Friday, November 15, 2013

Excerpts of articles organized by date. Will update regularly.

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SEPT/OCT 2013:
Geoengineering: A Short History
How hacking the climate came to be seen as our least worst option for averting a global climate catastrophe.
BY TY MCCORMICK  - Foreign Policy

For most of human history, weather control has been under the strict purview of sky gods and science fiction. But today, as superstorms ravage coastal cities and pollution blankets entire countries, averting climate catastrophe has become a serious foreign-policy issue. Not that it appears that the world's major powers are making much headway in their diplomatic efforts to stop global warming. Instead, it is falling to so-called geoengineers to game out strategies for deliberate, large-scale intervention -- everything from dumping iron slurry into the ocean in order to create massive CO2-sucking algae blooms to bombarding the stratosphere with sulfate-laced artillery to deflect sunlight. With the world's fate potentially resting on the shoulders of these climate hackers, it's worth recalling the dubious history of weather manipulation.

American meteorologist James Pollard Espy publishes The Philosophy of Storms, in which he lays out his thermal theory of storm formation and details a method through which "rain may be produced artificially in time of drought." By setting "great fires" and creating heated columns of air -- something Espy lobbies Congress to allow him to do -- he argues it would be possible to generate precipitation on command. The scheme, which rests on shoddier science than Espy's theory of storm formation, earns him the moniker "Storm King."

Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius investigates the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels on global temperatures in Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science. He is the first scientist to calculate how doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would affect the climate. His conclusion -- that Earth's temperature would increase by roughly 9 degrees Fahrenheit -- leads him to suggest in 1908 that by increasing the amount of "carbonic acid" in the atmosphere, "we may hope to enjoy ages with more equitable and better climates."

The Soviet Union establishes the Institute of Rainmaking in Leningrad, setting the stage for decades of experimentation with cloud seeding as a means of altering the weather. The United States follows suit in 1946, when researchers at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York, discover that dry ice stimulates ice-crystal formation. In the Cold War's early years, both superpowers carry out hundreds of experiments using solid carbon dioxide, silver iodide, and other particulate matter to trigger precipitation. The success of these experiments is greatly exaggerated, but scientists do manage to alter weather patterns on a small scale.

May 14, 2012
Is there a technological solution to global warming?

Late in the afternoon on April 2, 1991, Mt. Pinatubo, a volcano on the Philippine island of Luzon, began to rumble with a series of the powerful steam explosions that typically precede an eruption. Pinatubo had been dormant for more than four centuries, and in the volcanological world the mountain had become little more than a footnote. The tremors continued in a steady crescendo for the next two months, until June 15th, when the mountain exploded with enough force to expel molten lava at the speed of six hundred miles an hour. The lava flooded a two-hundred-and-fifty-square-mile area, requiring the evacuation of two hundred thousand people.

Within hours, the plume of gas and ash had penetrated the stratosphere, eventually reaching an altitude of twenty-one miles. Three weeks later, an aerosol cloud had encircled the earth, and it remained for nearly two years. Twenty million metric tons of sulfur dioxide mixed with droplets of water, creating a kind of gaseous mirror, which reflected solar rays back into the sky. Throughout 1992 and 1993, the amount of sunlight that reached the surface of the earth was reduced by more than ten per cent.

The heavy industrial activity of the previous hundred years had caused the earth’s climate to warm by roughly three-quarters of a degree Celsius, helping to make the twentieth century the hottest in at least a thousand years. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, however, reduced global temperatures by nearly that much in a single year. It also disrupted patterns of precipitation throughout the planet. It is believed to have influenced events as varied as floods along the Mississippi River in 1993 and, later that year, the drought that devastated the African Sahel. Most people considered the eruption a calamity.

For geophysical scientists, though, Mt. Pinatubo provided the best model in at least a century to help us understand what might happen if humans attempted to ameliorate global warming by deliberately altering the climate of the earth.

For years, even to entertain the possibility of human intervention on such a scale—geoengineering, as the practice is known—has been denounced as hubris. Predicting long-term climatic behavior by using computer models has proved difficult, and the notion of fiddling with the planet’s climate based on the results generated by those models worries even scientists who are fully engaged in the research. “There will be no easy victories, but at some point we are going to have to take the facts seriously,’’ David Keith, a professor of engineering and public policy at Harvard and one of geoengineering’s most thoughtful supporters, told me. “Nonetheless,’’ he added, “it is hyperbolic to say this, but no less true: when you start to reflect light away from the planet, you can easily imagine a chain of events that would extinguish life on earth.”

December 21, 2009
The Geoengineering Gambit

For years, radical thinkers have proposed risky technologies that they say could rapidly cool the earth and offset global warming. Now a growing number of mainstream climate scientists say we may have to consider extreme action despite the dangers.
By Kevin Bullis - MIT Technology Review

“Rivers fed by melting snow and glaciers supply water to over one-sixth of the world’s population–well over a billion people. But these sources of water are quickly disappearing: the Himalayan glaciers that feed rivers in India, China, and other Asian countries could be gone in 25 years (after this story appeared in print this claim was retracted by scientists: see correction). Such effects of climate change no longer surprise scientists. But the speed at which they’re happening does. “The earth appears to be changing faster than the climate models predicted,” says ­Daniel Schrag, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University, who advises President Obama on climate issues.

Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have already climbed to 385 parts per million, well over the 350 parts per million that many scientists say is the upper limit for a relatively stable climate. And despite government-led efforts to limit carbon emissions in many countries, annual emissions from fossil-fuel combustion are going up, not down: over the last two decades, they have increased 41 percent. In the last 10 years, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by nearly two parts per million every year. At this rate, they’ll be twice preindustrial levels by the end of the century. Meanwhile, researchers are growing convinced that the climate might be more sensitive to greenhouse gases at this level than once thought. “The likelihood that we’re going to avoid serious damage seems quite low,” says Schrag. “The best we’re going to do is probably not going to be good enough.”
This shocking realization has caused many influential scientists, including Obama advisors like Schrag, to fundamentally change their thinking about how to respond to climate change. They have begun calling for the government to start funding research into geoengineering–large-scale schemes for rapidly cooling the earth.”

13 December 2009:
American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society position statement on geoengineering the Climate System:

Title: Geoengineering Solutions to Climate Change Require Enhanced Research,
Consideration of Societal Impacts, and Policy Development

“It is not currently possible to assess the potential benefits or costs of Climate System Geoengineering.
Therefore, significant additional research, risk assessment, and consideration of difficult policy questions
is required before the potential of this tool to offset climate change can be fully evaluated.
“Human responsibility for most of the well-documented increase in global average temperatures over the
last half century is well established. Further greenhouse gas emissions, particularly of carbon dioxide
from the burning of fossil fuels, will almost certainly contribute to additional widespread climate changes
that can be expected to cause major negative consequences for most nations1.
Three proactive strategies could reduce the risks of climate change: 1) mitigation: reducing emissions; 2)
adaptation: moderating climate impacts by increasing our capacity to cope with them; and 3)
geoengineering: deliberately manipulating physical, chemical, or biological aspects of the Earth system2.
This policy statement focuses on large-scale efforts to geoengineer the climate system to counteract the
consequences of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Geoengineering could lower greenhouse gas concentrations, provide options for reducing specific climate
impacts, or offer strategies of last resort if abrupt, catastrophic, or otherwise unacceptable climate-change
impacts become unavoidable by other means. However, research to date has not determined whether there
are large-scale geoengineering approaches that would produce significant benefits, or whether those
benefits would substantially outweigh the detriments. Indeed, geoengineering must be viewed with
caution because manipulating the Earth system has considerable potential to trigger adverse and
unpredictable consequences.“

OCTOBER 20, 2009:
Superfreakonomics author is baffled that Caldeira ‘doesnt believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions.’
BY JOE ROMM - ThinkProgress

Bloomberg interview of Dubner and Caldeira backs up my reporting on error-riddled best-seeler

Caldeira, like the vast majority of climate scientists, believes cutting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions is our only real chance to avoid runaway climate change.

“Carbon dioxide is the right villain,” Caldeira wrote on his Web site in reply. He told Joe Romm, the respected climate blogger who broke the story, that he had objected to the “wrong villain” line but Dubner and Levitt didn’t correct it; instead, they added the “incredibly foolish” quote, a half step in the right direction. Caldeira gave the same account to me.

Levitt and Dubner do say that the book “overstates” Caldeira’s position. That’s a weasel word: The book claims the opposite of what Caldeira believes. Caldeira told me the book contains “many errors” in addition to the “major error” of misstating his scientific opinion on carbon dioxide’s role….
Caldeira, who is researching the idea [of aerosol geoengineering], argues that it can succeed only if we first reduce emissions. Otherwise, he says, geoengineering can’t begin to cope with the collateral damage, such as acidic oceans killing off shellfish.

Levitt and Dubner ignore his view and champion his work as a permanent substitute for emissions cuts. When I told Dubner that Caldeira doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions, he was baffled. “I don’t understand how that could be,” he said. In other words, the Freakonomics guys just flunked climate science.

January 2009:
By Oliver Morton - Edge

It is quite likely that we will at some point see people starting to make deliberate changes in the way the climate system works. When they do they will change the world — though not necessarily, or only, in the way that they intend to.

"Geoengineering" technologies for counteracting some aspects of anthropogenic climate change — such as putting long-lived aerosols into the stratosphere, as volcanoes do, or changing the lifetimes and reflective properties of clouds — have to date been shunned by the majority of climate scientists, largely on the basis of the moral hazard involved: any sense that the risks of global warming can be taken care of by such technology weakens the case for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.

I expect to see this unwillingness recede quite dramatically in the next few years, and not only because of the post-Lehman-Brothers bashing given to the idea that moral hazard is something to avoid at all costs. As people come to realise how little has actually been achieved so far on the emissions-reduction front, quite a few are going to start to freak out. Some of those who freak will have money to spend, and with money and the participation of a larger cadre of researchers, the science and engineering required for the serious assessment of various geoengineering schemes might be developed fairly quickly.

Why do I think those attempts will change the world? Geoengineering is not, after all, a panacea. It cannot precisely cancel out the effects of greenhouse gases, and it is likely to have knock on effects on the hydrological cycle which may well not be welcome. Even if the benefits outweigh the costs, the best-case outcome is unlikely to be more than a period of grace in which the most excessive temperature changes are held at bay. Reducing carbon-dioxide emissions will continue to be necessary. In part that is because of the problem of ocean acidification, and in part because a lower carbon-dioxide climate is vastly preferable to one that stays teetering on the brink of disaster for centuries, requiring constant tinkering to avoid teetering over into greenhouse hellishness.

So geoengineering would not "solve" climate change. Nor would it be an unprecedented human intervention into the earth system. It would be a massive thing to undertake, but hardly more momentous in absolute terms than our replacement of natural ecosystems with farmed ones; our commandeering of the nitrogen cycle; the wholesale havoc we have wrought on marine food webs; or the amplification of the greenhouse effect itself.

September 1, 2008: 
Quote of the Day: James Lovelock on Geoengineering & The "Practice of Planetary Medicine"
Treehugger - Kimberley Mok -Living / Culture

Whether you love him or dismiss him, James Lovelock may be the staunchest pessimist around for the future of humanity on a warming planet. But the iconic environmentalist and originator of the Gaia hypothesis has a couple of cautionary words about the hubris of artificially fiddling with nature:

"Before we start geoengineering we have to raise the following question: are we sufficiently talented to take on what might become the onerous permanent task of keeping the Earth in homeostasis? Consider what might happen if we start by using a stratospheric aerosol to ameliorate global heating; even if it succeeds, it would not be long before we face the additional problem of ocean acidification. This would need another medicine, and so on... Whatever we do is likely to lead to death on a scale that makes all previous wars, famines and disasters small… We have to consider seriously that as with nineteenth century medicine, the best option is often kind words and pain killers but otherwise do nothing and let Nature take its course.[..]”

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A #Geoengineering #Climate Issues blog - Geoingeniería by Oscar and Jocelyn Escobar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.Licencia Creative Commons
A #Geoengineering #Climate Issues blog por Oscar y Jocelyn Escobar se distribuye bajo una Licencia Creative Commons Atribución-NoComercial 4.0 Internacional.