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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Geoengineering: Coming to a planet near you!

There is an interesting article called Hacking the Planet in the New Scientist talking about the changing attitudes among climate scientist who are beginning to believe it’s too late to prevent climate change by simple reduction and that proactive methods including tinkering with various earth systems are needed.

Some suggestions include giant space mirrors to lower the sunlight hitting the planet, dumping particles into the upper atmosphere to the same ends, man made clouds, seeding the oceans with iron and limestone, reforestation, man made trees and biochar.

If things get so bad because we are too stupid or selfish to cut back our carbon footprint now, should we let the SHTF and risk dying out or do we try to intervene?

Which of these techniques should we try?

Which ones are going too far?

At this point reforestation just makes sense as it's returning things to the way they were before we got here, but will reduce our food output. Fine with me, too damn many of us anyway! It's cheap enough for almost any nation to take part, can increase habitat and bio diversity, this is an absolute no brainer.

Biochar is a good short term sequestering tool and some of it could be sold to farms and gardens and soil adjuncts to increase soil fertility, I’d buy some. We currently have vast forests that are dying from infestations this fix allows us to keep all that carbon hidden for a time.

Aerosols released into the atmosphere are potentially dangerous (especially if they use sulfur like some advocate) but can be terminated with only a short 1(yearish) lag impact.

Limestone added to oceans to speed CO2 absorption: We no idea what it will really do but might be necessary to stop acidification from killing the ocean

Iron added to increase algae blooms, adding biomass in the ocean and sequestering CO2 - as above

Ocean going spray ships adding sea water to the air, creating low clouds that will reflect the suns rays- easy to stop and start, short lag time, but no effect on acidity and no data about the spinoff effects

Giant space mirrors – WTF? mega pricey and it can’t be done quickly - They can't consistently get satellites or orbiters into space and they expect to take on a job this big. Not promising despite the claims it would be very effective

The bottom 4 technologies may all work but I certainly think it's far too early to consider tinkering on this scale. It is however both unfortunate and very likely we will reach the stage where we will need to make such a decision. Too damn scary!!!!

I just finished Gwynne Dyer’s The Climate Wars and he discussed some of the possible geopolitical implications of countries endangered by climate change acting unilaterally to use some of these fixes. Fascinating book, worth the read.Recommend this Post


Theresa said...

Ach, this bioengineering stuff makes me so mad. It's like a person who can't stop eating chocolate deciding to try things like cutting off both hands or developing a fancy 'pantry locking system' instead of taking personal responsibility for curbing the habit. We'd rather muck around and do crazy experiments with the very thing sustaining us instead of treating ourselves and our planet with respect. I guess 'innovation' trumps 'personal responsibility.' It's sickening, really. Bah.

Anonymous said...

Hack the planet eh

The phrase reminds me of the days where supercomputers looked like this


Peter Dodson said...

I agree with Theresa. The problem is if we focus too much on things like this we will never actually reduce our C02 emissions. I'm all for planting trees, but everything else just seems sorta silly and pointless at this point.

Anonymous said...

Oh I agree, but you know damn well too little too late will be achieved by sane means and eventually it will come down to these questions.

I'm just scared that the availability of these "fixes" will dissuade proper action to limit carbon.

PanAmerican Properties said...

Reforestation is one viable application. But what type of tree? The Enoch Olinga College (ENOCIS) is trying paulownia elongata in its agricultural extension center in Panama.

The project is to train peoples of extreme poverty in how to develop new quick sources of review and save the environment too.

For more information on paulownia you may refer to the web site www.paulownianow.org

ChristyACB said...

Actually, the space mirrors would be cheaper and less CO2 burning to make and get up than the ship ideas! LOL. Ships use 10s of thousands of gallons for a small one. However, the idea is incredibly stupid for many reasons.

As for the sulfur clouds, that is what caused our hard winters in the northeast in the 60s and 70s, the great die-off of northeast US and Canadian forests and, ta da, much of the smog and poor air quality that started our journey to clean air and water.

Sulfur plumes from manufacturing creating the "sulfur shadow plume" and yes, it does lower temps in a big way under it, but causes major havoc in other ways, including on reproductive systems. Altogether so stupid we should pillory the advocates. (Not really.)

We do have to reduce consumption and there will be a drastic "correction" in population distribution at some point. Just everyone cut out a hamburger or two and we could get much of the rainforest back..seriously.

Anonymous said...

I believe the guy with the water ships designed them to nearly robotic, wind powered and wooden. ,, at least that was how Mr Dyer explained them.

opposed to firing of rockets they probably are better, and we know we can launch a ship, their luck with rockets bewteen failure and delays is not good.

Sebastian Ernst Ronin said...

IMO, outside of reforestation, these ideas strike me as just more extensions of technological determinism, i.e. some techie gadget will "fix" the problem. They would seem to be in the league with Sir Richard Branson offering a $25 million reward to the inventer(s) of a technological fix to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The latter, and the tech ideas in your post, betray the laws of thermodynamics. To do these on a proper scale, if they were do-able, would translate into blowing through a new entropic level. This is a major blind spot for "Green economy" types. Quite simply, we can't get there from here.

Lastly, few if any, are prepared to acknowledge and then own the transition stage to whatever kind of "better" world. There will be much, much hurt. It's really that simple. A blobal purge of 3-5 billion over the course of the century is likely. Ban-ki Moon is already pleading (to bankrupt global financial agencies) to come to the aid of "the bottom billion." It's already underway. As we enter a Post-Peak Oil world, why would it not be?

Anonymous said...

I'm not married to any of these ideas the whole point of my post is however is to bring light to the point is that they are now being considered and when desperate enough man will try them.

Despite enbracing a power down scenerio personaly, I do love to talk tech and we really should discuss, build a case for or against which of these is most dangerous so when they pop it on us we are ready.

James Lovelock has recently said that in 100 years our population will be only 1 billion, This in my opinion is probably what needs to happen, like it or not

Anonymous said...

I think farmers can do alot to reduce the impact of climate change, probably more than government regulation or unrealistic technological fixes.

Adopting minimum till, stubble retention and by planting out undproductive areas of the farm to fodder trees(Tagasaste where rainfall allows, and carob and old man saltbush in drier areas)

Biochar is a good option if your have acidic soils, but for my farm on SA's limestone coast (pH 7.5), its just not an option.

Obviously in areas with highly acidic soils it would not only sequester the carbon, but would improve productivity and nutrient availability in the soil by equalising soil pH, thus reducing fertiliser requirement slighly and increasing your soils field capacity.

As far as reforestation goes, i nominate the Australian mallee. Many will thrive on as little as 250mm of rainfall, and the mallee (in its virgin state) is a fully fuctioning forest ecosysytem, albeit dwarfed by low rainfall and poor soils. More stacking = more carbon locked up.

I believe that by farming in the high to moderate rainfall areas (down to about 350mm) and reforesting the marginal wheatbelt and grazing country with mallee, we will not only lock up a lot of carbon, but the 100 km wide strip of mallee (currently marginal wheatbelt)between the inland arid areas and the coastal strip will act like a giant windbreak, reducing hot north winds and possibly returning rainfall reliability to the traditionally higher rainfall areas.


Anonymous said...

BTW, my comments regarding reforestation and are only really relevant if you live in Australia or other dry country.

I found your site linked to the oil drum (Australia and New Zealand) and assumed you were an Aussie too.


Eco Yogini said...

hmmm. I agree with Theresa. These technological "fixes" assume that we actually understand the complexities of Earth's natural systems and how they are interconnected. Which we don't. What we do know is that all of Earth's systems (water, atmosphere, forest, soil, life) are precariously balanced- something achieved after millions of years of gradual atmospheric and life evolution.
Since 'science' generally tends to oversimplify while examining systems in pieces they generally tend to miss how the system functions as a whole- or dynamically. The ocean is not separate from our atmosphere or our land- we have no idea what these 'fixes' could truly do.