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Earth Science

The Royal Society Proposes First Framework For Climate Engineering Experiments 174

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-can-make-it-better dept.
Jason Koebler writes The Royal Society of London, the world's oldest scientific publisher, has unveiled a proposal to create the first serious framework for future geoengineering experiments. It's a sign that what are still considered drastic and risky measures to combat climate change are drifting further into the purview of mainstream science. The scientific body has issued a call to create "an open and transparent review process that ensures such experiments have the necessary social license to operate."
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The Royal Society Proposes First Framework For Climate Engineering Experiments

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  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Monday August 18, 2014 @04:44PM (#47698653) Journal

    If I were a schill for big business, I'd be all, "Yeah yeah! Do it! Let's compensate by geoengineering!"

    DO NOT DO THIS. If it works and you overshoot, you'll induce another ice age, which can happen in as few as a couple of years. Unlike moving in from the oceans over 100-300 years (a nuisance, and less damaging to human life than slowing technological advancement by massive intervention in the economy) an ice age will indeed, and actually, and rapidly kill billions of people.

    Lik Willy Wonka, I will sigh and burble flatedly, "No. Stop. Don't do it." but the children won't listen.

    • by Berkyjay (1225604) on Monday August 18, 2014 @05:55PM (#47699133)
      A scientist who doesn't consider all paths to solving a problem is not a very good scientist. Let me emphasise.....CONSIDER all paths. To ignore geoengineering as a possible solution to what is happening NOW would be foolish and irresponsible.
    • by riverat1 (1048260) on Monday August 18, 2014 @06:12PM (#47699257)

      DO NOT DO THIS. If it works and you overshoot, you'll induce another ice age, which can happen in as few as a couple of years.

      No, an ice age is not something that can happen in a couple of years. The thermal capacitance of the oceans pretty much guarantees that. If you look at the records of past ice ages (glaciations) over the past million years the drop into them is usually much slower than the rise out of them.

      Besides that, nothing about geoengineering is long lasting. It pretty much requires that you keep doing it to maintain the effect. That will be an ongoing expense without any clear end.

      • Besides that, nothing about geoengineering is long lasting. It pretty much requires that you keep doing it to maintain the effect. That will be an ongoing expense without any clear end.

        I do not feel confident that what you are saying is true. I see it as possible that a "new" process could interfere with another which would interfere with another, etc. The cascade effect might not stop just because the original process was stopped.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      DO NOT DO THIS. If it works and you overshoot, you'll induce another ice age,

      It's taken us a long time and a lot of energy to fuck up the biosphere this badly. We won't reverse the trend that quickly even if we try. There are other concerns, though. For example, secondary effects from attempts to fix the problem...

      • by khallow (566160)

        It's taken us a long time and a lot of energy to fuck up the biosphere this badly.

        Energy is irrelevant since it pretty much is gone from the system in a few days. The CO2 build up on the other hand is something that's not going away in a few days.

  • Transparent? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pino Grigio (2232472) on Monday August 18, 2014 @04:45PM (#47698661)
    When they say "open and transparent" what they mean is that anyone who's even vaguely sceptical will be hounded out at the first opportunity.
    • Re:Transparent? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by KeensMustard (655606) on Monday August 18, 2014 @05:57PM (#47699143)
      I should think that any geo-engineering attempt to reduce atmospheric CO2 would have to be on a massive scale - there will be plenty of time for the anxious to voice their concerns and present their evidence.

      Besides, if anything I think we've been far TOO consultative through this process. We spent what? 30 years listening to denialists and waiting for them to produce some evidence for their theory (that anthropogenic CO2 does not cause warming unlike natural CO2 which is mysteriously different). This is probably 25 years too long compromising to an alternate hypothesis with all the scientific credentials of a guy screaming "A witch did it!".

      • Usually, reducing carbon dioxide comes under climate change mitigation. So, air capture of carbon dioxide for sequestration would be a mitigation effort already covered by treaty just like planting forests. It would be a big engineering undertaking, yes, but the aim is mitigation. The geoengineering ideas have more to do with changing albedo while leaving the carbon dioxide high. So, pumping sulphates into the stratosphere or putting dust in an orbit between the Earth and the Sun come in as geoengineeri
    • I think that the concern of the Royal Society is that we are past a couple of really nasty tipping points: The loss of the northern summer sea ice and the loss of the west antarctic ice sheet. We may have crossed some other lines to do with the Indian monsoon, the African monsoon, the savannahization of the amazon rainforest and the collapse of the boreal forests.

      No one wants to do geoengineering, except those with an interest in the fossil fuel industry. But the time to reduce emissions was 20 years ag
  • I am skeptical (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jfengel (409917) on Monday August 18, 2014 @05:01PM (#47698789) Homepage Journal

    I'm skeptical about the ability of geoengineering to solve the problems created by climate change. The climate is chaotic: obviously in its form as weather, but longer-term as well. Is it going to be possible at all to un-stir that pot?

    Climate effects of CO2 go well beyond the change in temperature. It also acidifies the ocean, to the detriment of the life there. It also shifts weather patterns: even if we manage the temperature of the globe on average, it won't fix the alternations made to rainfall patterns and local temperatures, which will affect plant and animal life and require changes (perhaps drastic) to the way farming is done. I worry that geoengineering would fight global warming but cause even more climate change.

    I guess we won't know if we don't do the research, but it concerns me that it could be seen as "Don't worry, we'll just put everything back, so go ahead and dig up that last ounce of fossil fuel." Even if the geoengineering approach can do more good than harm, it doesn't let us off the hook to produce less carbon, which will mitigate the damage. And we're having a hard enough time getting anything done on that score without adding a new phase to climate change denialism: "We can fix it."

    • Re:I am skeptical (Score:4, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160) on Monday August 18, 2014 @07:55PM (#47699959)

      I guess we won't know if we don't do the research, but it concerns me that it could be seen as "Don't worry, we'll just put everything back, so go ahead and dig up that last ounce of fossil fuel." Even if the geoengineering approach can do more good than harm, it doesn't let us off the hook to produce less carbon, which will mitigate the damage. And we're having a hard enough time getting anything done on that score without adding a new phase to climate change denialism: "We can fix it."

      While the moral hazard of geoengineering is rather obvious as a problem, so is the assumption that humanity only has one purpose, to keep the climate the same as it was in 1850.

      • by Capsaicin (412918) *

        While the moral hazard of geoengineering is rather obvious ...

        There is a moral hazard to geo-engineering?! And it's obvious? Really?

        What do you have in mind, putting a tender out to extra-terrestrial engineering companies in near-by star systems?

        • by khallow (566160)
          There's a moral hazard to anything that makes a risk less harmful. The result is that people tend to behave in a way that is more likely to cause the risk.

          For example, various satellite and cell phone-based communication devices combined with a sophisticated US search-and-rescue system make the effects of getting lost in the middle of nowhere less dangerous. Hence, more people are just taking their chances [deanza.edu].

          The same thing will happen with geoengineering. Because it is there, someone will decide that th
          • by Capsaicin (412918) *

            There's a moral hazard to anything that makes a risk less harmful.

            Or more explicitly moral hazard describes a situation in which a risk taker is insulated from the consequences of taking that risk. Thus, one would think that a terrestrial geo-engineer taking risks with the viability of the planet was in no position of moral hazard (hence the dig about extra-terrestrial engineers who would not bear the consequences of the risky proposition of geo-engineering).

            But I misunderstood what it was you were getti

            • by khallow (566160)

              But I misunderstood what it was you were getting at. You are saying that the moral hazard is that we continue to construct coal-fired power stations (in place of nuclear or other green energy ;p), on the basis that geo-engineering solutions are believed to be practicable, yes?

              Or whatever else could make global warming (or similar climate-related risk) worse in absence of the geoengineering solution.

              My opinion is that these climate risks are greatly overstated as is, but that doesn't mean that I don't recognize the potential moral hazard in geoengineering approaches.

              • by Capsaicin (412918) *

                My opinion is that these climate risks are greatly overstated as is, but that doesn't mean that I don't recognize the potential moral hazard in geoengineering approaches.

                Well I'm in no position to assess the accuracy of any stated risks, however I think risks should always be overstated. Which is a cheeky way of saying the worst-case scenario has proper place in risk assessment. After all, it is "better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions ..." Whatever the accuracy of your assessment of the ris

                • by khallow (566160)

                  I should have been on stronger ground to challenge the Straw Man that the "assumption" that humanity's sole purpose is "to keep the climate the same as it was in 1850" is seriously entertained (by serious people).

                  It's not a straw man argument. For example, a number of organizations and governments including the IPCC and UK law [wikipedia.org] are proposing heroic efforts and a huge curbing of human activity over the next few decades to avoid a modest 2 C rise in global temperature. That's only roughly 3 C over the 1850 climate baseline. And such a proposal ignores the actions of the countries who don't have restraining that climate change as a high priority (such as most of the developing world or the US).

                  • by Capsaicin (412918) *

                    That's only roughly 3 C over the 1850 climate baseline

                    Now you are being unreasonable. A 3C average increase is neither "modest" nor would it be "to keep the climate the same as it was in 1850."

                    • by khallow (566160)

                      A 3C average increase is neither "modest" nor would it be "to keep the climate the same as it was in 1850."

                      Obviously, I disagree.

                    • by Capsaicin (412918) *

                      Obviously, I disagree.

                      Now "modest" is a slippery as any relative term, but that the climate as it was in the decade(s) surrounding 1850 included a mean global temperature some 3C above the global mean temperature in the decade(s) surrounding 1850 does not seem a matter about which it is possible reasonably to disagree.

                    • by khallow (566160)
                      Sure, paradoxes are right out. I share your natural inclination to avoid agreeing with a paradox. However, I must admit that I can't help but feel that your point is a total non sequitur to anything we've discussed so far.
      • by danbert8 (1024253)

        Exactly. Climate change is inevitable. Humans can affect the climate. There is only one question we need to figure out... Do we want the planet to get warmer or colder? I prefer warmer myself. Other people are deluded enough to believe they can keep it the same.

    • by smaddox (928261)

      It's difficult to say if we can 'fix' it, but we can certainly influence it. It's actually pretty simple (just not cheap)--spray lots and lots of ocean water into the upper atmosphere (I'm talking on a massive scale here). This will result in the formation of clouds, which reflect incident sunlight, resulting in cooling. Based on where your spray fleets are located, you could also heavily influence local climate.

      This is of course only one possible approach, and likely not the cheapest.

      • by jfengel (409917)

        My concern isn't cost, but the knock-on effects. What else happens when you spray a crapton of water into the atmosphere? Where will rain increase, and where decrease? Is there a risk of disastrous flooding? Will the reduction in visible light throw off animal behavior? Or plant growth cycles?

        If all we had to worry about was a few degrees of warming, climate change wouldn't be that big a deal. It's the fact that it has so many other effects, different ones in different parts of the planet. It worries me t

      • I distrust proposals for reducing the amount of sunlight that gets into the lower atmosphere, because that may well be bad in itself. It's worth testing, sure, but I don't have any confidence in it.

    • by j-turkey (187775)

      Geoengineering has effectively caused this problem, even though it wasn't necessarily planned geoengineering. Simply burning less fossil fuels isn't going to fix the problem. The ship of climate change has already sailed. Completely halting the release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today will not turn the problem back in anything less than geologic time.

      I like that you mentioned that we won't know if we don't do the research. However, the question that seems to elude many is "what if we don't?".

      • by jfengel (409917)

        The IPCC report does discuss what happens if we don't, and it's more than enough to call for some kind of measures. A proper outcome of geoengineering studies will treat that as the control: "This is what we get if we do nothing... this is what we get if we just control carbon output... this is what we get if we apply technique X/Y/Z".

        It's just that measuring "this is what we get" is really hard. Temperature is the easiest to predict (and even that is proving aggravatingly difficult on scales smaller than m

        • by j-turkey (187775)

          Very astute. One of the aspects of the issue that has bothered me is that politics have solidly collided with science. It's not just the obvious issue of denial that bothers me. The issue is solidly sandwiched between denial and the environmentalist activists who suffer from confirmation bias and outright alarmism; who seem to have a worldview is centers around humans being inherently bad and can only serve to damage the world. Not only that, but that the world is pristine and unchanging, like they want

  • by Noryungi (70322) on Monday August 18, 2014 @05:11PM (#47698859) Homepage Journal

    Instead of potentially dangerous experiments, may I suggest the oldest known and proven solution to global warming?

    This is extremely complicated, so please bear with me for a minute or two:

    Plant. More. Trees.

    Don't believe me? Fine, don't take my word for it. [arborday.org] Heck, even that bastion of free enterprise, The Economist [economist.com] got behind that idea!

    So, why is not implemented on a large scale? Because planting trees is not techonologically "sexy" - it is well known, has been well known for centuries, and, for maximum effect, would require rich countries to invest serious money in poorer countries, to save the rainforest (which is where tree-planting would have maximum impact). And we cannot allow these natives to get money to do something as simple as plant a tree, right?

    In other words, the wealthiest have decided it is a lot more fun to throw money at dangerous or even foolish and ineffectual solutions rather than provide for jobs and development in the poorest countries of the world -- precisely the countries that will suffer the most due to global warming. Make of that what you will.

    • by HornWumpus (783565) on Monday August 18, 2014 @05:21PM (#47698933)

      Rainforests are CO2 neutral.

      It is often quoted that rain forests absorb buttloads of CO2, but they give off equal amounts. Unless a swamp/jungle is laying down geological CO2 (there are a very few left, Okefenokee is the example that springs to mind) it is just absorbing it, short term. While the rot at the base of the tree is giving off an equal amount.

      • by matbury (3458347)

        Geoengineering is yet another stalling tactic by the fossil fuels industry, like carbon capture and storage. They promise huge grants and investments into research which stimulates a lot of interest from researchers and universities who are desperate for the money. They'll build a bunch of white elephant projects and then move on to the next grant while the fossil fuels industry thinks up yet another stalling tactic. If you're not convinced about how ridiculous geoengineering as a concpet is, check out what

    • by riverat1 (1048260) on Monday August 18, 2014 @06:24PM (#47699361)

      I like planting trees but I'm under no illusion that it will solve the problem. We're burning fossil fuels in a few centuries that took 10's to 100's of thousands to millions of years to lay down. I would expect it to take a similar amount of time to reverse the CO2 levels.

    • by Beck_Neard (3612467) on Monday August 18, 2014 @07:04PM (#47699665)

      Most conversion of CO2 to O2 is done by algae and other marine life (93% iirc). Trees only contribute a very small percentage. You can increase algae to absorb CO2, but having more algae is not a good thing - it creates toxic environments that kill other types of life: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org]

      By the way this is what a lot of people get wrong when they say 'CO2 is plant food!!'

      The CO2 problem is a huge problem we've created that both environmentalists and anti-environmentalists usually vastly underestimate.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by khallow (566160)

        You can increase algae to absorb CO2, but having more algae is not a good thing - it creates toxic environments that kill other types of life

        So algae is not a pure, unalloyed good. Still doesn't mean that there's anything seriously wrong with creating algae blooms in certain areas in order to consume and sequester CO2.

        The CO2 problem is a huge problem we've created that both environmentalists and anti-environmentalists usually vastly underestimate.

        Where's the evidence of this vast underestimate?

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >Don't believe me? Fine, don't take my word for it. Heck, even that bastion of free enterprise, The Economist got behind that idea!

      Neither of those sources have run the numbers on what reforestation would cost. I have.

      >So, why is not implemented on a large scale?

      It's too expensive, it will require too much water (which we don't have), and consume millions of acres of arable land - which we also don't have without water.

    • Nope. Not even close. Trees are slow growing and decay back to CO2. Better to grow fast-growing crops like corn or grass and burn to form long-lasting charcoal. Better yet, much better, move everyone to solar power.
  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Monday August 18, 2014 @05:20PM (#47698929) Journal
    How about we just stop dumping CO2 into the atmosphere and see how that goes? If not, why not? Then the real priorities are revealed.
    • by HornWumpus (783565) on Monday August 18, 2014 @05:41PM (#47699063)

      You could propose that as a geoengineering experiment.

      But the short term costs are horrendous. Billions dead. Unlikely to be a good tradeoff.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      To paraphrase, "How about just shutting down all industry and going back to the caves?" A de-industrialized civilization could only support billions fewer people than are alive today. You would need to 'cull' all of the excess. But really, westerns will never voluntarily accept even energy poverty, so your mass-extermination plan is a no-starter.
  • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Monday August 18, 2014 @05:59PM (#47699155)

    Experiment on Venus first. I'd rather not suffer through yet more perturbations on Earth thankyouverymuch.

    Venus has a serious greenhouse problem. Fix that, then we'll talk.

    • by smaddox (928261)

      There are probably some experiments that could be attempted on Venus, but due to the lack of life, which has been critical for stabilizing Earth's climate by sequestering CO2, many could not.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Experiment on Venus first.

      God already did. It didn't go so well.

  • by Mister Liberty (769145) on Monday August 18, 2014 @06:38PM (#47699465)

    'Royally Fucked'". That's what the 'Royal Society of London' should honestly tell its public, and add: "unless you cut down on Carbon Dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use".
    But they know what that means.

  • If they can make hurricanes only hit denier neighborhoods, I'm all in!

    • There are denier neighborhoods? Clusters of deniers who live together to plot the destruction of the earth while taking huge amounts of money from fossil fuel companies?

      What an amazing fantasy world you live in.

  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Monday August 18, 2014 @07:29PM (#47699799) Homepage Journal

    You have to keep the flow up as the environment gets worse, and at some point you run out of the resources to geoengineer, which causes a kickback effect that is a large multiple of the geoengineered impact.

    Think of it as applying the brakes lightly at the same time that you're flooring the accelerator.

    Then you take your foot off the brake while you're going down a steep decline, where you started at a mild decline.

    Suddenly you're careening down the hill, out of control.

    The best thing to do is stop subsidizing bad behavior that increases it (e.g. fossil fuels) and start requiring all new construction to meet new energy codes (half of all energy use is to heat and cool buildings, and passive solar and insulation can cut that dramatically) while you retrofit any existing fossil fuel plants (e.g. using cogeneration for all pre-2000 coal plants, and phasing out the dirtiest plants by expiring reauthorizations for permits when they come due.

    People like to pretend massive change is needed. Energy is not a Binary On/Off thing - a partial change by the largest consumers (e.g. China) causes massive change. Air travel is the largest personal behavior change for people who live in cities (replace old jets with 787s and turboprops and build high speed rail).

    There, that's half your carbon impact.

    Now stop whining.

  • by mdsolar (1045926) on Monday August 18, 2014 @08:29PM (#47700147) Homepage Journal
    In light of reporting in the July-August issue on Harvard’s position on fossil fuel divestment, we wrote Messrs. Paul J. Finnegan and James F. Rothenberg [members of the Harvard Corporation, and Treasurer and past Treasurer, respectively], expressing the perspective summarized below.

    Harvard currently holds substantial investments in fossil fuel. The past is no longer prologue for this asset class.

    The scientific community—including Harvard’s distinguished climate-related faculty—assert the world must hold global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees C above the preindustrial figure. Governments agree. And, yet, we have already gone half the distance to this ceiling, and are actually accelerating our rapid approach to it. We face an existential planetary threat.

    By investing in fossil fuel companies that cling to the outdated business model of measuring success by discovery of new reserves, Harvard is encouraging (and expecting to profit from) the search for more fossil fuel—which will become unburnable if we stabilize global temperatures at levels necessary to sustain life as we know it. When the lid is put on, and carbon emissions are severely limited—as they must be—Harvard will be left holding stranded and devalued assets that can never be burned. (Proven reserves are three to four times what’s needed to transition to renewables by 2050.)

    Across the country, hundreds of student organizations work to persuade their institutions’ endowments to divest. Sooner or later, as in the case of companies doing business in apartheid South Africa, divestment from fossil fuel companies will occur. Harvard should be among the first to do so. There are strong, independently sufficient arguments beyond the financial one of stranding to justify divestment. They include the moral (it is repugnant to profit from enterprises directly responsible for carbon emissions or to allow shareholder funds to be deployed in searching for more fossil fuel), the practical (a well-led institution should not wound itself by permitting endowment holdings to demoralize faculty and students, with adverse effects on quality of education, enrollment, and campus environment) and, in Harvard’s case, the unique opportunity (and corresponding duty) it has, as one of a handful of world leaders in education, to lead on this planetary issue.

    We support these other arguments for divestment. However, we wanted to bring the financial argument, in particular, to Harvard’s attention. Over the past three years, equities in the coal industry declined by over 60 percent while the S&P 500 rose by some 47 percent. Coal, we submit, is the “canary in the oil well.” Disinvestment now, before this opinion becomes commonplace, is just sound, risk-averse investment judgment, fitting well within the duties of a fiduciary.

    Bevis Longstreth, J.D. ’61
    Retired partner, Debevoise & Plimpton; former member, Securities and Exchange Commission

    Timothy E. Wirth ’61
    Former U.S. Senator, president of the United Nations Foundation, and Harvard Overseer
    http://harvardmagazine.com/201... [harvardmagazine.com]
    • by smaddox (928261)

      Three years is hardly a long term trend--coal will likely bounce back, at least a couple more times. Also, if you think oil and natural gas are going away after we just discovered how to cheaply extract it from shale, you're deluding yourself. Renewable energy continues to get cheaper, and I fully hope and expect it to continue to play an ever increasing role, but it's not ready to completely replace fossil fuels. Not yet. If the major global economies decided to internalize the currently external costs of

      • by mdsolar (1045926)
        Are bouncing around "assets" really the sort of thing the endowment should be involved with?
  • by fygment (444210) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @08:05AM (#47702513)

    We simply do not know enough about the planet to 'engineer' it.
    Every past effort to 'engineer' nature, even the simplest, has discovered things it failed to take in to account eg. introduction of 'control' species that became 'invasive'.
    On top of which, we don't have to engineer our way out of this. The clear solutions arepresent albeit mundane: more trees, less waste.
    'Engineering' the planet simply means finding a way to allow us (humans) to continue to make inefficient or wasteful use of our resources.

    So this is where I personally opt out.
            I will deny climate change simply in an effort to keep people from screwing with the planet and to encourage others to protest experiments.
            My next house will have two airconditioners, four cars (all SUV's), two pools, and as much 'always on' electronic gadgetry as I can stuff in it.
            All my future purchases will be quadruple wrapped in plastic, all my food processed, and I'll no longer recycle.

    If you're going to engineer the planet, I'm going to make it worth your while.

  • Did you dive your car under a beer truck in the snow? Sue. Was your flight cancelled because of the weather? Sue. Did it rain on your picnic? Sue. The possibilities are endless.

I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated. -- Poul Anderson

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