Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Climate control

What if we save the earth's climate without the pain of reducing CO2 in the air? Who would support action? I worry that the idea would become a political football, sort of like health care in the US.

Climate engineering is close to reality, probably a lot closer than global reductions in CO2 production. Aerosol particles are being considered to shade the earth, and seawater mists might work to make clouds reflect more sunlight. Both ideas could be tested fairly soon at a reasonable cost.

Critics correctly point out that climate engineering is risky, but so what's safe about our current CO2 orgy? We're pumping up our atmosphere with CO2 in a massive and risky experiment already. It's time to be brave, smart, and active, and that means we should consider designed climate engineering instead of our current accidental climate engineering mess caused by our love of combustion.

5 comments:

mhirshfield said...

hi Mark, but it won't do anything for acid oceans. not sure putting the white cliffs of dover back in the ocean is the way to go.

Izzy said...

Doesn't seem right to mess with Mother Nature besides trying to clean up our own mess. Just a thought.

Mark Powell said...

Climate engineering is cleaning up our own mess, although it's true it doesn't fix acid oceans. I'm sure someone will propose an engineered solution for that someday. And I think we need to consider such proposals, they may be less bad than doing nothing (which is what we seem to be doing right now).

I'd prefer to cut CO2, but I don't see that coming real soon.

Tony Wildish said...

that NY Times article you refer to in turn refers to a paper in favour of geo-engineering which is biased and inaccurate. You can read a thorough debunking of it at http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/08/a-biased-economic-analysis-of-geoengineering/.

The negative effects of solar radiation mirrors, for example, include reduced rainfall in China and India, and drought in the Amazon basin. Not good!

I'm in favour of doing the research, but let's not make the mistake of thinking geoengineering offers a solution at this point. It doesn't.

thingsbreak said...

Climate engineering is cleaning up our own mess, although it's true it doesn't fix acid oceans. I'm sure someone will propose an engineered solution for that someday.

The only way to do this is air capture. And air capture is a long way from being implementable on a wide scale, meanwhile we have the technology to make massive cuts in CO2 emissions today (e.g. Pacala and Socolow 2004).

And I think we need to consider such proposals, they may be less bad than doing nothing (which is what we seem to be doing right now).

Consider them, absolutely. But our understanding of the possible consequences of such geo-engineering schemes will always be dependent upon our understanding of the climate system- which is to say that if you (nations and politicians, not you personally) trust our understanding of the latter enough to politically support the former, you should by definition prefer emissions cuts.

I'd prefer to cut CO2, but I don't see that coming real soon.

If you (personally this time :)) think negotiating and implementing GHG reductions is proving to be contentious and politically problematic, do you have any idea much worse sustained geo-engineering scheme agreements would be? At least there is a conceptual framework for apportioning emissions. How would one determine who gets how much of a say in geo-engineering- or who would be trusted enough to maintain such a program over multi-centennial timescales? It's a policy nightmare.

And at the end of the day, it's the equivalent of a diet pill- people want to believe in it because it is less inconvenient than doing the real work of solving the problem.