Warning of Solar Geoengineering’s Dangers, Group Recommends a Global Ban

By Justin Mikulka, a freelance writer, audio and video producer living in Trumansburg, NY. Originally published at DeSmog Blog

A Harvard research team recently announced plans to perform early tests to shoot sunlight-reflecting particles into the high atmosphere to slow or reverse global warming.

These research efforts, which could take shape as soon as the first half of 2019, fall under the banner of a geoengineering technology known as solar radiation management, which is sometimes called “sun dimming.”

However, less than two weeks after the announcement, the climate science and policy institute Climate Analytics took aim at these ambitions in a new briefing titled ”Why geoengineering is not a solution to the climate problem,” which goes as far as recommending a global ban on solar geoengineering.

The group’s briefing warns about the dangers of proceeding with solar radiation management (SRM) in particular.

The basic idea behind SRM is to release particles into the Earth’s stratosphere, the atmospheric layer approximately 6–30 miles above the surface, where they would then reflect some of the sun’s light (and heat) away from Earth, resulting in atmospheric cooling.

Harvard’s scientists working on this concept point to the particles released by volcanic eruptions as real-world examples of how it might work. One such example is the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, an event which released large amounts of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere.

According to NASA after Mount Pinatubo’s eruption, “Over the course of the next two years strong stratospheric winds spread these aerosol particles around the globe,” which led to a temporary global cooling of about 1° Fahrenheit over the following 15 months. The Harvard team plans to investigate calcium carbonate, a common calcium supplement and antacid, as a potential particle to use instead of sulfur dioxide.

Proposed solar radiation management using a tethered balloon to inject sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere. Credit: Hughhunt, CC BY SA 3.0

Despite this parallel, why is Climate Analytics warning against solar radiation management? For a long list of reasons, including the potential for some pretty disastrous consequences.

Solar Radiation Management Doesn’t Address the Real Issue

Earth’s climate is warming because humans are pumping large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, with carbon dioxide from fossil fuel-burning topping that list. As Climate Analytics notes, solar radiation management “does not address the drivers of human-induced climate change.” Instead, the briefing says, this geoengineering approach “would mask warming temporarily” in a best-case scenario, while representing a fundamental and “potentially dangerous” threat to the Earth’s basic climate operations.

As Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption showed, the basic concept behind the Harvard team’s proposal certainly has the potential to cool the planet, but Climate Analytics notes the many sizable and unique risks to attempting solar radiation management on a long-term, global scale.

Critics of solar radiation management — and there are many — note that one of the biggest risks of this approach is that it becomes a distraction from the primary goal of decarbonizing the global economy in order to address the root cause of climate change.

A recent in-depth piece from In These Times quotes a document from the group Hands Off Mother Earth, which opposes solar geoengineering:

Geoengineering perpetuates the false belief that today’s unjust, ecologically, and socially devastating industrial model of production and consumption cannot be changed and that we therefore need techno-fixes to tame its effects.”

Even David Keith, one of the Harvard scientists working on solar radiation management, shares the concern that this work could distract from the required efforts to reduce global carbon emissions.

One of the main concerns I and everyone involved in this have, is that Trump might tweet ‘geoengineering solves everything — we don’t have to bother about emissions.’ That would break the slow-moving agreement among many environmental groups that sound research in this field makes sense,” Keith said in 2017, according to The Guardian.

After scientists’ recent announcement of a very short timeline for the world to drastically cut carbon emissions, some are viewing solar radiation management as a way to allow for continued fossil fuel use while hoping for “techno-fixes” to avert global catastrophe.

Risks Far Outweigh Potential Reward

In a world where even predicting the weather is more difficult due to climate change, it isn’t hard to fathom that changing the global climate quickly could have many unknown consequences. But as Climate Analytics points out, there are plenty of known risks and concerns surrounding solar radiation management, including the following:

Weather System Changes: According to the Climate Analytics briefing: “Solar radiation management would alter the global hydrological cycle,” which means changes to global weather patterns, including monsoon activity. Tweaking monsoon activity may not bode well for many people around the world. “These [monsoon] rains not only play a vital role in food security and exports, but also provide essential water for the very large, and often already vulnerable, populations,” states the briefing.

Ocean Acidification: Another negative impact of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is the acidification of the oceans. Reflecting away sunlight does nothing to address this problem fundamentally caused by excess carbon dioxide.

Global Agriculture: While increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations can be beneficial up to a point for some plants, that benefit likely would be canceled out by the reduction in actual sunlight reaching plant life, which is necessary for photosynthesis.

Decreased Renewable Energy Production: As with agriculture, lower levels of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface would reduce solar power production. And changing the global climate and weather could also alter wind power potential.

Geopolitical and Catastrophic Risks

While purposefully altering the global atmosphere would be an unprecedented project in both scale and impact, the endeavor actually would not cost very much and could be done unilaterally by one country. Solar radiation management would likely affect different parts of the world in different ways, some positively and some negatively.

The Climate Analytics briefing highlights this potential:SRM will strongly alter the climate system producing ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in different regions and with different levels of deployment. It could therefore become a source of massive conflict between nations.”

This potential for geopolitical conflict is one reason Climate Analytics is calling for a global ban on solar radiation management.

Another reason is because the group views the approach as a grand form of “kicking the can” — that is, the can leaking too many greenhouse gases — down the road. And once solar radiation management is deployed on a global scale, it has to continue even in the event of grave consequences because stopping the program would induce something known as “termination shock.”

Climate Analytics predicts that termination shock — the result of stopping an SRM program once begun — would result in “very rapid and large-scale planetary warming” that could occur “on a timescale of months.”

Geoengineering and Sun Dimming

With Harvard leading solar geoengineering field tests and the long-term support of people such as Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, the idea that “techno-fixes” will save the planet from climate catastrophe aren’t going away. Especially with major media outlets such as CNN running headlines suggesting these approaches could be “the answer to global warming.”

The answer to global warming has been around for more than fifty years. The head of the American Petroleum Institutespelled out part of this solution at an industry conference in 1965 in which he said, “There is still time to save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequence of pollution, but time is running out.”

The solution he acknowledged then was “an alternative nonpolluting means of powering automobiles, buses, and trucks.”

While the world has far less time to act than in 1965, the solution to global warming remains more of a political challenge than a technological one.

Main image: Partial solar eclipse. Credit: andersbknudsenCC By 2.0

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    1. Synoia

      After introducing Rabbits.

      And cultivating and spreading Myxomatosis, a very nasty disease.

      N0t to mention Cattle, which come complete with legions of flies, because there are no natural mechanisms in Australia to break down Cattle dung.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Which problem was addressed by introducing dung beetles to Australia.


        ” No cattle AND no dung beetles” would have been ideal. But since Australia has cattle, and will not give them up under any circumstance whatsoever, are ” cattle WITH dung beetles” better than “cattle withOUT dung beetles”? Perhaps some Australians can tell us.

        1. Oregoncharles

          Cow manure is really that different from kangaroo manure? the real problem might be aridity, though cattle are grown in a lot of arid zones.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Australians would be the people who could tell us for sure. The attempt has certainly been made, as per the links.

            1. The Rev Kev

              Yeah, it was the sheer size of the cattle dungs that local beetles could not cope with. The stuff that animals like Kangaroos dropped was more like pellets. For the flies it was like manna from heaven. This caused massive plagues of flies before those dung beetles were introduced. Flie plagues like you would not believe.

              1. wilroncanada

                Anything like black flies in Northern Ontario, or no se’ums in Nova Scotia?
                Black flies,
                Little black flies.
                Always black flies no matter where you go.
                I’ll die with the black flies pickin’ my bones
                In north Ontar-i-o-i-o, north on tar-ii-o.

                1. drumlin woodchuckles

                  One suspects the black flies and the noseeums are a permanent part of the eco-bio-landscape which no amount of dung beetles will ever do anything about.

                  And deer flies and if you are by the seaside and especially a salt marsh, the green-head flies too. They seem able to exactly find a visible vein on your foot. And bite into it.

  1. SimonGirty

    Bloomberg and Guardian were drooling over boondoggle geoengineering scams for years, now. But more and more oligarch owned, Atlantic Council approved media sources are belatedly jumping on. Ivy League education apparently being deficient in discerning or propagation of große Lüge scams, benefitting Massa? They could simply read Naomi Klein (or Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth?) It’s not like any of this ever really changes? Thanks, for reposting this.

  2. Not From Here

    Like Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, this technology is going to be weaponized. Not just the USA either. One of the big drives to China’s space mission both defensive and offensive use of space to manipulate environment. US wreaking UN/international law is going to bite a lot worse than most nations understand, and China’s watching.

  3. Roger

    With global cooling coming, just what we need, reduce the amount of energy reaching us from the sun.
    You could not make this stuff up.

  4. Herb

    The delusions of those who somehow think that it is not too late to reduce emissions sufficiently to address catastrophic climate change is breathtaking. While SRM is problematic for the reasons discussed in the article there are a number of much more benign processes that have the potential to remove many gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. These include direct air capture, carbon mineralization and regenerative agriculture. As the national Academy of sciences has recently recommended we must invest millions of dollars in research and development to bring these online as soon as possible to avoid planetary decimation.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Just because emissions-reduction by itself is not enough to dewarm the global any more now does not mean it should not be applied.

      IN combiNAtion WITH carbon-suckdown approaches, emissions-reduction too in addition as well could speed the rate of draining the carbon sky-pool. Emissions-control and carbon re-suckdown could even force-multiply eachother’s skycarbon reduction effect.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Thanks for that link! I highly recommend watching it for the hour or so it runs. In spite of the serious nature of the lecture I thought the presentation was quite entertaining and funny in a grim way.

  5. disillusionized

    Global warming is a problem – but present production (which it would be electoral suicide to try to stop) depends on burning carbon fuels – we either need less people or less consumption per capita (never going to happen).

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Some countries ( Italy, Japan, others?) are already achieving less people. Some modern industrial-world civilization people already consume less per capita than Americanadians do. If Americanadians adopted Japanese and/or Finnish methods to achieve Japanese and/or Finnish deconsumption results, per-capita consumption would go down.

      Then too, differently targeted consumption could achieve skycarbon reductions, and skynitrogen oxide reductions as well. Organic agriculture produces food with zero Haber zero Bosch nitrogen applied to organically managed land . . . . which means no applied-all-at-once surplus of nitrogen compounds oxidising and gassing off back into the air while waiting around for the plants to get ready to use them.
      Pasture-range livestock aggressively managed to re-bio-carbonise the land under their trampling feet will also suck down the skycarbon. The less Feedlot Meat that people eat, the less carbon dioxide those people emit. The more Pasture-Range Meat that people eat , the more carbon dioxide those people are actually sucking down out of the air and bio-sequestering into the soil beneath the trampling meat feet.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Speaking of which, here is an article discussing some reasons to raise and eat grass-fed meat. This knowledge will not stay suppressed. It insists on oozing out from under the edges of the Official Cone Of Silence.

  6. linda amick

    Spraying has been going on for some time. It has been increasing over the years. As a gardener in the southern US, we do not have enough sun for plants to produce much fruit. Plus there are so many fungi attacking plants. All the leaves turning on trees in the fall are dappled with brown and black fungus spots. My dogs foot pads become raw between their toes due to chronic wetness that remains all day due to overcast skies year round.

    The human beings running things are destroying our habitat. I would far rather take my chances and even die via mother Nature’s responses to human activities than to continue with these pollutants they are spreading everywhere.

    1. coboarts

      Thank you, Linda, for noticing. Persistent jet trails that cover the sky, last for hours, reflect sunlight, and influence pressure gradients have been used in California skys for a long time. And they aren’t just relics of passing jets. They are systematically laid over specific regions. And the ioninc heaters -?

      I don’t see anything…

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Chemtrails versus contrails. Advancing various theories as to “why” and “from where” may get one dismissed as a Conspiracy Theorist. But the observable fact of chemtrails versus contrails , absent any effort to explain it, should not bet one branded a foilhead. Though in the minds of many, it will and it does.

        I remember seeing a persistent “white plane trail” laid down high up against the blue sky . . . sitting there and spreading out. And then wisps of new little raggedy cloud-matter formation began forming along the “downwind” side of the long wide trail, almost as if some kind of nucleating agent were being blown slightly downwind from the main trail and was forming new cloud matter as it went along.

    1. SimonGirty

      And it certainly took them long enough to figure out that they could earn while we burn? We’ve yet to see the gas-oil-plastic, industrial agriculture, pharmacutical, chemical, concrete, automotive folks get on the same page; yeah, game over, we won. But, we can fix it for you… sign HERE! Meanwhile, learn about regenerative agriculture?


  7. a different chris

    Sounds like another old lady who swallowed a fly solution. But now we’re pretty close to the horse- where she died, of course.

  8. The Rev Kev

    This could go spectacularly wrong in so many ways. Do we really need a repeat of the Year Without A Summer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer) again? I for one wonder what chaos theory will make of their calculations. And will this effort increase global dimming more than predicted? A word about this phenomenon.
    After 9/11 nearly all aircraft were grounded in the US which meant that there were no new contrails being formed. It was a chance to find out the effect of them and the results were dramatic to say the least. Apart for the clear skies, the scientists “found that the change in temperature range during those three days was just over one degrees C” which is a huge amount.
    So what happens if this gets out of control? What if the atmosphere and weather forms pockets of stronger dimming over some regions more than that of other regions? What if this is over Asia’s food growing regions? For those interested, there was a doco on this 9/11 effect years ago and a transcript of this program can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/dimming_trans.shtml

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      This sentence from your link jumped out at me:
      “PROF VEERABHADRAN RAMANATHAN: Our models led us to believe the human impact on the dimming was close to half to one per cent. So what we discovered was tenfold.”

      I found a most uncomfortable parallel in Daniel Ellsberg’s statements about the risks many scientists suspected in testing the first atom bomb. Many scientists, particularly Enrico Fermi, feared even more dire possibilities resulting from testing the first hydrogen bomb. The most dire predictions did not occur (we are still here — for now) but the hydrogen bomb delivered an explosion three times more powerful than predicted because of a fusion reaction that occurred despite predictions it should not occur. “Under the conditions of a fission explosion, which, you know, they’d never had an experiment like this before, fast neutrons occurred from the fission explosion which had the effect of releasing neutrons from the lithium-6, and tripling the explosive yield.” [Daniel Ellsberg, “The Largest Act of Terrorism in Human History – Daniel Ellsberg on RAI (4/13)”, interview with Daniel Ellsberg, https://therealnews.com/stories/the-largest-act-of-terrorism-in-human-history-daniel-ellsberg-on-rai-4-8%5D

      In the face of some very serious “unknown unknowns” — to quote a famous government philosopher — our leaders in the US were quite willing to go forward with testing both the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb. And to spice this action by our government there was very little to be gained from testing either bomb at the times the tests were done and a lot of clear negatives for the future of humankind given successful tests. The Harvard team doesn’t have any idea what impacts their geoengineering scheme will have on the climate. That detail might not deter those who rule America if they believe they might obtain some fleeting benefit to bolster their power or wealth.

      1. TimR

        How can they not know? Don’t you trust climate models and predictions?

        All true believers in global warming should support spraying, because we can simply model what will happen, and design the spraying program accordingly. Science is king.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          But we can not model what the Ruling Elites will do with the Stratosulphate injection technology, and what hidden agenda they will pursue with THEIR self-interested deployment of the little particles. That gets into matters of class warfare, interclass genocide and Jackpot Design Engineering . . . . which “science” can not model.

          We should nail the “geo-engineer wannabes'” hands to the desk to keep them from releasing their particles.

        2. Jeff

          It may not cure your ignorance, but it is helpful to know that climate models are “trained” on past observations. For instance, one can compare their “predictions” for the climate 1980-now with what really happened and see how good they perform (excellent, btw).

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Yes . . . I had thought that might be what they do. Each model is in itself a prediction experiment. They build a model on all the data and all the best thinking they know about what the data means. Then they can enter all the data that was known for years 1980-1985, lets say; and then query the model: ” okay, model. Given what happened from 1980-1985, what will happen in 1986, 87, 88, etc.?” And if the post-diction as to what the model post-dicts ” will happen” actually matched or tracked closely to what did happen, according to the actual data gathered in 1986,87, 88, etc., then the model may be considered robustly predictive. And useful for making actual provisional predictions based on data from recently to right now.

  9. William Hunter Duncan

    It is hard not to choke on the arrogance of it.

    I suppose they want to do this so we can drown in our plastics? Won’t it be great when we have slowed global warming – sorry if global fisheries collapsed due to micro plastics and acidification.

    Clearly there is no limit for the true believers in the status quo, what they will do to maintain the life they have grown accustomed to.

    I’m pretty sure global ecological collapse is what we are going to get no matter what, sooner than even Questlove thinks.

  10. L Palmer

    Increased cloud production with black sheeting providing extra water evaporation

    Proposal to increase the water evaporation rate at selected coastal locations.
    Place black/dark plastic sheeting approximately 5 metres beneath the ocean surface,
    thus avoiding wave engagement. It is envisaged that 100 kilometres
    by 1 kilometre surface be created to harness a larger proportion of the suns energy
    for water evaporation, thus providing extra cloud production.

    Normally sunlight falling on the ocean is converted to thermal energy which is spread
    out across the upper 300 metres. The sheeting captures this energy in the top layer
    of water, warming it. The water in the lower layers is receives very little energy
    in comparison to normal ocean conditions.

    Sunlight falling on the ocean will be converted to thermal energy by the sheeting
    concentrating its heating effect at the surface. The sheeting will lead to large increase in
    water evaporation. The water vapour produced will form its own rise column into the atmosphere
    until it reaches the dew point height, where cloud birthing starts.

    The large ocean seed area guarentees a stable water vapour column with good cloud formation

    The scale and positioning of these ocean evaporaters could potentially:
    1. Provide relief of drought conditions.
    2. Provide a managed equtorial cloud layer reflecting daytime light and heat into space.
    3. Eventually provide a means of removing/controlling deep ocean heat and thus controlling hurricanes.
    4. Increase global plant growth controlling CO2 levels.

    The ocean evaporators should be removable/recoverable by design. The ocean floor does not need more plastic.

    KInd regards
    L Palmer

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If we did this and it injected more water vapor into the atmosphere as you suggest, where would the water vapor go? How would all the latent-heat energy contained in the vaporised water play out and release itself when/where the water vapor re-condensed?

      1. mike

        not to mention water vapor is, like CO2, absorbs infrared radiation from the earth and prevents it from reaching space

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          If someone could point to a link giving the “amount” of IR reflect-back per molecule for water versus carbon dioxide, that would help us perhaps understand more exact details of the mechanism.

          My merely amateur science-buff-level understanding is that carbon dioxide is a much stronger IR-bounceback molecule, molecule for molecule, than water. So more of it allows the atmosphere to hold larger amounts of water vapor . . . which can hold a lot of heat-of-molecular-motion in its vapor state. And which gives up that heat when condensing, allowing that heat to drive wind, storm organization, etc.

          If we were to put eNOUGH carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we could raise its temperature so much that it could hold so much water vapor that the vast amounts of water vapor X the relatively little-by-comparison IR-bounceback per molecule of each water vapor molecule, would then all by itself retain so much heat as to raise the temperature all by itself, thereby sucking even more water up into the airborne water-vapor pool. That would be the Runaway to Condition Venus which Mr. Hansen has referrenced as an outside risk.

          In my amateur understanding.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          And maybe more rain than you even want. Harvey-loads of rain in one place at one time.
          Meanwhile, “other peoples’ ” water vapor gets sucked away to keep feeding those Super-Harvey rain-dump water-bomb events.

    2. Oregoncharles

      So the areas under the sheeting will be cold and sterile? The deaths down there will be catastrophic.

      And how do you make that survivable in a hurricane, or any large storm? As you say, the ocean does not need more plastic. Large sheets that block the sun might be especially destructive.

      1. L Palmer

        Eventually, so cold, no doubt that it becomes ice and floats. Perhaps you meant the cloud cover?
        The oceans are already too warm. The cloud cover controls the amount of heating, by reflecting the sun’s energy back into space at selected places. White clouds are quite reflective. The black sheetings shadow changes position during the day.

        More importantly deserts are beautiful. Some deserts should not be tampered with.

        And how do you make that survivable in a hurricane, or any large storm?
        The black plastic is placed in the ocean retrivably. Carefully to avoid wave engagement.
        Possibly with an active height control. Closer to surface when possible to give good cloud formation and lower when large waves are present.

    3. Jeff

      1. fish
      2. ‘ocean’ means the coast is >10km away, and the crust is more than 2000m below. How are you going to keep this in place?
      3. for a 3mm thick sheet, a 100km by 1km sheet weighs about 600 000 metric tons (about twice the biggest oil tankers in use). Not your usual carpet you are rolling.
      4. It is based on the useless assumption of 5m depth. Ships and waves can do 10 times that. A bit deeper, and the evaporation ‘qualities’ disappear.

      Doctors recommend to quit smoking, especially the strong stuff.

      1. L Palmer

        I like a bit of the strong stuff.

        2. ‘ocean’ means the coast is >10km away, and the crust is more than 2000m below. How are you going to keep this in place?

        Sometimes the seabed is 2000m at 10 km. Sometimes there is continetinal shelfing.

        I personally think I not qualified to say how it will attached to the ocean floor or otherwise. There are rather a lot of people who can make a better determination of ways and means of securing
        the array.

        3. for a 3mm thick sheet, a 100km by 1km sheet weighs about 600 000 metric tons (about twice the biggest oil tankers in use). Not your usual carpet you are rolling.

        Okay lets start with 1 square kilometre and see how much cloud it can produce. Let’s place this 20km off the shore of California and see how much new cloud rain it might produce.

        After all plastic is still as cheap as chips. I wonder if there any people in California who can manage this task in a considered fashion. Avoid the pretty obvious pitfalls like tankers, wave
        destruction and more importantly prevent the warmed water from further damaging coastal ecosystems.

        The sheeting array will naturally mature into a fish food dispenser. All that new plant growth
        and the evaporation ‘qualities’ disappear. True. Indeed. Create another array, by the side of first one.

  11. kernel

    Ooooh, REAL Chem-Trails!

    Can’t wait to see how the Tin-Foil-Hat crowd spins this. Whatever they come up with, I’m sure they will blame it all on us Greens.

  12. Michael

    What this article misses is the fact that we’ve been geoengineering the planet via coal consumption for 200 years, resulting in a up to 22% global dimming as a result of it’s particulate pollution. So much in fact, that if coal production were ceased globally tomorrow, within two years the result of less dimming would increase the global temperature up to 2 degrees Celsius.

    While stratospheric aerosol injection, SAI, is no long term solution, as hoped by the fossil fuel oligarchs, it is about the only short term solution we have short of continuing to burn more coal.

    Given the melting of the permafrost and other frozen methane in the Arctic, we will need some type of geoengineering band-aid, as we are already in a runaway climate scenario, that no amount of CO2 reduction is going to solve by itself. Direct Air Capture of CO2 is current the “hopes” of the IPCC, but that is currently costing $400/ton of CO2, while coal is selling for $40/ton.

    In any extent according to at least one cost analysis it will take about seven years to ramp up a cost effective SAI program given the types of aircraft that would have to be developed. The balloon deployment as illustrated in the article is not yet feasible, due to the required nano-tubes used to pipe the particulate to the balloon is still a laboratory experiment.


    1. Jeremy Grimm

      “[W]e’ve been geoengineering the planet via coal consumption for 200 years” therefore it makes perfect sense to come up with a new geoengineering scheme after we discover that our previous scheme is leading to Climate Chaos? Are you arguing that having done something in the recent past which had unforeseen consequences then that action serves as a precedent for taking an action with unforeseen consequences to mitigate the unforeseen consequences of the first action?

      Burning coal was not geoengineering. We started burning coal without any concerns for global warming or global dimming. The word “geoengineering” incorporates a lot of assumptions with the “engineering” part of the word. Engineers work from an extensive base of practical knowledge obtained from centuries of cut-and-try only in recent times bolstered by some science. Not all cathedrals held their domes the first time. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge taught engineers a lot about factors in the design of later suspension bridges. We do not have the science or the mathematics to predict how various geoengineering schemes will work in practice. It’s one thing for a cathedral dome to collapse or a bridge to fall down but how would an engineering failure of these sorts work when we are talking about the Earth’s climate? There are no centuries of cut-and-try practical knowledge to fall back on — no rules of thumb to apply when designing some form of “geoengineering”. As for the science … the science and mathematics strongly suggests climate systems are chaotic making “engineering” based on the science and current models extremely and inherently problematic. To further complicate matters the current models do not model all the physical effects in the climate system — many of which are highly nonlinear — and there are indications from what is known about the transitions of Paleoclimates that there are significant unknown physical effects [consider the giant boulders in Hansen et al. 2016, p. 22 of 52 ( https://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/16/3761/2016/acp-16-3761-2016.pdf )].

      1. Michael


        I do not think you understand my thesis. It is that we are already in a runaway climate scenario, and removing coal consumption, thus removing current dimming, will put us well over the top of a 2 degree Celsius average increase required for survival. No amount of CO2 reduction alone, which is still critically required at this juncture will stop us from frying.

        I should point out that the climate model used in the October, 2018 IPCC report did not recognize that the Arctic is melting twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The ice scientists are calling the report “politically cowardly”.


        Do you know of any available mechanism that can provide current levels of dimming while we wean ourselves from coal, and cool the Arctic to stop the permafrost meltdown?

        Current SO2 pollution as of two hours ago.


        1. TimR

          If I follow you, burning coal is actually COOLING the planet? That’s a new twist… I thought coal was “one of the main drivers” of greenhouse gases and global warming… According to the usual suspects.. Well ok then.

          But I’m with you: our knowledge of climate is so great… (Obviously, as we are now trying to get French poor people to tighten their belts a bit)… That we can just MODEL this geoengineering scheme to make sure the results are good. Just plug that into them supercomputers. No worries. As believers in global warming, based on models, how would that be any different? So yeah, let’s rock n roll…

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            I don’t think the claim is that coal-particles are actually cooling the earth-surface. I think the claim is that coal-burning particles are providing just enough counter-heating global dimming to prevent the surface from heating even more. And if we de-dim the sky, the still-up-there CO2 will build up even more heat from the even more light reaching the surface.

            But given the control of Sulfur dioxide from coal smoke that we have exerted over the last few decades, I wonder how much global dimming is actually being coal-caused anyway, nowadays.

          2. Plenue

            Burning coal increases atmospheric CO2, which causes retention of heat. But it also puts particulates into the atmosphere which reflect sunlight, which reduces the amount of energy being put into the system. Guy McPherson claims that if industrial civilization collapsed tomorrow (or magically achieved substantial green energy) after six weeks the amount of fossil fuel particulates in the atmosphere would decline significantly, causing far more solar energy to but absorbed into the atmosphere. Basically we’re already past the point of no return and are screwed either way.

            Also, looking at you posts, I don’t get the sense you have any honest desire to actually learn about climate change and its variables.

        2. SimonGirty

          Well, obviously, inbred Crackers reflect lots more solar radiation than our melanin, physique and natural resource encumbered equatorial brothers & sisters. So, I’m seeing a pretty obvious solution? Isn’t this what Baby Jesis sez, anyways? Sheesh!

        3. Jeremy Grimm

          I agree with your assertion — although I’m not sold on the notion that 2 degrees Celsius is required for or guarantees survival [it was a politically viable number] — “…we are already in a runaway climate scenario, and removing coal consumption, thus removing current dimming, will put us well over the top of a 2 degree Celsius average increase required for survival.” I am well aware that the 2018 IPCC reports is extremely conservative and the models used omit modeling many features of the climate including some features involved in modeling the melting of Arctic ice.

          Most simply put, I am arguing that “geoengineering” is a misnomer for concepts and proposals better referred to as “tinkering”. I am not in favor of deliberately “tinkering” with the climate — unless you intend tinkering by planting more trees. If humankind is still around after the coming climate events we might have enough knowledge of the climate systems to seriously consider some very conservative “tinkering”. Right now we know too little to predict the effects of the many “geoengineering” projects people are cooking up. I regard such tinkering as extremely unwise. As a practical matter what country or countries should be doing this “geoengineering”? Do you propose the cooperation between nations for pursuing a particular project? I haven’t noticed much international cooperation in working toward any mitigations or adaptations to the coming Climate Chaos.

          I am not especially concerned that humankind will reduce their burning of coal any time soon. I am also skeptical that we will do much about reducing our consumption of petroleum or natural gas. I am frightened of hasty “engineering” efforts to DO something about the coming Climate Chaos. I am also concerned that all the readily extracted coal, petroleum, and gas will be extracted and burned. There is only a finite amount so eventually we will stop burning coal, petroleum, and natural gas … and so far there are no replacement sources of energy to take the place of coal, petroleum, and natural gas. I believe humankind faces a disaster of global proportions. I also believe tinkering with the climate would likely make matters much much worse than they already are.

      2. wilroncanada

        Yes Jeremy.
        Sounds like the standard medical solution, applied on a worldwide scale. That pill I gave you is having serious dangerous side effects? Here, take this pill to deal with the side effects. What? You did and now you have side effects on the side effects?

    2. bdy

      Yep, @The Rev Kev provides a good link explaining global dimming above. Quoting his BBC link:

      DR MICHAEL RODERICK: Well it turns out in fact that the key things for pan evaporation are the sunlight, the humidity and the wind. But really the sunlight is a really dominant term there.

      NARRATOR: They found that it was the energy of the photons hitting the surface, the actual sunlight, that kicks the water molecules out of the pan and into the atmosphere.

      BBC presents pan evaporation as an indication and confirmation of dimming, but a recent article from the Atlantic suggests, obliquely, IMHO, that evaporation rates will play a critical role in their own right and add another known layer of complexity to a situation that is already impossible to grok. Hat tip to NC a few weeks back:


      Paraphrasing: the last time as much carbon was tossed into the atmosphere as we’re currently looking to toss, the water in the rain cycle increased by 25%. It rained for a million years and purt near every species alive went extinct, as the entire and singular continent of Pangea was buried in meters of mud. Not so surprisingly, the species with a leg up following that event were giant monsters, and that’s how we got the dinosaurs. (Its easier to walk through three feet of mud when it only comes up to your ankles?)

      Thinking through the mechanics, it makes sense to imagine cloudy skies day after day with lots of rain. Sure it’s maybe warmer most of the time, but we now know direct sunlight is far more instrumental to evaporation than heat (so rethink cooking the oceans in a plastic bag, please). So the ground soaks and soaks and soaks.

      Persistent mud is a staggering engineering and agricultural challenge, especially when combined with increasingly severe weather events. Persistent standing water is a staggering public health challenge, especially when temperatures are warming. These threats are potentially as devestating as the rising shorelines, and could be upon us just as quickly. The way they grow seems to be tied directly to an exponential curve whose shape keeps getting more drastic: the increasing rate of melting polar ice. As it gets wetter, proposed responses that reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the ground will be more and more reckless.

      Not that my opinion means a hill of beans, but I’m decidedly in the camp of reducing emissions. However, I also fear that doing so now will not be enough on its own, and that we’re kidding ourselves if we imagine it won’t contribute to a new set of unforseen, catastrophic consequences. It looks like we have to do some kind of geoengineering just to smooth the process of saving ourselves enough to survive it. The coordinated wisdom and industry required is terrifying in scope for any anti-authoritarian, but a peicemeal plan taken up by agents working at cross purpose doesn’t fit the bill.

  13. Todd

    It’s like putting a lid on a pot of boiling water. Sure you stop the release of steam. But what happens after the lid is removed?

  14. steven

    What slays me about all this is: the same people who refuse to accept the overwhelming consensus of real, live peer reviewed science are absolutely certain that ‘science’ can somehow come up with magic fixes that will permit the continuation of business as usual (BAU).

    Following WWII some Germans and Japanese were hanged for slaughtering a few million people. But in the good old USA and even in countries where there is even less pretense of political democracy those who offer a combination of denial and bogus ‘solutions’ like SRM are rewarded and worshiped as wizards and statesmen.

    1. TimR

      What slays ME is that you trust one set of scientists, but not these others… I am consistent; I think it’s all bogus.

      But as far as I can see, believers should be on board with spraying, if the models say spraying will work. Or if the models say “spray like this, but not like this” or whatever. After all believers want to enact swerping policy change that could negatively impact the world’s poor, based on climate models. So why not take geoengineering steps based on the same models? Are scientists flawless gods, or not? Are these IPCC type institutions only trustworthy when theur conclusions align with your political biases? (I.e. de-industrialize, dismantle big biz, etc.)

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Scientists, and some of us laymen, “believe” in the increasing temperatures measured on land and in our seas around the world. The evidence for a global warming does not depend on climate models. Rather, climate models attempt to model the climate systems based on the measurements and the projection of known physical effects. I very much doubt that anyone in the science community seriously believes all climate effects have been modeled or that all the effects modeled so far have been modeled with sufficient accuracy to predict future climate. The models serve as tools for approaching a better understanding of climate systems — identifying missing variables and refining the existing parameters. They have also become a political tool for crafting the carbon budgets and making poorly founded assertions about how much more CO2 we can “safely” add to the atmosphere. It should be obvious why we must not “take geoengineering steps based on the same models”.

      2. kernel

        TimR –

        Straw Man argument. Sure, I’d agree that there are some AGW “believers” that don’t know squat about the science; wouldn’t you agree that the same is true of some AGW “deniers”? are you “consistent” enough to distrust all science & all scientists? Or are your opinions of Climate Science driven by your political biases?

        Scientists are not “flawless gods”, they are (mostly) smart people trying to make sense out of the world using the best tool for the job: the scientific method. Yes, Climate Modelling is a new branch of that Method, and one that deserves continued scrutiny and only provisional “faith”. The Earth’s Climate is a big chaotic system, requiring a probabilistic approach that no clockwork orrery could ever provide. The models are pretty damned good but not perfect.

        They are good enough to make sense of the of the overwhelming empirical evidence (temperature, ice melt, sea-level, ocean acidification, etc) by fitting it all into a framework that connects the known inputs to the measured results. But “Modelling” is a process of successive approximation, and we can never be sure exactly how close we are to having a “perfect” model which would accurately predict the effects of some new perturbation. The Law of Unintended Side-effects has particularly strong arms (ouch, I pureed that metaphor) in large, complex chaotic system like a Biosphere (atmosphere + waters + top few meters/yards of dirt).

        In general, the Scientific Method requires us to run experiments to validate Hypotheses. Unfortunately, with Climate Science, we don’t have that luxury: we’ve only got one planet to work with (so far).

  15. Mitch

    Looks like a lot of us will do anything, ANYTHING other than curb our appetites and embrace a new kind of material poverty that honest climate activism demands…

    1. Carolinian

      So are you saying you have embraced “a new kind of material poverty”?

      Just asking. As for the above post, it would be a lot more persuasive coming from an actual scientist as opposed to a “video producer.” Given how little has so far been accomplished against AGW it’s arguable that the “citizen activist” approach has accomplished very little. Given that reality, I’d say active R and D on other approaches to the problem shouldn’t be ruled out. Rather the denial is the notion that scolding or “climate shaming” disfavored groups is somehow going to save the planet.

      1. Mitch

        Well it is a goal of mine but I will admit I face huge hurdles both internal and external. So far I have managed only baby steps in that direction like gardening, making my own soap, and using less energy. It’s a tough sell even to myself!

    2. TimR

      Well, who likes poverty? Unless this whole climate change thing is some kind of secular modern religion, where we’re supposed to repent and put on hairshirts…

    3. mike

      If we follow Hunter and Amory Lovin’s doable, “radical conservation” of 90+% less energy and material use, we can extract much less raw materials and also recycle everything, if MacDonough’s “everything is food (all commodities are non-toxic and supply food for the life-web” mantra becomes a mandate.

      We, and other earthlings, live well while using less stuff and much less energy to do the same work (low waste).

      To deal with the global hotting, after about 10 years I’ve got a new type of distributed solar solution that as a secondary function can increase (or in the case a solar grand minima some new research into solar magnetism suggests does shows up around 2030) decrease albedo/planetary reflection AS NEEDED about ~5-10%. That’s a pretty good climate extreme mitigation lever.

      Meanwhile, every home/barn roof, etc. collects/stores the energy it needs to function while in many cases also making all the hydrogen needed to power transportation/ag machines without any pollution.

      If I had Elon Musks money to organize it, this moonshot could actually do some good. But political economics….

  16. TimR

    This is a very insight provoking topic, bc I’m getting a window into how believers think… I detect a theme where they recoil at this geo scheme, because then they will not get to wear the hairshirts of self-sacrifice and self denial. And to put those hairshirts on others.

    This goes along with the idea of climate change as a secular religion of end times prophesy and apocalysm. Scientists are the priest class, whose proclamations we take on faith. Old time religion is superstition, but Science has many faithful who still believe. We’re weened on its mythology and sci fi visions of the future. But we also have guilt. Maybe basic human psychology, which old religion tapped as well. Anyway, to assuage the guilt, one must repent, and abandon sinful modern technology and waste… And preach the gospel of de-carbonisation…

    1. Alex Hache

      I think you’re right when you write that some people see global warming as a sin we must atone for.

      You’re completely wrong about the rest. Not a single scientist on earth is able to refute the current consensus convincingly. I’m afraid you’re the believer here, although I’m not sure what you believe in exactly.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I also agree with TimR’s assertion that many ‘environmentalists’ are inclined to think of Climate Chaos as some kind of punishment for sin, and like the flagellants of the Black Death days they adopt “hairshirts” and proselytize others to adopt their self-sacrifice and self denial. However I believe TimR is being most disingenuous to suggest such motives are characteristic of all or even the majority of those deeply concerned with the coming Climate Chaos.

    2. Mitch

      Well if you agree with John Michael Greer’s take on ‘progress’ being the most common secular religion by far then the apocalyptic predictions with the push to abandon modern tech could be seen as its ‘end times’. Or maybe it’s a part of a newer secular religion to replace the old one? Not too sure.

      In any event some preach the gospel of de-carbonization simply because we figure nearly all of us will be forced into it at some point whether it’s through price hikes, unavailability, or a gun pointed at our heads. In this scenario you might as well get started now to avoid the rush later.

    3. Ignacio

      This “religion”, I regret to say, will never be “secular” unless we do something bold to try to stop climate change.

  17. Oregoncharles

    “one of the biggest risks of this approach is that it becomes a distraction from the primary goal of decarbonizing the global economy in order to address the root cause of climate change.”

    I wish they wouldn’t use this fake argument. The grim reality is that there is already enough CO2 and methane up there to wreck the climate, so we’re going to have to do SOMETHING over and above reducing our collective carbon releases. The real objection to “solar dimming” is that it evades addressing the real problem: it doesn’t sequester carbon. For instance, while it might slow down planet cooking, it does nothing for ocean acidification, which has caused at least one global extenction (the end-Permian). And since the CO2 remains in the air and water, it starts cooking as soon as the particles fall out of the sky. There’s also the real chance they will alter rainfall patterns, with destructive effect.

    There are constructive, biological ways to address CO2 levels: reforestation, soil improvement, etc. Those aren’t as dramatic, and they present social-engineering challenges, but they actually address the problem. The controversial proposal is iron fertilization of the ocean, the purpose being to promote plankton blooms that would sink to the bottom and store carbon in the mud (Ideally, it would be subducted, but you can’t really count on that long-term effect). Yes, it would change the ecology – that is the point of fertilization, always; but the ocean ecology is changing anyway. At least it would sequester a lot of carbon, IF it works. there is a lot more ocean than land, so land-based measures are less effective.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I quibble with your objection to the argument “…it becomes a distraction from the primary goal of decarbonizing the global economy.” I guess I read that argument differently. I would restate the argument: “the various geoengineering approaches present false promises of ways to continue business as usual.” If you have some cool fix like space aerosols or “space mirrors” we don’t need to worry about changing from business-as-usual — at least as far as climate change is concerned. But continued business-as-usual proves disastrous when projected in even the conservative models the IPCC uses.

      I agree with your further assertion “The grim reality is that there is already enough CO2 and methane up there to wreck the climate, so we’re going to have to do SOMETHING over and above reducing our collective carbon releases.” I have a little trouble with the do SOMETHING part although I like the measures you suggest: reforestation, and soil improvement. I would put measures like “iron fertilization of the ocean” into the same rubric with ideas like spraying stuff into the upper atmosphere or deploying “space mirrors”.

      1. Oregoncharles

        I think it should be tested; while it could do harm, it couldn’t do as much as the CO2 and heating. Because it’s biological, it’s somewhat self-limiting. And it would sequester carbon, IF it works. At this point, nobody knows.

        DW proposes less risky ameliorative measures, similar to reforestation, in the water, but they’re near-shore and limited in extent.

  18. drumlin woodchuckles

    Some of those sea-based measures could include sea-grass meadow restoration and extension, and mangrove-swamp restoration and extension. Also salt-march restoration and extension.

    And also, land based measures are more effective than land based NON measures. If all the missing freshwater wetlands were restored, those wetlands would suck down a lot of carbon and build up a lot of peat.

    1. Oregoncharles

      Agreed; more useful possibilities.

      I think the lack of drama in real-world measures is a psychological barrier.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        If people could learn to visualize animated charts and graphs and diagrams over envisioned time, they might get past the need for drama in real-world measures.

  19. Raulb

    If the UN was not a sock puppet for vested interests it would already have rolled out frameworks to deal with the problem of mad scientists and global consensus for activities that have global impact.

    Given nature is millions of interdependent states with cascading impact why would anyone want to take the risk of runaway intended actions and more critically unintended consequences, when the scientific understanding required to pull this off is just not there.

    Perhaps this is why there is no interplanetary species as any civilization that reaches a certain state of scientific accomplishment ends up destroying itself in an act of hubris, greed and stupidity. Even trying this on an uninhabited planet is outlandish as there is no way to predict the outcome untill we can understand and model all the billions of interdependent actions with some degree of confidence. Planning this on planet earth without any global scientific peer review, global consensus, multiple studies, and ability to carry on limited tests on another planet before experimenting on ours is not science.

    But this is just another strategy by polluters and their sock puppets to push outlandish solutions to distract and gain concessions to continue their actions uninhibited. You cannot have democracy with think tanks, lobbyists and sellout scientists pushing funded propaganda.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      It verges off topic but your reference to the Fermi paradox brings up questions which interest me. Humankind found a readily extracted source of highly concentrated energy in fossil fuels. So far there has been no success at finding a replacement for our fossil fuels after we use them up — and we’ve already used up a large part of the known reserves in just the last fifty years. Fifty years is a very brief amount of time compared to the age of the universe. Our civilization could be but a briefly shining candle all too soon burning out never to again shine so brightly. Perhaps we have not found evidence for other civilizations because so few other civilizations found a source of highly concentrated energy the way we did. Or perhaps other civilizations found a source of highly concentrated energy and just like us they burned it as fast as possible before finding a replacement. Like us they burned as a brief candle some place and time when we will not see the brief coming of their light. Along the same line of speculations — could we have built our present base of knowledge and technology if we had not found a readily extracted source of highly concentrated energy? That energy made possible the tremendous growth of our populations and provided a surplus that supported efforts of a special population of those working on matters unrelated to brute sustenance. And that special population might not exist except as a portion of the large populations fossil fuel energy supported. By these chains of reasoning I can wonder whether the only civilizations across the universe which might leave a detectable trace of their existence are those which successfully solve the energy problem we currently face. Right now the only possible solution I can think of is successfully controlling a fusion reaction and that isn’t likely any time soon perhaps ever.

  20. butch

    The so-called SRM has been going on for years. Deny deny deny, until caught. One only needs to look up at sky to see the sprays of contrails filled with chemicals. Guess what, It ain’t condensation that lingers and forms cirrus clouds. As soon as more people become aware of the truth “proposals” like this surface, to act as cover for the illegal operations that have been going on.

    1. Mattski

      Youtube features a number of quite sophisticated technicians who claim that experiments like this over California have been ongoing. One example, cited by Media Bias/Fact Check as at the tinfoil hat end of the veracity spectrum. But the idea is clearly. . . in the air, and has been toyed with in various guises. The problem, as cited, that it raises the false expectancy that we can fix the problem without addressing its cause:


  21. Jon Dhoe

    Geoengineering is already happening. Watch the foremost authority on the subject Dane Wigington at geoengineeringwatch.org

  22. drumlin woodchuckles

    Stratosulphate particle injection in particular doesn’t seem like brilliant genius to me. To me it seems like a dumm stoopit kludge. It just kicks the land mine down the road a way.

    ” So let us starve and freeze and die
    beneath a silver-yellow sky”

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