Is Geoengineering the Answer to the Climate Crisis?

Yves here. It’s not hard to anticipate that geoengineering will be the answer to the climate crisis, whether it is adequately tested or not. There isn’t enough time to reach a consensus in the US, let alone other big carbon-spewing nations, to implement the massive economic reordering that would need to take place (including cutting a lot of current consumption). Given how difficult it will foresee knock-on effects, along with high odds that some types of geoengineering aren’t easily reversed, brace yourselves for some high-stakes gambles.

And the alarms about climate change, while fully warranted, typically overlook the fact that humans are well along in implementing the sixth great species die-off, and that we are also facing resource scarcity. For instance, potable water is set to become scarce on more than an isolated basis by 2050. Yes, there are ways to reuse water, but they take energy. In other words, we need to look at environmental issues on an integrated basis, yet there is perilous little discussion along these lines.

By Fred Pearce, author of The Coming Population Crash: And Our Planet’s Surprising Future.  Originally published by Yale E360 and posted by Grist as part of the Climate Desk collaboration

Once seen as spooky sci-fi, geoengineering to halt runaway climate change is now being looked at with growing urgency. A spate of dire scientific warnings that the world community can no longer delay major cuts in carbon emissions, coupled with a recent surge in atmospheric concentrations of CO2, has left a growing number of scientists saying that it’s time to give the controversial technologies a serious look.

“Time is no longer on our side,” one geoengineering advocate, former British government chief scientist David King, told a conference last fall. “What we do over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years.”

King helped secure the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, but he no longer believes cutting planet-warming emissions is enough to stave off disaster. He is in the process of establishing a Center for Climate Repair at Cambridge University. It would be the world’s first major research center dedicated to a task that, he says, “is going to be necessary.”

Technologies earmarked for the Cambridge center’s attention include a range of efforts to restrict solar radiation from reaching the lower atmosphere, including spraying aerosols of sulphate particles into the stratosphere, and refreezing rapidly warming parts of the polar regions by deploying tall ships to pump salt particles from the ocean into polar clouds to make them brighter.

U.S. scientists are on the case, too. The National Academies last October launched a study into sunlight reflection technologies, including their feasibility, impacts and risks, and governance requirements. Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said: “We are running out of time to mitigate catastrophic climate change. Some of these interventions … may need to be considered in future.”

The study’s prospective authors held their first meeting in Washington, D.C., at the end of April. Speakers included David Keith, a Harvard University physicist who has developed his own patented technology for using chemistry to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere, and Kelly Wanser of the Marine Cloud Brightening Project, which is studying the efficacy of seeding clouds with sea salt and other materials to reflect more sunlight back into space. The project is preparing for future field trials.

China too has an active government-funded research program. It insists it has no current plans for deployment, but is looking, among other things, at how solar shading might slow the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers.

Geoengineering the climate to halt global warming has been discussed almost as long as the threat of warming itself. American researchers back in the 1960s suggested floating billions of white objects such as golf balls on the oceans to reflect sunlight. In 1977, Cesare Marchetti of the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis discussed ways of catching all of Europe’s CO2 emissions and injecting them into sinking Atlantic Ocean currents.

In 1982, Soviet scientist Mikhail Budyko proposed filling the stratosphere with sulphate particles to reflect sunlight back into space. The first experiments to test the idea of fertilizing the oceans with iron to stimulate the growth of CO2-absorbing algae were carried out by British researchers in 1995. Two years later, Edward Teller, inventor of the hydrogen bomb, proposed putting giant mirrors into space.

Still, many climate scientists until recently regarded such proposals as fringe, if not heretical, arguing that they undermine the case for urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. A group of scientists writing in Nature as recently as April last year, called solar geoengineering “outlandish and unsettling … redolent of science fiction.”

But the mood is shifting. There is broad, international scientific agreement that the window of opportunity to avoid breaching the Paris climate target of staying “well below” 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), is narrowing sharply. A pause in the rise in CO2 emissions that brought hope in 2015 and 2016 has ended; the increase has resumed at a time when we should be making progress toward a goal of halving emissions by 2030, says Johan Rockstrom, science director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere — the planetary thermostat — are now at 415 parts per million (ppm) and rising by almost 3 ppm each year, reaching levels that have not been seen in 3 million years.“We have two years left to bend the curve” downward, says Rockstrom.

Some experts contend we may be approaching a moment when nothing other than geoengineering can meet the international community’s promise — made when signing the U.N. Climate Change Convention at the Earth Summit in 1992 — to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Myles Allen of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute says: “Every year we are not even trying to reduce emissions is another 40 billion tons of CO2 dumped into the atmosphere that we are blithely committing future generations to scrub out again.”

Possible geoengineering schemes and schedules are now being discussed. Take this plan published last fall by Gernot Wagner, executive director of Harvard University’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program:

In 15 years’ time, as the impacts of warming worsen, planes loaded with sulphate particles start taking off from airfields around the world. They fly to 65,000 feet, well above existing air lanes, and spray their loads into the stratosphere: 4,000 flights in the first year, 8,000 in the second, 12,000 in the third, and so on until, after another 15 years, fleets of purpose-built, high-altitude tankers are making 60,000 flights annually.

The thickening shroud of particles would fight climate change by mimicking the output of volcanic eruptions that deflect solar radiation streaming into the atmosphere. Famously, the eruption of sulphate particles from Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 caused a global cooling of up to 0.6 degrees C for the following two years. The planned 15-year human-made “eruption” would shave 0.3 degrees C off warming, halving the likely increase during that time.

The sulphate spraying would, Wagner and a coauthor said, be “remarkably inexpensive,” at not much above $2 billion a year over the first 15 years of deployment. Much cheaper than actually cutting emissions. So mission accomplished? Not quite. In fact, arguably not at all.

For one thing, most of the sulphate particles, like those from Pinatubo, would not stay aloft for more than a couple of years. Planes would have to keep flying and spraying ever-larger quantities essentially forever, or the world would resume warming with redoubled force.

For another, while the sulphate shroud might keep down global temperatures, the suppression of solar radiation could well create massive changes in weather systems and rainfall patterns, which are mostly driven by solar energy. The Asian monsoon, on which 2 billion people depend for their food crops, might shut down. The accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would have many other effects, such as acidifying the oceans.

“The fact that researchers at one of the world’s top universities are costing the deployment of such a radical scheme shows how urgent the climate change problem has become,”says Peter Cox of the University of Exeter in England. It also underlines concerns about who would be in charge of such endeavors.

Steve Rayner of the Oxford Geoengineering Program at Oxford University says “the technology’s potential to promote conflict … is likely to be substantial.” A decade ago, he helped draw up the Oxford Principles, which call for “public participation on geoengineering decision-making” and its regulation “as a public good.” But when push comes to shove, how would that work? Which world leaders would we trust with our climate?

Critics say even researching such technologies creates a moral hazard, because by suggesting an easy fix for global warming, it encourages delay in ending our addiction to fossil fuels. The stratospheric sulphate plan “may well encourage weaker action on emissions reduction,” says Joanna Haigh, an atmospheric physicist at Imperial College London.

Geoengineering is defined by the Oxford Geoengineering Program as “the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change.” There are two main types. One is shading the earth from solar radiation, of which the shroud of sulphates in the stratosphere is emerging as the quickest, most effective, and least costly. The other is to remove more CO2 or other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than nature currently achieves — so-called negative emissions.

Right now the oceans absorb a lot of CO2. One way of helping them take more is likely to be on the Cambridge unit’s agenda. It involves seeding the oceans with iron to stimulate growth of marine algae. The resulting algal blooms would, the theory goes, soak up CO2 from the water and cause more to be absorbed from the atmosphere. Concerns range from the effects that such blooms of algae could have on the marine food web to uncertainty about whether such local absorption would actually increase the ocean’s total uptake of carbon.

A second, more measurable idea involves removing carbon from the atmosphere, either by the massive deployment of devices to extract CO2 from the ambient air — known as direct air capture — or by more natural methods. One of those would be to turn large areas of land over to carbon-absorbing crops, probably trees. The harvested biomass could then be used as fuel in power stations, and the emissions from burning them reabsorbed by new crops. The net emissions could be zero.

If biomass burning were combined with technology to capture and bury the carbon emissions from the power plants — delivering a technological combo known as Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) — emissions could be negative. In theory, the more you burned, the more CO2 you would suck from the air.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) enthusiastically adopted BECCS in its fifth assessment, published in 2014. It said most scenarios for keeping warming below 2 degrees C would require “the availability and widespread deployment of BECCS and afforestation in the second half of the century.”

It could happen. Biomass burning is increasingly popular in power stations. And carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a proven technology, though not yet adopted at scale. That could soon change, following the announcement this month that industrial emitters in the European ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Ghent plan to join forces to pump 10 million tons of CO2 a year into adjacent offshore gas fields.

But critics say the problems with BECCS are manifold. The land requirement would be huge. And the forests created to provide the fuel would be monocultures of fast-growing tree species like eucalyptus and acacia. If the land were taken from farmers, then who would feed the world? And if it were taken from existing natural forest areas, the carbon benefits of BECCS would largely disappear, says Simon Lewis of University College London. That’s because plantation forests typically hold only 5 percent as much carbon as mature natural forests.

Maybe there is a simpler solution. Maybe the most promising answer lies in going back to nature — in restoring natural forests. A broad coalition of environmentalists — from those who embrace corporate environmentalism, such as The Nature Conservancy (TNC), to the British anti-capitalist columnist George Monbiot — have recently endorsed this “natural” climate solution.

Their touchstone is a 2017 paper by Bronson Griscom of TNC and 24 others, which concluded that a third of the measures required between now and 2030 to keep the world on track to stabilize climate could be achieved cost-effectively by boosting natural ecosystems. They could take an extra 11 billion tons more CO2 out of the air each year. This could be done mostly by reforestation, but also by better soil management, the protection of carbon-rich wetlands such as peatlands, and growing more trees on farmland.

Proponents see this not as a substitute for emissions reductions, but as a “biological bridge … to a zero-emissions economy.” The plan fits the Oxford definition of geoengineering, though they avoid using the term.

The scientific case for this route is compelling. Most of it could be achieved on existing damaged and degraded forests. The World Resources Institute estimates that globally there are 7.7 million square miles of forests degraded by logging or shifting cultivation that could be restored. That is an area twice the size of Canada.

Some planting, especially of nitrogen-fixing species in poor soils, could help speed up the restoration, says Robin Chazdon, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut and author of an influential book called Second Growth. But mostly, given the chance, forests will regrow naturally.

In fact, natural regrowth is usually better than planting, since “allowing nature to choose which species predominate during natural regeneration allows for local adaptation and higher functional diversity,” she says. A study published in March by 87 researchers, including Chazdon, concluded that “secondary forests recover remarkably fast” with 80 percent of their species typically back in 20 years and 100 percent in 50 years.

It looks like it could be a win-win, delivering a climate payoff on the scale of geoengineering without any of the downsides. Tim Lenton of Exeter University, a proponent of research into geoengineering, says it could be an ideal solution. “I am against introducing new forces such as sulphate aerosol injection in the stratosphere,” he says. “But I am in favor of emulating and enhancing natural feedback loops and cycles, such as regenerating degraded forests.”

It would, he says, strengthen the biosphere’s natural forces of self-regulation that British scientist James Lovelock has termed “Gaia.” Lenton has a new term for what is required. Not geoengineering, but “Gaia-engineering.”

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54 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    Unfortunately, I think geoengineering is inevitable, and it will most likely be done first by the Chinese, and they are not going to consult anyone. The situation in the Himalaya will become critical over the next few decades, and the Chinese will certainly do whatever they feel is needed to prevent the loss of glaciers – maintaining water flow in its great rivers is just too important.

    While for all the reasons outlined above I think geoengineering is a terrible idea, I think the cat is out of the bag now and there is little choice but to focus on research and international agreements to at least ensure we choose the least risky form. One option not mentioned above and seems relatively low risk is the use of olivine mining and enhanced weathering – as olivine weathers it absorbs CO2 and becomes more alkaline, so adding it to soils could have a double positive impact in many regions. I’ve seen a proposal whereby its mined in Norway and simply dumped offshore around the European coastline to allow natural marine breakdown – the alkaline effect should help to counteract the acidification of the oceans which is one of the other malign impacts of climate change. Its not a ‘solution’, but its a quick and dirty way to buy us some time.

    Clearly, the ‘least risky’ way is to go for rapid enhancement of natural ecosystems, in particular wilding low yield agricultural land and restoring wetlands. It is both relatively cheap and low risk, with multiple knock on benefits. But the fact that we are only just starting to discuss this is quite depressing, it would take years to get the international agreements together to ensure its done worldwide.

    Reply
    1. larry

      PK, mining of hydrotherman vents for minerals is already taking place, though not yet on a large scale. This is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of what can be extracted from hydrothermal vents. such vents can provide unlimited fresh water, minerals, and generated electricity for as long as the vent exists.

      There are two sort of close to the UK. One is off the coast of Iceland, while the other is on the surface in Iceland itself. They could sell us the fresh water and electricity, though we would need to lay pipes from Iceland to probably Inverness. This would mean that Scotland could control England’s fresh water and electricity supplies. Though, since Scotland is not independent and thus does not have its own sovereign currency, Westminster would pay for this infrastructure. It would be expensive, but as clean as it could ever be.

      On the other hand, the UK could put a rig, like an oil rig, down on the ocean floor off the coast of Iceland and pipe the water, minerals, and generated electricity to the UK or through Iceland, probably for a fee. That would be even more expensive.

      And there is a down side. The disruption of an anerobic ecosystem. We know almost nothing about these systems, but since the choice is between possible extinction and disruption of a small, local anerobic ecosystem, the weighting seems obvious. Research has been ongoing, but it is minute in comparison.

      This is just one avenue that could be explored, but has not been discussed by anyone as far as I know. I know the department of the environment is aware of such a scheme, but as far as I know, they have ruled it out on cost grounds. Off the coast of California there are a number of these deep sea volcanic vents, but no effort in the sort of extraction I mentioned yet. They are relying on solar, which is of course for them a lot easier and cheaper to develop and implement.

      So, you may be right that geoengineering, either in general or restricted to hydrothermal vents, is not a good idea. And I agree with your suggestion of enhancement of natural ecosystems. At the moment, hydrothermal geoengineering is generally being carried out by private companies, but to set out the piping and related infostructure to extract water and generate electricity will require government intervention.

      In the best of all possible worlds, the water and electricity would be virtually free. But you would need a complete rejection of neoliberalism in all its forms for this to happen.Or even for your suggestion to take hold. Rewilding &c has captured the imagination of some, but not those with any power to ensure it becomes the predominant frame. Homo sapiens could become extinct. Those that have so far stayed the course, as it were, are not biologically complex or large.

      Reply
        1. larry

          The water spewing out is not ocean water but from deep inside the vent. It comes out as superheated steam. Put a funnel and a pipe over the vent and bring it up to the surface. It will have to be filtered to be potable.

          Reply
  2. Aaron C

    I’m a layman, so forgive me if there’s an easy answer to this question, but if increased warming leads to increased frequency of forest fires then wouldn’t reforestation be largely in vain unless we first somehow managed to return the earth’s average temperature to somewhere near Holocene normal? I seem to remember reading (years ago) about how global warming could even lead to the loss of large swaths of the Amazon:

    a 2C rise above pre-industrial levels, widely considered the best case global warming scenario and the target for ambitious international plans to curb emissions, would still see 20-40% of the Amazon die off within 100 years. A 3C rise would see 75% of the forest destroyed by drought over the following century, while a 4C rise would kill 85%.

    [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/mar/11/amazon-global-warming-trees]

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for reforestation. I just wonder if it can deliver the goods in terms of cooling the planet, particularly if we reforest with native species ie species adapted to a world 3-4 degrees cooler. Is there something I’m missing?

    Reply
    1. Darius

      Old growth forests often have frequent ground fires that burn off the underbrush but leave the trees standing. They also benefit grasses whose roots sequester a lot of carbon in the ground. In fact, deep rooted prairie grasses may sequester more carbon than trees whose carbon is mostly above the ground.

      Reply
  3. Polar Socialist

    As far as geoengineering means planting more trees, I’m all for it.

    A couple of recent articles/studies I’ve read basically state that the first 40-50 years of growth for new forest are most efficient for carbon capture. And that something like the area of Europe of this new growth would capture enough carbon from athmosphere to recapture everything since industrial revolution.

    So, cut down anything older than 50 years, use it for houses, or any other long term structure, and replace it with a new tree.

    This would even align with sustainable agriculture, where rotation also includes letting a field to reforest for cows, lambs and pigs to forage in. Like farmers did for about 3000 years before modern agriculture.

    Reply
  4. Stadist

    Like I wrote some few weeks back in here, massive reforestation and far more efficient land use for farming and living is the safest ‘geoengineering’ (it’s weird to talk about geoengineering with this if we essentially pull back from the world to free more space for nature, but whatever) step we can take. Higher localised population densities will enable more people to comfortably choose life without personal passenger vehicle and also public transportation will be far more efficient. This is a win-win in more than one way, entirely implementable right now, no need for some fancy future miracle technologies. Of course this demands strong government intervention to direct the public behaviour, but I’m sure majority of readers have already realized that free market capitalism and hands-off governments are not going to solve this mess we find ourselves in.

    More aggressive geoengineering has plenty of problems, worst case would be some more ‘progressive’ states seeding rains with chemicals to protect their own short term interest on the expense of their neighbours. It’s silly to think that individual states or nations will somehow start doing geoengineering in completely coordinated manner based on the common good of all mankind on long term. There is very little solidarity or proof of solidarity nowadays, why should it somehow suddenly ’emerge’ with geoengineering if it’s not happening with carbon emission reductions? Majority of humans seems perfectly fine with extreme income and welfare distributions, so why should this change somehow with geoengineering?

    Main point is that global climate change demands globablly coordinated efforts, but apparently we are nowhere near global coordination or solidarity in any way. Europeans’ ambitious plan to tackle climate change and carbon emissions is most likely based on the expected huge increases in immigration waves from Africa and Middle East to Europe when climate change proceeds and more extreme weather effects increasingly occur. Most countries are quite jealously just protecting their own interests in one way or another.
    It’s gonna be sad yet disturbingly enjoyable experience watching how humanity is undone by incredible pettiness and greed.

    Reply
    1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

      An IMO brilliant film that always comes to mind when I hear the Geo word as does Philip Mirowski’s assertion that it is the Neoliberal thought collective’s preferred option, while the Paris agreement was devised by them to fob off the Left.

      Reply
    2. Summer

      The answer was not to fight to get to the front of the train and take it over, but to crash it and get off the damn train!

      Reply
  5. Steve H.

    Proximate v Ultimate causes:

    Proximate: humans burning fossil fuels.

    Ultimate: humans messing with natural systems they don’t fully understand.

    Reply
    1. Susan the other`

      The least risky thing we can engineer is ourselves. We are the ones causing CO2-climate change. And evolution is just too slow to mitigate our explosive greed. We are effectively causing our own extinction, as everyone knows but nobody wants to admit. We need to be a species that lives sustainably. Where is the research showing us how to re-engineer ourselves, our appetites, our metabolisms, our externalized pollution; destruction of other species? Where is the human mutation that offsets all these existential dangers? If we were fatter we’d turn the thermostat down. If we were satiated we’d stop producing and eating all those cows. If we were less lazy we’d reduce, reuse, recycle and repair. If we were more secure we’d stop polluting the planet with our military insecurity complex. And on and on. We should just all take up hibernation, maybe on a rotating schedule. Gotta have a few people stay awake just to fight fires.

      Reply
  6. exvermonter

    It seems odd that no one mentions the fact that we have been geoengineering since the industrial revolution. Our geoengineering has brought us to this pass, so perhaps more of it might not be a good idea. This is the anthropocene, the age of the clever ape.

    Reply
    1. clarky90

      We are scientifically still in the midst of “An Ice Age”

      Quaternary glaciation
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quaternary_glaciation

      “The Quaternary glaciation, also known as the Pleistocene glaciation, is an alternating series of glacial and interglacial periods during the Quaternary period that began 2.58 million years ago, and is ongoing. Although geologists describe the entire time period as an “ice age”, in popular culture (thanks Al Gore!) the term “ice age” is usually associated with just the most recent glacial period…..”

      Reply
      1. JBird4049

        Actually we would likely be returning to the next glacial period with those expanding ice sheets right about now if it were not for warming. So that’s something good I guess.

        :-)

        Reply
    2. Oregoncharles

      exvermonter,
      Actually, we’ve been geoengineering since the development of large-scale agriculture. An interesting example – sorry no link, this was a while ago – was a cooling period after the Black Death, because so many fields went fallow. Hard to be sure of the cause, but the evidence looked pretty good.

      Reply
  7. Peter

    far more efficient land use for farming and living

    That is what has been done in modern agro business, where efficiency means yield per acre.
    We destroyed mixed farming where animal production and crop production created a very much self sustaining agriculture that could largely exist without fertilizers by using manure, but demanded much more input in manpower for mainly weed control, manure spreading etc.
    I am coming back to the elephant in the room again – the feeding, housing and sustaining generally almost 8 billion people (with likely hitting 10 billion not far away)

    Reply
      1. Oregoncharles

        I didn’t know vegetables could use a keyboard. Very impressive ;)

        Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

        Reply
  8. Antifa

    Pardon, but we humans are currently doing geoengineering at insane levels in the form of feeding ourselves. If we are discussing insane geoengineering like space mirrors, oceans full of white golf balls, and atmospheric sulphates, then our current means of feeding all of us is certainly also on the table.

    A huge portion of our agriculture is devoted to feeding animals for us to eat. Domestic cows, pigs, chickens and such is the largest ‘body’ on the planet after bacteria and plants. Then there’s the immeasurable tonnage of fish we pull out of the ocean every year, or at least we used to be able to.

    Here’s some geoengineering — stop raising animals for food. Leave the oceans to recover themselves naturally. Land once dedicated to feeding livestock can go straight to forest. The oceans will similarly restore their biology to something like its original condition, before we utterly hollowed it out, and filled it with micro-plastics.

    Invent other sources of protein that will feed the billions of us — we’re looking at you, algae. And yes, you delicious worms and bugs.

    What’s the point of space mirrors and all the rest if their actual purpose is to let us keep giving our best soil and water resources to the production of sausages, steaks and coq au vin?

    We can no longer afford what that costs, as if we ever could.

    The single biggest geoengineering event we have going is that there are far more than a billion of us. That will change drastically in the future because it must. Nature will reduce our numbers, or we can begin to seriously limit ourselves. It will happen either way it happens.

    Reply
    1. Peter

      What you do ignore is however the fact that not all arable areas are useful for plant production,and can be made useful for extensive animal production as another source for food.
      What also gets ignored by the usually clueless about farming is the fact that mixed agriculture worked for centuries with a combination of crops and animal production, that crop rotation including pasture works to reduce the level of fertilizers, restore the humus layer etc.etc. The simpel “no animal” production is one of those cries by those not having much of an idea about the various methods of farming, the creation and maintenance of soils or alterative however older styles of farming still common in places in Europe.
      If you think the panacea is no animal production at all – maybe you should think about the areas waster that could be used to raise cattle, sheep etc. extensively. Just USA centric thinking gets you nowhere when considering farming world wide.
      It just shows your ignorance. I studied international Agriculture however only worked practically for several years on German small to medium sized farms and Canadian farms and ranches, but that study and the practical work managing farms likely gave me more insight about the possibilities than the restricted view you seem to have.

      Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I hunted down that same link and can add a little:
      “Prof. Philip Mirowski keynote for ‘Life and Debt’ conference” your link [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7ewn29w-9I]
      quick link to his discussion of geoengineering: [https://youtu.be/I7ewn29w-9I?t=2800]

      In spite of the unhappy content this was an especially entertaining and even funny lecture. I think Mirowski completely destroys the idea of geoengineering as a way out of our CO2 problems.

      Any idea how to get a copy of the slides he used in this presentation? I’ve hunted around without luck so far.

      Reply
  9. Mael Colium

    These solutions are impracticable – they would need to be rolled out on a massive scale to prevent the impacts of climate collapse. There may be regional benefits from these purported solutions, but people, this is a GLOBAL problem and needs a GLOBAL solution, not a regional cobbled together feel good emission of hot air (sorry) that fails to address the GLOBAL fundamental issue. WE ARE PRODUCING TOO MUCH CO2!
    These suggestions, whilst well meaning, are a distraction which provides not real solutions, but false hope against the reality that within fifty years the planet will be largely uninhabitable. Even if we start today, climate change will not stop. It will still kill millions, but action now will prevent complete destruction of life . Most will die, but some will survive in pockets across the globe. Captain America and his hangers on are the stuff of comic books, where these pseudo scientific “solutions” should be filed, so let’s stop inspecting our genitals with this nonsense …… please! We are doomed. Now, where did I put my sandwich board?

    Reply
    1. Summer

      “some will survive in pockets across the globe.”

      And some think herding as many people as possible into cities and controlling their behavior is the key.

      Will it be “the spread” of humanity in pockets across the globe or the herd? I’d question the sanity of anyone who thought a status quo that led to such a dystopia had any credibility left. Yet, here they are, still thinking they will continue to be the organizing force.

      Reply
      1. lordkoos

        The people who will survive the longest and have the best chance are the ones who are already accustomed to fending for themselves, doing without mod-cons, and who are already living closer to nature. City dwellers are likely not going to fare too well, many of them don’t even know how to change a flat tire, let alone more complex tasks.

        Reply
  10. johnnygl

    Re: restoring wetlands. There’s stormwater retention spots by my train stop and i was admiring the absurdly fast growth that the cattails have already put on. It’s june, in usda zone 6 around here, and they’ve already put on 4-6 ft of growth. They’re perennials and don’t need to be replanted…it’s a lot of biomass in a short period. Definitely faster than corn.

    Reply
  11. KYrocky

    But the United States is no where to be found, and our country’s leadership remains in opposition to doing anything, anything that is, except arguing that the problem is “fake”. I am sorry to say it does look like China is about to assume the role of the leading the world in confronting this catastrophe.

    We may already be locked into feedback loops that will be accelerating the warming rate no matter what efforts we make. Whatever is done it needs to be an All of the Above effort and it needed to start years ago.

    Reply
  12. Curtis Fromke

    Barry Commoner had an expression for our dilemma: Overpopulution.
    When in a hole the first thing to do, is stop digging. In our case it is stop breeding. We may have already done that with pollution that causes infertility. Then the next will be to lower CO2 production, which will happen when the economy crashes. Picking up the pieces, small groups of people living on the edges of society will revert to horticulture and some will survive. They will then maybe get a chance to start over. Hunter gatherer, here we come. We have a model in the way the Hutterites live. The Chinese have gone through lots of famines and probably have cultural answers, ie population control. There are examples of birds that adjust their population to the environmental constraints, and they are the dinosaurs that survived.
    Read Resilience.org, Dieoff.com, H.T. Odum, any environmental science text written in the last 30 years, and then join your neighbors at the community garden.

    Reply
    1. Synoia

      It appears Japan is on that path, and the path appears to be chosen by the women.

      And it appears to cause much anguish in Japan.

      I watch the english language Japanese news channel, and try to eliminate the spin.

      Reply
    2. stan6565

      Tell that to Bill Gates and all other do-gooders who plow billions into Africa yearning to earn immortality by endeavoring to alter the basic evolutionary principles, and try preserve and expand population that is not evolutionary ready to be maintained preserved or expanded.

      Or to the mass-people-smuggling cabal, and all the shadily-funded and equally shadily-taxed NGOs (not!), all being done under auspices of “humanitarianism “, “morality “ and such like isht.

      The beef is of course that Items 1and 2 above are being executed at 100% expense of your normal, worldwide, taxpayer who is being fleeced by the supposedly “elected” “politicians” who collect their salaries under the ruse of working in the interest of the “electorate”, but in actual fact are without exception the lowliest of whores offering the benefits of their temporary privileged position to everyone and anyone and anything that comes by with a cunning robbery plan.

      Until such time that the political workers of any level, from POTUS to the lowliest decision makers in remotest local authority in Nepal, are made to be personally responsible for the damage their decisions or indecision’s cause on the public that generates the society’s wealth, ie taxpayers, all this talk is just waffle and tiddle and piffle.

      Reply
  13. Synoia

    It appears Japan is on that path, and the path appears to be chosen by the women.

    And it appears to cause much anguish in Japan.

    I watch the english language Japanese news channel, and try to eliminate the spin.

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  14. William Hunter Duncan

    We have been geoengineering since we learned how to re-route rivers. That was hubris then – it collapsed the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago – and it is hubris now: it will collapse globalization as we know it.

    Geoenginnering fixes for excessive geoengineering is idiots doubling down on idiocy, dooming us. Not that a population crash because of overshoot isn’t doom, but a population crash because our elite attempt to use engineering to save us but only end up throwing the climate into greater chaos and altering the chemistry of global waters with excessive sulfates….

    I think I would much rather this all play itself out, this overshoot, in the fog of “progress”, rather than collapse because the “smartest people in the room” decided more of the same ill-treatment of the earth will fix our destroying of the earth’s ability to support us.

    Now maybe if we start working with nature rather than acting like we own it and can do whatever we want…restoring forests and prairie would go a long way….as well as curtailing industrial food production and industrial ag treatment of existing forests. We could replace our beef cattle stock with Buffalo roaming….while building a local foods infrastructure….rewild the world as much as possible…

    But TPTB will aim to fix overshoot with more overshoot….

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  15. Lambert Strether

    By Betteridge’s Law, no. That doesn’t mean we won’t do it. Resilient approaches will have to take account of any potential downside. There might not be time.

    Adding, if we could somehow aerosolize oil and block out the sun by spraying that into the upper atmosphere, that would provide a pleasing note of symmetry. And it would be profitable, too, doubtless a requirement.

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  16. Jim

    Unfortunately, I see a problem. Such as, what happens if you are wrong? Where is the safe fall back position? And how many die because of the Geo you created? The same arguments I have against fish tomatoes, and gmo products. Are they really safe? Or just partly safe, you can die from partly safe. Climate engeneers have not proven themselfs yet, we want to trust them with creating a better future. They haven’t figured out what they want to engeener against, yet, except people. Not to make life more enjoyable, free of worry, or to improve conditions, but, to shade the sun from earth, when it takes heat to drive the Dynamo of circulation,, cooling interfere with the sun slows plantlife, plankton, and fish foodsources would suffer. Unless the idea is depopulation, I don’t get it.

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  17. Susan the other`

    “Climate Repair Research”. That sounds experimental. Incremental. And, sorry, half-baked. For sure this is going to screw up weather patterns. This gradual seeding of the upper atmosphere with reflective sulfates is not a comforting thought. If they manage to restrict solar energy from reaching the lower atmosphere where cloud formation occurs we’ll have nothing but clouds because there is a connection (Danish atmospheric research) – a feedback mechanism – between solar magnetic radiation and cosmic particle radiation. Our sun’s magnetic radiation prevents the cloud formation caused by cosmic particles interacting with our atmosphere and forming clouds. So if we reflect the upper magnetic radiation by all that seeding we’ll have lotsa cloud cover which will both warm the planet and rain cats and dogs – doing nothing to eliminate the CO2 in the upper regions. There was a big argument between the British and Danish researchers on this. The British told Svenmark (I think that’s his name) that he was “simply wrong” and he told them they were idiots. Maybe somebody gotta settle that argument before we get too enthusiastic with this whole ‘reflect the sun’ idea. Likewise, spraying extra salt into the atmosphere above the Arctic ocean is at best pointless because all that salt will precipitate back down and be like antifreeze, preventing new Arctic ice from forming. And it won’t do anything to prevent the rest of the oceans from warming and mixing with the Arctic waters. So that’s probably a really dumb plan as well. IIRC they already tried to add iron to the ocean and it accelerated ocean acidification. So that’s a non-starter. Don’t these whiz kids know nuthin?

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    1. Susan the other`

      actually, come to think of it, this makes me think maybe we have already experimented with sulfate seeding of the upper atmosphere and the result is the now-famous Winter of 2019 – the year the Missouri River became a lake.

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    2. Math is Your Friend

      “So if we reflect (A) the upper magnetic radiation by (B) all that seeding”

      There is no connection between (A) and (B).

      For that matter, there would be no physical overlap between (A) and (B).

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      1. Susan the other`

        please explain – are the sun’s electromagnetic rays separable? Magnetic rays are not reflected?

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        1. Grebo

          Electromagnetic rays (aka ‘light’) can be reflected by particles in the atmosphere.

          The sun’s magnetic field, and the Earth’s, deflect cosmic rays (which are actually particles) before they hit the atmosphere. The ones that make it through may hit particles in the atmosphere and seed clouds but the climatic significance of this process is disputed, and the effect of extra sulphate particles at high altitude I don’t know.

          There are better reasons for opposing this plan.

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          1. Susan the other`

            Yes, one view is that it is clearly dangerous to limit the sunshine we receive because it will disrupt photosynthesis and slow down critical agriculture. That’s scary enough. And also too, whatever gets put in the upper atmosphere stays in the upper atmosphere. Kinda like Las Vegas.

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  18. Nat

    We may need to use radical solutions, but the only ones I ever see proposed for Geo-engineering of: “more clouds” and “brighter clouds” are the dumbest and worst possible solutions. Our greatest hope for someday rolling back our damage (if it isn’t already too late) is to slowly but surely get it all fixed back into the carbon cycle. Obviously with forest fires and bouts of bugs forests sometimes fail us in fixing the CO2 back into the carbon cycle, but you can’t let the imperfect be the enemy of the good when over all forests are still one the best thing we have as a primary pillar for fighting and rolling back the damage directly – and not just forests, but all photosynthesizing biomass helps, even crops (though to a much less degree then forests).

    So now think about that in regards to geo-engineering with clouds: you are making more clouds and brighter clouds … which will reduce the primary source of energy (sun-light) that both powers all the photosynthesizing biomass to reduce the amount of CO2, and powers the key renewable technologies that can help us reduce our dependence on CO2 (solar and also wind power, as the wind is driven indirectly by the effects solar energy on our planet). That is right, these proposals (all of them) make things less-bad in the short term by effectively taking out a loan in the long term that will make the already terrible long term prognosis that much worse. All of these proposals are equivalent someone proposing to pay off a bad loan that is spiraling above their ability to make payments, by taking out an even larger loan with far worst interest and penalties! This is short sighted stupidity incarnate.

    The indirect effects are pretty extreme. Lots of suggestions take the form of things like making low-costal clouds using salt-water. Okay, the coastal ecosystems are the ocean systems most dependent on maximal sun-light and you are proposing to deprive them of that. Also if you make tons of coastal salt-water clouds then you are increasing the amount of salt that floats onto shore and salts the earth – this is all very bad. More clouds over the open ocean are terrible too diatoms live in the surface water of the open ocean and are responsible for fixing about a quarter of all the carbon that gets naturally fixed anywhere on the planet. You reduce the sunlight the diatoms are getting with more and brighter clouds and suddenly you are massively reducing the amount of carbon being naturally fixed on Earth then if you had slashed and burned all that is left of the rain forests. Double bonus: the chemical energy that diatoms produce via photosynthesis is the bottom of the food-chain for most of the ocean so this just adds further strain on our already collapsing ocean eco-systems.

    As for clouds over land how are those proposed to be made? The current answer is all sorts of disasters like aluminum based aerosols and the like – because that is exactly what society needs to be ready for the future, to accelerate the rate we all get Alzheimer’s, other neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. Even if we decide the impacts of humanity not dying off but just turning into sick stupid useless wasteful creatures this way is okay, the fact is these types of fine aluminum-oxide particles have huge negative impacts on every other living things too. Aluminum is only safe in bulk – aluminum solid materials wether the metal for use in planes and construction, or the ores like bauxite; molecular and water soluble bits of aluminum have very negative impacts on living things. How well do crops grow when continually seeded with aluminum and barium particulates from the sky under reduced sunlight (hint: not well). Oh well I guess we can just grow them in our artificial hermetically sealed concrete bunkers with grow lights … powered by what now that there is reduced sunlight for renewables? Guess that means more fossil fuels then… glad all this geoengineering is helping us wean off of those…

    Big Oil (secretly) loves these Geo Engineering projects because it is both used as an excuse to not need to completely cut out CO2 producing energy sources as quickly as possible, because “we can just geo-engineer the problem to be correspondingly slower!” (no you can’t, at least not without paying so much more in the long-term) and because it helps reduce the efficacy of actual renewable power due to reduced surface sun-light – “hmm… those solar panels just aren’t as good as advertised are they, guess you are going to need more gas-powered generators then!” In addition to that, not a single viable Geoengineering proposal has been made so far that doesn’t use considerable amounts of fossil fuels – things like fleets of cloud-making jets flying around the place 24/7, think of all the jet fuel sales! The big oil profits (and thus use) will be better (i.e. worse) then ever!

    On the big picture I am net pretty conservative about things like: economics, the environment, etc… but while I fully acknowledge we need to do something – many somethings and likely extreme ones as soon as possible – about global warming, the existing Geo engineering proposals need to be put into the wood chipper along with anyone who seriously advocates them as these are all solutions that are actually worse then the problem itself. And I say that knowing full well the problem may already be fatal – these solutions are still worse then that.

    The only even remotely okay Geo Engineering solution I have heard is to use natural carbonate forming ores to fix CO2 as rock, but even there that requires a bit of energy (though only a tiny fraction compared to the dangerously stupid cloud-making schemes). Also, while okay, this proposal only deals with the problem of ground-level CO2 which: 1. plants are already good at taking care of, 2. plants need the most, and 3. isn’t really the most problematic CO2, the real problem causer is the higher atmospheric CO2 that is really locking in the heat and has no simple and fast fixation plan natural or otherwise.

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  19. Synoia

    Can we revert to 1750? I think not,

    Do we fully understand the exosphere? I think not.

    If the “solutions” don’t work, what’s the damage? We run out of time?

    Will we run out of time? I’d bet on this, but for a possible world wide “emergency response” which would include draconian measures on “the peasants,” based on the ever increasing intrusion into our lives by loosing any shred of privacy.

    Reply
  20. coboarts

    “Those whom the gods (or whoever) wish to destroy they first make mad.” Before allowing ourselves to run amok, let’s become comfortable with the fact that “no one here gets out alive”… Then, let’s take a hard look at ourselves while fretting – is that who we want to be? Then, let’s ask if “they” are supposed to take care of us children. Then, let’s take a hard look at the immense powers of nature and ask if anthropo is really all that or if we are being mind(fb’d). Then, acting in concert with natural systems, not computer models, let’s get to work with all of the natural and largely passive alternatives that we have been realizing. There is no rush. Nature works in Nature’s time. Good things don’t come to men and women driven by fear. Draw the curtain away from the Great Oz, first.

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  21. Scott1

    It would be nice if we did not have to merge our powers to prevent the collapse of the food chain. The costs of workable plans whenever seen as too high make an enemy of whomever thinks that way. This can be an argument for what I called MMT principled banking or Nation state fiat funding.
    The Bubble is Methane melting. Methane is melting now.
    Hence it follows that due to the melting that is happening now the response must work now.
    Great leaders turn to their engineers.
    Human nature being what it is will accept privations, chaos and violence when the war protects their way of life. A Gov of Govs. is required. The Good Good War combines the two existential threats of nuclear weapons & climate change. Earth Nation armed forces doing whatever it takes to limit to ten nuclear arsenals, and moving from there to none, would be permanently at war to prevent cheating.
    War like that run by Earth Nation creates a Fund. That fund pays for climate change defensive measures. I am trying to account for human nature & the methane melt that was never factored in properly in the ’70s when all hell was originally predicted.

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  22. Louis Fyne

    Geoengineering is one of the UN’s IPCC’s base scenarios in its 2018 climate report. But to power that geoengineering, IPCC also assume fission use will 4x+ (if I recall correctly).

    Just saying

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  23. Oregoncharles

    Important, relevant news item: https://phys.org/news/2019-06-scientists-culprit-fertilizing-north-pacific.html; Scientists discover unlikely culprit for fertilizing North Pacific Ocean: Asian dust. Key quote:

    ” one anomaly in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre ecosystem that has puzzled oceanographers for years: The region’s chemistry changes periodically, especially levels of phosphorous and iron, affecting the overall nutrient composition and ultimately its biological productivity.

    In a new study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers document what induces these variations: changes in the amount of iron that is deposited into the ocean via dust from Asia.”

    This is important because it means there’s an ongoing, natural experiment in iron fertilization of the ocean. We don’t have to send out ships laden with rust to find out what happens. It’s happening.

    This is of interest to me because it’s the only technological form of geo-engineering that strikes me as worthwhile is ocean fertilization – IF it works. We need to know that. It has the following advantages: it’s cheap, in both energy and money, esp. compared to seeding the sky. It’s biological, stimulating processes that are already there and fairly self-limiting. And it actually sequesters carbon, potentially for a long time, IF it does. Yes, it would change the ocean ecology, except for maybe the N. Pacific gyre (and what is the Sahara doing to the Atlantic?), but we’re already doing that.

    Otherwise, the forms of geoengineering that appeal are the natural ones: reforestation and regenerative agriculture (soil sequestration), esp. since they both have other, major benefits. But both are restricted to land, only a fourth of the surface. That’s pretty restrictive. And both require major social engineering, likely to be the hardest of all.

    I’m not sure the article gets into this, but I understand that the root problem is that we’ve already overshot; the amount of carbon in the atmosphere already would carry us into very dangerous territory. We’ve run out of options: we have to do EVERYTHING. And that’s what we need to say; the argument that geoengineering might discourage source reduction is illogical.

    Reply
  24. Tomonthebeach

    I guess nobody has ever heard of nuclear winter – the posited notion that global thermonuclear war would create an Ice Age that would finish off most surviving animal life. While that is still a possible option which might be pursued by the current mob of authoritarian despots there was a time when we affected the climate with bomb tests but ignored the influence on climate. We were more focused on what got incinerated.

    Nevertheless, it might be that a few nukes in select locations might kick the can down the climate road. Somebody should look at old DOD data from those tests to see if the thing that might kill us all might also be used to save us all.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Ignoring other considerations — one small problem with using thermonuclear weapons to make a ‘controlled’ nuclear winter to offset the current ‘warming’ — a mistake in the calculations will take a decade or so to settle out of the upper atmosphere. Do you keep ten years of food in your pantry?

      Reply

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