Amid Efforts to Cool the Planet, Solar Geoengineering Draws Heated Debate

Yves here. Given the baked-in failure to take early and aggressive enough action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it seems almost inevitable that second-best approaches like carbon capture and geoengineering should come to the fore.

It’s worrisome that most of the geoengineering schemes are lasting, if not irreversible, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what additional effects might be. One favorite type of scheme is to release substances in the high atmosphere to reduce how much sunlight reaches the earth. Gee. how do you control where exactly the releases wind up and therefore the distribution of sunlight changes? What about the impact of reduced sunlight on agricultural productivity? On the weather? And what about overshoot?

I recall reading an op ed, which I thought was in the Wall Street Journal in the early 2000s and have never been able to find again. Recall that one of the big accelerants of climate change is that when white and highly heat reflective polar ice melts, it is replaced by highly heat absorbent open ocean. This scheme proposed increasing heat reflection by using substances like titanium dioxide to make road surfaces and flat rooftops (think apartment buildings) reflective. The piece recommended two different substances for different purposes based on cost v. degree of light absorbtion prevention. It did the math based on the amount of road surfaces used on highways and argued it would have a substantial impact at low cost. And unlike atmospheric experiments, it could be dialed down if needed.

By Shannon Kelleher. Originally published at The New Lede

Luke Iseman got tired of waiting for the world to stop climate change so he decided to try it himself. The founder of a controversial two-person startup called Make Sunsets has begun launching balloons filled with sulfur dioxide high into the sky with the intention of imitating the effects of volcanic eruptions. The molecules are meant to act like little mirrors, cooling the planet by reflecting sunlight back into space before it reaches the Earth’s lower atmosphere.

Iseman’s venture into the relatively new arena known as solar geoengineering is drawing its own heat in the form of criticism from scientists amid an intensifying debate over whether the world should explore once-unthinkable measures some say might buy time to address climate change.

The window to keep warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to prevent dramatically more severe global impacts is closing fast. Earth is on track to hit that threshold “in the first half of the 2030s,” according to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last month.

Many scientists oppose geoengineering strategies, defined as interventions in the earth’s oceans, soils and atmosphere that reduce climate impacts such as extreme temperatures, variability in water availability, and the severity of storm systems. Solar engineering specifically focuses on masking the effects of climate change caused by greenhouse gases, although it isn’t a permanent fix since it doesn’t actually get rid of these gases.

Critics say further tinkering with Earth’s climate using new technologies could have dire unintended consequences such as acid rain and health problems, as well as rapid global temperature rises if such interventions were stopped without fixing the problem at its root. Some fear that investing research into such drastic avenues could create illusions of a cheap fix at a moment when there is no time to spare.

Even those in favor of studying solar geoengineering say they still have no idea if it should actually ever be used –the research is too early and the risks and effectiveness of such strategies are not well understood.

But Iseman, who has a history of launching startups and holds an economics degree from the Wharton Business School, says it’s past time to begin deploying and scaling up the untested technology.

“The ugly truth behind this is we need to do crazy ideas because we’re not going to just suddenly stop emitting,” said Iseman. “We invented our way into this, and we’ll invent our way through this, clumsily as we always do.”

Iseman said that he and co-founder Andrew Song have deployed 10 balloons so far, in Baja California, Mexico and Nevada. As of April 6, Iseman said 72 customers have purchased “cooling credits” – promises from the company to release one gram of sulfur dioxide (via balloon), which Iseman said offsets the warming caused by one ton of carbon dioxide for one year if it does, in fact, make it to the stratosphere (he claimed he has only been able to confirm this once so far).

“Obviously launching a couple of balloons is not going to show a measurable global impact on temperature,” said Iseman. “Frankly, I hope that one way this creates urgency is that many academics and governments, whoever, can be like, ‘look, I told you we had to research this or some idiot was just going to do it on his own.’”

Like a “Taxi Service”

For the most part, solar geoengineering research focuses on three strategies: releasing aerosols into the stratosphere to scatter light back into space (stratospheric aerosol injection), adding aerosols to clouds over the ocean to make them reflect more light (marine cloud brightening), or seeding cirrus clouds with dust particles to make them act like a thinner blanket, allowing more heat to escape through the atmosphere (cirrus cloud thinning).

“Stratospheric aerosol [injection] is the technique that has the most potential to allow us to effectively produce cooling at the global scale at some kind of affordable price point,” said Chris Field, a climate change researcher at Stanford University and a science advisor for the Climate Overshoot Commission.

Field says that deploying this technique at scale would require specially designed aircraft to act like a “taxi service,” popping briefly into the stratosphere to release their aerosol cargo.

“The need for cooling the climate by something like half a degree to a degree looks like it would be on the order of several hundred airplane flights per year,” said Field.

There is “good evidence” that marine cloud brightening could result in at least regional cooling, said Field, although it is less clear if the technique would have meaningfully buffer climate warming at a global scale.

Scientists who study cirrus cloud thinning are still debating whether it could be done, but if the technique is viable it would work best in the Arctic or Antarctic and could produce a global cooling effect, said David Mitchell, a scientist who studies cirrus cloud thinning at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada.

A Crutch for Polluters?

Even if solar geoengineering worked, scientists who study it acknowledge that the technology couldn’t “solve” climate change. While spraying the stratosphere with aerosols, for example, could mask some of climate change’s effects, it wouldn’t get rid of excess greenhouse gases and it wouldn’t prevent the ocean from becoming abnormally acidic (one side effect of all that carbon dioxide in the air).

But the idea of at least looking into solar geoengineering has become increasingly mainstream in the US, with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy coordinating a five-year plan to assess solar engineering research.

It’s better to do the research now rather than later in order to “know what we’re dealing with” in the event that such technology is ever needed, said Mitchell, who is one of over 100 scientists to recently sign an open letter calling for solar geoengineering research to proceed.

However, many scientists oppose not only the actions of a lone startup but research into solar geoengineering altogether – let alone any possibility of deploying it in the future.

“Solar radiation modification approaches, if they were to be implemented, introduce a widespread range of new risks to people and ecosystems, which are not well understood,” says a 2022 IPCC report.

Hundreds of scientists around the world have signed an open letter calling for an international non-use agreement on solar geoengineering, and activists including Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, and Greta Thunberg have spoken outagainst it.

The Saami Council, a group representing indigenous peoples in Sweden, wrote an open letter in 2021 opposing solar geoengineering that led to the cancellation of a planned flight by the Harvard SCoPEx project, which studies how aerosols behave in the stratosphere to advance research on geoengineering techniques.

In a 2021 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report led by Field, “The authors are basically arguing that because carbon reductions haven’t been great enough (thanks to successful opposition by polluters and their advocates) we should consider geoengineering,” writes Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “That framing (unintentionally, I realize) provides precisely the crutch that polluters are looking for.”

“We see Make Sunsets as a symptom of the Silicon Valley mindset that every problem has to have a technology fix,” said Lili Fuhr, the deputy director of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)’s climate and energy program. “Then we have the fossil fuel industry and big polluters who are very happy to see us discussing potential future techno fixes.”

The fossil fuel industry has long been developing, patenting, and promoting geoengineering technologies, according to a 2019 CIEL report.

“Maybe by chance, some of the very materials you would need for [stratospheric aerosol injection] like sulfur dioxide happen to be a waste product of the oil and gas industry,” noted Fuhr.

In her view, researching solar geoengineering technologies brings the world dangerously closer to deploying them.

“There’s a very small group of people, mostly from the US and from the UK – we call them the ‘geo clique’ – who have been pushing this for probably almost two decades now, [but] the broad consensus is to stop this research” she said. “Just because we’re desperate doesn’t mean that a bad idea is suddenly a good idea.”

Disrupted Weather Patterns and “Termination Shock”

Even scientists who support solar geoengineering research think there could be plenty of cause for concern if it were someday deployed at scale.

If sulfur dioxide were used for stratospheric aerosol injection, the amount of the pollutant in the atmosphere could increase by as much as 10%, said Field, potentially damaging the ozone, causing acid rain, and increasing health problems like skin cancer. It might also make the sky look hazier, he added.

Solar geoengineering could even exacerbate malaria in developing countries, increasing transmission in lowland sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, according to a study published last year.

Computer models suggest that stratospheric aerosol injection would modify precipitation patterns across the globe, jeopardizing lives by potentially interfering with regional weather patterns like the monsoon, said Fuhr.

Fuhr worries there may be other serious unknown effects, since the technology is “basically untestable” unless it is deployed on a global scale. At that point, we would have to keep going or face the effects of “termination shock,” she said, since sun-dimming particles that mask the effects of carbon in the atmosphere only stay put for a year or two.

“Temperatures would suddenly rise rapidly, which wouldn’t allow for humans or any life on Earth to adapt to it,” said Fuhr.

“There are scenarios where [solar geoengineering] could be weaponized and lead to conflict and war,” she added. “Or you might just have a regime change in a powerful country that’s involved in geoengineering.”

Building Governance

Some also worry that lone actors may take it upon themselves to implement the technology – on a large scale – before the rest of the world is ready.

Scientists fear that rogue governments could, potentially, strong-arm the world into a solar geoengineering future. Another concern is that more groups will emerge who hope to profit off lone solar geoengineering efforts, said Shuchi Talati, a former Department of Energy chief of staff who is building a nonprofit focused on the intersections of solar geoengineering, governance and justice.  With no governance infrastructure in place yet, there would be no consequences for those with less-than-altruistic motivations.

“It’s incredibly dangerous to see some of the momentum growing in that space and I hope it motivates a lot more movement around building good governance infrastructure,” said Talati.

Part of developing good governance means engaging with climate-vulnerable communities, said Sikina Jinnah, a professor who studies climate governance at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“The environmental justice discourse surrounding solar geoengineering is dominated largely by scholars in the Global North who make claims about what’s best for communities in the Global South,” she said.

The Degrees Initiative, a nonprofit that awards solar engineering research grants to countries in the Global South, says it “empowers scientists in the Global South to ask their own questions.” In February, the initiative granted $900,000 to research teams in 14 developing countries.

Transparency in funding is a critically important aspect of governing solar geoengineering research, said Jinnah.

“I think the only way you get that is through public funding,” she said. “One of my main concerns with the non-use agreement is they’re calling for a ban of all public finance of this work, which I think is quite dangerous and irresponsible.”

Models for solar geoengineering governance are emerging. The Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative (C2G), for example, is working to “catalyse the creation of effective governance for climate-altering technologies,” including solar geoengineering. C2G aims to encourage discussions about the risks, trade-offs, and potential benefits of such technologies, according to its website.

The recent National Academies report suggests that UNEP could be asked to conduct an assessment of geoengineering technologies and offer options for governance frameworks, although it notes that a 2019 discussion about this role for the UN group did not pan out.

But for some, the past portends that solar geoengineering, if deployed, would be ungovernable.

“Solar geoengineering imposes a long-term obligation on human society of a sort that humanity has never been able to pull off in its entire existence, and that is what makes the idea crazy,” said Raymond Pierrehumbert, a physics professor at the University of Oxford. “[It] is not a way of ‘buying time’ and cannot be viewed as just a temporary fix until something better comes along.”

To limit global warming to 1.5°C, the world needs to focus its efforts on rapidly phasing out fossil fuels and protecting and restoring ecosystems, said Fuhr.

“The proven and reliable technologies needed for that exist and are readily available,” she said. “What is missing is political will.”

“Snake Oil”?

Scientists who support solar geoengineering research largely oppose Make Sunsets’ dash to deploy such technology, saying it has already done political damage – Mexico is now banning solar geoengineering – and citing a lack of research and the absence of any global consensus.

“There can be no room for selling snake oil,” wrote SilverLining, a nonprofit that provides grants for solar geoengineering research, in a statement condemning Make Sunsets’ “rogue releases of material into the atmosphere and its efforts to market unsubstantiated ‘cooling credits’.”

The group says that while Make Sunsets’ activities are “too small and ineffectual” to cause much harm, “if these activities were to scale, the risks could be substantial, and any benefits unclear.”

“They are deeply damaging the legitimacy of solar geoengineering as a field,” said Talati.

Even Iseman doesn’t really think he should be allowed to send air pollution-filled balloons into the stratosphere.

“Some internationally-governed, equitably-represented [group] would be best to manage this,” said Iseman. “Get ready for far more extreme actors than me. That somehow I’m the only person that will do this is not likely, to put it mildly.”

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  1. jefemt

    The Ego, nerve, entitlement of these types of folks drives me bonkers.
    Still waiting on my Royaty check from Musk for his taking my share of lower earth orbit space for his personal gains.

    Virtuous AynRandian Industrialists? Trickle down? Virtuous capitalism invisibly improving everything? Horse apples.

    See video: A**holes- A Theory.

    Finally, what impact are the two recent large volcanic eruptions having/ going to have– Tuuva and Kamchatka?

  2. Henry Moon Pie

    ““There’s a very small group of people, mostly from the US and from the UK – we call them the ‘geo clique’ – who have been pushing this for probably almost two decades now, [but] the broad consensus is to stop this research” she said. “Just because we’re desperate doesn’t mean that a bad idea is suddenly a good idea.”

    I’ve seen this interaction. In a naive moment, I joined the program committee for this alumni organization. One meeting included a French academic who raised this issue since Harvard is among the biggest promoters of shooting sulfur in the sky every two years. She described her European colleagues, especially Harvard alums, as being alarmed by this technology and Harvard’s role in pushing it. Our chairperson was quite anxious to move the discussion to another topic.

  3. notabanker

    “Stratospheric aerosol [injection] is the technique that has the most potential to allow us to effectively produce cooling at the global scale at some kind of affordable price point,” said Chris Field, a climate change researcher at Stanford University and a science advisor for the Climate Overshoot Commission.

    It’s all about the ROI. We are going to profit our way out of this.

    1. zagonostra

      Stratospheric aerosol [injection] is and has been going on for a long time. I’ve made it a point to take pictures of the sky almost every day, the trails you see do not correspond with commercial airplane traffic. People are so incurious as to what is going on directly above them it amazes me.

      The sky during Easter and the day after in Central PA were gloriously blue and clear, yesterday I lost track of how many planes I saw crisscross the sky, turning it into a dull silvery gray. I don’t know what is happening to the sky, I can only say empirically/factually/observably there is man-made activity happening that if nothing else has diminished the beauty of a blue sky, and is, more than likely, polluting both sky and ground with some type of particles/materials.

      1. some guy

        Some people have been noting this for years. They have given it the name ” chemtrails”. I too have seen the occasional appearance of a horizon-to-horizon appearance of parallel straight lines in the sky, too long lasting to be classic water-vapor-condensation contrails.

        But noting the existence of these things has gotten one called “konspirisi theerist” so fewer people maybe admit to seeing them than actually see them.

  4. Altandmain

    I’ll be blunt. It’s not going to be a popular opinion. We’re not going to have a choice but to geoengineer. There isn’t going to be a major carbon reduction that will make the targets to limit the amount of warming to 2 degrees.

    The choice is a major decline with geoengineering and risking side effects or risking a total collapse.

    As the full extent of the challenges global warming become apparent over the next few decades, it won’t be a small number of people who are doing these small scale geoengineering experiments, but entire nation’s governments and there will be massive public demand for geoengineering. It may happen after a future, more devastating, Hurricane Katrina like disaster.

    At this point, it’s better to determine what technologies work, what doesn’t, what the side effects are, and what side effects we are willing to love with. That means spending an enormous amount of money in research now.

    1. timbers

      My reply to we aren’t going to have a choice geoengineer… yes there is a choice, and it’s death. Our population probably must and will decline. If not, we will go extinct.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        The more drastic the drop in consumption by the world’s richest 10%, who are responsible for 50% of emissions, the less need for population reduction and less desperation to resort to “destroy the Earth to save it” tactics.

        Ending overconsumption would be the safest option with the least drastic impacts on humans. It’s people acting selfishly and short-sightedly. Even worse in my opinion, is that a lot of this overconsumption is not even hedonistic but is pure conspicuous consumption. How much carbon is emitted every year by people taking trips so they can brag about where they’ve been for the next six months? And often times, it’s not conspicuous consumption but conspicuous wasting, an attitude that it’s not cool to pick up clothes or change the oil because you can always get a new one.

        This is not a case where 8 billion is a death sentence for humanity. Where the death comes in the fevered dream to–what is the preferred pitch phrase these days?–“live your best life.” Everyone jumps on their hamster wheel to “pursue” the ‘Murcan dream, and those hamster wheels are spewing carbon like crazy.

        Re-arranging life so that people hang pretty close to home, work 20-30 hours a week, mostly from or at home, not having a car…If Americans and other WEIRD citizens would make those changes, we wouldn’t have to shoot sulfur in the sky or decree mass sterilizations.

      2. clarky90

        King Canute set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the incoming tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes.

        Yet, continuing to rise as usual, the tide dashed over his feet and legs, without respect to his royal person.

        Then the king leapt backwards, saying:

        ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey, by eternal laws.'”

        He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again…… Proclaiming, …“To the honour of God, the Almighty King!”……..

        1. NarrativeMassagerInc

          And the opposite of humility and wisdom:

          “Get ready for far more extreme actors than me. That somehow I’m the only person that will do this is not likely, to put it mildly.”

          We live in an age of supreme arrogance. We’re all just so sure the world will end if we don’t “do something”! And “doing something” may usher in the very thing we’re so worried about. Humanity is mostly a clown show and the Earth didn’t worry as long as we didn’t have the power to truly ruin things. Now she’s worried. Delusions of glory of being the man who saved the world…

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I’m inclined to agree. The one certainty is that someone, somewhere will try it, and the rest of us won’t get a say. It may be the Chinese (they are already carrying out experiments in the Himalaya), or it may be some other country or random billionaire who decides to do something like seeding the ocean with iron filings (theoretically, this could work, but small scale experiments haven’t worked). So we may as well get as much data as possible now before its done.

      My own favoured method as so far as I can see it involves the least risk is using olivine as a soil enhancer or just dusting it over the oceans. Olivine can both absorb CO2 and reduce acidification in soil and water so it potentially has multiple benefits. However, there isn’t enough easily accessible to do more than delay warming for a few decades at most.

    3. jefemt

      Sounds like, “Ministry for the Future”, Kim Stanley Robinson.

      If you like to run multiple titles contemporaneously, add on, “The World without Us”, Alan Weisman

      Certainly it all seems to me to be a prime case of Pride Goethe before The Fall.

      I own enough mechanical devices to have come to believe that humans- fallible- human designs beget failure.

    4. NoFreeWill

      maybe collapse is a better alternative if it prevents our entire species from going extinct lol

    5. Mark Gisleson

      I can’t help but see a Clintonian future in which trillions have been spent ineffectually on elaborate geoengineering strategies all staffed by nepo babies and crony hires with corners cut on actual materials while using foreign non-union labor who of course will be to blame when the corner cutting suddenly accelerates climate change due to human error from not carefully proofing AI-generated blueprints (hey, if AI says to put a window in the rocket fuselage…).

      There is more to this prediction but the rest is rather negative.

      1. Mark Gisleson

        OK, just a little more.

        Pollution will worsen as the ultrarich send thousands of rockets worth of workers and materials to the moon to build stately pleasure domes. Then thousands more rockets for the brave and very very rich new pioneers who will valiantly explore new malls and low-grav tennis courts.

        Rocket pollution will save the earth. The resulting smog cuts the sun’s harmful rays and life on earth gradually returns to normal. The biggest win is that the rich quickly lose their earth muscles and cannot return. Rocket flight is banned and suddenly everyone on the moon gets to be a farmer for real because I’m a sucker for Disney endings : )

    6. Cocomaan

      We won’t have a choice I agree. But I’m not interested in geoengineering until someone can tell me with certainty when it’s going to rain in the next two weeeks.

    7. Walter

      Altandmain: I think you’re right. I believe we will fool around until we get the word that tomorrow we will die, and then we’ll go for some kind of geo-engineering Hail Mary, with insufficient research to guide us, with a far greater need for cooling than we have now, and with very little time left to make it work. We’ll roll the dice one time, and we’ll see what happens. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do or the wrong thing, and I don’t think anybody else knows either.

    8. c_heale

      I disagree completely. The choice is stopping neo-liberalism and wars or risking a major collapse.

      We need to live in a more co-operative way.

    9. NarrativeMassagerInc

      I think its a very popular opinion. I just don’t think its particularly accurate. Scientists have gotten so far out in front of their skis, as Yves likes to say, with their predictions and prognostications that its true we’re living in an age of scientism, not science. Or science as the new religion we can all get behind ‘cuz “facts”. Science is just not good at predicting future states of complex systems and likely never will be. Its like everyone read the premise to Asimov’s ridiculous Foundation series and thought “I can do that”. It amazes me that the people who really built modernity never took on the mantle of seers and prophets the way our current set, who have done very little, do everyday.

  5. voislav

    The direction of the climate debate has me convinced that there is zero intention on behalf of the elites to address it. They are creating a world in which they can relocate to whatever locale suits them best if there is downfall from climate change. Even in a rich country like the US something like 80% of people emit below their per capita limit for 1.5 C warming. So it’s really the top 10-20% that need to reduce their emissions down to the level of the rest of the population, not the country as a whole.

    In the meantime talk of geoengineering is needed to justify lack of urgency and action. Most of these solutions are poorly conceived, widely expensive and completely untested. A few that may work, like the one Yves mentions, are not seriously considered because the whole point of the grift is to not provide realistic solutions.

  6. Verifyfirst

    Not to burst anyone’s bubble but it’s too late. Within 20 years we will have altered the structure of the atmosphere irrevocably. And the changes over those 20 years are already baked in, via feedback loops etc. Best to consider what artifacts to leave to be discovered by whatever life forms come along in the probably far future.

    1. Antifa

      Indeed. There are nine tipping points of earth’s climate that we are pushing beyond their usual ranges. They interact — crossing one or several makes crossing others inevitable. Link

    2. Keith Newman

      @Verifyfirst, 11:10am
      I used to follow the issue very closely and agree it is probably too late to do much to maintain a climate agreeable for large mammals of which humans are one. Perhaps Yves’ idea of painting roads, etc., with a reflective substance might help to some extent. Who knows?
      Basically it is a political issue. Where are the millions of people in the streets causing chaos and demanding action, especially young people? In the 1970s tens of thousands of Japanese students and farmers battled the police for years to prevent the building of Narita airport near Tokyo for environmental reasons. They were admired the world over by young people. ( Today almost all the young people I know (13 to 35 yrs old) are political zombies.
      It is sad for large mammals, other than humans, since they are not the cause of the problem. But small mammals and various other terrestrial life-forms will continue well into the future. I have ferns growing in my backyard that have been around 100 million years. Our species has only existed some 200,000 years – barely a flash in the pan. When we are gone the dominant species on Earth (bacteria) will not even notice our absence.
      With respect to leaving artifacts for future creatures to find, it’ll be a very long time indeed. They had better be very durable. It took something like 60 million years for great apes (our species) to develop from the small rodents that existed at the time the dinosaurs were wiped out by the meteor that hit Earth. Had the meteor missed, larger mammals would not have developed and humans would not be here today. So it seems to me the minimum time-frame is 60 million years, but it could be much longer, if ever, for there to be other creatures possessing intelligent self-awareness.

      1. Divadab

        Yes it’s a consolation that no matter our depredations the living planet will survive and re evolve in magnificent complexity.

        One quibble- our species has been around for more like 2 million years, plus ou moin. Take an axe-wielding erectus who cooks large animals he has killed with the fire he controls, give him a shave and a track suit and he wouldn’t be that out of place today. His brain size is within the modern human range – Neanderthals had bigger brains – and his physiognomy was pretty much like ours. I mean it only took a couple hundred thousand years for erectus to spread clear to China and Java and thrive. And those ancient land races that evolved over time survive in modern human genetics. Yes we are a new species but the artificial divisions made by anthropologists- creating a multitude of species from groups that were cross-fertile – is excessive.

        Anyway, humans are very adaptable, and even if the earth’s climate comes to include 300 kph winds scouring the surface, I’d bet on some human populations still sustaining themselves. Along with the cockroaches and rats.

  7. elkern

    I’m all for doing the basic science research to understand our planet – and its interactions with the rest of the Universe (mostly ray-tracing!) – but strongly against research focused on the engineering side of this.

    IMO, the weakest aspect of the argument(s) supporting AGW is the reliance on Models. We don’t – can’t – really have good enough models of the whole atmos/hydro/geo/bio-sphere yet, which is largely why talk of geo-engineering scares me. (I find it especially galling when some Tech Whiz [sic!] claims that The Models Are Wrong, but then pretends that he/we/”they” understand the Earth System well enough to avoid Unintended Consequences of whatever fantasy he is promoting as a way to mitigate the AGW which he says isn’t happening).

    Yes, we – Humanity – are stuck with the job of learning to manage our Planet. We ate the Apple, we own it all, deal with it… well and smartly. Won’t be easy; gonna take a lot of computer power and human imagination. But the biggest hurdle is reorganizing human societies to make it all possible, and we’re running way behind schedule on that.

    My favorite source for explaining why all these Magic Tech quick-fixes are BS: The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. There is no Voooom.

  8. Susan the other

    Any geo engineering should be a global/sovereign endeavor. Otherwise it will become another quasi public utility that is allowed to make a profit for “investors” but will in fact quickly go bankrupt because it is a massive undertaking. And the science isn’t really there. Big mistake to go forward with anything like this privately. And there is always Svensmark’s research that predicts we will soon be rotating into a region of the galaxy where we will be bombarded with more cosmic particles forming natural cloud cover. It might be better to do what the military has been experimenting with – just blowing water into the air to create fog over the oceans. Something directly cooling the oceans that can be easily controlled. We are walking a tightrope with the climate because we are overdue for the next glaciation and anything we make a mistake on could send us back to snowball earth. No?

  9. some guy

    If the ChinaGov on its own, or the ChinaGov and the IndiaGov together, decide to go ahead and geo-engineer, they will go ahead and geo-engineer. They may listen to the Western World debate about it for some laughter and comic relief along the way, but they are not going to delay their own geo-engineering projects while the West sorts out its opinions on the matter.

    As we starve and freeze and die,
    beneath a silver-yellow sky.

  10. Jeremy Grimm

    I have made this reference a few times in the past, but it seems most apt to addressing this post on geo-engineering: “Prof. Philip Mirowski keynote for ‘Life and Debt’ conference”
    It seems we have arrived at stage three of Mirowski’s analysis of the Global Elite’s exploits to maximize profits before the shit hits the fan — so to speak — consistent with their life philosophy: “I’ll be gone. You’ll be gone.”

    Before continuing — I can suggest an unintended ‘positive'[?] outcome of the push for geoengineering. The currently front running geoengineering approach to geoengineering — aerosols — is based on analyses done on the effects of even a ‘small’ scale Nuclear Winter. Perhaps … there might be some realization of the world threatening dangers of Nuclear War. It would be difficult to champion aerosol geoengineering without unwittingly certifying the predicted impacts of a Nuclear Winter resulting from even a ‘limited’ exchange of nuclear weapons. [Of course such optimism undermines the meanings of my moniker.]

    I believe there will be geoengineering efforts, both national and private, and they will be ineffective, and at best will worsen matters. Some people will make a lot of money and some will lose a lot of money, and the climate will continue in its transition to a new state.

    I believe we do indeed need to undertake some forms of geoengineering. The measures that Yves proposes seem most workable. They would be remarkably effective in helping the creature comforts of those individuals who apply them, although I doubt they would greatly impact climate change overall .. though their impact would be at least as effective the other geoengineering nostrums clambering for money. I do NOT believe Climate Change and the accompanying Climate Chaos will mean the end of Humankind or the complete destruction of Civilization or Society. However, there will be a great and indiscriminate culling of human lives unless there is a great change … a change which I seriously doubt may ever occur.

    Humankind stands at the brink of enormous discoveries and advances in Science, now smothered by the Neoliberal acquisition of Science and Learning. I hope enough will be preserved for those who survive our times to regain the present advances and bring them to fruition. [Again, I undermine my moniker.]

    My hope is that somehow, enough Science remains to collect and preserve the data needed to characterize
    the Climate Changes affecting the Earth. Geoengineering could become an important technology for the far distant future. But for the present, given the limited understanding of Climate Change that Humankind can claim, efforts toward geoengineering impress me as a most dangerous and curious effort to profit from widely spread and widely accepted gross ignorance. There are far too many complex and completely unknown feedbacks … and feedforwards, in the Earth’s climate systems for any but the most greed crazed fools to play with.

  11. some guy

    Since solar geo-engineering will be used as upper-class permission to maintain the current carbon skyflooding civilization, the other big effect of unreduced carbon skyflooding will be further increase in the level of ocean acidation and the eventual dieoff of all our most favorite ocean food fishes.

    That’s another reason to view solar geo-engineering as a clever decoy to lure people into time-wasting displacement behavior while the OverClasses prepare to go into Deep Bunker Hiding and Survival when the climate and the acid oceans develop in a direction not necessarily to their own personal class taste anymore.

    ” The Climate Situation has developed in a manner not entirely to our advantage. See ya. Bye. “

  12. rjs

    just pull the scrubbers off the coal plants and burn high sulfur coal; the cooling effect of the SO2 emissions will offset the warming effect of the CO2…

    1. some guy

      The SO2 emissions from ground level coal plants would not reach the tropopausal level where the “release sulfur” advocates would release their SO2. So it wouldn’t have that reflecto-cooling effect.

      ” Or am I wrong”? as Billo Reilly loves to ask.

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