Geoengineering Report

I think we should start serious research on geoengineering schemes, including actual experiments, not just calculations and simulations. I think we should do this with an open mind about whether we’ll decide that these schemes are good ideas or bad. Either way, we need to learn more about them. Simultaneously, we need an intelligent, well-informed debate about the many ethical, legal and political aspects.

Many express the fear that merely researching geoengineering schemes will automatically legitimate them, however hare-brained they are. There’s some merit to that fear. But I suspect that public opinion on geoengineering will suddenly tip from “unthinkable!” to “let’s do it now!” as soon as global warming becomes perceived as a real and present threat. This is especially true because oil, coal and gas companies have a big interest in finding solutions to global warming that don’t make them stop digging.

So if we don’t learn more about geoengineering schemes, and we start getting heat waves that threaten widespread famine, we should not be surprised if some big government goes it alone and starts doing something cheap and easy like putting tons of sulfur into the upper atmosphere… even if it’s been inadequately researched.

It’s hard to imagine a more controversial topic. But I think there’s one thing most of us should be able to agree on: we should pay attention to what governments are doing about geoengineering! So, let me quote a bit of this report prepared for the US Congress:

• Kelsi Bracmort and Richard K. Lattanzio, Geoengineering: Governance and Technology Policy, CRS Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, 2 January 2013.

Kelsi Bracmort is a specialist in agricultural conservation and natural Resources Policy, and Richard K. Lattanzio is an analyst in environmental policy.

I will delete references to footnotes, since they’re huge and I’m too lazy to include them all here. So, go to the original text for those!

Introduction

Climate change has received considerable policy attention in the past several years both internationally and within the United States. A major report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 found widespread evidence of climate warming, and many are concerned that climate change may be severe and rapid with potentially catastrophic consequences for humans and the functioning of ecosystems. The National Academies maintains that the climate change challenge is unlikely to be solved with any single strategy or by the people of any single country.

Policy efforts to address climate change use a variety of methods, frequently including mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is the reduction of the principal greenhouse gas (GHG) carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHGs. Carbon dioxide is the dominant greenhouse gas emitted naturally through the carbon cycle and through human activities like the burning of fossil fuels. Other commonly discussed GHGs include methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. Adaptation seeks to improve an individual’s or institution’s ability to cope with or avoid harmful impacts of climate change, and to take advantage of potential beneficial ones.

Some observers are concerned that current mitigation and adaptation strategies may not prevent change quickly enough to avoid extreme climate disruptions. Geoengineering has been suggested by some as a timely additional method to mitigation and adaptation that could be included in climate change policy efforts. Geoengineering technologies, applied to the climate, aim to achieve large-scale and deliberate modifications of the Earth’s energy balance in order to reduce temperatures and counteract anthropogenic (i.e., human-made) climate change; these climate modifications would not be limited by country boundaries. As an unproven concept, geoengineering raises substantial environmental and ethical concerns for some observers. Others respond that the uncertainties of geoengineering may only be resolved through further scientific and technical examination.

Proposed geoengineering technologies vary greatly in terms of their technological characteristics and possible consequences. They are generally classified in two main groups:

• Solar radiation management (SRM) method: technologies that would increase the reflectivity, or albedo, of the Earth’s atmosphere or surface, and

• Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) method: technologies or practices that would remove CO2 and other GHGs from the atmosphere.

Much of the geoengineering technology discussion centers on SRM methods (e.g., enhanced albedo, aerosol injection). SRM methods could be deployed relatively quickly if necessary, and their impact on the climate would be more imme diate than that of CDR methods. Because SRM methods do not reduce GHG from the atmosphere, global warming could resume at a rapid pace if a deployed SRM method fails or is terminated at any time. At least one relatively simple SRM method is already being deployed with government assistance. [Enhanced albedo is one SRM effort currently being undertaken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. See the Enhanced Albedo section for more information.] Other proposed SRM methods are at the conceptualization stage. CDR methods include afforestation, ocean fertilization, and the use of biomass to capture and store carbon.

The 112th Congress did not take any legislative action on geoengineering. In 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee of the 111th Congress held hearings on geoengineering that examined the “potential environmental risks and benefits of various proposals, associated domestic and international governance issues, evaluation mechanisms and criteria, research and development (R&D) needs, and economic rationales supporting the deployment of geoengineering activities.”

Some foreign governments, including the United Kingdom’s, as well as scientists from Germany and India, have begun considering engaging in the research or deployment of geoengineering technologies be cause of concern over the slow progress of emissions reductions, the uncertainties of climate sensitivity, the possible existence of climate thresholds (or “tipping points”), and the political, social, and economic impact of pursuing aggressive GHG mitigation strategies.

Congressional interest in geoengineering has focused primarily on whether geoengineering is a realistic, effective, and appropriate tool for the United States to use to address climate change. However, if geoengineering technologies are deployed by the United States, another government, or a private entity, several new concerns are likely to arise related to government support for, and oversight of, geoengineering as well as the transboundary and long-term effects of geoengineering. Such was the case in the summer of 2012, when an American citizen conducted a geoengineering experiment, specifically ocean fertilization, off the west coast of Canada that some say violated two international conventions.

This report is intended as a primer on the policy issues, science, and governance of geoengineering technologies. The report will first set the policy parameters under which geoengineering technologies may be considered. It will then describe selected technologies in detail and discuss their status. The third section provides a discussion of possible approaches to governmental involvement in, and oversight of, geoengineering, including a summary of domestic and international instruments and institutions that may affect geoengineering projects.

Geoengineering governance

Geoengineering technologies aim to modify the Earth’s energy balance in order to reduce temperatures and counteract anthropogenic climate change through large-scale and deliberate modifications. Implementation of some of the technologies may be controlled locally, while other technologies may require global input on implementation. Additionally, whether a technology can be controlled or not once implemented differs by technology type. Little research has been done on most geoengineering methods, and no major directed research programs are in place. Peer reviewed literature is scant, and deployment of the technology—either through controlled field tests or commercial enterprise—has been minimal.

Most interested observers agree that more research would be required to test the feasibility, effectiveness, cost, social and environmental impacts, and the possible unintended consequences of geoengineering before deployment; others reject exploration of the options as too risky. The uncertainties have led some policymakers to consider the need and the role for governmental oversight to guide research in the short term and to oversee potential deployment in the long term. Such governance structures, both domestic and international, could either support or constrain geoengineering activities, depending on the decisions of policymakers. As both technological development and policy considerations for geoengineering are in their early stages, several questions of governance remain in play:

• What risk factors and policy considerations enter into the debate over geoengineering activities and government oversight?

• At what point, if ever, should there be government oversight of geoengineering activities?

• If there is government oversight, what form should it take?

• If there is government oversight, who should be responsible for it?

• If there is publicly funded research and development, what should it cover and which disciplines should be engaged in it?

Risk Factors

As a new and emerging set of technologies potentially able to address climate change, geoengineering possesses many risk factors that must be taken into policy considerations. From a research perspective, the risk of geoengineering activities most often rests in the uncertainties of the new technology (i.e., the risk of failure, accident, or unintended consequences). However, many observers believe that the greater risk in geoengineering activities may lie in the social, ethical, legal, and political uncertainties associated with deployment. Given these risks, there is an argument that appropriate mechanisms for government oversight should be established before the federal government and its agencies take steps to promote geoengineering technologies and before new geoengineering projects are commenced. Yet, the uncertainty behind the technologies makes it unclear which methods, if any, may ever mature to the point of being deemed sufficiently effective, affordable, safe, and timely as to warrant potential deployment.

Some of the more significant risks factors associated with geoengineering are as follows:

Technology Control Dilemma. An analytical impasse inherent in all emerging technologies is that potential risks may be foreseen in the design phase but can only be proven and resolved through actual research, development, and demonstration. Ideally, appropriate safeguards are put in place during the early stages of conceptualization and development, but anticipating the evolution of a new technology can be difficult. By the time a technology is widely deployed, it may be impossible to build desirable oversight and risk management provisions without major disruptions to established interests. Flexibility is often required to both support investigative research and constrain potentially harmful deployment.

Reversibility. Risk mitigation relies on the ability to cease a technology program and terminate its adverse effects in a short period of time. In principle, all geoengineering options could be abandoned on short notice, with either an instant cessation of direct climate effects or a small time lag after abandonment.

However, the issue of reversibility applies to more than just the technologies themselves. Given the importance of internal adjustments and feedbacks in the climate system—still imperfectly understood—it is unlikely that all secondary effects from large-scale deployment would end immediately. Also, choices made regarding geoengineering methods may influence other social, economic, and technological choices regarding climate science. Advancing geoengineering options in lieu of effectively mitigating GHG emissions, for example, could result in a number of adverse effects, including ocean acidification, stresses on biodiversity, climate sensitivity shocks, and other irreversible consequences. Further, investing financially in the physical infrastructure to support geoengineering may create a strong economic resistance to reversing research and deployment activities.

Encapsulation. Risk mitigation also relies on whether a technology program is modular and contained or whether it involves the release of materials into the wider environment. The issue can be framed in the context of pollution (i.e., encapsulated technologies are often viewed as more “ethical” in that they are seen as non-polluting). Several geoengineering technologies are demonstrably non-encapsulated, and their release and deployment into the wider environment may lead to technical uncertainties, impacts on non-participants, and complex policy choices. But encapsulated technologies may still have localized environmental impacts, depending on the nature, size, and location of the application. The need for regulatory action may arise as much from the indirect impacts of activities on agro-forestry, species, and habitat as from the direct impacts of released materials in atmospheric or oceanic ecosystems.

Commercial Involvement. The role of private-sector engagement in the development and promotion of geoengineering may be debated. Commercial involvement, including competition, may be positive in that it mobilizes innovation and capital investment, which could lead to the development of more effective and less costly technologies at a faster rate than in the public sector.

However, commercial involvement could bypass or neglect social, economic, and environmental risk assessments in favor of what one commentator refers to as “irresponsible entrepreneurial behavior.” Private-sector engagement would likely require some form of public subsidies or GHG emission pricing to encourage investment, as well as additional considerations including ownership models, intellectual property rights, and trade and transfer mechanisms for the dissemination of the technologies.

Public Engagement. The consequences of geoengineering—including both benefits and risks discussed above—could affect people and communities across the world. Public attitudes toward geoengineering, and public engagement in the formation, development, and execution of proposed governance, could have a critical bearing on the future of the technologies. Perceptions of risks, levels of trust, transparency of actions, provisions for liabilities and compensation, and economies of investment could play a significant role in the political feasibility of geoengineering. Public acceptance may require a wider dialogue between scientists, policymakers, and the public.

44 Responses to Geoengineering Report

  1. rtheo says:

    Well, really now, would you trust such a serious matter to a humanity capable of all these below?(!)

    • John Baez says:

      We are already trusting such a serious matter to humanity:

      (Click for details.) We can not longer escape responsibility for the Earth’s climate; at best we can choose between a mixture of

      1) reducing carbon emissions,
      2) actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,
      3) reducing the amount of sunlight absorbed by the Earth,
      4) adapting to a changing climate, and
      5) suffering.

      Of course it may be that active attempts to get out of trouble will get us into even more trouble.

    • Lee Bloomquist says:

      “Humanity”? I would use “inhuman”– an individual choosing to serve the mind alone, ignoring heart. Expressing humanity means putting the heart first. Laughable and weak to utility maximizers– perhaps. But only individual human beings putting heart first have the power to get us out of this situation. And, despite what the Supreme Court would have us believe, organizations have no humanity. Without human beings in control of them fearless in expressing heart, organizations to whom we submit ourselves (as above) are pure mind, with no heart at all.

      • Lee Bloomquist your are a ‘G’ eloquence nonpareil!

        The Supreme court does not even know basic grammar.

        Corporation comes from the word Corporeal meaning “body”

        Whose origins comes from the word Corpse meaning dead body.

        Corporation by its very root definition is inhuman, a dead human to be precise. A dead heart.

        Talk about cogs in the wheel Leviathan style!

        Deus Ex Machina eat your heart out.

  2. It has been proposed (http://2020science.org/2010/09/13/could-precisely-engineered-nanoparticles-provide-a-novel-geoengineering-tool/) to use nanoparticles comprised of layers of barium titanate and aluminium oxide deposited on opposite sides of an aluminum substrate.

    The primary question is this: Do barium titanate or aluminum oxide (or both) react with ozone and UV in the upper atmosphere? If so, what compounds are formed, and are they soluble in fresh water or salt water? Finally, what is the toxicity of these compounds?

    Unrelated research seems to show that barium titanate is relatively inert towards ozone under conditions of electrostatic discharge (http://www.bioline.org.br/request?st11057) and (http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/v33_2_00/transistor.htm) and perhaps under UV irradiation (http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.highlight/abstract/5879/report/F) as well.

    • The next consideration is what happens to these nanoparticles after they eventually fall to the earth’s surface – and the outcomes may be far different. Can these particles be incorporated into food plants? If so, what happens when they encounter stomach acids? Aluminum tends to accumulate in tissues and has been cited as a possible cause of Alzheimer’s disease; barium titanate may decompose into various toxic barium compounds. Studies will have to be performed to find out if these effects exist and if so, what is the tradeoff between increasing toxicity and reduction of the consequences of AGC.

      • John Baez says:

        Barium sounds nasty to me! Aluminum oxide sounds much better, since aluminum is less toxic and the oxide is quite nonreactive, I believe. If people are worried about aluminum compounds (which might make sense, I’m not taking a stand here), alum seems more worrisome, because it’s water-soluble. It’s been used for water purification for centuries (which doesn’t mean it’s safe, of course).

        Anyway, there exist actual experts who know about this stuff; I’m not one.

        Sulfur dioxide seems a lot easier than these nanoparticles.

        • G.R.L. Cowan says:

          John Baez writes,

          Barium sounds nasty to me!

          When radiologists make mistakes, they … um … inter them!

          Barium titanate sounds extremely low in water solubility to me (if it’s anything like strontium titanate, and my faith in chemical periodicity is such that I’d bet $5 on this).

          Airborne barium anything sounds not like something that is actually proposed, but something the chemtrails cranks assert is being proposed, or done, by bad people.

        • John Baez says:

          GRL wrote:

          Barium titanate sounds extremely low in water solubility to me (if it’s anything like strontium titanate, and my faith in chemical periodicity is such that I’d bet $5 on this).

          Good point! Somewhere between betting $5 on it and designing a plan to save the Earth based on it, somebody should do a little more research.

          Airborne barium anything sounds not like something that is actually proposed, but something the chemtrails cranks assert is being proposed, or done, by bad people.

          Interesting. I haven’t been listening to them.

          By the way, besides sounding more nasty, barium titanate also sounds more expensive than aluminum oxide.

      • Graham Jones says:

        I’m sure that aluminium oxide is fine to eat. It is a common ingredient in toothpaste, so if it is bad to eat, it would be better to worry about toothpaste. However, breathing in fine particles of a substance can be very different from eating it – for example, silicosis is caused by silicon dioxide dust.

  3. David says:

    We’ve already begun!

    • Henry Fountain, A rogue climate experiment outrages scientists, New York Times, 13 October 2012.

    • John Baez says:

      Yes, I added a link explaining this story in the passage above that said:

      Congressional interest in geoengineering has focused primarily on whether geoengineering is a realistic, effective, and appropriate tool for the United States to use to address climate change. However, if geoengineering technologies are deployed by the United States, another government, or a private entity, several new concerns are likely to arise related to government support for, and oversight of, geoengineering as well as the transboundary and long-term effects of geoengineering. Such was the case in the summer of 2012, when an American citizen conducted a geoengineering experiment, specifically ocean fertilization, off the west coast of Canada that some say violated two international conventions.

      Another planned experiment of a different sort was cancelled due to protests:

      • John Vidal, Giant pipe and balloon to pump water into the sky in climate experiment, Guardian, 31 August 2011.

      • Michael D. Lemonick, Geoengineering faces dilemma: experiment or not?, Climate Central, 12 September 2012.

      I think that geoengineering experiments should go through a review process a bit like those involving human subjects before being allowed. But they should be allowed and indeed encouraged if they’re reasonably safe.

  4. Bradley Robinson says:

    John, I’m definitely interested. My field is more directly related to implementing longer term mitigation strategies, but since geoengineering understandably seems to be taking the lead here, … I’m still hoping the overall exercise can be open to include counter strategic proposals.

    • John Baez says:

      By ‘counter strategic proposals’ you mean plans other than geoengineering? If so, that’s great too. What’s your field?

      • Bradley Robinson says:

        If geoengineering is considered an adaptation response to current practices then I see mitigation as a strategy to fundamentally change our current practices. My field is in waste reuse and efficiency of resource use primarilly related to built environments (cities and otherwise altered landscapes) such as in energy efficiency, achieved by the re-harnessing of the waste streams as a significant resource input which can be re-applied to new built and efficient environments. This also indicates great potential to rebuild existing environments to achieve the goal of energy and resource efficiency, both of which I consider as the primary drivers of primary resource extraction and of the ensuing emissions those practices generate currently. It’s become evident to me that it is the actual waste products that can be a significant resource input which certainly would reduce the need for the scale of initial inputs by essentially greatly reducing or even literally eliminating waste now being othewise released into the biosphere at random. This applies to solid, atmospheric, liquid, energy, and in an abstract sense, human resources and life forms (under utilized human potential as a waste stream) in general.

        I do recognise that a concept such as I’ve suggested above would need to be explained in greater clarity and its very likely the above could not be adopted as quickly as adaptation but if it was widely recognized as beneficial to individual necessities anyway then the human resources would be a key resource to mobilize individual response voluntarily simply because it removes the sacrifice people fear in so-called environmentally responsible actions.

      • John Baez says:

        If you want to write something a bit more detailed about this, I’d probably be happy to publish it here on Azimuth. This is precisely the sort of thing Azimuth is for.

        • Bradley Robinson says:

          That’s great … I’ve assembled the published research material, some delays at hand but.. I’ll get to get it to you.

        • Bradley Robinson says:

          Technical test results on an “EPS Waste Core” structural load bearing sample.
          The research was done during “Sept. 2001″ at McGill University under the direction of Prof. Yixin Shao with funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s External Research Program.
          In truth many individuals play a role in this moving story but suffice to say, I’m forwarding this as a starting point now.. because it lends me needed credibility to “claim it here” as a “strategic key waste system component.” My intention is to continue to make a case for its importance
          The task invoked in writing a strategy outline is underway. To better define the more comprehensive whole is “very complex,” there is a significant body of work to cover and I find the most important “time consuming” parts are.. with some considerable effort, arithmetic and mathematics. I feel compelled to trust you, ..and even I find these results compelling.. and quite incredulous.
          I recommend page photo 25 to comprehend the 500kN forces involved on a panel of dimensions 1’x4’x9’… a compressive load which would have crushed and buckled a solid concrete sample.

          I “still smile occasionally”… but I’m not forgetting for a moment how difficult things have been..many times, nor how apparently gone wrong things can be…I’m fairly convinced there’s no turning back, … so I happily submit this technical document.. with every due respect to all of the varied diverse comments, all easily considered related in their ways too a discussion on applied geo-engineering.
          The virtual goal of what this technical research addresses I can only hint at as to its historical.. it’s eco’s from the earliest roots of civilization..”even before the Geek’s…:-) it will take some explaining”.
          In its essence it is also about archetypical in change, In its evolutionary workings its a simple brick, or building block and finally a panel! In it’s exponential and arithmetic/metaphor it is that it becomes a waste stream and a systems platform into which all the other more important waste stream parts and emerging technologies seem to fit… into life’s cycles.

          file:///Users/bradleyrobinson/Library/Mail%20Downloads/E.Cosgrove-cement%20skin%20EPS%20core%20wall%20system.pdf

          The photo is a model construct. / 2011
          /Users/bradleyrobinson/Pictures/iPhoto Library/Previews/2011/03/02/20110302-223420/IMG_0168.jpg

        • Bradley Robinson says:

          I apologize… the links won’t work.

  5. domenico says:

    I think that a great optimization of the Earth resource can be obtained by ethical industries.

    I see an industrial strategy for a short life of a product, I think for example the reduced (technological induced) life of printers, bulbs, chemical product, batteries, etc: each short life product produces waste and energy waste.

    If a product warranty is of two year, then the product is built to survive for three year; but it is possible to built ten (or more) years products, with an energy (CO2 reduced emission) saving of three times.

    It is convenient for little industry a different approach, and it is convenient for consumers.

    Saluti

    Domenico

  6. emre says:

    Excuse me for butting in and changing the subject, but could anyone comment on the merits of this rebuttal: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/03/11/a-simple-test-of-marcott-et-al-2013/

    • John Baez says:

      I will post something about Marcott’s paper in a while, and then maybe I’ll comment on that rebuttal. If anyone else wants to dive in and do it first, that’s fine of course.

  7. How can we help plug the debate/discussion about Geoengineering when we go to music festivals such as SXSW and Cultures Collide (Echo Park)?

    Wouldn’t those be the best venues for a plug? As they are populated with late 20 year olds? (The hipster kids of upper middleclass households the policy makers of the future.)

    After all the slaves of today will be the Tyrants of tomorrow or Saviors?

    • John Baez says:

      Julius wrote:

      How can we help plug the debate/discussion about Geoengineering when we go to music festivals such as SXSW and Cultures Collide (Echo Park)?

      Wouldn’t those be the best venues for a plug?

      Since I don’t go to these music festivals, I don’t know. I’ve never even heard of them! So, we need some hipsters to tackle this question.

      I don’t know how you ‘plug’ the idea of a careful rational debate over a highly controversial subject at a music festival. When I’ve seen people ‘plugging’ things at events, they’re usually pushing well-defined positions, like STOP GEOENGINEERING! or ONLY GEOENGINEERING CAN SAVE THE WORLD! That’s not what I want to do. I want to get people to think. Maybe it’s possible! Maybe people would find it refreshing to see people handing out leaflets, or hanging out at a stand, with a neutral but informative message like this:

      As global warming continues, more people will consider geoengineering as a solution. Here’s what geoengineering is, and here’s how you can find out more about it.

      Neither advocating it, nor attacking it.

      • Prof. Baez, (Big Boss man) hipsters already talk about ecological matters and are quite socially aware. Any hipster academia out there in this forum wanna back me up?

        http://sxsweco.com/about

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_by_Southwest

        Attached above is a link above with the SXSW ECO (South by Southwest Environmental Conference) basically its the expo in October which is attached to the SXSW started in 2011 (South by Southwest) which is basically the yearly Coachella/Woodstock of the Southern states (its held in Austin every spring usually March, this year from March 8-17)

        http://sxsweco.com/sxsw-eco-south-southwest-march-8-17-2013

        I wish you can be a speaker in October I would go for sure. Like a Boss! (pronounced Bawws)

        I guess I need to refine my question, since the eco/offering solutions convention happens outside of the music festival. How would we approach the millennial generation in an individual grassroots way about promoting geoengineering as a possible solutions to catastrophic global climate change?

        Better yet how can we encourage people in academia like you and emerging technology solutions people to be keynote speakers as opposed to Corporate tools that get paid to recite Big Oil talking points?

        Can’t we get Graphene problem guys and nanoparticle guys (I guess what I am trying to say is applied particle physicists working on this whole global warming solutions movement) to be interested in speaking with those rich kids?

        I am advocating your N-Cafe/Azimuth guys to all go October, or maybe somewhere here in the West Coast like Coachella or Cultures Collide.

        Awaiting for answer and suggestions-

  8. Bradley Robinson says:

    Many geo engineering similarities to mitigation waste resources

    http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/thinking-tech/199-million-to-turn-co2-into-cement/4838

    “Ocean arcs is central… link, John Todd”

    http://www.oceanarksint.org/

    I’ve followed delta for years because its in the solar enhanced albedo class for surface born aerosols and cloud seeding models, i think its amazing and in talking with them about Co2 gas off from the cannons… many applications to cracking mining tailings.

    http://www.lagoonsonline.com/cvsd.htm

    Refuse as in ref-use

    http://phys.org/news/2012-06-urban-wasteland-world-bank-global.html

    This is an essential overview of the biobloc’s

    http://seanmichaelbutler.wordpress.com/2009/01/05/your-home-is-garbage/

    The Ubuntu Blox are amazing..Harvey Lacey is a giant in his element

    http://www.haiti.communitere.org/projects/ubuntu-blocks.html

    • Bradley Robinson says:

      I have to add this too because its definitely on the radarhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_Isolation_Pilot_Plant

  9. Methinks most thinking about geoengineering is just a continuation of reductionist technocrats’ delusions. Tinkering at isolated details, adding complexity and risk to a failing system. In order to be taken serious by deluded city folk, it needs to be fancy expensive tech. A continuation of the same old paths and dreams of mechanistic superiority of man over nature.

    Methinks what we need is some “engineering” of human civilization plus what I would term Gaia engineering: Our most basic resource is soil. It is a huge store of carbon. Currently we are working hard to destroy this carbon buffer. E.g. Bill Gates loves genetic engineering to help feed Africa (and Monsanto). What grotesque hybris. Instead we should work with soil (i.e. microbial Gaia) and help build soil carbon.

    To start, plant trees. But forests can burn and get eaten by bark beetles or clearcut by stupid, greedy or desperate hominins. Plus, a plantation does not an ecosystem make. A more resilient storage of carbon is char coal: It does not rot, holds water and nutrients and enhances soil microbial life. (But don’t forget about the carbon/nitrogen ratio, e.g. don’t waste your excretions to stupid engineered “waste” water treatment…)

    We need to produce gigatons of char coal (capturing energy in the process) and sequester it in soil. That’s how pre-Columbian civilizations managed to sustain a population larger than today in the Amazon. The amazing result, Terra Preta soil, is still there. Look at the dying forests of North America. There’s the stuff to start. Don’t let them rot or burn. We also need billions of humans to live carbon negative. Small scale farmers feeding soil while feeding themselves, embedded in nature’s matrix. There’s the engineering.

    Alas this is just Stone Age tech. Not thrilling at first look. I don’t say all the billions humans should do that. Nope. Some billions need to be stuffed into megacities (and kept distracted and entertained). Poor ones. Dependent on the lucky ones out in the wild (where real Life happens) who produce the food. — Well, actually mutual dependence: While I would prefer a mud hat or a prairie Indian tipi with a comfty carbon negative open fire place, I’d also love to have a dentist at hand and a university producing math books and professors like John Baez. So, here’s the first necessary step of mental engineering: Forget about the either-or. Tertium datur!

    Some time ago I have proposed a double sense anthropogenic carbon sequestration socio-machine. The physical part is trivial and obvious, as told above. I’m still thinking about the mental/sociological machination. Some hints here.

  10. I think that a Space Sunshade at the L1 point would have some merits too, e.g. the technological fallout, the possibility of a direct regulation of the solar forcing, and would avoid messing with not yet completely understood systems like the atmosphere, biosphere, and the human (or animal for that matter) health.

    Actually limiting sun light could have health benefits given how many people get skin cancer from it …

    Cost is indicated as a barrier, but it won’t be that much considered that it would be spread over 50 years or so.

    Finally I have found this paragraph of yours interesting:

    But I suspect that public opinion on geoengineering will suddenly tip from “unthinkable!” to “let’s do it now!” as soon as global warming becomes perceived as a real and present threat.

    I wonder what makes you believe that GW would be at some point perceived as a “real and present threat”. Maybe that will never happen because the rate of induced change would be too slow for us to catch our attention. Yes seas will rise, and cities would need to be evacuated, (just to pick one example) but if that happens over centuries it would hardly make more than a line in the news at any point in time.

    • Ah, and one last thing, we might need to do it anyway sooner or later (the space sunshade) given that in the next billion year (800MY by some estimates, i believe) the sun would increase its brightness to the point that life on earth would become unsustainable :-)

    • Another unrelated last thing, i have found this interesting paper by Paul Ehrlich (Stanford).

    • John Baez says:

      Giampiero Campa wrote:

      I wonder what makes you believe that GW would be at some point perceived as a “real and present threat”. Yes seas will rise, and cities would need to be evacuated, (just to pick one example) but if that happens over centuries it would hardly make more than a line in the news at any point in time.

      I very much doubt sea level rise will ever make global warming be seen as a real and present threat. After all, it tends to happen gradually, barring possible catastrophes like a runaway collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which conceivably could raise sea levels by 3.3 meters in a fairly short time. Far more likely, it seems to me, is that droughts and heat waves will cause crop failures and famines, and storms will knock out coastal cities here and there, more and more often, until it causes enough disruption that people take notice.

      It could already be starting: in 2010, a heat wave throughout the Northern Hemisphere caused Russia to suspend grain exports. In 2011, a drought hit the Midwestern United States, hurting grain production, and this has still not ended. A lot of New Orleans, and large parts of New York City have been severely damaged by powerful hurricanes. And so on.

      Apparently not many people believe yet that there’s a pattern and that we should resort to geoengineering to ‘fix’ the climate. After all, it’s still possible to believe these events are unrelated coincidences. And not many people know about geoengineering.

      But if the problems worsen—and I can’t see why they won’t—public opinion may at some point suddenly ‘tip’ to a new consensus. When disasters happen often enough, people may want to do something about it. And if so, they’ll probably want to do something that doesn’t require changes in their personal behavior.

  11. But if the problems worsen—and I can’t see why they won’t—public opinion may at some point suddenly ‘tip’ to a new consensus.

    Yes, indeed it might. Or, instead, if the worsening happens over a long enough time, all those disasters might be regarded just as a “fact of life”, or as some kind of “new normal” for people that still remember the “old normal”.

    Also keep in mind that many populations near the equators (which arguably would be the most affected) tend to have a culture that is more present-oriented and less inclined to believe that one can actually affect even simple things in the future, let alone natural disasters.

    Anyway, i don’t know, just raising the possibility …

    • John Baez says:

      I am indeed worried that the global warming problem could 1) get really bad yet 2) get bad so slowly that nobody is ever moved to take action. Problems with both these two properties could destroy civilizations.

      • I’m getting more optimistic every year, esp. since the U.S. is getting ever more hard hit by reality. Superstorm Sandy wasn’t enough yet, and drought stricken U.S. farmers aren’t yet committing suicide – but I expect Wall Street flooded by another Sandy within a decade or two. Plus, a new Dust Bowl seems near. Who cares about Pakistan 2009/10 or a few baked and douched Australians or the odd Syrian farmer etc. etc. — but Wall Street! That will be a wet wake-up… Current development in the Arctic Ocean (early cracking of ice) suggests we are in for another record melt, amplifying probability of weird weather events.

      • Yes. It is not trivial to regulate a system that has dynamics falling outside the bandwidth of your sensors. Which reminds me of something i’ve read once.

        Here it is, you might have some fun reading just the last couple of paragraphs of this letter from Dennis Bernstein.

        I’ll quote:

        I’ve noticed that if I were to gain a mere 0.2 lb per month, then that weight gain would be extremely hard to measure much less regulate. Each day my weight would fluctuate by an order of magnitude beyond that monthly delta. Viewing that fluctuation as noise, the signal—weight gain—would be extremely difficult to detect. But consider the effect of the signal: In a mere 20 years, I would gain 48 lb, which, obviously, is a substantial amount.

        This isn’t exactly “creep” in the sense of structural mechanics, but you get the point.

        Now imagine that, say, the climate were to change imperceptibly for decades or centuries. The noise in the signal would mask the trend to the extent that it would be easy to doubt—and cast doubt on—the overall trend. Creep and its ramifications, such as weight gain and climate change, suggest that we might need to worry about what happens at low frequency.

        • John Baez says:

          Nice passage. And the frustrating thing is that what counts as slow climate change by human standard can still be dangerously abrupt by geological standards. You’ve probably seen this graph by now, since I’ve been dwelling on it, along with everyone else (click for details):

          Truly gradual climate change is something we, and ecosystems as a whole, can probably manage to adapt to without much damage. But the world’s climate changing by a degree or more per century for several centuries may turn out to be quite tough. We’ll see.

        • Frederik De Roo says:

          I’ve noticed that if I were to gain a mere 0.2 lb per month, then that weight gain would be extremely hard to measure

          In the context of AGW, I think one can extend the analogy. My reasoning would be like this: suppose we eat every day one more cookie (say, 15 kcal — compare to increase in radiative forcing induced by CO2). Everything else, food intake, activity… remains the same, on average. Then, we would expect, our body mass would slowly rise (‘temperature’). Yet, our body is also a complex feedback system. Now comes a skeptical argument: suppose we eat every day more vegetables (say, also 15 kcal). Do we really expect our body mass to increase with the same amount? The complex feedback system of our body may not react in the same manner. PS I don’t think the latter analogy holds, because vegetables carry e.g. fibres (which certainly affect our body feedback system) whereas carbon dioxide is inert and only has an influence through the radiative forcing (AFAIK).

        • Bradley Robinson says:

          “Now imagine that, say, the climate were to change imperceptibly for decades or centuries. The noise in the signal would mask the trend to the extent that it would be easy to doubt— and cast doubt on—the overall trend.”

          “Creep and its ramifications, such as weight gain and climate change, suggest that we might need to worry about what happens at low fre- quency.”

          …In structural mechanics creep is very much an important indication of an impending failure of a system.
          “It is” very slow initially, almost imperceptibly, and in many documented disasters it was often initially dismissed as just a worrysome crack in the structure that was only even noticeable over a period of time.
          Unfortunately the ensuing failure mode is also very well understood, at least in mechanics, “to be exponential” and can be very dangerous and even potentially catastrophic.
          I’ve experienced creep first hand in experimental structures and I did experience a catastophic collapse of a structure as it was in creep. We were foolishly working inside trying to stabilize it as it was shifting, I finally sensed something was very wrong so finally, we quit and left it. Later… in the early morning…it collapsed completely and catastrophically. It’s very fortunate that no one was hurt because a sturdy step ladder that was left inside was crushed flat onto the floor.

    • Also keep in mind the invisible space douche spaghetti monster belief that permeates deeply religious nations near the equator and you have a recipe for cultural amnesia…..(almost like a generation pre-contact to extraterrestrials so much visited upon in sci-fi literature, and a generation post-contact)

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