Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World (Excerpts and comments)

The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World
Oliver Morton
Princeton University Press (U.S. November 3, 2015)
ISBN: 9780691148250
Table of contents at end of article.

Comments by Oscar A. Escobar below the excerpts.
Florida, USA – Gt. December 1, 2015


Cutting tropospheric aerosols is a pressing problem; stratospheric veilmaking is still just this side of geopoetry, and hugely divisive to boot. Countries are willing to endanger their citizens through poorly regulated air pollution because of the economic importance they put on generating energy for industry and having cars and vans to move people around. They may well also endanger them because of the political muscle of the people who do the generating and who make use of the cars. But they will not leave them suffering as they try to develop and agree on some pie-in-the-sky alternative, the benefits of which are speculative and global. Sulphur emissions will be cut regardless of whether their cooling can be replaced.

The most striking example of this, I think, comes not from one country but setting progressively stricter standards for the amount of soot and sulphur they can emit when out in the heart of the oceans. Taking on this task had given the IMO regulatory influence over the albedo of more than half of the Earth’s surface – and thus a far greater ability to play with the parameters of the climate than that currently enjoyed by the UNFCCC.

The effects of sulphur emissions at sea can be particularly strong because of the Twomey effect. Over land, where everything from dust to dandruff is constantly being blown into the air, clouds are rarely constrained by a lack of condensation nuclei. Over the seas, where the air is cleaner, they are often limited in this way. Most of the condensation nuclei that are available come from plankton-produced sulphur compounds; in the 1980s Lovelock worked with the aerosol expert Robert Charlson and others to show that sulphur emissions by plankton are probably keeping the planet significantly cooler than it would otherwise be by encouraging cloud formation in this way. Changes in ocean circulation or fertilization patterns that discouraged them from this work could lead to bad effects on the climate, a non-linearity to bear in mind.

But some of the mid-ocean sulphur comes from ships, and thus so does some planetary cooling. It has been calculated that the new emission standards the IMO is bringing into force this decade will reduce the cooling effects of global pollution by something like a third of a watt per square metre – a considerably greater effect, models would suggest, than that of all the carbon dioxide emitted by every generator and engine in the world over the same ten years. Those new standards will also, according to a companion analysis, save something in the region of 40,000 lives a year, because what is emitted over the mid-oceans does not stay over the mid-oceans; it is blown to shore, where it increases the damage done by pollution to susceptible lungs.

Do I think it realistic to imagine that the IMO might, as the result of a far-reaching envelope-stretching boundary-breaking debate, have come to a Crutzen-like grand bargain in which it sought to make good the cooling it was taking away by implementing a replacement brightening? Not really; but it remains striking – no, shocking – that as far as I can ascertain no one even mentioned the matter, even though the IMO’s own technical advisers used the term ‘geoengineering’ in some of their analyses. Conversations have to start somewhere, and that would have been a good place to start one.

Morton, Oliver (2015-11-03) The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World (p. 293 – 296), Princeton University Press. Google Play, U.S. Edition.


Unfortunately, when you start getting close to global scales, brightening just a part of the world can have rather unfortunate consequences. A veilmaking study by Jim Haywood, a modeller at Britain’s Met Office, makes the point clearly. Ringing the changes on one of the GeoMIP scenarios described in Chapter Four, Haywood and some colleagues compared a Greenhouse Planet with a pair of Engineered Planets; in one of them all the cooling took place in the northern hemisphere, and in the other it was all in the southern hemisphere, a regionalization which would probably be achievable if the cooling veil was emplaced only by aircraft in the appropriate hemisphere and a fair way from the equator. He found that in the northern-cooling-only scenario there were horrendous droughts in the Sahel, because the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a rainbelt around the equator, moves away from the cooler hemisphere, taking its rain with it. This effect does not just appear in models. Of the Sahel’s four worst years of drought during the twentieth century, three took place after volcanic eruptions sufficiently far north of the equator to cool only the northern hemisphere – the year after the Katmai eruption in the Aleutians (1913), and the year of and the year after the El Chichón eruption in Mexico (1982 and 1983). There is also a substantial body of evidence suggesting that the cooling effects of sulphate aerosols from the industrial north played a role in the Sahel droughts of the 1970s and 1980s.

The most obvious lesson from Haywood’s simulation is that no one should try to cool the planet just by cooling the northern hemisphere. The more general lesson is that cooling some parts of the planet can have large effects in others. The climate system works in such a way that if you perturb one bit of it you would expect to see responses in other bits a long way away; there are patterns of atmospheric pressure and circulation that can shift from one state to another on a global scale. It is due to just such ‘teleconnections’ that the effects of a warm body of water moving across the Pacific – the essence of an El Niño event – can be reliably expected to produce a broadly predictable pattern of change from Cape Town to California.

Stephen Salter imagines that it might be possible to use such teleconnections to fine-tune a geoengineering scheme’s effects on the climate, avoiding some areas and doubling down on others in order to get a pre-selected pattern of beneficial effects across the planet. Few people with a background in climate science believe this. Rather, they worry that by concentrating cooling in particular places you could do damage to others without fully understanding why – that teleconnections are a bug, not a feature.

Morton, Oliver (2015-11-03) The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World (p. 306 – 308), Princeton University Press. Google Play, U.S. Edition.


 “With a few flights a day from each site, they deliver a few tens of thousands of tonnes of aerosol to the stratosphere over the first year. Sprayed out comfortably above the tropical and subtropical tropopause in both hemispheres, this forms a tolerably even, remarkably tenuous veil. There had at one time been a satellite devoted to measuring stratospheric aerosol density which might have allowed researchers to notice the veil’s creation, but after that satellite’s life was over no one replaced it – there’s always some group with an even more interesting set of measurements to make, and there are only so many missions you can launch.

After 18 months of operations, the Concert announces what it has been up to at the UNFCCC climate summit of 202–. The Concert presents its programme as an act of civil disobedience. Not, the countries say, that they are actually breaking international law. If their actions were hostile they would have been in breach of the ENMOD convention; if they caused demonstrable harm, they might be liable under customary international law. Neither is the case, says the Concert. But the countries making the veil are happy to admit that they are breaking the norms of international relations in a way that might inconvenience, discomfort, even shock. Civil disobedience does that. When there is a just cause to be fought for, the Concert argues, and when there is no forum in which the fight for that cause shows any sign of making progress, then something like civil disobedience is called for. To disobey the tenor of times, they say, is not a crime. It is a duty.

The practical aim of its action, the Concert explains, is straightforward and limited. It does not intend to stop or reverse warming; it intends only to slow it. It plans to thicken the veil at a pace that its climate modellers think will keep the rate of warming at or below 0.1ºC a decade. A limit to the rate of change of the temperature, the historically minded are reminded, had been a widely canvassed objective when action on greenhouse gases was first mooted in the 1980s. The Concert’s target, if it could deliver it, would mean that over the rest of the century the temperature would rise about as much as it did over the twentieth century. Cumulative change by the end of the century would remain below the 2ºC limit. How thick the veil might have to be to achieve this would depend on future emissions; even if they went unchecked, the veil would not reach Pinatubo thicknesses for almost a century.

But the Concert makes it clear that it doesn’t want emissions to go unchecked. It wants other nations to commit, as its members have, to quite steep cuts in emissions.  And it is happy to welcome to its ranks nations that make such commitments, especially if they also commit to the development and deployment, over time, of technologies for carbon-dioxide removal. As new members of the Concert, those acceding nations get a say in decisions about revisions to the veilmaking plan in view of new monitoring data and new understanding of the earthsystem – the original Concert members are aware that they started with inadequate monitoring and sketchy knowledge, and are keen to reduce the risks that brought with it – as well as revisions that might be required by new trends in the politics of emission. Other nations do not.”

Morton, Oliver (2015-11-03) The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World (p. 359 – 363), Princeton University Press. Google Play, U.S. Edition.


“This stringing together of speculations is obviously intended to make solar geoengineering look like a somewhat attractive possibility. What, though, of the beads on this string? Considered in isolation, independent of the way that they are strung together, are they plausible? To a large extent, I think they are.”

Morton, Oliver (2015-11-03) The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World (p. 365 – 367), Princeton University Press. Google Play, U.S. Edition.


My comments:

I highly recommend this book as another essential read for those, who like me, proclaim opposition to geoengineering. Oliver Morton willingly provides plenty of targets… and ammunition for a rational and genuine debate, if one is wished to be had.  Great timing on the books’ release to garner some discussions during the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21).

Morton’s evident political, economic, energy and technological predilections leads me to wonder… is this what the American right would sound like if their climate change and many other arguments were suddenly infused with some logic and sensibility?

Although I don’t share Oliver Morton’s lack of enthusiasm for renewables and I disagree with many premises for the implementation of geoengineering, in my view, activism against it should be careful in that it does not lead to an end of the public debate and openness about the study of the technology. In fact it is quite clear to me that an end to such  public debate and study of geoengineering will not mean the end of the technologies’ development, nor an end to the possibility of the dangerous use of concealed geoengineering-‘counter-geoengineering’ either for environmental, geopolitical or military purposes. In fact the lack of public understanding and a truly binding governance of the science and technology will continue to enhance the dangers of geoengineering via climate change and science denialisms.

I feel that geoengineering and the continued reliance on fossil fuels are touted here as the only path (or a nearly inevitable one) to a prosperous, populous and more just future (a future that I personally find very appealing) but I do not think they constitute neither the only nor the best path or even the easiest.  In fact, recent projections by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has renewables overtaking coal as early as 2030 as the largest source of electricity worldwide.

The book is lay-friendly enough to generate an understanding and appreciation not only of the history, but also the science and technological concepts even where I have found the sophisticated language and exuberant wordsmithing (although very appealing) getting in the way of an already highly complex subject.  But that is of course a reflection on my own lack of language and literary sophistication. Even so, this does not happen nearly enough to prevent reading.   Beware though, in the introduction of the book, the subject titled “Two questions” is the only part I have found a bit ‘draggy’ and awkward. My favorite chapters on this book are Chapter 10 “Sulphur and Soggy Mirrors” and Chapter 12 “The Deliberate Planet”.

I leave you with a couple of intriguing recent studies that came out on anthropogenic aerosols and further comments I think are relevant to this book:

Approaches to Observe Anthropogenic Aerosol-Cloud Interactions
Johannes Quaas – Nov 11, 2015
DOI: 10.1007/s40641-015-0028-0
Retrieved online on November 30, 2015 from:
“Hemispheric Contrast

Most anthropogenic aerosol sources are located in the Northern Hemisphere. The short lifetime of the aerosol confines their effects also mostly to the Northern Hemisphere, in which aerosol-cloud interaction effects are expected to be much larger [78]. Anthropogenic SO2 is, to a dominating extent, emitted in the Northern Hemisphere, with 98 vs. 6 Tg S year−1 [79].”

Impact of aerosol emission controls on future Arctic sea ice cover
M.-È. Gagné, N. P. Gillett, J. C. Fyfe
22 October 2015
DOI: 10.1002/2015GL065504
Retrieved online on November 30, 2015 from:
Aerosol reductions could account for up to 40 percent of future Arctic sea ice loss
By Leigh Cooper - 21 OCTOBER 2015
AGU American Geophysical Union Blogosphere
Retrieved online on 30 November 2015 from:

Mass gains of Antarctic Ice Sheet greater than losses, NASA study reports
October 31, 2015 by Maria-José Viñas
Retrieved online on November 30, 2015 from:

OE. Things of interest and questions:

-          How large the difference between hemispheres on annual SO2 emissions from anthropogenic sources is. And remember the Pinatubo eruption expulsed ‘only’ about 20 Tg of SO2 in 1991 offsetting about ½ a degree of global warming, studies say.  Personally, a large factor in the hiatus I think.

-          How much SO2 is reaching the stratosphere?

-          Why is the Artic loosing ice while the Antarctic is reportedly gaining while the northern hemisphere is emitting about 16 times more aerosols, which means more regional cooling? (Think hiatus and climate change denial).

-          Could the Arctic ice loss be a side effect of the high levels of tropospheric SO2 and regional cooling in the northern hemisphere?
-          Would lower levels of SO2 from the reduction of anthropogenic sources in the northern hemisphere lead to more Artic cooling as in the Antarctic or ice melt acceleration as the second study suggests?

Other readings:

The Atmospheric Impact of the 1991 Mount Pinatubo Eruption
Stephen Self,1 Jing-Xia Zhao,2 Rick E. Holasek,1 3 Ronnie C. Torres,1 4 and Alan J. King1
Retrieved online on December 1, 2015 from:
“Effects on climate were an observed surface cooling in the Northern Hemisphere of up to 0.5 to 0.6°C, equivalent to a hemispheric-wide reduction in net radiation of 4 watts per square meter and a cooling of perhaps as large as -0.4°C over large parts of the Earth in 1992-93”

Global energy trends to 2040
International Energy Agency [PDF]
Retrieved online on December 1, 2015 from:

The Planet Remade:
How Geoengineering Could Change the World
Oliver Morton
Princeton University Press ISBN: 9780691148250 (U.S. November 3, 2015):


Introduction: Two Questions 1
Climate Risks and Responsibilities 5
The Second Fossil-Fuel Century 8
Altering the Earth System 22
Deliberate Planets, Imagined Worlds 26

Part One: Energies
1 The Top of the World 35
Discovering the Stratosphere 38
Fallout 43
The Ozone Layer 47
The Veilmakers 54
2 A Planet Called Weather 57
The Worldfalls 62
The Trenberth Diagram and Climate Science 66
Steam Engines and Spaceship Earth 71
3 Pinatubo 83
Volcanoes and Climate 86
Predictions and Surprises 93
4 Dimming the Noontime Sun 100
Rough Magic 107
Promethean Science 112
5 Coming to Think This Way 124
Martians and Moral Equivalents 129
The Day Before Yesterday 135
The Rise of Carbon Dioxide Politics 139
6 Moving the Goalposts 148
From Plan B to Breathing Space 156
Expanding the Boundaries 165

Part Two: Substances
7 Nitrogen 175
The Making of the Population Bomb 184
Defusing the Population Bomb 189
Far from Fixed 195
How to Spot a Geoengineer 201
8 Carbon Past, Carbon Present 209
The Anthropocene 219
The Greening Planet 229
9 Carbon Present, Carbon Future 243
Ocean Anaemia 251
Cultivating One's Garden 259
10 Sulphur and Soggy Mirrors 268
Global Cooling 274
Cloudships 283
Bright Patchwork Planet 288
What the Thunder Didn't Say 298

Part Three: Possibilities
11 The Ends of the World 305
Control and Catastrophe 312
Doom and Denial 317
The Traditions of Titans 323
A Tale of Two Cliques 332
After Such Knowledge 338
12 The Deliberate Planet 344
The Concert 347
Small Effects, and Bad Ones 359
And Straight on 'til Morning 369
Envoi 375

Acknowledgements 379
References, Notes and Further Reading 383
Bibliography 393

Index 415
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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
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