Posts Tagged ‘geoengineering’

Geoengineering, circa 1889 – Melting North Pole, Coal Mines, Floods, The Works

One of the least known works by Jules Verne, “Sand dessus dessous” (“Upside down”, “Topsy-turvy“, published as “The Purchase of the North Pole“) making an eery example of the trouble with geoengineering. From Wikipedia:

the Baltimore Gun Club from From the Earth to the Moon attempt to purchase the North Pole to access large deposits of coal beneath it. […] Barbicane, Nicholl, and J.T. Maston plan on tilting the Earth’s axis, making it similar to Jupiter’s. There would be no more seasons (warm all year round), the North Pole would be brought farther south (about 67 degrees north), and many countries (mostly in Asia) would be overcome by floods. The United States would also gain much more land. They plan on creating a huge explosion in the Kilimanjaros using Nicholl’s new invention, the powerful explosive, micro-meteorite. The members of the Gun Club soon get ready to create the explosion. The world is in panic. When the explosion does go, huge damage is made in the area. But the axis does not change. […]



Live Blogging From RGS Geoengineering Debate In London

2009/05/14 3 comments

I am at the Royal Geographical Society debate on geoengineering, with Paul Johnston from Greenpeace and Prof. David Keith, one of the world’s authorities on geoengineering as a way to counteract climate change.

So far Johnston has expressed a heavy does of skepticism on any technology for intervening in the climate. Keith is not making a strong case against the list of issues working against geoengineering, such as the possibility that will be used independently or even as some sort of weapon.

Update: Keith is now moving towards asking to know even if nobody will do any intervention immediately. Johnston replies that money is limited and geoengineering may take it away from “real solutions”

Update 2: Tom Clarke, chair, comes to the rescue asking if there is any alternative given the lack of prospect for any emission reduction. Johnstone says that geoengineering may bring instability when things will be going very badly.

Update 3: Time for questions. First is about the problem of definition of geoengineering. Keith says there are two kinds, solar radiation management and CO2 removal, they are different things.

Update 4: Question on CO2 extraction. Keith is working about it. Scrubbing from the air or from the power plant? First option means you can build it where it is cheaper to build.

Update 5: What is the solution if Greenpeace is so against geoengineering? Johnston wants a much more thorough understanding of the way the atmosphere will react before going the geoengineering route.

Update 6: Keith says if we were really serious on cutting emissions we would be cutting it more aggressively. It is a moral choice, if we cannot cut geoengineering the way forward. Keith affirms he has big concerns too and talks about them,

Update 7: Scientists says he’s terrified about methane in the Arctic: is Greenpeace willing to live with that risk? Other question: geoengineering looks often like a local intervention like seeding clouds: we should expect to be struggling with the difficulty of understanding it all. Johnston talks about huge uncertainties, “at the moment is a gamble”. Keith on intractability: it’s a hard problem. Some of the schemes may be harder. Must start with little interventions and then proceed with the understanding.

Update 8: Keith mentions how after 9/11 we have learned about the effects of airplanes as we had them all grounded over the USA. Yes it is hard, but we cannot do much on the emissions side. We need to do some research on geoengineering.

Clarke asks Johnston if Greenpeace would agree on “free” and “cheap” experiments in geoengineering. Answer is that they need assurance that it will not prevent “the full deployment of an alternative energy [generation] system”

Update 9: Johnston doesn’t want to see commercial interests involved as in the ocean fertilization debacle. Keith agrees.

Final two questions: since we cannot predict what can happen, can we use the 200+ volcanic eruptions to understand better? Also large-scale or small-scale projects, such as improving cooking stoves at community level?

Keith talks about the possibility of biofuels (?) especially in the tropics. Johnston says they had been interested about it for years, and that they want to more about it before investing in large-scale interventions. Doesn’t want to see it as a way to deal with biological waste.

Update 9: Final final two questions. Won’t the politicians think short term and choose geoengineering to avoid having to deal with cutting emissions? Don’t we need research just to start an informed debate about geoengineering, instead of having to deal over and over with uncertainties that never go away? Isn’t much of the technology already available right now? Can we use geoengineering as the “nasty medicine” to scare the politicians into doing something about emissions?

Johnston doesn’t think it would work as a “stick”. He says we need a good reason and guidelines for carrying out geoengineering research and “throwing money” at it. Talks about avoiding unjustified optimism.

Update 10: Johnston suggests to go for research without immediate commercial exploitability. It’s now Keith’s turn: nobody is doing anything serious about emissions, even in high-rhetoric Europe. He says that not enough people have been convinced. He doesn’t “know why”, doesn’t “get it”. “We just haven’t made the sale” to the politicians so they are not serious about global warming.

Keith continues saying GM food are a not-so-serious problem for the experts but the public is very worried about it. For climate change, it’s the other way around.

Johnston thinks it’s difficult to people to conceive the scale of global warming, so they become despondent. Politicians have contributed to the perception that climate change is unavoidable, by doing nothing. People are already starting to adapt.

End of the debate – some more details and considerations will be posted later

Cold Weather Kills More Than Flu

2009/05/14 1 comment

UPDATE: A rebuttal of a major point in the Lancet&UCL “Managing the health effects of climate change” report will be published in this blog by tomorrow

I have already blogged about an article on the BMJ (2000;321:670-673) showing that across Europe, “all regions [show] more annual cold related mortality than heat related mortality“: i.e. cooling kills more than warming.

But there’s more…again from the BMJ (2002;324:89-90):

[In South East England], of 1265 annual excess winter deaths per million over the past 10 years, 2.4% were due to influenza either directly or indirectly

In other words, up to 97.6% of winter deaths could be avoided were the climate warmer. The authors go as far as to suggest that

measures to reduce cold stress offer the greatest opportunities to reduce current levels of winter mortality

Wouldn’t that be a good idea as a goal for geoengineering?

I Will Be At The London RGS Climate Engineering Event

2009/04/27 1 comment

14 May at 7pm, London (UK) SW7 2AR

Details: “Engineering Our Climate” (Royal Geographical Society)

Cost: £10

I will be there.

And I am not suggesting to wear a white armband as a sign of protest against lunatic geo-engineering ideas.

Is Humanity Abysmally Clueless On Climate?

2009/03/24 3 comments

Setback for climate technical fix

Leaders of the German-Indian expedition said they had gained valuable scientific information, but that their results suggested iron fertilisation could not have a major impact, at least in that region of the oceans.

No further comment should be needed…

My (Mauled) Letter Published on the IHT

2008/10/09 4 comments

From today’s ( Oct 8 ) printed International Herald Tribune:

I understand Thomas Homer-Dixon and David Keith (“The ultimate sun-block,” Views, Oct. 7) when they state that it is better to study global-warming-related geo-engineering now rather than waiting. But what I do not understand is the interest in “flooding the atmosphere with manmade particles.”

Throwing colossal amounts of particles more or less at random into the sky, with no chance of retrieval, is surely a recipe for environmental upheaval.

Maurizio Morabito Orpington, England

Of course the above is a brutally shortened version of my full letter, as published in blog “Only Controllable Geo-engineering, Please!” where I did make the point that it is vital for all human anti-warming interventions to be fully controllable.

And before anybody refers to the ongoing atmospheric experiment called “the emission of additional CO2 from fossil fuels” let me clearly re-state the following: if we really need to combat the effect of the “CO2 emissions experiment” it makes no sense to experiment with a different set of emissions.

Only Controllable Geo-engineering, Please!

2008/10/07 4 comments

I understand T Homer-Dixon and D Keith when they state that it is better to study global-warming-related geo-engineering now rather than waiting to do it in a frenzy if disaster strikes (“The ultimate sun-block“, IHT, October 6, 2008).

What I do not understand, is their interest in “flooding the atmosphere with manmade particles“.

Throwing colossal amount of particles more or less at random in the sky, with no chance of retrieval should they overdo on their original goal, is surely a recipe for global environmental upheavals far more certain than anthropogenic global warming.

The important thing is to get scientists, environmentalists and global-warming skeptics alike” to concentrate on geo-engineering systems we can control, starting with systems that we can switch on and off at will (like for example an orbiting “sun-shade”).

Especially if climate change turns out to be incontrollable, to introduce yet more incontrollable factors would be akin to trying to repair a car by banging a hammer against it at random points.

The Only Good Climate Geoengineering Project

2008/09/09 2 comments

…is the one killed on sight!

No, seriously, it is quite fun to watch the increasing efforts in dreaming up one way or another to cool down the planet before it actually become warm enough to cause any concern. I sure everybody in that field good luck, and who knows if anything useful will come out of sheer serendipity.

There is one single point though that I find it impossible to do without. We do know almost nothing about our planet, its atmosphere and its climate, There must therefore be a basic rule for all geoengineering implementations: allow only those that can be turned on and off wholly, and at will.

That is, they must be REVERSIBLE.

If it’s planetary control that we want, we must be in absolute control of it. So no release of stuff in the atmosphere or oceans if we do not have a way to remove all that same stuff, whenever we want to, for example in the case that something goes bad (almost an absolute certainty, especially during the first attempts).

It would be extremely silly to repeat with the atmosphere or the oceans the mistakes of the past, like those that made rabbits and cane toads enter Australia and become incontrollable pests.

So from the list of climate-related geoengineering projects just published by The Economist, these are the verdicts:

  • Fertilize the ocean with iron: NO
  • Plant genetically-modified fast-growing trees: YES, if for example a gene is added to kill them all if need be
  • Reacting CO2 with hydrogen – YES
  • Magnetically eject CO2 into outer space – YES
  • Polluting the stratosphere – NO
  • Polluting the upper troposphere – NO
  • Spraying clouds with seawater – YES, just for the fun of it. Who knows, perhaps we will finally learn how clouds form

Notably, the article does mention the issue of how to justify intervention (potentially bad for Canada and Russia) or nonintervention (potentially bad for Panama, if the Northwest Passage becomes commercially viable). But then it proceeds to praise climate geoengineering as a

big experiment, but it would at least be a planned one—unlike the equally big, but unplanned experiment that is now being conducted by motor cars, power stations, cement factories and logging companies all across the planet

There is a logical fallacy at work there. In fact, intervention cannot have the same moral weight as nonintervention: with the former, whoever does it is taking upon themselves the responsibility for the change. But we can dwell into those matters at a different time…

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