurnal temperature range (DTR)â??the difference between the day’s high and low temperaturesâ??reported at more than 4,000 weather stations across the continental United States. During the 3-day hiatus of air traffic last September, the average DTR was a little over 1°C wider than normal, even though the average DTRs computed for the 3-day periods immediately before and after that period were below normal.

    Hank, this is what caught my attention and, in my opinion, argues against geoengineering surface cooling with aerosols — the lifespan of the contrails had about one day of reflective capability because they appear to have vanished immediately after the no-fly order went into effect. If the US pursued an aerolsol fix would this mean perpetual aerosol injection into the atmosphere using jet fuel exhaust?

  20. 220
    W. Hall says:

    Yes it would, and that is what is happening.

  21. 221
    Hank Roberts says:

    Crutzen’s paper isn’t out yet as far as I know (see first posting starting this topic).
    There are lots of assertions with no science behind them; always ask for proof of claims.

  22. 222
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    re: #218

    Your dismissal of geoengineering, with all due respect, is without basis. The fact that it is not a reality is besides the point. The question is how aggressively should we pursue geoengineering solutions? More germane to this discussion is what are the downsides of geoengineering when compared to nuclear power in dealing with global warming?

    On the whole, geoengineering generally involves much less risk than nuclear power. Now, risk to a certain degree is relative, contingent, and subjective. But I prefer to risk a more acidic ocean than an increasing number of nuclear rectors under various governments all over the world. In this context, the risk of major nuclear accidents is all too real. Moreover, there is the large amounts of intractable nuclear waste. Waste that can be traded on the world market for military purposes. (It has been theorized that even a limited nuclear war could knock the world off its axis.) With geoengineering, global warming might be managed and hopefully subsided within this generation and the next, but nuclear waste for all intent and purposes is forever.

    Respectfully yours,

  23. 223
    W. Hall says:

    It is true that whether or not geoengineering is a reality is beside the point.

    But countering the aggressive politics of climate change “sceptics” would be infinitely easier and would have greater potential for success if the claims of “chemtrails” activists that it IS a reality were treated with more curiosity by those with scientific expertise and by the mass media.

    Unfortunately the “sceptic” side of politics is better organized and more intelligent than “our side”, (a conception which I insist unilaterally on employing).

  24. 224
    W. Hall says:

    Edward Teller, who loved both geoengineering and nuclear power, would be laughing his head at this dispute between ecologically concerned scientists.

    Of course he is dead now, but he continues to rule over us from the grave.

  25. 225
    Andrew Dodds says:

    Re: 222

    Saying that geoengineering involves less risk is in many ways quite strange; certainly those techniques involving satelites at L2 or sulphates carry a very strong risk of interruption followed by a *very* rapid dose of climate change. The idea that AGW could be completely solved in a single generation does seem quite strange.

    Although nuclear power does carry a risk of accidents, the world will survive the odd accident; you have to weigh this against the known consequences of fossil fiel pollution. Certainly, coal kills more people every year than have died from every nuclear accident and weapon in all history; it is hence hard to declare nuclear as more dangerous.

    As far as waste lifetimes go, with a proper breeder/reprocessing approach, the waste from nuclear reactors should have a half-life of 30 years. Yet attempts to introduce this over the wasteful and dangerous open fuel cycle approach have run into opposition from supposedly ‘green’ groups. CO2 will take a long time indeed to be completely removed from the biosphere.

    The idea of changing the earth’s axis by nuclear weapons is, of course, pure science fiction.

  26. 226
    socrates says:

    Are ye so blind not to notice how strange looking the skies have become since 1997 or so? Was there a tipping point then where the African dust and Chinese and other aerosols started turning otherwise dissipating contrails into fake cloud cover? The silence towards this issue is mind boggling. There is proof that geo-engineering has already started. When are scientists going to stand up for humanity and accountability. Please explain the strange skies. For close to ten years people have been speaking out about “chemtrails” only to be labelled as tin-foil conspiracy theorists. Now reports have come out lately that contrails can create fake clouds contributing to global dimming and influencing the albedo.

    I’m telling you all that you can ignore these questions all you want, but that won’t add anything to your intellectual integrity.

  27. 227

    As a science fiction writer, I’m a little irked at the custom of describing unlikely engineering as “science fiction.” That ain’t a pejorative, people. If you want to say something is unrealistic or costs too much, say that. Nuclear power, nuclear weapons, submarines, voyages to the Moon, space stations, TV… all were “science fiction” once. Science fiction has a way of becoming reality.

  28. 228
    W. Hall says:

    For 225. At the European Social Forum meeting in Athens last May there
    was a meeting of climate change activists at the end of social forum proceedings during which we had all had a chance to attend workshops, including on the trade in emissions credits and on nuclear energy, and with some (though not enough) opportunity to raise the question of geoengineering and the weather as weapon.

    Even moreso than the scepticism about Kyoto that could be arising out of the real-life effects of emissions credits trading, it became clear from a deposition by Turkish activists that in Turkey they face problems mobilising people around climate change precisely because of the idea that has got about that the whole climate change issue is a “cover” for a comeback by the newly aggressive nuclear power lobby. Whether or not this is true, what was being expressed was an activist viewpoint: the viewpoint of people who are being called upon to get people out in the streets demonstrating for Kyoto and for action on climate change.

    The more aggressive the nuclear power lobby becomes, the more likely it is that we will all end up turning Turk.

  29. 229
    Dan says:

    re: 226. “For close to ten years people have been speaking out about “chemtrails” only to be labelled as tin-foil conspiracy theorists.”

    Yep, with very good reason. For years chemtrail conspiracists have claimed the miltary has been spraying various barium salts in the air to “control us” and make us sick. Real extreme wacko stuff. Now they expect a crumb of credibility after a report comes out that contrails can create clouds to contribute to global warming? Contrails are due to water vapor emissions from aircraft engines and particle emissions due to engine combustion. They are not “chemtrails” nor are the “barium salts”.

    Perhaps the worst part of the chemtrail loonies is that, once presented the facts in a straight-forward manner, they are unable to learn and refuse to admit they are wrong. And then they immediately accuse those that are presenting the meteorological *facts* about contrails as being part of the vast “government conspiracy”! So, no, the chemtrail conspiracists do not deserve or have an ounce of respectibility, integrity, or credibility. And I speak from personal experiences talking with chemtrail loonies (sorry, once you have met them, there is no other acccurate word to describe them). Speaking with them is like speaking to a brick wall, basic meteorological science be darned as far as they are concerned. They are just as much an insult to science as are many of the global warming denialists. Their failure to make any sort of effort to become educated about the fundamentals of cloud formation while proceeding to attack anyone who disagrees with them is a disgrace.

    [Response: Ok. that is enough on the chemtrail business. Find somewhere else to debate it. – gavin]

  30. 230
    Hank Roberts says:

    Science fiction? Well …..

    “I remember hydrogen bombs in the â��50s and â��60s, then they said if 16-H-bombs ignited at any given moment it would knock the planet off its axis. Nuclear warheads are many times more powerful, so what would happen if several of those were set off at once?

    “… And of course in Korea and China, theyâ��re cloning Human Beings.”

    — Edward James Olmos (Commander William Adama, Battlestar Galatica)

    As to hazy skies, wasn’t Socrates (the original) fond of logic?
    Saying “you can see it, so there is proof, so you’re ignoring the proof, so you should be working to help us find evidence to prove it” is a bit circular.

    Some of the Apollo astronauts, I recall, remarked on how hazy the Earth’s atmosphere appeared from space compared to how clear the atmosphere had looked to them on early Mercury and Gemini flights. At the time — decades ago now — NASA reported this somewhere while describing the use of remote sensing to detect the increases in dust and aerosol pollution that were clearly visible from space but just beginning to be detectable in ground level and aircraft sampling. Perhaps our hosts have some source at NASA who can remember or find the early studies. I can also remember aircraft pilots referring to the way the sky changed around the Mississippi on cross country flights and that this was called the East Coast Pall by meteorologists — again, the accumulating air pollution.

    The flaw in the assertion that “you can just see it from the ground so it must be happening in the stratosphere” is that you’re looking through the troposphere.

    Until someone, somewhere, reports some trace of something detectable, all we have is the “look, you can see it must be true” argument. Which is just silly, no matter how much you believe it, in a science forum.

  31. 231
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    re: #225

    Your claims of catastrophe following the implementation of certain geoengineering proposals is without scientific basis.

    Respectfully yours,

  32. 232
    Louis Aubuchont says:

    Excuse me, but isn’t this following quote taken from [Geo-engineering in voguevogue/ ] exactly what we are presently seeing going on worldwide with regard to the Chemtrail / Global Spraying issue that’s been ragging since the 1990’s ?


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

    Leaving out the legal liability and litigation aspects of this above quote I believe the conditions set fourth specific to using sulfur[s] as an atmospheric screen / shield are precisely the effects that we are currently seeing taking place worldwide due to the spraying projects that we have been observing since the mid 90’s, one would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see the correlation but we must all make up our own minds.

    They speak of using stratospheric sulphate as a medium yet we know that high levels of barium salts and aluminum oxides have and are probably being used due to high ground contents of same, are we looking at another veiled admission by climate scientist that points to what has become known as Chemtrail'[s] / Global Spraying ?

    There is so much in this “Geo-engineering in vogue” post that it screams, “YES, we are spraying and have been for a long time”.

    It’s getting more and more interesting day by day now, when do you suppose they are just going to admit the truth?

  33. 233
    W. Hall says:

    Will they admit the truth, or will they just allow it to emerge from discussions like the present one?

    To admit the truth is to take responsibility for doing something. What if they judge that they are not in a position to take any such responsibility?

  34. 234
    socrates says:

    Gavin, thanks again for not censoring our comments. I also respect that you don’t want the thread to bog down into ad hominen attacks nor stray from the topic of geo-engineering like Dan’s post did.

    Thanks to Dan also for pointing out through his words how debunkers often belittle people instead of debating their arguments. Plus, none of those here who have questioned the present composition of the skies have mentioned ufos or population culling. One way to get people not to envision geo-engineering possibly going on right now IS to frame this as loony tin-foil material.

    I am done here. This will be my last post. I will just add that “contrails” have not been noticeably creating fake cloud cover until the late 90’s. This is the gorilla in the room that needs to be scientifically explained in order to put the “chemmies” to rest, but I promise I am done and am grateful to even have been able to express my concerns. Thanks for the nice article and good luck.

  35. 235
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE: # 190

    Congressman Inslee deserves our gratitude for devoting an enormous amount of time and discussion with many interests, engineers and analysts to craft the New Appolo Energy Act of 2005. It has all the appropriate technology initiatives and energy use policies. Likely, it could, if enacted and implemented in its entirety, put America first on the path to cutting projected 2050 CO2 emissions in half.

    And, while I agree with his sense of urgency to move CO2 reduction targets out of the breakdown lane and into the fast lane, he has failed to grasp the role of nuclear electric generation as an element in his proposal. The word nuclear appears once and that on page 254 of the 476 page bill. There it meerly encourages nuclear technology exports. In this one element, I find The New Apollo Energy Act of 2005 deficient.

    Congress has the means to reconstruct the nuclear power industry into a safe, non-proliferation and terrorist proof — even renewable — source of baseload power. The recently enacted energy bill does give quite a lot of incentives to the electric power industry to obtain licenses and permits for new construction but Wall Street will decide who builds what, where. The federal government must do more to give investors the confidence needed to capitalize new construction. Imagine new reactors built on US military land and protected by US military personnel.

    I have likely said too much about nuclear power in this thread.

    I realize RC is not the appropriate page to explore the nuclear component of CO2 reduction. Unfortuantely, there is no page I can find (aside from nuclear power and electric power interests–and they are not appropriate hosts for an open public discussion) willing to take on the challenge of a serious, factual next generation nuclear power discussion.

  36. 236
    W. Hall says:

    I don’t know whether Representative Inslee will be more willing to tell us his views on nuclear power than he is to answer the questions I asked him in posting 191.

    I hope he is.

    As far as the views are concerned that I expressed in posting 233 on the possible official line concerning “frankness” over geoengineering, I first formed these views after reading Jay Michaelson’s important text on geoengineering.

    Jay Michaelson is totally inaccessible to me. He does not allow himself to be contacted in any way. Would he be equally inacessible to Gavin Schmidt?

  37. 237
    Andrew Dodds says:

    Re: 231

    Using sulphate aerosols to keep a lid on AGW implies a continuous injection of these sulphates; if this fails for any reason, then all of the accumulated forcing would come into play immediately. Ditto with an accident involving a reflector at L2. These events are of the highly unlikely but damaging nature usually imagined by the anti-nuclear crowd.

    There is no risk-free option.

    Re: 230:

    The last time yellowstone blew, the output would have been several orders of magnitude greater than the entire planet’s nuclear weapon inventory. Note: Sun still rises. (Actually, unless you eject a significant chunk of the planet’s mass into space, I suspect that conservation of angular momentum would stop ANY explosion doing this).

  38. 238
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    The current heat wave gripping vast areas of the northern hemisphere indicates the vital need to plan a geoengineering approach to counter ever increasing temperatures. Current temperatures point to the very real possibility that we are already past a tipping point. This would mean that even if we emitted zero CO2 emissions tomorrow the global’s temperature will still rise to catastrophic levels.

  39. 239
    Hank Roberts says:

    Today’s House Energy hearing on climate included the Chairman (who reminded everyone that he is from a coal-mining state, and reducing CO2 would mean “no coal burning power plants”) saying that since the witness had just testified that aerosols reduce temperature, maybe we should be emitting more. The climatologist on the stand under oath replied “if you don’t mind your eyes burning, and not being able to see …..”

  40. 240
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    It is unfortunate that proponents of the status quo would seize upon geoengineering as a means to maintain “business as usual.” Nonetheless, this should not deter us from exploring geoengineering as a means to save the planet.

  41. 241
    John L. McCormick says:

    George, please try to temper your vast enthusiasm for geoengineering as if it was your Bradley tank or a starwars initiative. You are way out of your league in my humble opinion. You have yet to offer anything other than a flag waving salute to a term which has no dimensions – only your promise it will save the planet.

    Do you know even a little bit about the larger concern of diminishing ocean pH? If so, would you share those concerns with us.

  42. 242
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    re: #241

    I consider the acid levels of the oceans to be an extremely serious concern. What I am arguing for is the modeling of geoengineering approaches, including those involving sulphate in the stratosphere, so we can make informed choices. Ultimately, we need to open up the discussion to include geoengineering. The attitude that some take that geoengineering is somehow “beyond the pale” is unscientific, and, given the plantary emergency we are facing, dangerous.

    Respectfully yours,

  43. 243
    W. Hall says:

    238. Here comes a remark directly addressed to George Gonzalez and his last two postings. Others are disagreeing with him, and he is answering them. So if he does not answer me, he must explain why.

    238. George, if an aerosol spraying programme is already well and truly in application in the United States (and elsewhere, but that is beside the point for the purposes of this posting) would this not suggest that geoengineering is not providing a solution for the heatwave phenomenon you have referred to?

    And as for posting 242, if geoengineering is as indicated already massively under way, how much weight does your argument carry that there must be discussion of geoengineering to provide us with the basis for “informed choice”?

    Note that neither of these questions depend logically on any assertion that geoengineering IS in fact being implemented, so it is no answer to demand that I prove that it is. Scientific debate is based on entertaining hypotheses and examining their implications.

    Over to you George.

  44. 244
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    re: #243

    Thank you for your queries. Current climate change models do include the cooling effects of airborne sulphate emitted by coal burning power plants. The obvious danger is that as this sulphate dissipates from the atmosphere its cooling effect will diminish, and the warming power of CO2 will be fully engaged. It is because of such factors that I argue that we must prepare for such eventualities through geoengineering.

    Respectfully yours,

  45. 245
    Hank Roberts says:

    Good news here — 25% cut in greenhouse gases simple, easy.
    Brief excerpts, see original article here:

    National Geographic News
    July 19, 2006

    Dramatically reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in the developing world could be as simple as installing new boilers and fluorescent lights, according to a new study by the United Nations and the World Bank.

    The UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Bank recently released their final report on a pilot energy-efficiency project in the developing world’s three leading economies: Brazil, China, and India.

    The report reveals that energy use in these countries can be slashed by 25 percent using simple, low-tech innovations. ….

    …. Cascio cites the example of a grassroots solar-power movement emerging from the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India.

    “There’s the Barefoot Solar Engineer movement, which is basically training illiterate women in Indian villages to be solar-power engineers, to be able to install and repair solar-power systems to provide power to communities that are off the grid,” Cascio said.
    —– end quote —-

    This certainly fits the history from the US both during the first oil crisis and during the recent electricity shortages in California — both times, people conserved energy more and faster than either industry or government thought possible.

  46. 246
    W. Hall says:

    Energy conservation is certainly the kind of proposal I feel happiest about, but on the other hand I am glad that there are people like George saying positive things about geoengineering. In fact I would like to see the debate about geoengineering entirely displace the present-day mass media climate change debate. Precisely because that debate is a diversion from the reality of geoengineering and “the weather as weapon”. It is a debate which does not confront climate change “sceptics” where they SHOULD be confronted. As a result, politically, the “sceptics” retain the upper hand, which is a disgrace.

  47. 247
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    In the NYT tomorrow there is a story on NASA that reports that: From 2002 until this year, NASAâ??s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: â??To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.â?? The phrase “to understand and protect the home planet” is now being removed by the Bush White House. The deletion of this phrase could solely mean that that the Administration does not want to concede that the planet is in danger from global warming. But it could also be an indication that the Administration is not seriously considering geoengineering as a response to climate change.

  48. 248
    George A. Gonzalez says:

    In the NYT tomorrow there is a story on NASA that reports that: From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.” The phrase “to understand and protect the home planet” is now being removed by the Bush White House from the NASA mission statement. The deletion of this phrase could solely mean that that the Administration does not want to concede that the planet is in danger from global warming. But it could also be an indication that the Administration is not seriously considering geoengineering as a response to climate change.

  49. 249
    Mark Bahner says:

    One thing that’s certain: no realistic reduction in CO2 will have any perceptible impact on climate for at least 30 years…and probably longer than that.

    That’s makes geoengineering worth thinking about. Injecting sulfates in the atmosphere is probably the wrong strategy. But there are plenty of other possibilities. For example, the ocean has a very low albedo. And high ocean temperatures in the tropics cause stronger hurricanes. Reflective sheets or particles would both increase the albedo of the ocean reduce ocean temperatures.

    Iron injection to create more algae in areas of the ocean that currently have very little algae is definitely worthy of study.

    Just because there may be some bad geoengineering ideas doesn’t mean geoengineering is a bad idea.

  50. 250
    W. Hall says:

    If sulfates (or metal particles, as often proposed) are already being injected into the atmosphere on a massive scale, should this be legalized or forbidden?