22 November 2012

Serious talk about geo-engineering better than pious hand-wringing about 2 degrees

Cambridge Professor and Arctic expert Peter Wadhams
ABC TV's Lateline programme is schedule to discuss climate geo-engineering tonight, a debate that is long overdue.
     Suggesting that climate geo-engineering – such as top-of-atmosphere sulfate injections to reduce incoming solar radiation as a temporary measure until the world gets its act together to avoid the big global warming tipping points – might be necessary is as popular in the environment and climate movements as farting in the middle of a slow movement at a concert.
Almost everybody is keen to rail against it, such as Climate Authority member Clive Hamilton in The Philosophy of Geoengineering. I have yet to hear a climate or environment advocacy group in Australia even say that we should at least consider the issues on their merits.
      There's lots of reasons to be worried about the ideas – and reasons why we need to consider them – as has been canvassed recently in Nature, on the BBC, on NPR, in the Guardian, and in many scientific papers including herehere, here and here, for example.
     Yet some of those most willing to consider it are those scientists who seem most aware and forthright about where global warming is heading and why, when all things are considered, geo-engineering appears to be the least-worst option.
    For example, Chuck Greene, Bruce Monger, Mark Huntley find in Geoengineering: The Inescapable Truth of Getting to 350 that: "After evaluating the challenge of stabilizing CO2 concentration at 350 ppm, we conclude that society will only be successful in meeting this goal by supplementing aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions with geoengineering." So what's the choice?
    Ken Caldeira of the Caldeira Lab at Stanford says  we need to look closely at geo-engineering and pioneered research in the area. Discussion of his work may be found here, here, here and here, just for starters.
    Geo-engineering is no substitute for zero emissions and carbon drawdown, it has as yet not-fully-known side effects, there are huge political and governance issues, and some in the fossil fuel industry have shown an interest. All true. And it won't deal with ocean acidification even if it can slow global warming by reducing incoming solar radiation.
     But without it, we are screwed. Take professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, who is a world-leading authority on the Arctic and is scheduled to appear in tonight's Lateline. We told his story in Big call: Cambridge prof. predicts Arctic summer sea ice “all gone by 2015” on 30 August this year as the Arctic melted dramatically.
     Wadhams, who heads the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, recently gave an off-the-cuff description of what is going to happen in the Arctic, as nations and political leaders fiddle and the planet burns:
  • Summer sea ice disappears, except perhaps for small multiyear remnant north of Greenland and Ellesmere Island, by 2015-16.
  • By 2020 the ice free season lasts at least a month and by 2030 has extended to 3 months.
  • September sea surface temperatures are already elevated by 6-7°C over continental shelves of Arctic. As shrink back continues, the newly exposed surface water over abyssal depths warms up less in a single summer (say 2-3°C) because of deeper surface water layer (150 m) than over a shelf (50 m).
  • The 6-7°C warming over the shelves causes offshore permafrost to shrink back and vanish over about 10 years. During this time there is elevated methane emission from offshore and from onshore warming, and global warming rates increase by about 50%.
  • Result is that bad effects forecast for end of century (4°C warming worldwide, 10°C in Arctic) actually occur by about 2060. Speed of change is catastrophic for agriculture; warfare and population crashes ensue.
The current level of greenhouses gases is just over 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent, enough for two degrees of warming. Losing the Arctic sea-ice in summer will add another half a degree, as I discussed recently in After the Arctic big melt: A hotter planet.
     And that's without any more greenhouse gas emissions, which are now churning into the atmosphere at a record rate.  Two degrees is not a safe target, but without regional geo-engineering over the Arctic it now seems out of reach. So what's the choice?
     As NASA climate science chief Jim Hansen keeps on telling us, it is hard to argue that anything above the Holocene maximum (of around 0.5 degrees above the pre-industrial temperature) can preserve a safe climate, and that we have already gone too far.  The notion that 1.5C is a safe target is out the window, and even 1 degree looks like an unacceptably high risk.
    In recent rivetting and disturbing presentations here and here, Professor Kevin Anderson has shown that the 2 degrees target now requires advanced-economy, high-polluting nations like Australia to reduce emissions by 10-20% per year if there is to be an equitable global effort to get there. [This concurs with Copenhagen reality check: 25% by 2020 isn't in the ball park.] And that's assuming the Arctic warming does not feed back into the system.
    None of this, of course, is mentioned in polite company when people tut-tut about the latest report from the World Bank, or whomever, showing we are heading for 4 degrees, accompanied by vague exhortations to hold to 2 degrees, without ever honestly talking about what that means.
     As Anderson points out, even holding warming to 4 degrees requires emissions peaking by 2020 a 3.5% p.a. reduction in CO2 from energy from then on.  Meanwhile Australia's emissions will be greater in 2020 than now due to dodgy carbon permit imports, as the prime minister and the climate minister oversee the massive expansion of coal exports and LNG, all the while mouthing platitudes about a 2-degree target.
     Their policies are not consistent with two degrees, but with four.
     In his presentations, Anderson has pointed out that
For 4°C global mean surface temperature (that means)
      5°C - 6°C global land mean
            … and increase °C on the hottest days of:
                6°C - 8°C in China
                     8°C - 10°C in Central Europe
                          10°C -12°C in New York
 He says that "In low latitudes 4°C gives up to 40% reduction in maize and rice as population heads towards 9 billion by 2050" and concludes that:
There is a widespread view that a 4°C future is incompatible with an organised global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of eco-systems & has a high probability of not being stable (i.e. 4C would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level).
If the Arctic sea-ice goes in a few years and events unfurl as Wadhams and the peer-reviewed science suggests, 4 degrees will  be difficult to avoid, to put it politely.
     Then it will be too late to talk about geo-engineering, and the billion or so people left on a hot planet will be wishing like crazy we had taken the idea more seriously. Not because it's win-win, but because our collective stupidity over the last two decades now makes it the least-worst option.

David Spratt


  1. Humans are already geo-engineering through the use of fossil fuels which is causing climate change. I think there needs to be some basic tests applied to any type of geo-engineering as a means of mitigating climate change. First, it cannot be used as a fig leaf by the fossil fuel industries to justify ongoing greenhouse gas emissions. Second, the side effects of any geo-engineering efforts should be less serious than the ongoing effects of climate change.

    1. Perhaps a 3rd condition: that the chosen method of geo-engineering be one with a fairly short-lived effect, so that if it has unforseen negative consequences, we can stop them quickly.

  2. So long as there's something to sell, eg tonnes of climate coolant and associated delivery systems, the drummers will be maniacally drumming, the boosters will be breathlessly boositng, the technological fixers will be waving their sonic screwdrivers.

    Scientific studies. What s load of BS, citing a smattering of scientific studies. What a totally lame appearance of appeal to authority.


    You disagree?

    Think again: the IPCC has established a robust scientific consensus that is extensively cross-validated and peer-reviewed. You don't have to look far to see the (astonishingly, depressingly low) degree of lay understanding about climate change that it has engendered in the wider community.

    One country's climate relief will be another country's climate disaster. I will give you very poor odds on gaining agreement about what is to be done, when and where and how. We can already see the consequences of making economics - based recommendations about mitigating climate change. We are as natins and as political fctions arguing over their necessity, their efficacy, whatever can be argued by the bodies politic as the pigs jostle to get their snouts in the troughs and the piglets jostle for front, middle and hind tits.

    Will this geo-engineering program connnect any of the dots that run between an economic paradigm of unlimited growth and natural resources and ecological collapse?

    Place your bets. It's only money.

  3. Annonymous - you clearly don't keep pigs, as you are as uninformed about them as various other matters.

    FYI, sows don't have front, middle and hind teats;
    they are set in pairs either side of the underside centerline, and there are usually at least six pairs on traditional breeds and more on modern hybrids.

    FYI, piglets of traditional breeds usually return to the teat they first used after birth, so it is very common to see an entire litter laid out in a row all suckling, with no jostling whatsoever.

  4. David – many thanks for this comprehensively linked overview of the state of play on the rapidly growing case for Geo-E.

    There are a few points on which I’d value your opinion – not least because of your exceptional grasp of the issue and the fact that there aren’t too many people with the sense to look outside the box of conventional assumptions on mitigation.

    First, I’m finding good responses to better than standard terminology, and to asserting the reality that geo-engineering comes in two primary modes, both of which are evidently within the Royal Society definition. I’ve been terming these as:
    - “Carbon Recovery” – which term transcends the anomaly of all the land-based ‘carbon-drawdown’ techniques that also involve drawing up carbon out of the oceans, while it also alludes to the concept of the ‘recovery’ of the pre-industrial atmosphere and the corresponding oceanic acidity and global surface air temperature;
    - “Albedo Restoration” – which term transcends the weaknesses of ‘solar radiation management’, including its liability to be read as an intention to control the sun’s output and its gratuitous unhelpful reference to radiation, by instead describing the operational objective of restoring a selected previous level of the planet’s albedo, with its helpful allusion to the restoration of a previous natural condition.

    Second, there are now a host of competing estimates of unrestrained warming at a variety of dates with a variety of factors included, with the latter having varying degrees of confidence in their quantification. The primary variable is to my mind the degree to which mitigation is achieved including all GHG outputs’ control, but the timelag length, the rate of carbon sink decline, the rate of feedbacks’ acceleration and interaction, etc, are all both debateable and highly significant in warming forecasts. Anderson’s recent lecture is a case in point – while I warmly welcome his candid account of the dishonest understatement of mitigation goals for politicians’ convenience, debateable assertions were made on the predictable failure to enhance mitigation capacities, while timelag, sinks, feedbacks and sulphate parasol were largely left out of the picture.

    Given the strong cultural tendency to acknowledge chronic problems in proportion not to their threat but to their apparent solubility, we should expect diminishing returns (extending to counter-productivity) from an increasing focus on the intensity of threat without a parallel focus on credible and achievable means of its resolution. You will no doubt have noted the rising fashionability of shallow defeatism in this regard – which I’ve also seen first hand among farming neighbours shifting from outright denial straight across to apathy in response to Jetstream destabilization and its impacts here in Wales.

    Trying to make the case for geo-engineering as a response to the additional threat of the feedbacks appears to be falling straight into this dilemma – not least because of the intriguingly uniform condemnation of geo-e without any notable prior debate of its merits. (Mass opinion management by partisan official entities is surely to be expected on an issue of the profundity of climate, and is to an extent documented – For instance, it was recently revealed that in 2009 the White House called a group meeting of big-green US NGOs to inform them that talking about climate was a bad idea – which almost all obediently accepted without question).

    Continued below

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. To bypass that dilemma and the problem of selecting worst-case scenario inputs I suggest that a different approach is required, that of working with ‘best-case’ evaluations. I’ve found remarkable results with this in a couple of dozen expositions owing to its relative simplicity, coherence and cogency. A recent example is available at comment #13 at:
    In brief, it evaluates the ‘best-case’ of Emissions Control of achieving near-zero GHG output by 2050 and sums the realized, timelagged and phase-out-emissions’ warming to 2.1C, multiplies that by Hansen’s 110% rise (+/-30%) from the Sulphate Parasol loss to give ~4.4C realized by 2080, and then discusses the feedbacks having 68 years of warming to make that well over 5.0C by 2080. The necessity of developing geo-e under appropriate global governance to provide a commensurate best-case scenario then becomes the responsible consideration, with its detractors exposed as being another layer of the denial of the seriousness of the problem.

    This position also opens further beneficial considerations, such as geo-e posing raised incentives for, and productivity of, the negotiation of a climate treaty that includes its mandate and governance measures,
    and brings into focus the abuse of the climate issue as the food-price/destabilization lever in the super-powers rivalry for global economic dominance. Seeing past the widespread unsupported assumptions of the global fossil lobby blocking commensurate global action appears to help people consider the possibility that getting that action may be substantially less problematic than is now widely assumed, and is thus an antidote to the lethally dangerous drift into apathy and defeatism.

    Using ‘Best-Case’ evaluation over the last few years on numerous sites where geo-e detractors have been rife has generated a complete lack of argument against the factors or the finding that geo-e is necessary and potentially benign, scarcely any “la la I can’t hear you” sloganizing responses at all, and a small but increasing number of very positive responses from the most enquiring minds accepting the argument outright. Notably there is a large gap across the middle ground where people are thus far remaining silent - due perhaps to the lack of social conformity of supporting geo-e at present.

    One further point of detail, regarding Hansen & Sato’s report of the loss of the sulphate parasol raising realized warming 110%, I’ve yet to see any credible refutation or signs of scientific consensus growing around the finding. It’s very possible I’ve missed one or other, so if you have any information on this issue I’d be very glad to see it.

    With best wishes,


  7. The hysteria generated by anti-geo-engineering groups may cause us to fall between two stools. No carbon pollution reduction because of big business on the one hand and no emergency exit because their ideology is against it. The ideologues are as anti-logic and anti-common sense in all mainstream political movements: left, right and green. And religious. Makes one despair.

  8. Geo-engineering is simply stupid because, like most climate science and activism, it is a manifestation of blindly following the CO2 orthodoxy.

    I'm no climate change denier - in fact I am far along on the "alarmist" side of the scale, recognizing that amplifying feedbacks are of far greater consequence than initial forcing. However, I also am aware that climate change is only ONE part of various converging catastrophes, largely attributable to our runaway population, not to mention, patterns of over-consumption.

    Trying to geo-engineer climate is hopeless because we will just face extinction in other ways - ocean acidification, along with forest death and vegetative dieback from ozone pollution - neither of which will be slowed by geo-engineering warming and in fact might be accelerated to the extent that fuel use is encouraged by the idea that temperature can be altered.

    Goodbye food, hello chaos, wars and zombies.

    The ecopocalypse has arrived - the only way to stop it is to stop burning fuel. A tidal wave of pathogens is killing plants that have lost natural immunity from absorbing toxic gases.

    photos and links to research: http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/

  9. Lewis,
    "Albedo restoration" is a good term, as is "safe climate" which I have pushed hard as an alternative to "avoiding dangerous climate change".
    It is true that solutions are often offered in proportion to their political acceptability, which is why in Australia most environment NGOs too often offer dinky solutions and downplay the science and the threat.
    Estimate of warming are of necessity uncertain, most particular because many of the feedbacks are non-linear and by nature unpredictable. Will an ice-free day in an Arctic summer be in 5 years of 15? Will acceleration of greenland melt be polynomial? and so on.
    But as you point out, even the 'best case' scenario still points to the need for geo-e. And the problems of the aerosol dilemma described by Jim Hansen on numerous occasions seem to be systematically ignored by most of the climate advocacy movement. If rapid reduction of GHG emissions means sulphate and cooling loss and a heating burst of up to half a degree, that is reasons enough for geo-e. Add another half a degree when the Arctic is sea-ice free in the summer three months, and the case becomes irresistible.-- David

  10. Let's see serious efforts to get emissions to zero as being absolutely first and foremost.

    What these scientists don't realise is that they are giving governments and industry an easy way out to avoid taking any real action to reduce emissions.

    GE will be given first and highest priority and given most of the money, and all the other measures that are critically needed will come second through to last or may not even be in the race.

    It's simple human psychology that people will usually take the (apparent) easy way out. The result will be a farce and a failure with very little done to tackle the root causes of the problem. I'm sure lots of greedy people will make lots of money out of GE though.

    For god's sake, if you want real geo-engineering that will work, stop land-clearing and logging and plant lots of trees. A tried and tested technology, approved by Mother Nature herself.

  11. Anon (above)
    All true, but 100% success in all the actions you rightly point to as necessary will not stop the Arctic going up in smoke. Current GHG levels plus emissions already locked in are enough for 2 degrees, plus. Remember for high-emitting Annex 1 countries like USA and Australia a fair deal for a 2-degree target means them reducing emissions 10-20% a year from now!!! Within a few years the Arctic will be ice-free in summer for a few days and the ice albedo feedback will charge along, and an extra half a degree of warming will start kick in. And then there are the permafrost feedbacks already in play and highlighted by this week's UNEP report on the issue, even though the next IPCC report in 2013 is excluding these feedbacks for some insane reason. The sad fact is that if we don't keep the Arctic sea-ice cover, the game is up. And there is only one way now to keep that ice there in summer.

  12. Sure David, I understand what you're saying but the result will be that GE will be given the utmost priority to maintain business as usual.

    Look at what's happened with the situation with gas. Someone said it was cleaner than coal and now, instead of being a transition and back up fuel for Renewables, it's taking over.

    The same will happen with GE. It'll simply become a politically convenient smokescreen where industry is given the power AND the money to appear to be dealing with Climate Change. It's letting the Tyrannosaurs into the sheep paddock.

  13. Anon - your concerns are entirely valid in my view as potentially ruinous outcomes, but your assertions that these Would be the result of Geo-E lack much accompanying evidence.

    Some points, such as "What these scientists fail to see . . ." are simply mistaken - there are cowboys of course, but serious scientists are acutely aware of the threat of substitution, to the extent that even the US 'Bipartisan Policy Centre' has stated explicitly that Geo-E has to be an addition to Emissions Control, not an alternative.

    There is also a paramount sovereignty issue blocking the threat of substitution. Under a negotiated global treaty, Emissions Control is the primary ambition of the national delegations, with the essential governance of Geo-E as a possible secondary requirement. There is no way that Geo-E would be adopted as a substitute at the UN since it patently cannot resolve the impacts of continued exponentially rising emissions, which nations are increasingly seeing as an existential threat.

    Moreover, Geo-e cannot be applied unilaterally owing to its potential to violate other nations' sovereignty, triggering concerted sanctions up to and including military responses. For instance, consider Americans' likely response to the news that China intended to launch sulphate aerosols Geo-E which would affect the rainfall across US grainlands. It would generate calls not for retaliation but for pre-emptive military action. Thus the UN is the forum where Geo-E could be adopted, and it won't be adopted without consensus agreement of a commensurate Emissions Control treaty.

    The aspect that you don't address is the evident need for effective Geo-E. By my calculation, (which I've put up a score of times in relevant fora without any refutation) if our 'best case' for Emissions Control is taken to be near-zero global GHG output by 2050, then the easily demonstrated outcome is a warming of at least 5.0C by 2080, and possibly higher. If you'd be interested to assess that finding there is an outline posted at:

    Given that even 1.5C of warming looks increasingly likely to generate serial global crop failures, mega-famines and geo-political destabilization, managing Geo-E very well indeed seems to me an essential component of mitigation strategy. Logically, both Carbon Recovery and Albedo Restoration modes are required, the first to gradually cleanse the atmosphere during this century, and the second to limit global temperature in the interim to sustain agriculture and to prevent the seven known interactive mega-feedbacks from accelerating further. (Notably both of these objectives are essential and neither can be achieved by Emissions Control alone).

    The objectives, research, trials and deployment of the technologies obviously has to be under stringent globally-accountable scientific supervision to weed out the dross options. As an example of the better end of the spectrum 'Cloud Brightening' is notable. It would use wind-powered vessels to deliver a mist of natural seawater to clouds in a selected region (such as the arctic in summer and areas of deep oceans in winter). Should significant adverse outcomes be observed, its effects rain out within nine days on average, so the program can rapidly be halted if necessary.

    It is worth noting that while the costs of Albedo Restoration might seem huge to ordinary people, they are actually very small beer in terms of global industries - so there is no great profit in view for corporations to lust after. Prof. Salter, who researches the Cloud Brightening option, proposes that a fleet of around 2,000 small vessels would be sufficient, while the filthy sulphate aerosols option was reported by the BPC as needing "...only a small fraction of the annual budget of a middle-ranking developing country, such as Indonesia," since it would in essence only be roughly doubling our annual global fossil sulphur output.


  14. Continued
    With regard to Carbon Recovery, the much-vaunted 'artificial trees' plainly haven't a hope of scaling to sequester even 1.0ppmv of CO2 per year. Indeed I've yet to find any record of Prof. Lackner touting them for general sequestration - his interest appears to be the profitable supply of CO2 for carbon offsets and 'enhanced oil extraction', and possibly as a non-fossil carbon feedstock-source for synthetic liquid fuels. The massive operational energy requirement for this could in theory be renewable, but it would be at the expense of that energy serving society's needs and displacing fossil plants. The professor appears to have overlooked this flaw.

    The only Carbon Recovery option I've seen that could, if done well, scale sufficiently to meet the objective, is as you suggest tree-planting, but optimized under a well-regulated global program, specifically of native afforestation for biochar and co-product methanol.

    The ideal sylviculture is that of Coppice Forestry, where deciduous trees are harvested cyclically at 7 to 25 years of growth, and then regrown from the stump - which they do vigorously giving around 20% better yield than new saplings. This also provides habitat for exceptional biodiversity - the highest of any European ecosystem.

    At best the feedstock is processed locally in village-scale retorts, thus avoiding both long transport costs and impacts while getting about 70% of the wood's carbon as charcoal for milling and charging as biochar. About 28% of the wood's energy content is emitted as hot crude woodgas, which is readily converted to the valuable liquid fuel Methanol [CH3OH]. This would allow income streams from two products to help cover labour and overheads.

    In case the idea of biochar may be new to you, I'd just say that it's been used across Amazonia for over 2,000 years - showing that the soil retains the carbon buried in it - and is now being trialled in over 25 countries worldwide as both a soil fertility enhancer and soil-moisture regulator, with very impressive results when it is done well, particularly on poor soils.

    The key resource is of course sufficient land area for afforestation. This was recently researched by a joint WRI-WWF team who found about 1.6GHa.s would be available globally without impacting farmland. With the addition of some farm wastes and some municipal wastes, alongside the conversion of some paper-pulp forestry plantations, there are evidently ample potential feedstock resources to cleanse the atmosphere during this century.

    What is needed of course for these options to be realized as adjuncts to Emissions Control is the political will to negotiate a commensurate global climate treaty. This will mean getting past the present ‘Brinkmanship of Inaction’ between the superpowers (guess which govt. faces being overthrown by popular uprising due to escalating food-prices from crop failures, and thus losing its bid for global economic dominance . . .). Getting sufficient popular demand together to realize that political will means that climate advocates are going to have to unite around quite specific demands – and to be commensurate with our predicament I suggest these will necessarily include very well-governed Albedo Restoration and Carbon Recovery operating in parallel with Emissions Control. To this end I hope that you may consider the case made above impartially and respond as you see fit, for it seems plain that it is only by unifying our efforts that we have a real hope of resolving the climate hazard.



  15. Lewis, the problem is not the scientists but the people who will use and abuse them and their research.

    On your response, we get the same verbose answers from proponents of nuclear and genetically modified organisms, both very questionable technologies. It seems to me that there is a background anxiety in the claims and responses where the source is a religious faith in the idealogy that science will always find a way to solve our problems and it is misplaced in the case of a number of situations and particular technologies.

    I'm parking geo-engineering in the unproven and questionable category until I see that we are doing enough on the basics and I can't see that anywhere near enough is being done there. Perhaps we can all start from the start and all work together on the basics first.

    Interesting analogy here from my life experience.

    I remember doing a course in Paramedic advanced life support skills and our instructor emphasised at the end of it that if we forgot about the basic first aid priorities in treating a patient, we would lose them in any case and no amount of advanced techniques would save the patient.

    I think that story is very applicable to this situation.

  16. Well it looks as if we'll have to mull over this discussion to find common ground. From where I stand the patient has clearly OD'd from a long term potentially lethal addiction - which must of course be brought to an end -
    but right now he's hemorrhaging badly - in our case our global agricultural capacity - and that must be halted without delay;
    and if the toxins in his system are nor removed he's going to die of organ failure - in our case the collapse of the ecosystems on which we're dependent - such as the coral reefs' fish nurseries.

    This seems to me a considerably more apt analogy for our climate predicament. All three interventions are necessary - one could take as little as 40 years, a second takes probably 80 years or so, and the third is needed for the duration of the second, so the idea of postponing the start of any of the three seems to me problematic.



  17. Hahaha, very good summary of some of the main presenting problems Lewis.

    I'm just wondering who the patient is here - the Earth or human civilisation? Maybe both?

    If Earth is the patient, I think that the main cause of all of the presenting problems is a micro-organism, perhaps to be called a disease or parasite, that has gotten out of control and the patient's own immune system via a sudden high fever may be the cure to get it under control.

    If current human civilisation is the patient, then it could be a case of too far gone due to cumulative addictions and their cumulative adverse effects where life support is just extending the agony until certain death. There's also evidence of a serious mental illness of some kind. Sometimes there's just no helping some people because they're so intent on self-destruction and they've done a bloody good job of it.

    If GE is compared to an advanced life support skill to be used on patient Earth, then it's one that certainly hasn't been used before by the practitioner in any proven, measured or skillful way on any other patient and successful use of it is very uncertain, possibly doing more harm than good.

    Anyway, the first response and emergency medical analogies seem to have been done to death!

    I'm willing to accept that there may be a place for some kind of GE intervention soon but not before there is concerted effort at dealing with core problems. In dealing with the core problems we may find there is not enough resources left to use GE anyway and we may get good results from the basics.

    Just the opinion of one single micro-organism though!

  18. Also, to add to the above, is the first responder a complete novice who's just out of training and never dealt with a serious casualty and is the emergency doctor just a quack?

    Or is this all a bit OTT and the analogy must end?

  19. Anon - a pleasure conversing with you. You've outlined some common ground on which we're potentially agreed - that geo-e interventions [may soon be/are urgently] needed, but they should not precede concerted efforts [via a UN climate treaty] for Emissions Control. A point I tried to express in the twin post above is that geo-e actually cannot proceed except via a UN treaty (owing to sovereignty issues) and that member states won't allow it without an equitable and efficient Emissions Control agreement.

    An aspect worth noting is that the proposal of afforestation for Carbon Recovery could potentially have a seminal effect on the pace of treaty negotiations. A core (intended) blockage is the US refusal to acknowledge any liability for its cumulative 'historic' emissions of about 27% of the global total. When Washington realizes that Bush's policy of a 'Brinkmanship of Inaction' was ill-conceived and is now increasingly counter to US interests, the global program of productive afforestation can be framed to allow all nations to commit to funding the recovery of their cumulative emissions at an agreed rate.

    Beside advancing the requisite Carbon Recovery, this would offer critical benefits of removing the key log from the logjam over US 'historic' emissions, and, in codifying verifiable national obligations to carbon sequestration, it would also preclude the false objective of the afforestation being perverted into merely yielding carbon offsets for vested interests.

    Given that the 'biochar plus co-product methanol' route would yield around 1.5M barrels of petrol-equivalent fuel per 1.0MTs of carbon sequestered, it offers nations such as the US & EU states the incentive of an affordable means of resolving their huge carbon debts over time. And for developing countries, the prospect of formal support for producing carbon sequestration credits plus soil enhancer and premium liquid fuel on non-farmland - in any country where trees grow well - is a potent incentive for advancing the treaty's negotiation.

    By contrast, once there is the will to agree an Emissions Control basis to the treaty, the prospect of fully-accountable scientific supervision of Albedo Restoration (conditional on nations meeting their Emissions Control obligations) would provide a strong incentive for an early treaty agreement of climate stability being restored within a few years of its deployment (after some years of stringent research and trials). It also minimizes another major obstacle in the talks, being that of just who is going to pay for the massive climate damages now looming - by means of preventing their occurrence after deployment takes effect. (Mind you, this assumes that a technique as apparently benign as 'Cloud Brightening' will at some point be made to work well enough to be mandated for deployment).

    From this perspective it seems clear that while Emissions Control is the necessary primary basis of a treaty, the inclusion of responsible Carbon Recovery and Albedo Restoration protocols could transform the nations' willingness to find commensurate agreement – which has been lacking for over two decades.

    I'd be interested to know what you make of the finding that our 'best case' of Emissions Control alone would unavoidably yield around 5.0C of warming by 2080, that I mentioned in the twin post above (I meant to add that it is comment #13 on that thread) as it is that outcome that drives my interest in the additional measures.

    As an ecologist by inclination and training, the medical analogy rather appeals to me. I'd look at the ecosphere as the patient with society as a minor but seriously disordered component. The problem of course is with our conduct and prevailing culture - which must be radically reformed, while we clean up the mess we've made and ameliorate its dire consequences for the whole ecosphere while doing so. As far as I can see, nothing less than this comprehensive strategy is commensurate with our predicament.



    1. When I read about reforestation I thought about this hemp film I saw the other day, The Emperor has No Clothes. That is one phenomenal plant that can be used successfully to meet a wide variety of human needs from medicine to machine oil and as a carbon sink. Is this another god given solution to our problems that is blinded by prejudice? I can't help but think so or they wouldn't have stigmatized it the way they have everything else that would raise the quality of life for everyone. Dependable economical available. I hate the thought of geo-engineering silver bullet solutions it seems to me that if it isn't coupled with zero tolerance for fossil fuels we will just be enableing the Conventional Energy Giants with BAU for an few extra years. We can also paint all the highways and rooftops white-those without gardens on them less risky with the right surfecant.

    2. OMG, there's a reply option, I didn't even see that!

      I'm not the anonymous directly above by the way but am the anonymous who was originally in discussion with Lewis.

      Anyway, what you say here Lewis is a bit of a contradiction:

      "I'd look at the ecosphere as the patient with society as a minor but seriously disordered component."

      If society is such a minor component, how is it managing to so seriously affect the whole? I guess your mention of a serious disorder explains that, so maybe there's no contradiction at all.

      Therefore, I would be unwilling to consider and support GE until the underlying 'serious disorder' is fundamentally addressed which is something that simply isn't happening.

      I am willing to concede that we've actually run out of time and I'm psychologically preparing myself for the worst. On the bright side, at least there'll be plenty of entertainment in the way of a horror/disaster movie right there on my TV.

      The way international action is going, it appears that governments are aware that it may be too late and have simply given up and are willing to accept the consequences and are staying silent so as not to alarm the populace.

  20. Anon - sorry - typo alert.

    Para 4 line 1 should read:
    "Given that the 'biochar plus co-product methanol' route would yield around 0.5M barrels of petrol-equivalent fuel per 1.0MTs of carbon sequestered ..."


  21. Sell China all the tarsands we can now.....as long as they agree to keep it in the ground.

  22. Anon the 1st -

    Perhaps you missed two key points above on the timing of the formal agreement of geo-e under UN governance and supervision -
    - first, the member states know full well that a stable climate cannot be restored without ending fossil fuel dependence, but that doing so will neither control AGW nor the feedbacks, and for any survivors it will then take 1,000 years or more for the atmosphere to be naturally cleansed. They also know full well that reliance on albedo restoration without halting emissions would be suicidal - not only via ocean acidification but also via the risk of having for some reason to halt the program - and slamming into X degrees of pent up warming.

    From this knowledge, as well as from global public pressure, there is no serious prospect of the UN member states agreeing geo-e without its being conditional on the operation of an equitable and efficient emissions control treaty.

    Second, the emissions control treaty is very late already, and with worsening liability arguments as the global damages rise, neither faction is getting more willing to be flexible. Both Carbon Recovery and Albedo Restoration could greatly help the agreement of the binding emissions control treaty we need, in the five particular ways described above.

    Finally, I've known quite a range of politicians over the years, and the idea that we're doomed and they aren't letting on to avoid panic simply doesn't fit the profile.

    What does fit the profile, (most especially of Dick Cheyney who launched the current bipartisan US policy),
    is the fact that China is within a decade or so of crop failures and potential food shortages, at which point the regime would be vulnerable to popular overthrow, which could end China's bid for global economic dominance,
    and the fact that America's policy since 2000 has been of doing nothing to assist the control of AGW, and anything it can get away with to disrupt the global efforts at agreeing its control.

    Bush had no problem doing nothing more difficult than playing the bimbo - but Obama has needed the rapidly deployed circus of denial and rebuttal as a spurious excuse for his near-total inaction at home (the US public don't seem that interested in 'foreign policy').

    The fact that the bipartisan policy was founded on deeply flawed assumptions about relative wealth and relative endurance of climate impacts and relative loyalty to authority, thus far means only that Washington is keen to accelerate the pressure on Beijing - such as by raising the ethanol mandate to 40% of the US corn crop being denied to world markets, and the recent refusal to suspend it despite the US drought and the unprecedented demands of two ex-presidents.

    This game of a Brinkmanship of Inaction is still in play. We need to put a stop to it.



    1. Thanks for the info on the political situation.

      I think it's possible also that the US will have a regime challenge or a civil war on its hands soon too, as its own droughts, crop and economic failures take their toll.

      Having read your summary though and being enlightened to the fact that the issue of Climate Change is simply a game of chicken amongst two of the biggest psycopaths on the planet, I'm even more pessimistic of an intelligent and effective international plan of action on CC.

      The thing is, how do we convince our own government to stop being such a bunch of sycophantic losers sucking up to our lover-bros in the US?

      It's clear that if Australia made serious commitments and took serious action on Climate Change, our government could play a pivotal role in convincing the US to stand down and make commitments also.

      It seems that one of the key battlegrounds on Climate Change is in Australia itself and the US and fossil fuel industry knows it. How do you propose to convince our own government to change course?