Wednesday, January 14, 2009

geoengineering 'ethically unsound' says geoengineer

Last month I went to a Cafe Scientifique talk by Dr Alan Gadian. He's part of a team with Mike Smith at the University of Leeds and John Latham who are experimenting with cloud-seeding.

Their idea is that if you whoosh up great quantities of sea water into the air then the salt crystals will encourage clouds that reflect solar energy, thereby reducing the amount of heat trapped by greenhouse gases.

The big problem with this and other climate geoengineering projects is that they allow an escape route for the carbon emitters. Desperate to do anything other than reduce our energy consumption and attendant emissions, they fired off the decoys of climate denial, followed by carbon offsets and biofuels. Anything to distract us, to give us the hope that there'll be some swift, simple magic bullet.

NOT REDUCING CO2

The geoengineering schemes that reflect the sun have a very serious problem. They mean that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will keep rapidly increasing. This will have serious impacts on plantlife but seemingly more serious is the impact on the oceans. It will cause them to acidify, killing the coral reefs and making many species unable to properly form shells. This isn't taking out one or two species, this is hacking out a huge length of the food chain. The knock-on effects scarcely bear thinking about.

Dr Gadian said that the scheme, should it work, would require £1.5bn worth of whooshy boats. All things going well they'll make the desired sort of clouds, although the might make the wrong ones and actually dissolve the present level of reflective clouds and make the situation worse.

He told us that it's not that dangerous a plan because sometimes 'clouds are naturally like that'. Hmm, taking something that naturally occurs and increasing the amount of it in the atmosphere, that's not a problem is it? Can anyone say 'carbon dioxide?'



Dr Gadian says his scheme is less risky than other reflection schemes as if anything untoward is discovered it's rapidly switch-offable. All artificially-induced clouds should be gone within two weeks of the boats stopping their work.

The problem is that by then it may be too late. Not only are there the unforeseen side-effects and having to get someone who's invested over a billion dollars to admit they're wrong and take a massive loss squarely on the chin, but more importantly there's what hasn't happened. We haven't cut our emissions because we were banking on this scheme. To stop making the clouds is to allow more sun in and let all the emissions from the time when we chose the scheme to the swithc-off date heat the climate.

Even if it doesn't affect weather in the least and even if altered cloud cover has no adverse ecological effects, this will be used to delay real action. It means if it doesn't work well enough we're stuffed. It means we permit - we actually choose to cause - all the other effects of spiralling quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere.

THE BREVITY LIE

Dr Gadian said it mightn't be that much really, because that his scheme mightn't be long-term, it could be 'just for ten years or so until we change'.

This is the central lie of the geoengineering lobby. They cannot argue that their ideas are safer or more effective than carbon cuts, so they argue that they're just a stopgap until we make such cuts.

The time it takes to develop, test for effectiveness and the very high degree of safety, and then scale up and deploy any of their schemes is at least as long as it'd take to make serious carbon cuts. And who do we think would invest billions of dollars in a scheme that's trying to be as short term as possible?

The investors will want something back for their money, and the benefits of any climate geoengineering will almost certainly be sold as 'carbon credits' to the polluting industries and nations. It will not be done in tandem with emissions cuts but instead of them. Geoengineering will not be a tool of mitigation but of exacerbation.

THOSE WHO WANT IT DON'T KNOW ENOUGH

Dr Gadian's grasp of the threat from carbon emissions was graphically illustrated by the astonishing declaration that 'my biggest fear is that we will run out of fossil fuels in two or three centuries'.

If we get to the point of actually running out of fossil fuels as opposed to abandoning them then the mere running out will not be our biggest problem.

If it gets to that stage then, given the ecological devastation and our inability to wean ourselves off fossil energy, it would truly be a case of 'would the last species on earth please turn out the lights?'.

Dr Gadian plainly said that humanity will burn all the fossils it can, so geoengineering is necessary to mitigate this inevitability. Like him, I'm old enough to remember another certainty of global politics, the inevitable nuclear war with the Soviet bloc. Those who treat these things as certainties make them more likely, when in fact they are avoidable.

To move ahead with geoengineering is to divert efforts from elsewhere, it is giving up on the pressure, education and resistance that can still prevent those emissions. The geoengineers' main purpose is to be a tool of those who wish to continue burning fossil fuels.

WHAT ABOUT CHINA?

He fell back on the standard fossil-enthusiast's argument that 'we can't tell China and India that they can't have our standard of living'.

This is bollocks. Firstly, they can sit there saying 'why should we cut back when you won't?'. Everyone is using everyone else's inaction as an excuse for their own.

As a medium sized industrialised country nobody is better placed than the UK to be the leading light in showing that a swift transition to a low-carbon economy is possible. And as the nation with the greatest historical responsibility for carbon emissions, we are also the most morally obliged to be the leader in the solutions.

And all this is before we start to point out that Chinese per-capita emissions are half of ours, and that figure, in turn, is before we take into account that around a third of their carbon emissions are from manufacturing goods for export. Much of 'their' emissions are just us outsourcing ours.

There is no need for China and India to unswervingly follow our path, instead they can leapfrog the high-emitting decades and go straight into what the 21st century should look like.

THOSE WHO KNOW ENOUGH DON'T WANT IT

Dr Gadian says Met Office disapprove of the cloud-seeding plan. He sarcastically suggested that it was because the idea came out of a university and it threatens their supremacy. Nothing to do with the fact that the Met Office do have a large and leading role in concern about climate change as opposed to a scientist who readily admitted that he isn't motivated by concern for the climate but is primarily concerned with finding out how clouds are formed.

The issue is too important to let such head-in-the-sands be charged with solutions, and certainly too important to let such infantile catty attitudes have any part in dismissing as august a voice as the Met Office.

That this scheme will undoubtedly be used to distract us from cutting carbon emissions; that it will not be a short-term precursor to responsible action but an excuse for long-term emissions; that it will allow carbon emissions to assault marine biodiversity that could lead to major extinction events and threaten food supplies for many species and peoples; that they haven't even asked people in Chile where they're doing their experiments what they think; all these things make it an outrage and something to be opposed as strongly as we oppose new runways or coal power stations.

His final words on the subject haunt me. After I named those reasons why the scheme is so wrong Dr Gadian said, 'I agree, it's ethically unsound'.

The major crime of our culture is that we know what we're doing but we do it anyway.

16 comments:

Grinnyguy said...

Wow that's incredible. Do you think this debate really changes people's attitude to emissions? I can't think of many people or companies who would change their behaviour based on whether cloud seeding is being put forward as an untested idea.

It's interesting though. Do you have any suggestions where I can find out more about cloud seeding and the consequences?

merrick said...

Grinyguy,

for more info on cloud seeding google the terms with the names given above (Alan Gadian, Mike Smith and, especially, John Latham).

DW Schnare said...

The failure in your argument is that we have already pass 450 ppm CO2eq, and, using the logics of the IPCC, it is too late to prevent devestating climate change unless we use geoengineering as a stop-gap measure. Further, those doing serious work on geoengineering are the first to explain that efforts to reduce carbon emissions should not be slowed by the need for a stop-gap measure.

The great moral hazard we face is not geoengineering but the hubris to think we as a human civilization have the will and the organization to reduce carbon emissions to levels necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. It is too late to do so, and to think that is a realistic approach is the moral hazard that will condemn us to catastrophe.

David Schnare, Esq. Ph.D.
Director
Center for Environmental Stewardship
Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy

Dan Wylie-Sears said...

Wouldn't it be nice if this were true. That would mean that there would be a geoengineering lobby. There would be ads in favor of (and against) geoengineering all over the subway stations. You would hear about it on tv all the time. There would be frequent op-ed pieces in the news.

And best of all, the big money would finally have gotten something right for once.

But it was never going to be that easy. Geoengineering doesn't make the cultural left happy, because it doesn't fit well with themes of granola and Gaia. It doesn't make the corporate right happy, because it involves spending money to deal with some of the problems our way of life causes.

The only support for geoengineering comes from the facts: we've probably already put enough CO2 into the atmosphere to have severe consequences, and even with optimistic assumptions about renewable energy we're going to put a bunch more in before we complete the transition.

merrick said...

DW Schnare, The failure in your argument is one I've already dealt with in the post; 'we use geoengineering as a stop-gap'.

The point that I make above (and in my article that is linked from the piece) is that it will not - cannot - be used as a stop-gap. Please re-read the section subheaded 'THE BREVITY LIE'.

The time to develop a technology, scale it up, test it to the incredibly high degree of safety we need before embarking on such a massive an irrevocable course of action and then roll it out is at least as long as it'd take to make the deep emission cuts that the 'stop-gap' is supposedly buying us time for.

More, the geoengineering will, in all likelihood, be used as an alternative to deep cuts; those investing will be highly likely to sell the savings as carbon credits. As such, it won't make a big enough difference to avert serious climate change, merely - at best - slow it a little while we pump out even more CO2 that commits us to continuing with the geoengineering schemes no matter how monstrous the unforeseen side-effects.

And none of this deals with the fact that increasing the albedo means we suffer the other effects of high CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

"It is too late to do so, and to think that is a realistic approach is the moral hazard that will condemn us to catastrophe."

As I said above, to take it as a given and invest in these decoys is part of what will condemn us to catastrophe.

merrick said...

Dan Wylie-Sears, I'm not going to rise to your snidy remark about anyone opposing geoengineering doing so from a position of 'granola and Gaia', merely point out that if you wish to be taken seriously then it would be wise to refrain from cheap stereotypes and stick to the facts and real arguments.

By 'lobby' I didn't mean 'employing lobbyists'. I meant there being a conjoined effort of those who advocate something.

"we've probably already put enough CO2 into the atmosphere to have severe consequences, and even with optimistic assumptions about renewable energy we're going to put a bunch more in before we complete the transition"

I think you're absolutely right there.

The problem is that geoengineering is likely to have serious unforeseen ill effects, will distract from making emissions cuts in future and thereby worsen the situation, and cannot be on-stream in time to avoid many of the tipping points. Even if it does work.

Dan Whaley said...

merrick,

your reasoning seems to be that deep cuts in emissions will address the threat of severe climate change. i.e. because it will take as long to test geoengineering as to make deep cuts, we might as well do the latter--because that actually addresses the problem, rather than the symptom. do i have you correctly?

however, you seem to ignore the possibility that by the time we address emissions we will have 400-450ppm (godwilling it's that little) CO2 in the atmosphere. this is not simple resignation to our fate, rather the precise scenarios the IPCC has laid out for various programs of 50% or 80% emissions reductions programs.

in fact, these are based on the doubling path that we were previously on. since then, the Global Carbon Project has just released that we are on a tripling track for CO2--upending those previous forecasts. Now it is clear that the global economic slowdown will take the edge off that reality, but by how much? And how will the changing mix of emissions intensive fossil fuels that we are headed towards skew it even further before we can make the transition to clean sources?

and yet, based on the impacts we are *already* seeing, even the 380 we have may be taking us towards extraordinary hazards. hansen is now out with a paper calling 350 the "safe" level. who knows if he's right-- but that number happens to be *lower* than where we are now.

thus, would it not be prudent to understand the potential of alternative techniques to either remove carbon or deflect solar radiation in the eventuality that we might be headed to quite extreme climate warming?

i disagree with gadian if he indeed said we'll only need it for 10-20 years, or until emissions are under control. clearly if we need it at all, it will likely be for much longer, and for quite a bit after emissions are under control. how long will it take us to get back to 350? and-- by the way, how are we going to go backwards in any kind of reasonable time frame unless we don't look at ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere?

i disagree that humanity will burn all the fossil fuels it can. i actually believe that we will wean ourselves of fossil fuels-- we must, otherwise we are doomed.

but i also disagree with your stipulation (unsubstantiated) that "the geoengineering will, in all likelihood, be used as an alternative to deep cuts". can you please provide one shred of evidence to support that statement?

clearly other forms of mitigation, such as forestry are not bartered in the climate negotiations in return for easing of long-term CO2 targets. i see no reason why geoengineering would. certainly, outliers like newt gingrich in the US are examples of individuals who would make those arguments. but to argue that those arguments would actually carry the day in a global negotiation is a statement which i cannot find evidence for-- and yet which you are arguing is likely enough that we should not explore these options as a result.

also, you clearly do not understand the nature of cap and trade-- regardless of whether you think it is an effective framework for managing emissions reductions, which is a separate question-- even as implemented now, additional sources of carbon reductions do not expand the pool of allowances issued to emitters. further, offsets by design can only account for at most 15% of total obligations-- and these levels are negotiated at the outset at the same time that the long term targets are. it is expected and desired that offsets are utilized because they allows reductions in uncapped sectors to be financed so that overall atmospheric targets are achieved more rapidly for the same overall economic pain. sources of mitigation are negotiated at the SAME TIME that sources of offset potential are considered-- and the economic and technologic realities of what we can achieve are the final inputs into the overall end targets.

it appears you are quite uninformed about the carbon world--save a brooding fear that it cannot achieve its aims. you take aim at the brokers and traders that are profiting from it, but you cannot frame your arguments in the context of present-day or historical examples of how similar programs have or haven't worked, and why. do you understand the difference between voluntary offsets and regulated ones? would you know a quality project from a flawed one, and what steps have been taken in the last 2 years to correct these issues? are you aware of the new steps towards transparency in allocating allowances that will go into effect in the post kyoto framework?

"geoengineering is likely to have serious unforeseen ill effects?" another stipulation. you essentially argue against any of the progress in science over the last 20-30 years. you argue against the comparison to naturally or artificially occuring analogues that exist already. are you aware of the work that was done to understand the impact of jet contrails on overall temperature during 9-11 when flights were halted in the US? i.e. that we are already modifying our atmosphere in this way? are you aware of the studies that show what the unintended consequences of large-scale deployment of wind farms will have on removing kinetic energy from surface winds?

i am not arguing against wind energy-- only that all domains are complex, and only a deep analysis can tell us what the correct path is. you essentially argue against beginning down the path of understanding the full portfolio of options-- and whether any of these additional measures should ultimately be considered or not.

instead of asking questions yourself to increase your level of understanding, it appears that you argue that no questions should be asked by anyone for fear of the unintended consequences that the asking might bring.

this is perhaps the essence of the luddite world view. technology is bad, man is flawed, options create chaos, and the only way to enforce objectives is to eliminate alternatives.

people were worried about the dangers of recombinant dna testing in the early 70s. however, the nobel prize winner that invented the technique, paul berg, convened a remarkable conference-- the asilomar conference-- to deal with those concerned, which became the ethical model that the industry still operates on. perhaps the same thing is needed here.

get informed.

merrick said...

how are we going to go backwards in any kind of reasonable time frame unless we don't look at ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere?

I'm not saying we shouldn't look at any ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. I'm saying that most large-scale geoengineering projects run too great a risk.

I'm also very keen to draw the distinction between schemes that remove CO2 from the atmosphere and those like Dr Gadian's that do not.

The former may well have unintended dire consequences. The latter - the albedo enhancement schemes - almost certainly will.

i also disagree with your stipulation (unsubstantiated) that "the geoengineering will, in all likelihood, be used as an alternative to deep cuts". can you please provide one shred of evidence to support that statement?

Follow the money. Why do you think venture capitalists are sniffing round geoengineering? Who will pay for such huge projects? Even Gadian's - one of the cheapest proposed - is in the billions.

Those investing will want to maximise returns. Thus, they will surely want the project to run as long as possible, and they will want to sell the savings as carbon credits. Not doing so is tantamount to throwing money away, and in a world where corporations have a legal duty to maximise shareholder returns above all other considerations, they're going to go for all the money they can get.

I find it somewhat ironic that the pro-cuts anti-geo position is characterised as 'unrealistic' by people who say the investors will not maximise their profits and will switch off their money-spinner in ten years.

to argue that those arguments would actually carry the day in a global negotiation is a statement which i cannot find evidence for

The Clean Development Mechanism was put into Kyoto as a device to let major emitters avoid making cuts, and it has been blatantly fraudulent. Rather than make a cut, we can pay someone else to avoid emissions. It is in the interest of both parties to exaggerate the amount of emissions involved.

As Larry Lohmann reported, the Asian Development Bank admitted that its first response to the CDM was to go through their existing portfolio to find already existing projects that could qualify for carbon credits.

It is used as an either/or. The science - as the emitters well know - says we need to be doing cuts in both places.

I cannot see why the same people wouldn't see geoengineering the same way, an either/or.

Yet, by the same token, we need to be removing CO2 from the atmosphere *and* making deep cuts.

But the emitting industries are highly profitable, and they will use any way they can to continue with their activities.

Carbon trading is a rising star. The emitters love it. Expect them to be putting money into geoengineering.

sources of mitigation are negotiated at the SAME TIME that sources of offset potential are considered

And these things come up for renegotiation. We can surely expect that any agreement coming out of Copenhagen next year will have different elements to Kyoto.

"geoengineering is likely to have serious unforeseen ill effects?" another stipulation. you essentially argue against any of the progress in science over the last 20-30 years.

You were being so articulate and civil, then you go and say nonsense like that. As someone clearly literate and intelligent, you don't really think I am saying there has been no scientific progress in 30 years, that 'technology is bad, man is flawed, options create chaos'. You're just being insulting.

It doesn't help your case, nor the ability of the discussion to get closer to truth. I'm sure you're smart enough to discuss something without recourse to that.

But, back to the point, I'm a little amused that you characterise those who oppose Gadian's project - such as the Met Office - as luddites.

I certainly believe that most geoengineering schemes run the serious risk of unforeseen ill effects, for reasons already stated; they require work on a colossal scale, very quickly, with very short-term and smaller-scale testing. Doesn't that worry you at all?

The reason why we should be so precautionary is that we will be committed to the schemes no matter what their effects. If, as seems plain, they are not done in tandem with deep cuts then to stop the scheme would be to allow the full impact of the emissions we've released in the meantime.

So, even thought the impacts may be severe, we and many generations to come (even though they didn't even burn the fossils) will have to continue.

From a moral perspective, we have no right to inflict that. From a scientific perspective it's absurd when there are safer, quicker, more effective methods of reducing CO2 at our disposal.

merrick said...

One further comment on your implication that opposition to geoengineering is driven by "the luddite world view. technology is bad, man is flawed, options create chaos, and the only way to enforce objectives is to eliminate alternatives."

It reminded me of a point made in Corporate Watch's Technofixes report:

The debate around technological solutions ranges wider than questioning the risks and benefits of a particular device or technological system. Some of the issues are general, others are specific to technologies proposed as solutions to climate change.

In part, the issue of technology is a question of values, in which the dominant position is currently held by those who might broadly be described as technological optimists.

The ‘optimist’ position maintains that:

- The general direction of technological development is right and positive (hence ‘technological progress’).

- The drawbacks and risks of technologies are outweighed by the benefits further technological
progress will compensate those seen to have lost out in earlier stages of the process and will rectify the problems caused by existing technologies.

- Technology can solve social problems.

The alternative to the optimist position could be called ‘technological scepticism’. This approach argues that:

- The balance between costs and benefits to society from a given technology is often neutral or negative.

- The supposed inevitability and rightness of technological progress is a myth.

- Social problems require social solutions. The belief that technological solutions can be found to social problems, and to problems caused by earlier technological development, is a dangerous illusion which fails to address the political and social causes of those problems.

Dan Whaley said...

I'm not saying we shouldn't look at any ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. I'm saying that most large-scale geoengineering projects run too great a risk.

1- I think you need to define geoengineering. It is ambiguous in which way you mean it above? Perhaps you should say ACR or SRM... Atmospheric Carbon Removal or Solar Radiation Mangagement. These are at least terms that the community is familiar with.

2- You have a real fondness for making definitive statements, but you lack detail. WHY do you think geoengineering projects run too great a risk? And, do you understand that what most credible scientists in this field are asking is to do research to understand the risks? You are in a sense saying you understand something that they themselves do not. Can you explain this?

3- Pointing to acidification as a dire consequence of albedo enhancement is frankly a discredited argument. What you are asserting is that it will be used as an alternative to cutting emissions. But you haven't offered evidence for that.

4- "Follow the money?" Does the fact that people want to profit off an activity immediately discredit it? Are solar cells or internet services discredited because VCs have invested in them? Please take your time and offer real, thoughtful arguments, not this fluff.

Companies being paid for doing environmental restoration of wetlands or cleaning up toxic spills probably would like getting paid to perform these services indefinitely as well-- does that mean it happens? Do the investors in these companies not "turn off their money-spinners?" It appears to me that you've never actually had the responsibility for running a business before. You seem to have a bizarre notion that businesses can simply be set loose like wind-up toys to rack up crazy profits for their greedy investors regardless of whether there is an ongoing demand for their services.

The CDM's purpose was to finance cuts in countries that were unwilling to agree to cuts. You cite a 2006 story about one person at ADB saying that their first reaction was to look through their portfolio for things that they were already doing (which would fail additionality) as a way of discrediting the field?

So-- how many of those projects made it past the CDM Executive Board? What is the current average internal rate of return (IRR) of CDM projects implemented-- the key test of financial additionality?


It is used as an either/or. The science - as the emitters well know - says we need to be doing cuts in both places.


Yes-- we need to be making cuts in both places. The problem has been getting the developing nations to agree to cuts. Hopefully the US will step to the table this year and we can make some real progress-- but to use that as an argument that it is an either/or is completely unsubstantiated.

I cannot see why the same people wouldn't see geoengineering the same way, an either/or.

You essentially argue that policy doesn't work, and because of this we shouldn't allow geoengineering. Yours is a message of doom-- we will never figure out how to enforce a regulatory framework, be it cap-and-trade or otherwise-- and therefore we shouldn't pursue or even research these options.

And these things come up for renegotiation. We can surely expect that any agreement coming out of Copenhagen next year will have different elements to Kyoto.

I most certainly hope that Copenhagen has stricter and more comprehensive elements than Kyoto

I certainly believe that most geoengineering schemes run the serious risk of unforeseen ill effects, for reasons already stated; they require work on a colossal scale, very quickly, with very short-term and smaller-scale testing. Doesn't that worry you at all?

Two of the primary geoengineering techniques, OIF and Stratospheric Aerosols mimic natural events that have happened globally at much larger scales previously. Jet contrails are essentially an uncontrolled cloud seeding experiment that has been running for 50 years globally without any
research or control. So-- I think that if we try these mechanisms purposefully at small scales and observe the results, then scale up a bit and observe the results over 5-10 years, we can learn a tremendous amount, particularly in combination with the new generation of GCMs.

I think it is worth doing this research.

Again, you argue:

From a scientific perspective it's absurd when there are safer, quicker, more effective methods of reducing CO2 at our disposal.

It appears that you accept 450ppm or 500ppm (which it appears we are heading for) as safe levels of CO2. I disagree.

The balance between costs and benefits to society from a given technology is often neutral or negative.

What about "sometimes or often positive?"

Is the internet a positive or negative technology? You seem to be using it. Has medical progress through technology been positive or negative? Do you drive a car or a buggy? Do you talk on a cellphone, a landline, or do you prefer the post?

I am not saying that all progress is positive. There are certainly negatives-- large environmental ones for instance-- to all the "progress" we've made. However, it is the last line that I object to the most:

Social problems require social solutions. The belief that technological solutions can be found to social problems, and to problems caused by earlier technological development, is a dangerous illusion which fails to address the political and social causes of those problems.

Is CO2 a social problem? Well, it is caused by a society that is engaging in too much consumption of fossil fuels. But does that make it a "social" problem. No it makes it a problem of technology infrastructure-- an outdated one that needs to be replaced. Unless I am mistaken, it is *only* technology which will solve this problem. Those deep cuts in emissions will *only* come in a world of 6 billion people if we deploy solar cells, thermal solar plants, wind farms, biofuels, geothermal technologies, ocean power and other techniques to convert our current infrastructure over to a clean one. So-- aren't you arguing for more technology?

Dan Whaley said...

By now, I'm sure you've seen this news:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/science/earth/27carbon.html?_r=1&ref=us&pagewanted=print

Emissions Cut Won’t Bring Quick Relief, Scientists Say
By CORNELIA DEAN
Many people who worry about global warming hope that once emissions of heat-trapping gases decline, the problems they cause will quickly begin to abate.

Now researchers are saying that such hope is ill-founded, at least with regard to carbon dioxide.

Because of the way carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere and in the oceans, and the way the atmosphere and the oceans interact, patterns that are established at peak levels will produce problems like “inexorable sea level rise” and Dust-Bowl-like droughts for at least a thousand years, the researchers are reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“That peak would be the minimum you would be locking yourself into,” said Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who led the work.

The researchers describe what will happen if the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide — the principal heat-trapping gas emission — reaches 450 to 600 parts per million, up from about 385 p.p.m. today. Most climate researchers consider 450 p.p.m. virtually inevitable and 600 p.p.m. difficult to avoid by midcentury if the use of fossil fuels continues at anything like its present rate.

At 450 p.p.m., the researchers say, rising seas will threaten many coastal areas, and Southern Europe, North Africa, the Southwestern United States and Western Australia could expect 10 percent less rainfall.

“Ten percent may not seem like a high number,” Dr. Solomon said Monday in a telephone news conference, “but it is the kind of number that has been seen in major droughts in the past, like the Dust Bowl.”

At 600 p.p.m., there might be perhaps 15 percent less rain, she said.

In 1850, atmospheric carbon dioxide was roughly 280 p.p.m., a level scientists say had not been exceeded in at least the previous 800,000 years.

In their paper, Dr. Solomon and her colleagues say they confined their estimates to known data and effects. For example, they based their sea level estimates largely on the expansion of seawater as it warms, a relatively straightforward calculation, rather than including the contributions of glacial runoff or melting inland ice sheets — more difficult to predict but potentially far greater contributors to sea level rise.

The new work dealt only with the effects of carbon dioxide, which is responsible for about half of greenhouse warming. Gases like chlorofluorocarbons and methane, along with soot and other pollutants, contribute to the rest. These substances are far less persistent in the atmosphere; if these emissions drop, their effects will decline relatively fast.

Michael Oppenheimer, a geoscientist at Princeton, praised the report in an e-mail message as a “remarkably clear and direct” discussion of whether it would be possible to temporarily exceed a level like 450 p.p.m. and then reduce emissions in time to avoid catastrophic events like the collapse of a major inland ice sheet.

Dr. Oppenheimer said the new analysis showed that “some dangerous consequences could be triggered and persist for a long, long time, even if emissions were cut radically.”

“Policy makers need to understand,” he continued, “that in some ways once we are over the cliff, there’s nothing to stop the fall.”

Dr. Solomon said it would be wrong to view the report as evidence that it was already too late to do much good by reducing carbon emissions. “You have to think of this stuff as being more like nuclear waste than acid rain,” she said.

Acid rain began to abate when pollution contributing to it was limited. But just as nuclear waste remains radioactive for a long time, the effects of carbon dioxide persist.

“So if we slow it down,” she said, “we have more time to find solutions.”

For example, engineers may one day discover ways to remove the gas from the atmosphere. But “those solutions are not now in hand,” Dr. Solomon said. “They are quite speculative.”

merrick said...

I think you need to define geoengineering

Large-scale manipulation of the planetary systems to achieve a stated goal.

Perhaps you should say ACR or SRM... Atmospheric Carbon Removal or Solar Radiation Mangagement.

I really don't need to use jargon and acronyms when I've already made clear my position without them.

Most of the concerns apply to carbon removal or albedo enhancement. However, albedo enhancement seems clearly the more dubious of the ideas as it fails to address the many other problems associated with dramatically increasing the CO2 content of the atmosphere.

WHY do you think geoengineering projects run too great a risk?

Dan, I'm presuming you've actually read the stuff I've said and linked to above.

Still, the essence is this: it intervenes - quickly, massively and irrevocably - in systems that we and many other species are utterly dependent on. As such, we need to be sure of any unwanted effects. Yet there is no way of doing that in the timeframe we're both talking about. And if this stuff goes wrong, we're all fucked.

Some ideas, such as some device for filtering CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it in geological formations, appear less dangerous than others, such as firing sulphates in the stratosphere to increase cloud cover.

But even at this seemingly safer end of the spectrum, who monitors the sequestration? How would we spot any leakage, how would we plug them and who would be liable for the clean up and damages?

Others cannot be known; dumping iron in the oceans to encourage plankton growth which takes carbon from the atmosphere and sequesters it at the bottom of the ocean when it dies. How much is released back over, say, a century? What about the increases in methane and nitrous oxide, more potent greenhouse gases, associated with it? How big and how rapid will they be?

More to the point, how can we measure and predict safely for a planetary-scale roll-out?

do you understand that what most credible scientists in this field are asking is to do research to understand the risks? You are in a sense saying you understand something that they themselves do not. Can you explain this?

Yes I can. The thing that they're not grasping, as is so clearly shown by Dr Gadian in my report above, is that it's a denial of the political reality; that our desire to keep on emitting means if there's another method of appearing to take action than cutting emissions, they'll take it.

I'm getting tired of saying it now, but it's that they prefer carbon credits to carbon cuts, and if they can to it as either/or then they will. This is demonstrated by all the large carbon trading schemes in existence.

Pointing to acidification as a dire consequence of albedo enhancement is frankly a discredited argument

I hadn't heard anyone say that before. I said that it would happen and this will affect the ability of many species to form shells.

I had seen it cited many places, perhaps the most authoritative of which was the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report. They had not mentioned it in the Third Assesment Report, so far from it being an old idea that they'd moved on from, in 2007 they felt it was new information.
(Chapter 4, 4.4.9, page 234).

Please tell me why they are wrong and a credible source where this idea is discredited.

What you are asserting is that it will be used as an alternative to cutting emissions. But you haven't offered evidence for that.

I have stated the reasoning several times now.

"Follow the money?" Does the fact that people want to profit off an activity immediately discredit it?

No it does not. That is not what I said.

Please take your time and offer real, thoughtful arguments, not this fluff.

Dan, please take *your* time and read what I actually say and, if you disagree with it then say why, rather than disagreeing with something that I didn't say and don't believe.

You seem to have a bizarre notion that businesses can simply be set loose like wind-up toys to rack up crazy profits for their greedy investors regardless of whether there is an ongoing demand for their services.

It seems to me that you've just described loosely yet accurately the model of consumer-capitalist society.

They do indeed spend large sums generating markets for which there was no previous demand.

Then there's the aspect of companies doing something anti-social and ecocidal because it it profitable.

To take an example, the oil companies denied climate change even though they knew the science as well as the rest of us. They offer solutions such as biofuels that cause worse emissions, or red herrings such as hydrogen vehicles that they know will never take off.

They give hefty donations to opposing sides in elections. What possible reason is there for that - it certainly can't denote any real political allegiance - except that they want influence with the winner?

The fossil burning industries spend a lot of money on distracting the public and influencing politics and industry. There is only one reason they do so. It is, as a wise man once phrased it, 'to rack up crazy profits for their greedy investors regardless of whether there is an ongoing demand for their services'.

You've said "but to argue that those arguments would actually carry the day in a global negotiation is a statement which i cannot find evidence for".

I suggest you look at the relation between the Big Fossil companies and government. Why do you think they pay lobbyists?

Why do you think Al Gore wrote the groundbreaking and then-controversial book 'Earth In The Balance' in 1992 (explaining climate change and predicting things - more intense hurricanes hitting New Orleans, moving rainfall patterns in East Africa causing famine - that have come to pass) and then he personally led the American delegation that emasculated the Kyoto negotiations?

what possible other reason is there except that Big Fossil hold tremendous power over government? Why else do they pay the lobbyists?

The CDM's purpose was to finance cuts in countries that were unwilling to agree to cuts.

It was included in Kyoto at the behest of the Americans (and everyone else signed up in the hope of keeping the Americans on board). It was put there as a get-out for the biggest emitters.

If it was just to finance the cuts you speak of, it would be designed as a device that simply channelled funds to projects in non-Kyoto countries. It would not allow the donor to concomitantly increase their emissions.

It is, in reality, a way for the rich to keep emitting and pay someone else to do the clean-up. And this is before we get to the corrupt elements such as, as I previously said, the fact that it's in the interests of all parties to exaggerate the amount of carbon involved.

You cite a 2006 story about one person at ADB saying that their first reaction was to look through their portfolio for things that they were already doing (which would fail additionality) as a way of discrediting the field?

Er, no. Obviously I can't cite every example, so I cited an illustrative one, and named the author and linked to the pdf of his book containing a wealth of things that discredit the field.

Yes-- we need to be making cuts in both places.

That's interesting. You give your name as Dan Whaley and your URL as climos.com.

Dan Whaley, CEO of Climos, disagrees. He says that not only does he believe that carbon credits should be sold, but that's how Climos will make their money.

Hopefully the US will step to the table this year and we can make some real progress

That's a lot of faith there. Assuming we still both agree that we need cuts across the board, not merely some cuts allowing others to emit more via carbon credits, I don't think either of us will get much to sing about.

I dearly hope I'm wrong, but whilst Obama seems likely to do better than the Bush administration, his talk is full of cap-and-trade and other socially unjust devices. These will be lobbied by Big Fossil to ensure there's a high cap and a low carbon price. They will not deliver what the science demands.

Check out the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to see how well it worked for Europeans.

You essentially argue that policy doesn't work, and because of this we shouldn't allow geoengineering. Yours is a message of doom - we will never figure out how to enforce a regulatory framework, be it cap-and-trade or otherwise - and therefore we shouldn't pursue or even research these options.

Close, but not right. I argue that policy has failed thus far (see the EU-ETS and Kyoto. The latter's targets were pathetic, almost all signatories have failed to meet them and why not, there's no penalties. Other than those inflicted by the climate on future generations).

I argue that until the system for drawing up policy is so different as to put survival ahead of economic growth, it cannot be trusted to come up with decent outcomes. so even beneficial technologies can't be trusted as things are chosen not for effectiveness but for profitability and how well they serve the present order.

That being so, we should greet whatever they are enthusiastic about with caution. When it has such glaring and monumental dangers as geoengineering, when there are safer, cheaper and more effective options on the table that only political will prevents us from using, then our job is clearly to alter the political reality to fit what morality and science demand of us.

I most certainly hope that Copenhagen has stricter and more comprehensive elements than Kyoto

Er, yes. But that's not the point. In saying that you've actually agreed with my point above, and disagreed with your point that prompted my comment.

Two of the primary geoengineering techniques, OIF and Stratospheric Aerosols mimic natural events that have happened globally at much larger scales previously.

Stratospheric aerosols are a very good case in point. They had the effects of killing millions of people.

Even today they are responsible for half a million premature deaths a year. Before we start emitting more for climate geoengineering.

It now appears that the African famines of the 80s were caused by sulphate emissions. All our righteousness as we bought our Band Aid records, yet we did that to those people.

See what I mean about unforeseen effects? We can presume we'd have spotted this earlier if we'd been consciously looking for it. But then, who would've looked at Ethiopian rainfall from European factory emissions? How many indicators can you keep tabs on over that large an area at once and then feel confident to roll them out on an indefinite irrevocable planet-wide plan after only five to ten years?

Next, you come on to things that I didn't say, that I quoted from elsewhere as pertinent to the discussion and am in broad agreement with; that this is largely a question of differing values.

What about "sometimes or often positive?"

Er, I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. It said that the 'techno-optimist' thinks the general direction of technological development is right and positive, whereas the 'techno-sceptic' says it's 'often neutral or negative'. The use of the word 'often' in that context clearly implies 'sometimes or often positive'.

I am not saying that all progress is positive. There are certainly negatives-- large environmental ones for instance-- to all the "progress" we've made.

Absolutely. The point being made was that those who are sceptical about climate technofixes are conscious of many poor past results and suspicious of the benevolences of people who publicly declare that profit is their prime concern. specifically, it was a rebuke to the implication that those who hold such a position are mired in, to use your words, 'the luddite world view. technology is bad, man is flawed, options create chaos'.

aren't you arguing for more technology?

Yes. I firmly believe technology is part of the solution. But only part. And that's not the same as having faith in all proposed technologies.

Only swapping technologies fails to address the real social problems that cause climate change.

Is CO2 a social problem? Well, it is caused by a society that is engaging in too much consumption of fossil fuels. But does that make it a "social" problem

There is that, but there's something deeper. The thing we're talking about in this part, remember, is values.

It's a social problem insofar as it's caused by a social system not any externality, nor any necessity. That, specifically, is that the main aim of our society is perpetual economic growth, and that growth and profit are prized over survival. The most obvious, most immediate and effective element is to reduce consumption. Yet this isn't well favoured as it, pretty much by definition, attacks economic growth.

With great concentrations of power comes the need to defend that power; with the need for maximum growth and profit comes attacks on any threats to that profit. Thus Big Fossil deny climate change, then lobby policy makers for minimum damage to Fossil interests, and the firing off of decoys to distract the growing clamour for change. With this comes co-option of some useful things (Shell 'investing' in solar) as well as sleight of hand (offsets and carbon trading).

They will take any route available not to cut emissions. In a profit-driven society, geoengineering will be used like biofuels and offsets and BP getting a sunflower logo. To that extent, yes I believe in this case that 'the only way to enforce objectives is to eliminate alternatives'.

The only way to cut emissions is to cut emissions.

==============
==============
==============

PS. Thanks for the New York Times piece, but as we've been getting somewhat longwinded here, it'd be good if you didn't cut and paste long newspaper articles in, especially when they're on-subject but not actually directly relevant to our discussion. A link will suffice if you've no additional comment.

Dan Whaley said...

Perhaps just a parting question, we seem to be tripping over eachother and going in circles.

Are you against research into geoengineering techniques? i.e. do you think the efforts that are underway should be banned? or do you think it is worthwhile to ask questions about the efficacy and impact of these concepts?

I don't think anyone is planning to offer them as bargaining chips in climate negotiations right now (since we clearly don't know enough about them) ... so perhaps this discussion is premature.

D

merrick said...

Dan,

I agree that we've essentially laid out our positions already, but there's something you said that really does warrant some explanation from you.

If the idea that increased CO2 in the atmosphere leads to ocean acidification is correct, it takes the albedo enhancement projects off the table.

However, you said Pointing to acidification as a dire consequence of albedo enhancement is frankly a discredited argument

I repeat, I haven't heard anyone else make that allegation.

The IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report is unequivocal about it.
(Chapter 4, 4.4.9, page 234).

If I'm wrong about this, I'd really like to know. If you're wrong, I'm sure you'd like to know too.

Can you cite a peer-reviewed source to defend your position and explain why the IPCC are wrong?

I'm in haste and about to be away for the weekend, and your question ('Are you against research into geoengineering techniques?') warrants more than a couple of sentences, so I'll reply on Monday.

merrick said...

Hmm, for a frankly discredited idea, ocean acidification from carbon emissions has still got a lot of marine scientists convinced

merrick said...

Dan, you asked Are you against research into geoengineering techniques? i.e. do you think the efforts that are underway should be banned?

Have you read what I’ve written? Yes, I’m saying we shouldn’t do it.

This is, in part (varies depending on the scheme), because of the enormous gambles involved with large amounts of the biosphere, and in part because of the political reality that it will be used as a delaying mechanism for carbon cuts, it will be a tool of exacerbation.

The present Lohafex mission to iron-seed plankton is testing in 300 sq km of ocean. This is a chunky bit of biosphere, more than even some geoengineers would consider safe (Dan Whaley of Climos says 'the consensus was that projects of up to 200 square km are justified and would not have harmful impacts'), yet of course it’s nothing compared to the scale these things would be carried out on commercially.

The commercial application of iron seeding is banned by the London Convention (the international law governing dumping of stuff at sea). Yet Dan Whaley from Climos says there’s a loophole that permits research.

But Climos, according to CEO Dan Whaley, would seek to sell carbon credits for the first trip. That, then isn’t really a research trip, it’s also a commercial venture.

It’s that sort of money-minded slippery weaselness that leads people to mistrust geoengineers.

That, and the idiot pronouncements of people like Dr Gadian saying that his biggest fear is running out of fossil fuels several centuries hence, and he’s not really that bothered about it from a climate perspective he’s just into his little area of understanding cloud formation.

The issue is too important to take the word of those motivated by such naked greed or bedevilled by such blinkeredness.

Personally, I agree with Dan Whaley the poster on this blog - we need carbon cuts everywhere and paying for cuts elsewhere does not excuse continuing emissions here. Giving some money to an animal shelter doesn’t give you the right to kick your dog.

I also find it a galling arrogance and a neglect of justice that we presume to do this rather than cut emissions. Having the greatest responsibility for causing the problem – and the greatest stack of the wealth it’s generated – we have the greatest obligation to clean up our mess. Instead, we want to risk even more damage. And you can be sure that Climos’s staff won’t be subsistence fisherfolk who’d be hit if anything went wrong.

Carbon trading ignores not only the justice but the urgency and scale of the issue. There’s no properly effective or just place for carbon trading, even if there were no problem with altering large chunks of major ecosystems.