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Climate Scientist Pioneer Talks About the Furture of Geoengineering 140

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-getting-hot-in-here dept.
First time accepted submitter merbs writes At the first major climate engineering conference, Stanford climatologist Ken Caldeira explains how and why we might come to live on a geoengineered planet, how the field is rapidly growing (and why that's dangerous), and what the odds are that humans will try to hijack the Earth's thermostat. From the article: "For years, Dr. Ken Caldeira's interest in planet hacking made him a curious outlier in his field. A highly respected atmospheric scientist, he also describes himself as a 'reluctant advocate' of researching solar geoengineering—that is, large-scale efforts to artificially manage the amount of sunlight entering the atmosphere, in order to cool off the globe."
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Climate Scientist Pioneer Talks About the Furture of Geoengineering

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  • Just be careful (Score:4, Insightful)

    by penguinoid (724646) <spambait001@yahoo.com> on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @12:59PM (#47758605) Homepage Journal

    So long as they don't accidentally break some important system that they forgot to account for, I'm all for it.

    • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:06PM (#47758689)

      Yeah, that was my first thought. Before you go fucking with something as important as the climate, you had better be DAMN SURE you know EXACTLY what you're doing. Some systems are just not to be fucked with lightly.

      • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@gmaiWELTYl.com minus author> on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:14PM (#47758799) Journal

        Well bad news, we've been fucking with it heavily for a couple hundred years with no plan whatsoever, and we're still mostly acting like it's no big deal.

        • by NotDrWho (3543773)

          Well bad news, we've been fucking with it heavily for a couple hundred years with no plan whatsoever, and we're still mostly acting like it's no big deal.

          Yeah, and we're trying to stop that, because we realized it was a mistake.

          • by Mr_Wisenheimer (3534031) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:49PM (#47759205)

            Who is "we", because it most certainly does not include Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the petrochemical corporations, or any of their shills and acolytes, and that is a pretty large segment of the population.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by penguinoid (724646)

          Well bad news, we've been fucking with it heavily for a couple hundred years with no plan whatsoever, and we're still mostly acting like it's no big deal.

          No, we've done very little to purposely change the environment (and nothing at the global scale). Our various industries all give us guaranteed benefits (though not necessarily net benefit), and the effects on the environment are a side-effect, and comparatively small. If we decide to intentionally target the global environment, the effects could be much bigger.

          I'm not saying climate engineering is a bad idea, but keep in mind that people are arrogant and overconfident. Test everything, even if it means goi

          • by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @04:22PM (#47760501)

            the effects on the environment are a side-effect, and comparatively small. If we decide to intentionally target the global environment, the effects could be much bigger.

            We can only hope, but I find that extremely unlikely. How many dollars have been spent on dredging up carbon and dispersing it into the atmosphere in the last 200 years? The US spends a trillion dollars per year on gasoline alone, and the US is about 1/4 of world oil consumption (less by now). Global coal consumption is over 7 billion tons per year. That is a ton of coal for every man, woman, and child on earth, per year, every year, for decades on end.

            What this means is even if we find some means of restoration that is 100 times as potent at cooling the planet as CO2 is in warming it, the task is incomprehensibly huge.

    • The criterion should be: if your geoengineering process can't run away, no problem. A legal procedure would be adding nutrient to areas of the ocean to produce carbon-eating algal blooms; the process runs only until the nutrient is consumed. An illegal procedure might be engineering a plankton organism that eats carbon, feeding on existing oceanic nutrients; such an organism could run away and consume all atmospheric carbon, freezing the world and killing most land plants.

    • I'm guessing he also explained how it would cost the government $100,000,00, payable in monthly instalments to various institutions, to do the feasibility studies.
      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        That's cheap compared to the money you'd be spending to keep the actual geoengineering going month after month.

        • Probably. It's just something I heard about a conference for the Deep Carbon Observatory some time ago. We'll get everybody into a room to discuss whether we think it's a great idea for the government to give us $100,000,000 to do a study into it. Oh, we all voted Yes! The result was a massive shock, as you can imagine.
  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @12:59PM (#47758625)

    We know there is an ice age tipping point just a few degrees colder then present. Geo-engineering could fuck us all if they trust a climate model that overestimates.

    Alternatively we could all be driving 10 liter W-16s, just to save the planet.

    • Alternatively we could all be driving 10 liter W-16s, just to save the planet.

      At some point in the future, we probably will, but for now we've created for ourselves plenty of margin for error between the current conditions and triggering an ice age.

    • The planet will be fine either way. Save the humans.

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      We know there is an ice age tipping point just a few degrees colder then present. Geo-engineering could fuck us all if they trust a climate model that overestimates.

      I guarantee to you that no matter what we do the Earth will not plunge into an ice age in your lifetime or even your grandchildren's lifetimes. It takes multiple centuries for such a thing to even get going and millennia to fully develop. It is easily countered just by increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Furture? Really there's furture?

  • by deathcloset (626704) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:15PM (#47758805) Journal
    Humans must control the environment, it's just what we do. To quote the late, great Jacob Bronowski, man is, “...not a figure in a landscape, but the shaper of the landscape.” We've already affected the planet - just look at the deforestation in the Amazon (the jungle) from satellite images - it's impossible to ignore, even from space. If your face looked like the Amazon looks right now you would go see a doctor. How could this not be inevitable? First we sow the fields, next we sow the planets.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Great. The so-called "Green Revolution" has resulted in the destruction of topsoil everywhere it has been used, and increasing fossil energy dependence. What's next?

    • by pigiron (104729)

      In pre-Columbian times massive areas of the Amazon basin were de-forested and under cultivation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:17PM (#47758827)

    If people thought conflicts over rivers, lakes, land were bad wait until one country is setting the thermostat.

  • waxing pedantic (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by thomasvs (600635)

    Did he talk about it furtively because he knew he didn't spellcheck first?

    • by thomasvs (600635)

      Interesting, a user moderated this off-topic.

      Maybe I should be more blunt - can someone fix the spelling mistake in the title please? Spell checkers really aren't that hard to use. I'm pretty sure Geoengineering does not have a Furture.

  • And they already do this stuff at varying scales. Want to increase/decrease rainfall? Been doing it since the 60's and probably earlier.

    I say climate scientists are a pretentious lot. And while I hate to be considered an unreasonable person with regard to respecting scientific opinion, climate science is a major source of ridiculously dangerous and harmful ways to do the wrong thing and throw a complex poorly understood system awry. Thanks for the Ice Age/Marsification/Greenhouse World you self-righteou

  • It does nothing to address global warming's ugly twin brother, ocean acidification. And by presenting the world's public with an apparent techno-fix, it could deflate the movement to reduce carbon emissions.

    "For me, my main concern is that we would start doing solar geoengineering while we're still building things with smokestacks and tailpipes," he tells me. "And in that framing, I think the solar geoengineering is just facilitating continued greenhouse gas emissions."

    Very well, as long as you know. No point having a nicer climate for a little while as we set the stage for an oceanic mass extinction.

    • by khallow (566160)

      No point having a nicer climate for a little while as we set the stage for an oceanic mass extinction.

      Because we have nothing better to do? Like keep a few billion people from starving to death? Or managing an industrial civilization through a difficult time for a few centuries? Or merely to have a nicer place to live?

      There's plenty of reasons to have a nicer climate, even if you choose not to recognize those reasons.

      • Oh so now the climate's really important to you?

        I'll see your reasons for having a nicer climate and raise you 1 mass extinction. What's your plan for that, sprinkle hunger-suppressing drugs into the water?

        If we're being responsible, it's not about choosing between cutting sunlight and cutting CO2 emissions, it's about CO2 cuts first and then maybe cutting sunlight. Just cutting sunlight and acting like it's fixing global warming is a joke (the punchline is mass extinction again! Hahaha! [instantrimshot.com]).

        A good way to keep

        • by khallow (566160)

          Oh so now the climate's really important to you?

          That never stopped being important. There's just two things people tend to forget. First, they have yet to demonstrate a serious threat to said climate (or from ocean acidification for that matter). Second, climate is not the only thing I consider important.

          A good way to keep a few billion people from starving to death is to have a few billion less people in the future. We're starting to get population levels under control, so we're on the right path as long as we never, ever follow the advice of the nutball economists suggesting we should increase poopulation levels to keep their silly game running (I guess we need more unemployed people?).

          And that's one place where modern CO2-belching civilization helps big time. Every bit of increasing technology and wealth results in lower human fertility. Native populations of most of the developed world reproduce at below replacement rate.

          If you're

  • But not taking action has consequences, too. Rather scary ones, in this case, I think one could argue. Maybe the responsible thing to do is to is to take a more deliberative role in how our species is altering the environment, rather than just allowing ourselves to continue to alter it according to maladapted systems and nonconscious collective behavior.

  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:26PM (#47758951) Homepage Journal

    What we have to do is fairly simple.

    1. Stop using fossil fuel. Fairly easy to do this, just end all tax exemptions and artificial subsidies for coal oil and gas. All of them. Then start phasing in retrofits of existing coal plants to use cogeneration (waste heat) and cut coal use in half. Use oil for lubricants. Cut jet fuel use in half using 787s (half fuel use) and turboprops (even less fuel use). Use high speed trains and then battery EV trucks fed by local wind/solar storage for short runs. We know we can do this, we just subsidize the old 18th century methods.

    2. Cut energy use in heating/cooling buildings. Efficiency. There's most of your energy use. Passive solar design, put solar cells on roofs, use shades and ceiling fans. We know how to do this and have for half a century. Just expire tax subsidies and exemptions for buildings that don't do this, phasing them out 10 percent a year.

    3. There is no 3. It's that fracking simple.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ColdWetDog (752185)

      'Simple'

      You keep using that word. I don't think that word means what you think it means.

      • It was simple. And, if done, it would literally cut 80 percent of GHG carbon pollution worldwide.

        Your problem is you don't want to do it, because you live in Fear, or in Subsidy.

        Nothing wrong with that, other than the Tragedy of the Commons.

        • by JWW (79176)

          Your "simple" plan cuts transportation by a huge margin, say hello to large price increases for anything transported further than a trivial distance. The food you eat is not just transported, but planted, and harvested using the energy whose price you massively increased. Increase food prices even more. Your plan for coal breaks the power grid. Brownouts, blackouts and mandatory rationing will be necessary. Oh and the impact on food refrigeration will help increase food costs even more again.

          Your "simp

          • No, not really.

            PACCAR (just a few miles away) is already making all-electric and fuel cell (H20 split) trucks, as well as hybrid trucks and biodiesel trucks.

            Boeing is already making jets and planes that use 1/2 to 1/10th the fuel to move people and goods. China and almost all First World nations are making high speed trains, and Canada has used fuel cell trains powered entirely by wind and solar along train lines (using battery swap modules) as well as biodiesel ones.

            Tractors in the EU and various other nat

            • by JWW (79176)

              When you put it that way it sounds much more sensible, and tint as simple.

              I do not disagree that technological advances will save us. I do disagree that carbon taxes and regulations will.

              When these things you advocate outperform the old fossil fuel based variants, they will take over completely. Oh and those subsidies won't eventually matter. The new industries will get some of their own, and, this it the key part, if they outcompte fossil fuels on efficiency, there will be no way, subsidy or not, fossil

              • Didn't say anything about carbon taxes.

                I did say removing tax exemptions and subsidies for fossil fuels.

                The invisible hand is already tipping. The House is getting in the way of the market.

                • by khallow (566160)

                  I did say removing tax exemptions and subsidies for fossil fuels.

                  Well, that gets into a new area of debate. Most of the parties which pay subsidies for oil are OPEC countries which have little interest in stopping such payments. In comparison, your average developed world country just isn't kicking that much out in subsidy. Most of the remaining subsidies are of the sort given to similar industries (such as the accelerated depreciation schedule given to resource extract industries, for example). I include the US military-industrial complex in that - which is really a sub

                  • The time for excuses ended a while ago.

                    Adapt or Die.

                    At this point, those are the remaining choices.

                    (sorry to be blunt about it, but that's what it means)

                    • by khallow (566160)
                      Adapt is the obvious choice. I think it's a huge indication of the collective head-in-ass thinking about climate change debate that adaptation was allowed to be rhetorically ruled out from the beginning by the parties that had the most to gain from exaggerating the effects of global warming.

                      Are we honestly worried that someone will be unable to move out of their home in a few centuries (even though the people and the home will likely be gone long before any such need to adapt would occur)? Or that societ
                    • There already is climate change. Acidic oceans making shell formation difficult to impossible for baby clams in the NW coastal areas, species migration to higher elevations, entire forests decimated by insects that don't die due to global warming.

                      But keep denying it if you want. God doesn't care that you ignored his "steward" deal.

                    • by khallow (566160)

                      There already is climate change. Acidic oceans making shell formation difficult to impossible for baby clams in the NW coastal areas, species migration to higher elevations, entire forests decimated by insects that don't die due to global warming.

                      Acidic oceans has been a problem in the pacific northwest of the US long before someone thought to blame climate change for it. Species have been migrating to higher elevations for ten thousand years. And there wouldn't be that decimation of forests without those invasive species - which is not a climate change-related issue.

                      This is a typical case of confirmation bias. Find a bunch of bad things happening (some which have happened probably for millions of years as in the case of the local ocean acidifica

                    • We're done.

                      I don't mind that you're ignorant. but I do mind that you expect that to be ok.

                    • by khallow (566160)

                      We're done.

                      Seriously, learn to research and debate. You wouldn't have presented the argument you did, if you had done even a little research and questioning.

                      The bit about oyster spat (the young) die-offs due to ocean acidification is particularly bad since seriously, it's probably been going on for millions of years. We just haven't noticed it until fairly recently. The problem here is not that the ocean is acidic, but that it is far more acidic than can be explained by human CO2 emissions.

                      But what

    • by khallow (566160)
      Unless global warming doesn't end up being that big a problem. Then we don't even need to start your two step program. "Simple".
  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:34PM (#47759029) Homepage
    Warmer nations, particularly smaller island nations furiously trying to create global cooling, while an alliance of Canada, Russia, Scandinavia and the newly created United Federation of Antarctica desperately trying to keep it nice and toasty.
    • by trout007 (975317)

      And I thought my wife and I fighting over the thermostat was bad.

    • by Type44Q (1233630)
      Let's see: the Maldives laying chemtrails across the sky (to increase atmosphereric reflectivity), while the Russkies generate all the CO2 they can, in an attempt to thaw-out the methane deposits... sounds a little over-simplified, truth be told. ;)
    • by dave420 (699308)
      I don't know why they would - the new pests they'd be covered in wouldn't help them, not would their tundra melting and becoming swampland (complete with even more pests). Their land isn't good for farming, and so they'd be screwed. Their hydroelectricity would suffer as their capacity lessened, too, making it far from awesome. This notion that cold countries would be "better" if Global Warming kicked in a bit more is verging on the childish.
  • by matbury (3458347) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:45PM (#47759163) Homepage

    Geo-engineering to counter the effects of CO2 is like someone taking sleeping pills to counter the effects of habitually doing amphetamines at an alarmingly increasing rate. If that doesn't convince you, how about listening to a well-informed 3rd party who isn't chasing research funding for their pet geo-engineering project: Can Geo-Engineering Save the Planet? - Christopher Williams on Reality Asserts Itself http://therealnews.com/t2/comp... [therealnews.com]

  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @01:45PM (#47759167) Homepage Journal

    All they need to do is follow the example set forth in those tomes of knowledge. First you start by putting larger and larger ice cubes into the world's oceans.

    When that no longer works (or you run out of ice), you construct a very large mirror in orbit about the Earth which will reflect large amounts of sunlight. Just make sure a piece of space debris doesn't run into it and point it down towards the planet. Ants under a magnifying glass anyone?

    Finally, if all else fails, have every robot on the planet point their exhaust vents skyward and at a predetermined signal, furiously vent their gasses to move the planet slightly further away from the Sun.

    Simple really.

    • Of course you NEGLECT to mention that - for all of this to work - Richard Nixon's head has to be elected President of Earth! A rather convenient oversight...

      I, for one, am not ready to pay that price.

  • Practice makes perfect, so try it out on Venus first.
    At the same time, try out warming techniques on mars, so that when inevitably used on and screws up earth, you can attempt to reverse and make it even worse.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Practice makes perfect, so try it out on Venus first.

      They already did.

      If you've ever read Robert Heinlein, you'd know that - back when he was writing stories in the 50s and 60s - Venus was a temperate (albeit still very cloudy) planet.

  • Since China has already agreed to GATT, invoking Article XX carbon tariffs on their imports ought to be a solution that avoids more costly and risky approaches.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Already done [quora.com] : we have around 43% of earth's land surface covered by humans .

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I call for all bad spellers in the wolrd to untie together.

  • by blue9steel (2758287) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @02:07PM (#47759377)
    We're already engaged in geo-engineering so I'm having trouble seeing how doing it in a smarter more rigorous way is a bad thing.
  • ...let's do Mars first, and *then* take those lessons back to earth.

    The law of unintended consequences for well intentioned human interventions into natural systems is legend. Diurnal mongoose introduced to Hawaii to eat nocturnal rats, ended up attacking the same endangered bird species as rats.

  • Planet hacking is a very, very, very, very, very, very bad idea. Might I emphasize that a bit more? People don't understand things well enough, are too incompetent, too driven by greed and the risks are enormous.

    LEAVE - IT - ALONE.

  • I don't see any problems with carbon dioxide removal, aside from potential local environmental problems. The methods include reforestation, adding iron to the ocean and grinding up serpentine.

    Solar radiation management, like adding sulfates to the air, has lots of global environmental effects, and it doesn't do anything about acidification of the oceans.

    It's best to consider these separately.

  • Because climate is part of the global system, clearly one must understand the interaction of all the components.
    Which means the Climate Whiz (et al) know what all the components are.
    And naturally, the Climate Whiz (et al) know what all the components do and how they work.
    And, of course, how all the components interact.
    With such knowledge one supposes that what 'they' say is true, there is nothing left to discover.

    Oh, hey look here [slashdot.org], was this already known? Hope there's nothing else hidden out there. How ca

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