Saturday, 11 June 2011

"Geo-engineering can help save the planet" by Thomas E. Lovejoy

Some geo-engineering options, from Retardzone
There's a curious tendency in discussion about climate change to be "either-or" about solutions, rather than "both-and".  So we get people arguing about nuclear or renewables; "drill, baby drill" or shift to non-oil energy; geo-engineering or carbon abatement.  As I recall in the last US presidential election, it was only McCain who talked of the "both-and" solutions, nuclear and renewables; drilling and saving oil.  But he was hammered for that; "wooly thinking" they said.
Geo-engineering "takes an engineering approach to the planet's climate system" says professor Lovejoy, in this article which is headlined "Geo-engineering can help save the planet", though he seems rather more against it than for.
Greenies tend to hate it.
They think it would shift the focus from reducing our production of carbon dioxide.
As Lovejoy states:

    There are serious flaws with most geo-engineering solutions because they treat the symptom (temperature) rather than the cause (elevated levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases).
But does this make sense?  Take a burning house.  Would you stop the fire engines from putting out the symptom (the fire) because you hadn't worked out its cause (a short-circuit)?
The very example of geo-engineering that Lovejoy first mentions (and promptly dismisses) -- release of sulfates into the atmosphere -- is one that has great potential to reduce temperatures, immediately, controllably and reversibly.  This has been shown by Nathan Myhrvold and his smarties at Intellectual Ventures.  But Lovejoy dismisses it, in favour of such technologies as Vinod Khosla Calera experiment on pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere by mixing it with sea-water and producing cement. In the spirit of "both-and", this should certainly be explored, but is miles away from being viable, whereas the Sulfates in the atmosphere concept is ready to go.
We've even had a natural experiment of the effect of sulfates in the atmosphere.  The 1995 eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines spewed vast quantities of SO2 into the skies. The effect was a two-year drop in global temperatures.  We know exactly how much went into the atmosphere and exacltly how much it reduced global temperatures.  And then the effect went away.
We could do the same.  Cool the earth -- pour water on the burning house -- while we work on long-term abatement (curing the cause of the house fire so it doesn't happen again).  And when we do work out how to abate the cause (CO2), we can reduce symptom and finish with the geo-engineering.  It's foolish and anti-historical to be scared of trying this just because it is technology and "technology got us in this mess in the first place", as one sees the greenies argue.  Technology can be our saviour.
See my earlier posts on geo-engineering.
[PDF of above article here]
Postscript: Prof Lovejoy proposes
    "ecosystem restoration on a planetary scale... reforestation, restoring degraded grasslands and pasturelands and practicing agriculture in ways that restore carbon to the soil."
This is all good stuff and should be done: good for the planet, good for health and can even spur new industries and employment.
Postscript 2:  There's a bit more action on geo-engineering than I thought -- in the US at least. When I got the picture at the head of this post, the website it came from says:
The president’s new science adviser said Wednesday that global warming is so dire, the Obama administration is discussing radical technologies to cool Earth’s air. Geoengineering or planetary engineering would involve the deliberate modification of Earth’s environment on a large scale "to suit human needs and promote habitability." Here are some of the leading methods of Geoengineering being discussed…[read it all here]