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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.

Geoengineering has come a long way since first discussed here three years ago. [Here I use the term “geoengineering” to refer to “solar radiation management” (SRM) and not to carbon capture and sequestration (called “air capture” in the report), a related topic with quite different issues.] In a New Scientist interview, John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, says geoengineering has to be examined as a possible response to global warming, but that we can make no such determination now. A two-day conference on geoengineering organized by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences was held in June, 2009, with an opening talk by the President, Ralph Cicerone. The American Meteorological Society (AMS) has just issued a policy statement on geoengineering, which urges cautious consideration, more research, and appropriate restrictions. But all this attention comes with the message that we know little about the efficacy, costs, and problems associated with geoengineering suggestions, and that much more study is needed.

Bickel and Lane, however, do not hesitate to write a report that is rather biased in favor of geoengineering using SRM, by emphasizing the low cost and dismissing the many possible negative aspects. They use calculations with the Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy (DICE) economic model to make the paper seem scientific, but there are many inherent assumptions, and they up-front refuse to present their results in terms of ranges or error bars. Specific numbers in their conclusions make the results seem much more certain than they are. While they give lip service to possible negative consequences of geoengineering, they refuse to quantify them. Indeed, the purpose of new research is to do just that, but the tone of this report is to claim that cooling the planet will have overall benefits, which CAN be quantified. The conclusions and summary of the report imply much more certainty as to the net benefits of SRM than is really the case.

My main areas of agreement with this report are that global warming is an important, serious problem, that SRM with stratospheric aerosols or cloud brightening would not be expensive, and that we indeed need more research into geoengineering. The authors provide a balanced introduction to the issues of global warming and the possible types of geoengineering.

But Bickel and Lane ignore the effects of ocean acidification from continued CO2 emissions, dismissing this as a lost cause. Even without global warming, reducing CO2 emissions is needed to do the best we can to save the ocean. The costs of this continuing damage to the planet, which geoengineering will do nothing to address, are ignored in the analysis in this report. And without mitigation, SRM would need to be continued for hundreds of years. If it were stopped, by the loss of interest or means by society, the resulting rapid warming would be much more dangerous than the gradual warming we are now experiencing.

Bickel and Lane do not even mention several potential negative effects of SRM, including getting rid of blue skies, huge reductions in solar power from systems using direct solar radiation, or ruining terrestrial optical astronomy. They imply that SRM technologies will work perfectly, and ignore unknown unknowns. Not one cloud has ever been artificially brightened by injection of sea salt aerosols, yet this report claims to be able to quantify the benefits and the costs to society of cloud brightening.

They also imply that stratospheric geoengineering can be tested at a small scale, but this is not true. Small injections of SO2 into the stratosphere would actually produce small radiative forcing, and we would not be able to separate the effects from weather noise. The small volcanic eruptions of the past year (1.5 Tg SO2 from Kasatochi in 2008 and 1 Tg SO2 from Sarychev in 2009, as compared to 7 Tg SO2 from El Chichón in 1982 and 20 Tg SO2 from Pinatubo in 1991) have produced stratospheric clouds that can be well-observed, but we cannot detect any climate impacts. Only a large-scale stratospheric injection could produce measurable impacts. This means that the path they propose would lead directly to geoengineering, even just to test it, and then it would be much harder to stop, what with commercial interests in continuing (e.g., Star Wars, which has not even ever worked).

Bickel and Lane also ignore several seminal papers on geoengineering that present much more advanced scientific results than the older papers they cite. In particular, they ignore Tilmes et al. (2008), Robock et al. (2008), Rasch et al. (2008), and Jones et al. (2009).

With respect to ozone, they dismiss concerns about ozone depletion and enhanced UV by citing Wigley (2006) and Crutzen (2006), but ignore the results of Tilmes et al. (2008), who showed that the effects would prolong the ozone hole for decades and that deployment of stratospheric aerosols in a couple decades would not be safe as claimed here. Bickel and Lane assert, completely incorrectly, “On its face, though, it does not appear that the ozone issue would be likely to invalidate the concept of stratospheric aerosols.”

With respect to an Arctic-only scheme, they suggest in several places that it would be possible to control Arctic climate based on the results of Caldeira and Wood (2008) who artificially reduce sunlight in a polar cap in their model (the “yarmulke method”), whereas Robock et al. (2008) showed with a more realistic model that explicitly treats the distribution and transport of stratospheric aerosols, that the aerosols could not be confined to just the Arctic, and such a deployment strategy would affect the summer Asian monsoon, reducing precipitation over China and India. And Robock et al. (2008) give examples from past volcanic eruptions that illustrate this effect, such as the pattern of precipitation reduction after the 1991 Pinatubo eruption (Trenberth and Dai, 2007):

With respect to cloud brightening, Bickel and Lane ignore the Jones et al. (2009) results that cloud brightening would mainly cool the oceans and not affect land temperature much, so that it is an imperfect method at best to counter global warming. Furthermore Jones et al. (2009) found that cloud brightening over the South Atlantic would produce severe drought over the Amazon, destroying the tropical forest.

They also ignore a huge class of ethical and world governance issues. Whose hand would be on the global thermostat? Who would trust military aircraft or a multi-national geoengineering company to have the interests of the people of the planet foremost?

They do not seem to realize that volcanic eruptions affect climate change because of sulfate aerosols produced from sulfur dioxide gas injections into the stratosphere, the same that is proposed for SRM, and not by larger ash particles that fall out quickly after and eruption and do not cause climate change.

They dismiss air capture (“air capture technologies do not appear as promising as solar radiation management from a technical or a cost perspective”) but ignore the important point that it would have few of the potential side effects of SRM. Air capture would just remove the cause of global warming in the first place, and the only side effects would be in the locations where the CO2 would be sequestered.

For some reason, they insist on using the wrong units for energy flux (W) instead of the correct units of W/m^2, and then mix them in the paper. I cannot understand why they choose to make it so confusing.

The potential negative consequences of stratospheric SRM were clearly laid out by Robock (2008) and updated by Robock et al. (2009), which still lists 17 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. One of those important possible consequences, the threat to the water supply for agriculture and other human uses, has been emphasized in a recent Science article by Gabi Hegerl and Susan Solomon.

Robock et al. (2009) also lists some benefits from SRM, including increased plant productivity and an enhanced CO2 sink from vegetation that grows more when subject to diffuse radiation, as has been observed after every recent large volcanic eruption. But the quantification of these and other geoengineering benefits, as well as the negative aspects, awaits more research.

It may be that the benefits of geoengineering will outweigh the negative aspects, and that most of the problems can be dealt with, but the paper from Lomborg’s center ignores the real consensus among all responsible geoengineering researchers. The real consensus, as expressed at the National Academy conference and in the AMS statement, is that mitigation needs to be our first and overwhelming response to global warming, and that whether geoengineering can even be considered as an emergency measure in the future should climate change become too dangerous is not now known. Policymakers will only be able to make such decisions after they see results from an intensive research program. Lomborg’s report should have stopped at the need for a research program, and not issued its flawed and premature conclusions.


Jones, A., J. Haywood, and O. Boucher 2009: Climate impacts of geoengineering marine stratocumulus clouds, J. Geophys. Res., 114, D10106, doi:10.1029/2008JD011450.

Rasch, Philip J., Simone Tilmes, Richard P. Turco, Alan Robock, Luke Oman, Chih-Chieh (Jack) Chen, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, and Rolando R. Garcia, 2008: An overview of geoengineering of climate using stratospheric sulphate aerosols. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. A., 366, 4007-4037, doi:10.1098/rsta.2008.0131.

Robock, Alan, 2008: 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. Bull. Atomic Scientists, 64, No. 2, 14-18, 59, doi:10.2968/064002006. PDF file Roundtable discussion of paper

Robock, Alan, Luke Oman, and Georgiy Stenchikov, 2008: Regional climate responses to geoengineering with tropical and Arctic SO2 injections. J. Geophys. Res., 113, D16101, doi:10.1029/2008JD010050. PDF file

Robock, Alan, Allison B. Marquardt, Ben Kravitz, and Georgiy Stenchikov, 2009: The benefits, risks, and costs of stratospheric geoengineering. Submitted to Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2009GL039209. PDF file

Tilmes, S., R. Müller, and R. Salawitch, 2008: The sensitivity of polar ozone depletion to proposed geoengineering schemes, Science, 320(5880), 1201-1204, doi:10.1126/science.1153966.

Trenberth, K. E., and A. Dai (2007), Effects of Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption on the hydrological cycle as an analog of geoengineering, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L15702, doi:10.1029/2007GL030524.

329 Responses to “A biased economic analysis of geoengineering”

  1. 1
    BJ_Chippindale says:

    Once again I will point out that it would be better BY FAR, to build Cheap Access To Space, put up mirrors and not mess with complicated solutions that are not easily reversed with as many unknown unintended consequences as this.

    Moreover, it would give us the resources of the solar system AND through SSP a viable means of shutting down current fossil power stations. Which DOES address the CO2 in the oceans.

    With the added benefit that it IS easily reversed.


  2. 2
    Fred Magyar says:

    Lomborg should be locked up in a cage and kept as far away from people as possible. The guy is certifiably insane. I recently commented on an article that was post on TheOilDrum

    Lomborg told The Sunday Times: “A lot of people really, really hate me.” His dismissive tone did not help. A pending fuel crisis? Hysteria, he said. World hunger? Baloney: food was increasing. Species extinction? Rubbish. Disappearing forests? Tosh: forest cover had increased. Indeed, he proclaimed, nearly every indicator demonstrated that man’s lot had vastly improved. “The world in decline is a litany we have heard so often that another repetition is almost reassuring,” he said. “There is just one problem: it does not seem to be backed up by the available evidence.”

    This was my remark there:

    Tell me again which galaxy this guy lives in? The author of the article also disses all real scientists by calling him one.

  3. 3

    It is worth remembering that the atmosphere of one of our neighboring planets is a hellacious baking mixture of noxious gasse that can never support any form of life that we know of.

    And today we see more evidence that Mars once had a thicker atmosphere – at least sufficient to buffer the impact of a large meteorite. “Meteorite Found On Mars Yields Clues About Planet’s Past”

    What a gift it is to observe the atmospheric changes of such neighbors. So now we are pondering intentional geoengineering, rather than the accidental kind.

  4. 4
    Doug Clover says:

    I know that this is facetious but whenever I hear of these SRM type projects I always hear in my head Morpheus saying “We don’t know who started the war, but we know we were the ones who burnt the sky”.

    Look how well that turned out.

  5. 5
    David Wilson says:

    sb “If it were stopped, by the loss of …” not “If it were stopped, by the lost of …” I thinks (?) fix it and delete this if you like

  6. 6

    I’d like to point out that if climate change really is man-driven this time around, it IS geoengineering, just accidental geoengineering.

    I don’t think this is one fire you can fight with fire. More atmospheric pollution is probably not the answer, even if it looks cheap and beneficial on the drawing board.

  7. 7
    William T says:

    Tierney has picked this up at the NYT with his usual emphasis…

    From an economist’s point of view such an SRM project makes good sense – let’s make a whole new industry cleaning up the mess of that other massive industry that can’t be stopped. Better yet, once we’re on that path, the world is pretty much locked into supporting the SRM industry for centuries.

    Perhaps a global ‘SRM tax’ would be needed to pay for that SRM?

    Meanwhile, we can’t possibly turn off the tap of CO2 pouring INTO the atmosphere. Too much interference in the rights of the CO2 polluters… too much tax… must be communist plot… must be stopped at all costs…

  8. 8
    Michael Sweet says:

    Excellent commentary. This type of article helps me to discuss these topics with local deniers.

  9. 9
    Arthur Smith says:

    Lomborg’s articles and books are always full of highly precise numbers with no error bars – a pretty sure sign of his lack of real science background.

  10. 10
    Roger Pielke, Jr. says:

    Robock has written a very nice critique. However, there is a mistake in it. The Bickel and Lane piece was in fact peer reviewed by me and also Anne E. Smith. Smith and I each wrote response papers critiquing the Bickel and Lane piece rather strongly. Lomborg’s exercise, as I understand it, has Bickel and Lane’s piece as but one of a series of contributions (and associated critiques) of various aspects of climate policy.

    On the topic of geoengineering I am happy to report that the perspective expressed here are quite simpatico.

    [Response: Roger, after my article here was published I read your
    report that was made available at the Climate Consensus website, and was happy to discover that we agree on the problems with the Bickel and Lane report. [edit after clarification] – Alan Robock]

  11. 11
    John Mashey says:

    There are two separate issues:

    1) Is there any room for *any* SRM strategy at any point in time?

    A: Maybe, I can imagine a time in which one of these might be the only thing doable fast enough to keep away from some tipping point, and offhand, the low-level cloud thing seems the least obtrusive.

    I have also seen some interesting ideas on Polar albedo increase, i.e., Ice 911. Look carefully at the list of advisors (including Terry Root and Stephen Schneider). Leslie Field (who runs it) lives in the same town as I do, and she does really mean it.

    2) But all this misses the high-order bit. When analyzing Lomborg, everybody gets down into the details of the specific arguments current then, which change every year or two.

    What doesn’t ever seem to change (TSE to Cool It! to this) is:

    “No GHG restrictions or other changes that would impact developed countries.”

    See Lomborg and playing the long game and decide whether or not CCC’s advocacy of SRM is just another reason *not* to do GHG reduction.

    Again, I claim that these arguments are *misdirection* arguments, i.e., claiming to support X, not because X is really desired, but because it avoids some Y.

    I especially loved the suggestion:

    “Therefore, we suggest that the Copenhagen Consensus allocate an average of approximately 0.3%
    of its $250 billion climate-change budget ($750 million per year) to SRM and AC research over the
    next decade.” :-)


  12. 12
    Hank Roberts says:

    Yep. Anything that spends more money has to be good, and you can spend more money creating-and-treating a problem than you could spend on removing and avoiding the cause.

  13. 13
    Esko Pettay says:

    The commentary by Alan is excellent. But it seems to me that geoengineering is getting a bad name partly for wrong reasons. As with any technological solutions it can be done the right way or the wrong way (and in real life they fall in somewhere between). We must have some techniques tested, should climate change become too dangerous.
    I do have fire extinguisher in my house. That doesn’t mean I would handle fire carelessly. I also know that if I have to use it there will be a mess that takes a long time to clean up. But yet it is a better option than letting the house burn down. The priority however is to make sure that I’ll never have to use it. This may be naive approach (but we are naive).
    I’m guessing that we won’t find any easy geoengineering solutions anytime soon. But they must be tested nevertheless. It may well be that we have passed the point where mitigation alone would have been enough. It must be the priority but if it is not enough something else is needed. Manipulating clouds should be relatively risk free. Once you stop doing it the effects should fade away fast. The first thing would be to test the technology in small scale in order to see if it could someday be scaled up. Of course all this must be done according to highest scientific standards. It is also essential that we keep reminding about ocean acidification whenever solar radiation management is proposed. It is essential that scientific community participates actively in the discussion about geoengineering.

  14. 14
    Martin Vermeer says:

    > …that now they are in favor of a solution to a problem they have claimed for years does not exist.

    Add to that

    …they are know willing to rely on general circulation models in the management of geo-engineering, after having claimed for years these cannot be trusted.

    Consistency is not their strong point… perhaps they speculate that nobody will notice. And sadly, they are probably right.

    [Response: This is actually a really good point. No use of geo-engineering is remotely conceivable without thorough and reliable climate model studies (including all the new earth system stuff) showing what is likely to happen. Yet if people consider that models are that capable, they would have done something about emissions years ago…. It will be interesting to analyse some individuals’ statements on this topic. – gavin]

  15. 15
    Paul Hodgson says:


    Off topic: Australia is in the throes of denialism. I took the liberty of posting the following on a popular Australian website today. Hope this doesn’t waste your time.

    “My best advice to global warming deniers is: Go to and read the stuff from Gavin Schmidt et al. This is where the actual science gets discussed. Be warned: It takes some intelligence and perseverance to understand it all. I challenge every denier to visit the site and to read the background stuff on the site. If, after reading this, you then have some points of scientific clarification you need answered, then, post a question on the website. If after doing all this, you still think you are cleverer than the world’s best climate scientists or have insights way beyond their ken, then by all means strut your stuff for the world to see. Chances are quite remote that you’ll be proved correct but this is THE place to make your points.”

  16. 16
    Tom H says:

    Very informative synopsis, Thank you Alan.

    On the list of negative consequences I am surprised that you do not mention anything about what we might expect from increasing the long-term rate of deposition of sulfate on terrestrial ecosystems. I am assuming that injecting massive amounts of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere will ultimately result in increasing sulfate deposition to soils (gravity being what it is). I don’t think that this will result in an increase in plant productivity, in fact, in many northern temperate forests this will accelerate the rate of base cation depletion from soils that will likely result in a loss of forest productivity and a shift in species composition.

    On another note, when you factor in the likely changes in precipitation (overall reductions) that may accompany stratospheric sulfate areosol injections do you think that, on balance, plant productivity will increase?

    [Response: We have just published a paper showing that acid deposition should not be a concern:

    Kravitz, Ben, Alan Robock, Luke Oman, Georgiy Stenchikov, and Allison B. Marquardt, 2009: Sulfuric acid deposition from stratospheric geoengineering with sulfate aerosols. J. Geophys. Res., 114, D14109, doi:10.1029/2009JD011918.

    As to the overall effects on vegetation, further research is needed. The combined effects of less precipitation, but probably less evapotranspiration, combined with more diffuse radiation, will have different effects on different plants, or even with different farming practices, and is one of the areas that needs expert study with different geoengineering scenarios. – Alan Robock]

  17. 17

    Further to the point “…that now they are in favor of a solution to a problem they have claimed for years does not exist,” experience suggests that for some, the problem may just as abruptly cease to exist once again.

  18. 18
    Paul Hodgson says:

    My best advice to global warming deniers is: Go to and
    read the stuff from Gavin Schmidt et al. This is where the actual science
    gets discussed. Be warned: It takes some intelligence and perseverance to
    understand it all. I challenge every denier to visit the site and to read
    the background stuff on the site. If, after reading this, you then have
    some points of scientific clarification you need answered, then, post a
    question on the website. If after doing all this, you still think you are
    cleverer than the world’s best climate scientists or have insights way
    beyond their ken, then by all means strut your stuff for the world to see.
    Chances are quite remote that you’ll be proved correct but this is THE place
    to make your points.”

  19. 19
    Bob Finch says:

    Thanks to Alan Robock for the excellent anaylsis. I have to say, quite frankly, if the ecological consequences of AGW weren’t bad enough, discussions of geoengineering and the arrogance that assumes we could actually have a global thermostat that is both controlable and benign is extremely frightening.

    I had a conversation last night with three high school seniors that wanted to get involved with a climate change awareness group. I cry for them.

  20. 20
    savegaia says:

    Speaking of geoengineering and natural process.

    Biochar is charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass. The resulting charcoal-like material is a form of carbon capture and storage.[1] Charcoal is a stable solid and rich in carbon content, and thus, can be used to lock carbon in the soil. Biochar is of increasing interest because of concerns about climate change caused by emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG).

    Biochar is a way for carbon to be drawn from the atmosphere and is a solution to reducing the global impact of farming (and in reducing the impact from all agricultural waste). Since biochar can sequester carbon in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years[2], it has received considerable interest as a potential tool to slow global warming. The burning and natural decomposition of trees and agricultural matter contributes a large amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere. Biochar can store this carbon in the ground, potentially making a significant reduction in atmospheric GHG levels; at the same time its presence in the earth can improve water quality, increase soil fertility, raise agricultural productivity and reduce pressure on old growth forests.[3]

    Current biochar projects are small scale and make no significant impact on the overall global carbon budget, although expansion of this technique has been advocated as a geoengineering approach. Further research is in progress, notably by the University of Edinburgh, which has a dedicated research unit.

  21. 21
    Alan Robock says:

    [edit to remove duplicate comment]

  22. 22
    Dale Power says:

    In Response to Paul Hodgson (reply #15 in this thread line:

    I don’t know if many will take you up on that information, but at least you are trying to get the word out. Most people, regardless of what their current opinions are tend to resist seeking information that will counter their own beliefs.

    This includes scientists to be sure, not just denialists, but the people most likely to be wrong are also those least likely to be able to see that they are wrong…

    I applaud your attempt however and urge you and others to keep trying. When the stakes are the future of our species, only fools would sit back and do nothing.

  23. 23
    Mark Samborski says:

    Economists are servants of financial and social power. I’ve believed for a while that the beneficiaries of power will develop responses to climate change but these responses won’t necessarily be in the best interests of people down the power gradient. This geoengineering report is an additional piece of evidence that the servants of power will support and develop ideas that do not threaten existing power relations.

  24. 24
    JCH says:

    The vast majority of the world’s economists before the crash – the financial system is too sophisticated to fail because of damage from subprime foreclosures, which are already contained.

    I mean, I love economists, wouldn’t live without them, but they have a habit of making colossal mistakes.

  25. 25
    G. Karst says:

    How about we try geo-engineering Mars before we go “all in” on terra-forming. I cannot conceive of nothing more terrifying than massive direct interventions to global climate. When did our models become “that good”? Have we learned nothing from killer bees and other scientific interventions? Do you think Canada, Britain, Russia, Northern China, Scandanavian, Northern U.S. states, will agree to cooling interventions?

  26. 26
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    I think Bjorn Lomborg and his ilk should send all their money to help irradicate malaria in Africa, rather than spend it on big boondoggles that may cause more harm than they prevent. Better yet, use all that money the world will be saving once it decides to mitigate global warming through cost-effective resource/energy conservation/efficiency and work to irradicate all diseases.

    Here’s what I’m writing in a paper re economics and the environment:

    I find the position economics plays in Western thought to be inflated, even usurpatory, obscuring people’s awareness of their dependence on the environment or the ecosystem, and this is due to people conflating the environmental/subsistence dimension [of the human condition] with the economic (social), subsuming the environmental/subsistence into the economic as “resources,” valueless unless processed and (in capitalistic society) exchanged for money. The notion that food getting and consumption are primarily or solely economic activities is inaccurate; furthermore, economics cannot ultimately solve or rectify environmental harms to food production, and there is a danger in evaluating environmental harms in economic or monetary terms…[E]king out a living from the environment, which includes food getting and consumption, is considered in anthropology more within the realm of “subsistence activities” or ecological anthropology; this is distinct from economics, in that it has to do with the human-nature relationship, involving biological and other material exchanges between the nonhuman material world and humans, while economics, part of the social dimension, more narrowly involves human interrelationships and interactions — tenure and ownership rules, the division of labor and production of goods involving materials extracted from the environment (an environment which is held constant or deleted from the equations), and the exchange of goods and services….One way to understand the distinction between the environmental/subsistence and economic dimenions is that both humans and non-human animals engage in subsistence activities in the environment, but only humans engage in economic activities. As environmental anthropologist Roy Rappaport (1993) states the biological-ecological systems are fundamental, the economy is contingent and instrumental.

    Here is a quote from Roy Rappaport’s “Anthropology of Trouble” (1993, American Anthropologist 95(2):295-303):

    The world upon which the monetary metric is imposed is not as simple as the metric itself. Plants, animals, and societies are complex beyond full human comprehension. To remain healthy, each requires a great variety of distinct materials, generally derived from a variety of sources….Monetization, however, forces the great range of unique and distinct materials and processes that together sustain or even constitute life into an arbitrary and specious equivalence. Phenomena that relate to each other essentially in terms of their qualitative distinctiveness are represented and understood in terms of a logic that reduces all qualitative distinctions to mere quantitative differences, a logic that, as it were, attempts to “bottom line” the world. This logic is especially destructive of ecological systems.

    So, take that, Adam Smith!

  27. 27
    MarkB says:

    G. Karst writes:

    “I cannot conceive of nothing more terrifying than massive direct interventions to global climate.”

    Welcome to the Industrial Age! I’d describe our intervention in global climate as quite concerning, perhaps alarming. “Terrifying” might be a word used more frequently a few decades from now if we are dumb enough to continue the global experiment of adding massive amounts of greenhouse gases to the Earth’s atmosphere, even in the face of strong evidence as to its great consequences.

  28. 28
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dr. Robock, I looked at Kravits (thanks for the link).

    But it says: “This deposition [acidification of the ocean from CO2]] is 2 orders of magnitude larger than our highest potential value of sulfuric acid deposition, again assuming all sulfate due to geoengineering is reacted to form sulfuric acid, leading us to conclude that the increase in acid deposition resulting from geoengineering with stratospheric sulfate aerosols is not enough to negatively impact the oceans.”

    Could you explain this a bit better?

    It seems to me you’re assuming there’s no problem with ocean pH, therefore adding a tiny smidgen of sulfate to reduce the rate of warming won’t cause a problem.

    The marine biology people seem clear that there is a problem and a predictable time course over which it gets worse, and a cutoff for shell-forming organisms this century. Doesn’t blocking warming enhance that problem?

    [Response: No, we are not saying that ocean acidification from CO2 is not a problem. We are just saying that compared to that problem, the additional sulfuric acid from geoengineering would be trivial. For the cases we studied, the additional sulfuric acid from geoengineering would be much less than current acid precipitation from other anthropogenic sulfur emissions, and this is already much less of a concern than ocean acidification from CO2. This is why mitigation is the answer to our global warming problem. I know of no work that says that preventing ocean warming makes ocean acidification worse. – Alan Robock]

  29. 29
    Rod B says:

    I think there is a bunch of stuff in the paper that has merit and deserves further research, as Alan says. I also think there is some criticism of the paper over things that are similar to what AGWers do. But the overall high-level conclusion I agree with.

    Accountants have to (and properly so) work only with things that can be specifically enumerated. Economists ought to be able to extend themselves beyond the numbers, but too often do not. The process is a little like a company preparing a business case. Often the best input (pro and con) of a business case is something that can not be put into numbers. Yet those inputs are usually not allowed as business leaders usually are very uncomfortable with decisions that are based on stuff other than that which can be counted. “Marketing says we can capture 13.7% of the market in 20 months and sell 1,233,901 widgets” gets a lot more acceptance (and often proves to be wildly incorrect) than, “the market is new, can’t really be quantified, but we feel we can sell a ton.” Economists suffer the same inhibitions all to often.

    As a skeptic, I’m very concerned with society-bending and massively costly mitigation efforts being implemented with the current confidence (my view) in AGW science. But, one thing much worse would be jumping into a world-wide geoengineering effort to fix the same problem (on the assumption it exists) which would likely be just as costly but bring with it considerably greater uncertainty and potentially be a cure far worse than the problem. Not even “uncertain”, which implies we know at least a little about it, in some cases — it seems we don’t have even a clue and know virtually zero, other than off-the-wall conjectures, about some geoengineering solutions.

    Taking the papers recommendation could, IMO, easily be much more disastrous than mitigation, and possibly even more disastrous than any global change/warming. Alan’s assessment and conclusion is right on target — little pissant differences of mine not withstanding.

  30. 30
    Mark says:

    “As a skeptic, I’m very concerned with society-bending and massively costly mitigation efforts being implemented with the current confidence (my view) in AGW science. ”

    However, you don’t seem to be all that skeptical that it will be society-bending and massively costly mitigation.

    Care to prove that statement?

    As a skeptic…

  31. 31
    Aaron Lewis says:

    BL and group also ignore Mother Nature’s second proposal, namely:
    1) Whack the humans for messing up Earth
    2) Grow algae in the warm polar seas during light seasons
    3) Let the carbon in the algae settle during the depths of the oceans during dark seasons
    4) Ultimately convert the carbon to fossil fuel
    5) Use the new fossil fuel as “An Apple of Eden” for the next intelligent species to arise

    The real problem is that the climate models give us insight into dynamic process and do not give use useful timelines that economists can use for their discounting models. Discounting is a very non-linear effect. If the ice sheets should decay (resulting in sea level rise) sooner than input into the economic models, then the costs from such events would be enormously greater than projected by the economic model.

  32. 32
    Hank Roberts says:

    I liked Rasch/Chen/Latham’s cloud idea better, but wondered if it would change the rate of CO2 dissolving into the upper oceans for the worse
    Rasch has been mentioned before on albedo:

  33. 33
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, was everyone aware of this?

  34. 34
    James Staples says:

    While I agree with Commentor #1 that ‘cheap access’ to Space would benefit the Human Species in many ways; making it cheaper to set up Space Mirrors, is NOT one of them – if only because going to all the trouble to do such a thing, would not be much more difficult than setting up Space-based Solar Power Facilities, etc., etc..
    What we need to do is switch to a Hydrogen Economy!
    It would create, if done RIGHT, Millions of Jobs and set America – or any other Country(ies)wise enough to ‘get it’ – up as a Global Energy Superpower, and give us a Technology that everyone would be wanting to Import!!!

  35. 35

    Roger Pielke wrote: “However, there is a mistake in it. The Bickel and Lane piece was in fact peer reviewed by me and also Anne E. Smith.”

    “Peer review?”

    I have experienced that “peer review” is largely done in *mainstream refereed journals* since the 1600s for it to be called “peer review”.

    Aren’t you stretching it a bit?

    What is your peer-reviewed refereed “journal” here? This seems to be highly irregular.

  36. 36
    Andrew says:

    The statistician and systems thinker W. Edwards Deming would call ‘geo-engineering’ what it is – tweaking the system, the consequences of which are greater system variation leading to sub-optimization, decay and the ultimate destruction of the system.

  37. 37

    Nice explication of the relative tunnel vision of Lomborg and other geoengineers.

    Rarely is ocean acidification part of the discussion, and it is truly horrifying. To imagine that we can address the symptom (warming) with a fix (sparklies in space, cloud ships) is to imagine that one can fix infection with a bandage. CO2 — and the other awfulness spewed by coal and petroenergy — is a systemic infection, not a flesh wound.

    Engineers — problem solvers, which many scientists are — want to solve problems. It’s natural, then, to have really smart people thinking they understand enough to “fix” a huge problem. They understand part of the world very well — well enough to think that simple physics and enough money can “solve” a problem.

    Unfortunately, jerry-rigging dynamic systems like the atmosphere, the currents, the ecosystems, the interrelationships… well, “unintended consequences” is the usual result.

  38. 38
    Paul says:

    Ha… I have real problems with economists these days and not just because they seem to be connected to denialist pseudo science. There is also the small problem of the failed world ‘economy’.

  39. 39
    Old Olaf says:

    In the Golden-Age there were deep blue skies and the starry nights inspired Vincent van Gogh. In a mere few thousand years after geo-engineering, human beings will forget that such things ever existed on Earth. And blue skies and stars at night will become mythological, one with Atlantis, Troy, and the Garden of Eden.

    Geo-engineering does nothing about the energy problem, since the Earth is a closed eco-system, and may cause the remaining usable resources to be exploited to irreversible exhaustion.

    I’m not a geo-engineer so I don’t know what this stratospheric devil cloud is composed of, but whatever it is, it too will remain there, forever.

  40. 40

    There are just too many unknowns and possible downsides involved with SRM for it to be considered,at least given the current state of knowledge about it. The possible disruption of water supply for agriculture, municipal and industrial use,hydropower and sanitation, in itself,should give everyone pause
    bedore attempting something that could make things worse than they’d otherwise be.

  41. 41
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B. says, “I’m very concerned with society-bending and massively costly mitigation efforts being implemented with the current confidence (my view) in AGW science. But, one thing much worse would be jumping into a world-wide geoengineering effort to fix the same problem ”

    By ruling out prevention and mitigation, you leave geo-engineering as the only option once the effects of climate change hit in earnest. You and other denialists fail to comprehend that the era of cheap fossil fuel is effectively over. It will take “society bending and massively costly” efforts merely to develop the next energy economy. Making that a sustainable, green economy will not be significantly more costly and will pay dividends to our progeny.

  42. 42
    dhogaza says:

    Hank …

    It seems to me you’re assuming there’s no problem with ocean pH, therefore adding a tiny smidgen of sulfate to reduce the rate of warming won’t cause a problem.

    I didn’t read it this way. My read was that the paper’s finding is that given that acidification due to CO2 is a couple of orders magnitude greater than any acidification that might result from sulfuric acid deposition, it won’t make things *worse* in practice than CO2-driven acidification alone.

    Not that there’s no problem. Only that sulfuric acid deposition from sulfates injected into the atmosphere won’t make it meaningfully worse.


    “This deposition [acidification of the ocean from CO2]] is 2 orders of magnitude larger than our highest potential value of sulfuric acid deposition, again assuming all sulfate due to geoengineering is reacted to form sulfuric acid, leading us to conclude that the increase in acid deposition resulting from geoengineering with stratospheric sulfate aerosols is not enough to negatively impact the oceans.”

    Maybe my emphasis makes it more clear? I think it could’ve been worded more clearly though …

  43. 43
    Bill Hunter says:

    Looking to the government to fix global warming should be the last resort not the first resort.

    Let the article above serve to drive that home. . . .and these suggestions are coming BEFORE the politicians actually put their two cents in and decide to spread the wealth around.

  44. 44
    Hank Roberts says:

    > due to CO2

    I think the analysis has to be whether conditions would occur “due to CO2 with a sulfate sunscreen” that would not occur in the absence of a sulfate sunscreen. What would people do with the sunscreen; what would people do in the absence of a sunscreen?

    The other problem is the sunscreen builds in another tipping point — one we don’t have already:

    “A termination of stratospheric aerosol loading results in abrupt global warming of up to 5°C within several decades, a vulnerability of the Earth system to technological failure.”

  45. 45
  46. 46
    Hank Roberts says:

    A couple more comparisons:

    Basically I can’t see the sense of a geoengineering activity that doesn’t include reducing burning fossil carbon rapidly as a core part of the project.

  47. 47
  48. 48
    Rod B says:

    Ray (41), “…ruling out prevention and mitigation..” as you put it and somehow “read” it, is not at all contained in my post.

  49. 49
    dhogaza says:

    I think the analysis has to be whether conditions would occur “due to CO2 with a sulfate sunscreen” that would not occur in the absence of a sulfate sunscreen. What would people do with the sunscreen; what would people do in the absence of a sunscreen?

    In what sense would this impact acidification due to CO2 being increased in the atmosphere?

    If you’re saying that such mitigation would lead to business-as-usual increasing CO2 emissions and therefore increasing CO2-induced acidification, sure.

    The paper doesn’t address that issue and why must it? It’s written for a scientific audience.

    Or maybe you think that every paper, now, has to be written to preemptively refute every scenario, lie, misrepresentation, cherry-pick, and quote-mine that might be used to show it supports pseudo-science rather than science?

    God help us if that’s necessary. Science will become choked in denialist kudzu-like tactics.

  50. 50
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hmmm, from the first paper I mentioned above,

    Problems with geoengineering schemes to combat climate change
    Author(s): Bala G (Bala, G.)
    CURRENT SCIENCE Vol: 96 Issue: 1 Pages: 41-48 Published: JAN 10 2009

    this abstract:
    “… More recent modelling studies have shown that these schemes could lead to a slow-down in the global hydrological cycle. Other problems such as changes in the terrestrial carbon cycle and ocean acidification remain unsolved by sunshade geoengineering schemes. In this article, I review the proposed geoengineering schemes, results from climate models and discuss why geoengineering is not the best option to deal with climate change.”

    And this blunt statement:

    “A modelling study50 has shown that only tropical afforestation has the
    potential to mitigate climate warming, when both the climate and carbon cycle effects of forests are into account.”

    That reference is to this paper:
    G. Bala, K. Caldeira, M. Wickett, T.J. Phillips, D.B. Lobell, C. Delire, and A. Mirin

    Combined climate and carbon-cycle effects of large-scale deforestation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 2007, 104, 6550–6555.

    (Don’t miss the corrections page; note the errata don’t change the conclusion: )

    Take a look at the citing papers; looks like this argument is holding up well over time: