The desperate world of geo-engineering.

Desperate leap of faith ….. to save planet earth ….

This, from BRYAN WALSH of TIME;

I’m going to tell you something I probably shouldn’t: we may not be able to  stop global warming. The Arctic Ocean, which experienced record melting last year, could be ice-free in the summer as soon as 2013, decades ahead of what the earlier models told us. We need to begin curbing global greenhouse emissions right now, but more than a decade after the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, the world has utterly failed to do so.

For most environmentalists, the answer to that depressing litany is to keep pushing the same message harder: cut carbon and cut it now. But a few scientists are beginning to quietly raise the possibility of cooling the planet’s fever directly through geo-engineering. The principle behind it is straightforward — compensate for an intensified greenhouse effect by reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth — but the techniques seem like pure science fiction. Just a few: using orbital mirrors to bounce sunlight back into space, fertilizing the oceans with iron to amplify their ability to absorb carbon and even painting roofs white to increase solar reflection.

Geo-engineering has long been the province of kooks, but as the difficulty of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions has become harder to ignore, it is slowly emerging as an option of last resort. The tipping point came in 2006, when the Nobel Prize—winning atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen published an editorial examining the possibility of releasing vast amounts of sulphurous debris into the atmosphere to create a haze that would keep the planet cool. “Over the past couple of years, it’s gone from an outsider thing to something that is increasingly discussed,” says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University.

Caldeira modelled the effects on climate that Crutzen’s notion of spreading sulphur particles into the air would have and found that geo-engineering might be able to compensate for a doubling of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Even more impressive was the price tag: somewhere between a few hundred million dollars and a couple of billion dollars a year, compared with the unknowable cost of de carbonizing the entire world. But the drawbacks are serious. Worsening air pollution is a risk. We’d have to keep geo-engineering indefinitely to balance out continued greenhouse-gas emissions, and the motivation to de carbonize might disappear if we believed we had an insurance policy.

And those are just the consequences we know about. But the truth is, we’re already performing an unauthorized experiment on our climate by adding billions of tons of man-made carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Unless the geopolitics of global warming change soon, the Hail Mary pass of geoengineering might become our best shot.

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7 Responses to The desperate world of geo-engineering.

  1. earthpal says:

    Well although my initial instinct is to run away from this kind of solution (and I’d like to lean more about it), I do believe we should keep everything on the table of proposals because sure, after a decade of Kyoto procrastinating, what have we got? Not a lot.

  2. matt says:

    But it’s this arrogance of humans that has got us into this mess. Control the climate, of this planet, no way. This is bullshit.

  3. earthpal says:

    Yeah, I can’t remember having heard of geo-engineering until now and after reading some stuff, I’m definitely not liking it either. I was certainly alarmed when I read about the idea to emit vast amounts of sulphurous debris into the atmosphere. And messing with the oceans eco-systems which are already under threat is ludicrous. We should be preserving, not tampering. Bloody tin god scientists!

    But not just that, it’s the unknown potential consequences/side-effects etc..

  4. matt says:

    David King (former Government chief scientist), the one who thought gassing badgers was OK, is now part of an Oxford University research group. He was spouting on about geo-engineering. Nuff said!

  5. the Grit says:

    Hi matt,

    If you believe in human caused climate change, then, logically, you have to believe that we have the ability to control the climate. And, if you dispute that, then you must admit it’s obvious that any efforts along the lines of limiting our carbon emissions and such are useless. Really, you can’t have it both ways.

    the Grit

  6. keithsc says:

    Climate change was happening before we came along but it seems likely we have increased the pace by making it hotter. So perhaps we can reverse it using science but I would have thought the best way to start was by developing technologies to take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and capture them before we put them in.

  7. matt says:

    We can’t ‘control’ the climate. ‘Control’ is too strong a word. We might be able to influence it by our activities; ie. in the pollutants we emit and in land use and particularly regards the scale that we do these. The most important reasons for limiting fossil fuel use is improving air quality.

    As to carbon capture, thus far (and I’ve been meaning to blog this) investment has failed to materialise on any larger scale to bring about these much talked about carbon capture schemes. They just aren’t happening.

    BP just cancelled one off Western Australia after spending millions surveying the geology, because they deemed the area to unstable. In other words, the CO2 would end up escaping!

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