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The Starship vs. Spaceship Earth

Eric Steig & Ray Pierrehumbert

One of my (Eric’s) favorite old books is The Starship and the Canoe by Kenneth Brower It’s a 1970s book about a father (Freeman Dyson, theoretical physicist living in Princeton) and son (George Dyson, hippy kayaker living 90 ft up in a fir tree in British Columbia) that couldn’t be more different, yet are strikingly similar in their originality and brilliance. I started out my career heading into astrophysics, and I’m also an avid sea kayaker and I grew up with the B.C. rainforest out my back door. So I think I have a sense of what drives these guys. Yet I’ve never understood how Freeman Dyson became such a climate contrarian and advocate for off-the-wall biogeoengineering solutions like carbon-eating trees, something we’ve written about before.

It turns out that Brower has wondered the same thing, and in a recent article in The Atlantic, he speculates on the answer. “How could someone as smart as Freeman Dyson,” writes Brower, “be so wrong about climate change and other environmental concerns..?”
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Why Levitt and Dubner like geo-engineering and why they are wrong

Filed under: — gavin @ 18 October 2009

Many commentators have already pointed out dozens of misquotes, misrepresentations and mistakes in the ‘Global Cooling’ chapter of the new book SuperFreakonomics by Ste[ph|v]ens Levitt and Dubner (see Joe Romm (parts I, II, III, IV, Stoat, Deltoid, UCS and Paul Krugman for details. Michael Tobis has a good piece on the difference between adaptation and geo-engineering). Unfortunately, Amazon has now turned off the ‘search inside’ function for this book, but you can read the relevant chapter for yourself here (via Brad DeLong). However, instead of simply listing errors already found by others, I’ll focus on why this chapter was possibly written in the first place. (For some background on geo-engineering, read our previous pieces: Climate Change methadone? and Geo-engineering in vogue, Also the Atlantic Monthly “Re-Engineering the Earth” article had a lot of quotes from our own Raypierre).
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A biased economic analysis of geoengineering

Filed under: — group @ 11 August 2009 - (Español)

Guest commentary by Alan Robock – Rutgers University

Bjorn Lomborg’s Climate Consensus Center just released an un-refereed report on geoengineering, An Analysis of Climate Engineering as a Response to Global Warming, by J Eric Bickel and Lee Lane. The “consensus” in the title of Lomborg’s center is based on a meeting of 50 economists last year. The problem with allowing economists to decide the proper response of society to global warming is that they base their analysis only on their own quantifications of the costs and benefits of different strategies. In this report, discussed below, they simply omit the costs of many of the potential negative aspects of producing a stratospheric cloud to block out sunlight or cloud brightening, and come to the conclusion that these strategies have a 25-5000 to 1 benefit/cost ratio. That the second author works for the American Enterprise Institute, a lobbying group that has been a leading global warming denier, is not surprising, except that now they are in favor of a solution to a problem they have claimed for years does not exist.

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Climate change methadone?

Filed under: — gavin @ 20 August 2008

Geoengineering is increasingly being discussed (not so sotto voce any more) in many forums. The current wave of interest has been piqued by Paul Crutzen’s 2005 editorial and a number of workshops (commentary) and high profile advocacy. But most of the discussion has occurred in almost total ignorance of the consequences of embarking on such a course.

A wider range of people have now started to publish relevant studies – showing clearly the value of continued research on the topic – and a key one came out this week in JGR-Atmospheres. Robock et al used a coupled GCM with interactive aerosols to see what would happen if they injected huge amounts of SO2 (the precursor of sulphate aerosols) into the tropical or Arctic stratosphere. This is the most talked about (and most feasible) geoengineering idea, based on the cooling impacts of large tropical volcanic eruptions (like Mt. Pinatubo in 1991). Bottom line? This is no panacea.
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Thin Soup and a Thin Story

Filed under: — david @ 2 May 2007 - (Türkçe) (Български)

A firm called planktos.com is getting a lot of airplay for their bid to create a carbon offset product based on fertilizing the ocean. In certain parts of the ocean, surface waters already contain most of the ingredients for a plankton bloom; all they lack is trace amounts of iron. For each 1 atom of iron added in such a place, phytoplankton take up 50,000 atoms of carbon. What could be better?
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Save the World! Earn $25 million!

Filed under: — group @ 19 February 2007 - (Português) (Türkçe) (Français)

Guest commentary from Juliane Fry, UC Berkeley

On February 9, The Virgin Group chairman Sir Richard Branson announced a $25 million prize for anyone who can demonstrate “a commercially viable design which results in the removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases so as to contribute materially to the stability of Earth’s climate.” At the press conference announcing this “Virgin Earth Challenge”, Branson was joined by Al Gore, and the panel of judges for the competition includes additional climate change celebrities: James Hansen, James Lovelock, Tim Flannery, and Sir Crispin Tickell.

The goal of the competition is to find a method that will remove at least 1 billion tons of carbon per year from the atmosphere. It will be very interesting to see what ideas come to the fore to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere. $25m should encourage some creativity! (and of course, once working should bring in a significant amount of carbon offset money). A ruckus was caused last year when discussion of injecting SO2 into the stratosphere to form reflective sulfate aerosols to mask global warming made scientists feel they needed to state their position on this controversial, poorly understood proposal. During the discussion, a New York Times feature (described here ) discussed various “geo-engineering” alternatives to exert a cooling effect to mask global warming. At least in this case, we are not seeking to add something new and uncertain to the atmosphere, but rather, remove something that we added.

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? More »