Category Archives: Geoengineering

To attribute, or not to attribute: that is no longer the question

Things that scare me: redux

How many of readers recall early 2011 when cyclone Yasi struck Brisbane?

At least 35 people died in floods across New South Wales and Queensland. The resulting rains and floods costed the Australian economy approximately $10 billion.

Or the flooding suburbs in Melbourne, which I captured on video. So extreme were these events that it caused one member of the Bureau of Meteorology to exclaim: “We’ve never seen anything like it in Australia”

Perhaps you may recall early 2011 fires raged in Western Australia (Black Sunday), while Sydney experienced a record seven-day heat wave.

Across the globe soaring temperatures saw record rains flood two-thirds of Pakistan, while at the same time fires raged across Russia.

Or perhaps your memory goes back to the 2010 records floods in China killed close to 400 people, destroying 1.3 millions homes and caused $54USD billion in damage?

Perhaps some might remember the fires that ripped through Israel in an event called that nations worst natural disaster in history?

Of course there where the floods in Niger and the record rain in the US that saw Nashville inundated.

Indeed in September 2010 I wrote about the things that scared me about the coming Australian summer:

Thus with 2010 looking like being the hottest year record, I think we should be deeply concerned about the coming bushfire season.

As noted by the IPCC, with rising temperatures Australia could be subjected to more floods and catastrophic fires…I earnestly hope some advanced planning is taking place.

While let me reiterate my concerns for the coming Australian summer of 2012-13.

I’m not claiming any prescience, just noting the obvious fact an increase in CO2 that traps more heat, raises temperatures and fuels more extreme weather events.

It makes sense because the science is pretty fucking solid.

The attribution debate is over

Back in 2010 and early 2011 “sensible” voices cautioned about attributing these events to climate change.  This is the so called “attribution” question, and we’re cautioned to not make simple linkages between a flood here and climate change: fair enough.

I recall Michael Tobis writing for the now defunct “Only in it for the gold” asking that very question in 2010 reflecting on the Russian heat wave:

But right now I feel like hazarding a guess. As far as I understand, nothing like this has happened before in Moscow….

…The formerly remarkable heat wave of 2001, then, is “the sort of thing we’ll see more of” with global warming. But it may turn out reasonable, in the end, to say “the Russian heat wave of 2010 is the first disaster unequivocally attributable to anthropogenic climate change.”

Tentative, hedging and qualifying like a good scientist and commentator on this issue should.

Still the blogger Eli at Rabett Run said Michael was asking a “scary question”, noting sardonically:

As Dirty Harry would say, at some point the bunnies have to ask not if the dice are loaded, but if the 44 Magnum is.

Picture the clathrate gun hypothesis playing the role in Eli’s similes of bunnies playing with 44 Magnums. Go on click that link –but only if you’re prepared for the possibilities of loosing sleep.

On second thoughts, you will lose sleep.

So let me state this: it is now pointless wrangling over the question of whether or not to attribute individual events to climate change.

Reality makes that debate redundant.

We’re here: we’ve arrived at the point in history when our species has engineered a new climate. The point we knew was coming – that was inevitable – if we did nothing.  

Slouching towards the Anthropocene

Let’s recap the past few months shall we?

The North American heat wave with 40,000 temperature records broken; six million displaced in India due to monsoon rains, 150 dead in Russia as several months worth of rain falls in a matter of hours; Arctic and Greenland ice loss…

Need I go on?

It’s unfolding as if climate change was real… funny that huh?

I was going to muse on what this all means, but I’ve already did that in August 2010 in the post “Welcome to the Anthropocene”:

Being a blogger frees me from the usual reticence and qualified statements scientists usually (for good reason) make.

I may appear very foolish for saying this, but its time to call it: we’ve well and truly passed a threshold.

Call it climate change, or global warming. Or perhaps you could rename the planet as Bill McKibben suggests (Eaarth). Actually the name really doesn’t matter.

This is the new normal.

Even if we stopped all CO2 emissions tomorrow, there’s more than enough warming “in the pipe” for future “climate disruption”.

The Greenland ice sheet?

Most likely gone.

The Great Barrier Reef.

Most likely gone.

2010 is the year in which the climate news is getting worse: hottest year on record; the ocean’s phytoplankton dying off; the Russian heat wave; the floods in Pakistan (2).

Welcome to the anthropocene.

That’s the thing about the climate change debate. You end up saying the same thing over, and over again. Though who listens is another question…

Famously, one scientist called the climate an angry beast, and that our activities are provoking it. Permit me to run with that metaphor and repurpose the final lines of “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards the Bethlehem to be born?

And what a beast climate change is: slowly, almost methodically it slouches into perception and our lives.

There will come a time when all of us will be forced to stare into face of the beast, aghast and transfixed, like Saturn’s sons staring into the gaping maw of their father.

To pilot a planet: the future of the climate change debate

“This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.” – Albert Einstein, 1920

I’d like to ask you – the reader – to conduct a simple thought experiment.

Imagine the children in your life and picture them as adults debating the reality of climate change. Now try to imagine their children doing the same thing. Then try to picture their children, and their children continuing that same debate. Its 2200 CE and future generations are locked into the same debate.

Does that seem at all plausible?

The intent of this thought experiment is to raise your gazes above the trench warfare that epitomizes today’s “climate debate”. Forget everything that seems so vitally important about the “debate” raging across blogs, YouTube and the opinion pages of the dying newspaper industry.

Ask yourself this question: “How long do you think this debate will continue?”

Years?

My own feeling: this debate will continue for centuries.

As long as there is an industrial civilisation we will be investigating, confirming, denying and debating anthropomorphic climate change.

Science controversies past and present

A recent paper in Physics Today contrasts the time lag between experts agreeing on “controversial” scientific theories and the considerable time lag before public consensus emerges. The author sees direct parallels between the climate change debate and past science “backlashes”:

“The historical backlashes shed some light on a paradox of the current climate debate: As evidence continues to accumulate confirming longstanding warming predictions and showing how sensitive climate has been throughout Earth’s history, why does climate skepticism seem to be growing rather than shrinking? All three provocative ideas—heliocentricity, relativity, and greenhouse warming—have been, in Kuhn’s words, “destructive of an entire fabric of thought,” and have shattered notions that make us feel safe That kind of change can turn people away from reason and toward emotion, especially when the ideas are pressed on them with great force…”

Thus we could speculate the climate debate will continue for decades, if not centuries. It will outlast most nation states now in existence – the very same nation states who will determine the course of history for future generations by their action – or inaction – on climate change.

Most of the individuals and organisations so prominent in the current debate will be forgotten, their existence barely noted in scant foot notes in some yet to be written history of climate change.

The irony is that we fight this debate as if month-to-month opinion polls are all that matter. In Australia, a carbon tax is about to come in effect on 1 July. It has proven enormously unpopular with the public while the conservative Opposition has been using it an opportunity to run an effective fear campaign: “We well be ruined, ruined by this tax!”

And while climate change scepticism may serve contrarians well enough in the short-term, the viability of our civilisation is being sacrificed for political gain.

The Great Awakening may not just be “around the corner”

Science has granted us with a view of the universe that often runs counter to cherished beliefs about ourselves and our place in the universe. Thus, for every major scientific theory one can find a counter-narrative.

Five centuries after Copernicus a 2004 survey found 20% of Americans in opposition to the idea the Earth revolves around the sun.

And yet it seems to me the scientific community, climate change activists, writers and bloggers are infected with an unrealistic optimism that “victory” is just around the corner. Most commentators propose it will take only a few more years before our civilisation undergoes the “great awakening”.

After all, it is an eminently sensible argument: surely “people” will get it, and demand action?

Many hope to see a global “mass mobilisation” with nations and individuals across the globe uniting to confront the enemy that is climate change. Commentators often cite the efforts of “The Greatest Generation” in defeating the Nazi’s and fascism during the Second World War as a parallel. I can understand this, the mythos that has been built around the Nazi defeat is great. Recall also the Germans and Japanese also mobilized for total war: effort does not ensure victory. 

More often than not those closest to the debate are projecting their own intellectual and emotional journey onto others.

Sadly, not everyone is “going to get it”.

Those of us blogging, reading and debating climate change are outliers: we are highly motivated to understand the science, politics and responses to climate change. For most individuals, it is an area of third, fourth or fifth level importance even if they accept the science.

What if I’m wrong, and there is a great awakening?

Still let’s challenge the above assertion: let us imagine the best of all possible worlds were we cap emissions and usher in a golden age of renewable energy.

Time to declare the debate over?

Should we avert disaster there will be those who will claim that as evidence climate change never was a problem: all those emissions taxes and support for clean energy was a wasted exercise to solve a non-existent problem. There will be groups wishing to wind back policy and legislative mechanisms in the same way conservatives are trying to wind back environmental legislation in Australia, the UK and the US.

“Surely not!” some of you would argue “Who would be so stupid?”

Well yes – we can be that stupid.

Consider the case of vaccination, a triumph for evidence based medicine.

It is still within living memory of many that that Polio, tuberculosis and Whooping cough killed thousands in the developed world. These diseases were almost completely eradicated in the developed world with the introduction of mass vaccination.

And yet we are now presented with the spectacle of millions of educated, middle to upper middle class parents conscientiously opposed to vaccination and reducing the populations “herd immunity” by not vaccinating their children.

These diseases – once thought banished – are now returning because there are those who doubt their effectiveness even when presented with the compelling evidence of children dying.

The point is these examples is this: we forgot mass horror and tragedy quickly, often within the span of a generation or two.

And even when we forget, we often refuse to believe facts that challenge our core values or beliefs.

It’s been over 150 years since Darwin published his theory of evolution in The Origin of the Species, and yet in public uncertainty about the validity about the science remains high from the United States (50% of the population) and around the globe. Those that “accept” evolution are very much in the minority.

America landed on the moon in 1969 and yet a staggering 10%-20% of the American population doubt this actually happened. If anyone had a vested interest in believing in American technological superiority it would be the average American citizen?

Strangely outlandish conspiracy theories have someone proven more compelling than actual reality.

How many Americans doubt their President was even born in the United States?

A recent survey of Australians show 10% believe the world will end in 2012 – a “New Age” belief that mangles and distorts Mayan cosmology despite the fact it has been debunked many times.

While one may be appalled by such willed ignorance, it is important to remember that denial is part of our nature and won’t go away even presented with the most compelling evidence.

The long debate

We cannot hope to quickly undo the damage to the atmosphere in a few short decades. It will take generations to both fix and manage the climate.

Now that we understand how CO2 impacts the atmosphere, we must forever abandon fossil fuels as an energy source.

The climate debate has only just begun.

And yet through all those long centuries that stretch before us, through the vicissitudes of wars, dark ages, renaissances and technological change we must hold onto the simple and fragile truth that the planet’s atmosphere must be managed intelligently and co-operatively by our species.

Our species made this mess; it is our species that has to manage it for all the long millennia ahead.

Climate change – the idea that we are altering the planet’s atmosphere – has profoundly changed how we view ourselves in the same manner Copernicus’s assertion of a heliocentric solar system unseated mankind from the centre of the universe.

It seems our fate as a species is tied up in trusting this wonderful construct we call “science”.

And yet to paraphrase Carl Sagan how very much it is like a fragile candle in the dark – a speck of light in a demon haunted world.

Tenacity, compassion and reverence for the truth: the accidental geo-engineers toolkit

Our role is not merely to debate the reality of climate change. I would suggest it is a far more expansive and nobler role than that.

We – the vanguard and the outliers of the debate – can be the mentors and teachers of the next generation. It falls to us to teach them resilience, tenacity and to trust the scientific method.

However, in addition to fostering scientific literacy we should teach the values of compassion and empathy.

Climate change has taught us the need to rebuild our industrial civilisation from the ground up in order to avert the suffering of billions fellow human beings.

Knowledge and compassion are inexorably linked – once cannot act without knowledge. Indeed, once you understand climate change, you are compelled to act. 

We can do more than bequest future generations a broken planet; we must also teach them to pilot the planet and our civilisation.

The generations that follow are accidental geo-engineers, a role neither asked for nor deserving. And while it may be impossible to forecast what our global civilisation will look like 1000 years from now, we can lay the seeds for its survival today.

Thus it falls to us to teach them the values that will guide them through the coming centuries of change: resilience in the face of adversity, compassion, empathy and a deep reverence for truth.

In essence, to lay the seeds of a humanist culture that recognises its place in the cosmos, appreciates the fragility of each individual life and our civilisation and fosters the hope we can guide it to better futures.

That is the legacy each of us holds in our hands, and has the power to pass on.

High confidence, robust evidence: response to a failed experiment in planetary engineering

[Cross post from New Anthropocene. I’m also back. Back at Wtd]

For some time I ran a moderately successful blog (by internet standards) called Watching the Deniers, and early this year began the Generation Adaptation project.

But it has been some months since I have written on climate change, climate change denial and the increasingly pressing issue of adaptation to climate change.

It was a break much longer than I intended.

Tim has been bravely forging ahead, patient with my lack of content generation – to which he has my eternal thanks. I had the very good fortune to attend Tim’s wedding a while back, and count him as a true friend.

So why my silence?

Because I could not write.

Every post, every draft seemed inadequate to the task.

Every idea – despite my initial enthusiasm – seemed to quickly ring hollow or trite. At first I thought it was a kind of “writers block”, the kind of hesitant stumbling and self-doubt anyone engaged in writing experiences at some point.

But it was not that.

I thought perhaps I was “exhausted” by the topic.

I asked myself if I was simply a dilettante. Climate change this week, tomorrow “Save the whales!”?

Or perhaps I was slipping into my own kind of “denial” in choosing to not even think about climate change? I could barely read anything to do with climate change or the words of the denial movement. They both prompted feelings of despair and anger.

But that was not the cause for my inability to write.

What I needed most was to bathe in the deep, nourishing waters of silence.

Not the silence of non-thinking.

Nor the silence of not caring, or giving up.

No, it was the kind of silence that allowed my thinking to slowly evolve.

I needed to step away from the trench warfare of combating climate change denial and trying the desire to “keep up” with the scientific literature, blogs and articles on climate change. I needed to step away from Generation Adaptation.

Why?

After almost three years of immersing myself in the science, the politics and engaging the deniers of climate change I was led to a very challenging conclusion. It was one that I needed to absorb, test and determine if I was talking myself into despair.

I needed to be silent, to observe and to reflect.

Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom – Francis Bacon

And now I believe I’ve arrived at a reasonably accurate reading of the situation.

It is one I think a number of other writers, bloggers, scientists and thinkers are also arriving at. I see hints of such thinking starting to emerge.

And in many ways the conclusion made me laugh.

The tale of the accidental geo-engineers

At its most simplest my thoughts are this:

  • We will not avert serious climate change
  • We are already feeling its impact
  • Within the next few decades temperature rises will top >2 degrees
  • Most likely we will see a 4 degree (if not 6) rise before century’s end
  • There is no genuine prospect of international co-operation on the issue
  • We will not implement “clean” energy sources on a massive scale
  • There is enormous strain on planetary boundaries
  • There will be more losers than winners

The thought that lead me to these conclusions was both terrifying and yet almost comical:

  • We have been inadvertent planetary engineers for centuries
  • We have only just learnt that fact a few decades ago
  • We are struggling to put into place mechanisms to regulate the climate of a planet.

Looked at from that perspective I think I laughed: not a maniacal “We’re all doomed! Doomed I tell ya!” kind of laugh, but more a chuckle at the hubris of our species.

“We need to manage a planet…” I thought to myself.

Collectively and with wisdom and foresight.

You can see why my response was laughter.

And it helped me understand the denial movement even better.

Why wouldn’t the mind recoil from such a thought?

The responsibility it entails, and the certitude that would must likely fail. Can we blame more timid souls for wanting to reject not only the idea of climate change, but that we have become like gods?

That we are now planetary engineers?

Who would not be terrified at that thought?

And so I’ve been mulling on those thoughts for the last six months.

The political and scientific landscape: a house divided

A recent news story that reveals the depths of our failure:

“….Governments of the world’s richest countries have given up on forging a new treaty on climate change to take effect this decade, with potentially disastrous consequences for the environment through global warming.

Ahead of critical talks starting next week, most of the world’s leading economies now privately admit that no new global climate agreement will be reached before 2016 at the earliest, and that even if it were negotiated by then, they would stipulate it could not come into force until 2020.

The eight-year delay is the worst contemplated by world governments during 20 years of tortuous negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions, and comes despite intensifying warnings from scientists and economists about the rapidly increasing dangers of putting off prompt action.”

The Guardian, 20 November 2011

The current round of talks between nations at Durban (COP17) will produce nothing of substance. No-one believes otherwise.

Kyoto will not have an effective successor. “Rich” nations are abandoning the process – much to the anger of the developed world. We may get an agreement ratified in 2020. Or not.

Between our species dithering and the simple, elegant algorithm of more CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere will see an inevitable rise in global temperatures.

Last year saw a record 9 billion tonnes of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere – despite near universal acceptance of the science amongst the world’s governments. Coal usage is going up:

“…Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and cement production grew 5.9% in 2010, surpassed 9 Pg of carbon (Pg C) for the first time, and more than offset the 1.4% decrease in 2009. The impact of the 2008–2009 global financial crisis (GFC) on emissions has been short-lived owing to strong emissions growth in emerging economies, a return to emissions growth in developed economies, and an increase in the fossil-fuel intensity of the world economy.”

The Hadley Centre in the UK has just released a report stating there are serious risk of catastrophic climate change with a temperatures rising up to six degrees:

“…This report highlights some of the very real dangers we face if we don’t limit emissions to combat the rise in global temperature. Life for millions of people could change forever, with water and food supplies being placed in jeopardy and homes and livelihoods under threat. This makes the challenge of reducing emissions ever more urgent.”

Note to readers, that’s catastrophic:

“…In Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet… Mark Lynas draws on the latest science to describe the world under warming scenarios ranging from 1° (bad) to 6°C (unimaginably bad). He sums up the task with brutal candour: “we have only seven years left to peak global emissions before facing escalating dangers of runaway global warming. I am the first to admit that this task looks hopelessly unattainable.”

However before we chastise our politicians for being “short-sighted” (or negligent) I think we should remember not one civilisation – let alone species – has learnt the art of planetary management.

Could we have really expected any better?

We’ve just witnessed the spectacle of politicians in the US almost allowing their country to default on their national debt.

The reports by individuals – now just emerging – present at COP15 in Copenhagen in that conferences final hours paint a picture enormous division.

Should we be surprised when we’re hopelessly divided on so many issues?

Tens of millions in the US and across the globe reject the basic findings of science (the age of the Earth, evolution, climate change and the effectiveness of vaccines).

And we’re asking our species to manage an entire planet for the collective well-being of seven billion individuals?

And the countless billions of other lifeforms?

It is more than likely beyond the capabilities of our political systems, science and our best intentions.

To paraphrase the language of IPCC reports there is “high confidence” based on “robust evidence” that will most likely fail in our attempts to act as planetary engineers.

Because there are limits that even our own god-like species cannot transgress.

Goodbye global agreement and “green revolution”, hello Anthropocene

“…Of many wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic
Moving by compulsion each other: not as those in Eden…”
– WIlliam Blake

I’m letting go of the Enlightenment belief that progress is inevitable and that a solution will be presented to us as a kind of dues ex-machina.

Why?

Because civilisations fall.

Species go extinct.

Because asteroids periodically slam into the Earth.

Because the Earth abides, but very little else.

Because fate is indifferent to our species.

Because we have now entered the anthropocene.

And so I could not write, because I was afraid to think or share that conclusion. Because such a view runs counter the attempts of so many others to remain upbeat and optimistic.

“Don’t sound pessimistic!” is the message that many in the environmental movement repeat like a mantra.

I understand why many activists – from grass-roots activists, GetUp!, Greenpeace and activist scientists – are focussed on being upbeat:

  • You can change the future!
  • If we switch to 100% renewable now, we’ll avoid climate change!
  • We need a revolution in people’s thinking!

As they rightly point out, apathy is a kind of death. Individuals will act if they feel that they are making an actual contribution. But now I find such messaging styles nothing more than a steady drip, drip, drip of faux cheerfulness that’s more about marketing a message than reality.

I appreciate the strategy behind such communication campaigns. They need to engage people and inspire hope.

To which the central message I thought I needed to deliver was…what exactly?

What ever it is, it is the very opposite of the cheery-she’ll-be-right messages of activists and environmentalists.

After silence: Post-climate change Handbook

No wiser words have been spoken:

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people
– Marin Luther King

So my “message” that we should give up: should I simply remain silent?

Did not James Lovelock recently declare we should just “drink and be merry” because there is nothing we can do?

“…The man who achieved global fame for his theory that the whole earth is a single organism now believes that we can only hope that the earth will take care of itself in the face of completely unpredictable climate change.”

Interviewed by Today presenter John Humphrys, videos of which you can see below, he said that while the earth’s future was utterly uncertain, mankind was not aware it had “pulled the trigger” on global warming as it built its civilizations.

Not quite: there are many things we can do. But it requires us to relinquish some modes of thought and fixed ideas.

It is something I’m trying to capture in what I’m tentatively calling the “Post-climate handbook”. What I’m arguing for is perhaps somewhat different – perhaps a little radical.

In essence I’m suggesting individuals and activist groups consider the following:

  • Seizing political control at the local level –both at the state government and local government level in order to have control over local resources and planning
  • Abandoning notions of global agreements and “revolutions” in clean energy. Instead, encourage a focus on the 10-20 kilometres around you in order to survive. It is now about the security of food and water supplies and the maintenance of critical infrastructure necessary to support an advanced technology society
  • Fostering the individual’s network within local communities in order to build resilience for climate, food and economic shocks
  • Planning for a less affluent lifestyle in developed countries, as consumers will have far less choice due to external forces
  • Acting as custodians of the “best” of our species culture: the scientific method, concepts of equality, democracy, our art and poetry: because they are worth preserving for future generations.

Does “former sceptic” Bjorn Lomborg really think geo-engineering is an easy sell?

Much is being made about Bjorn Lomborg’s conversion from climate “scepticism” to his acceptance of it as a serious issue.  

Says one commentator:  

“…I’ll be darned. Bjorn Lomborg, the author of the infamous The Skeptical Environmentalist, one of the most thoroughly debunked books of the past decade (and one that has given a bad connotation to the word “skeptic”), has just changed his mind! In his new book, Smart Solutions to Climate Change, Lomborg says that climate change is “undoubtedly one of the chief concerns facing the world today … a challenge humanity must confront.” I could say “I told you so” (for instance in a chapter on global warming in my Nonsense on Stilts), but I’ll refrain — largely because I would be the last on a long list of scientists who have published detailed (negative) reviews of Lomborg’s first book in prestigious outlets such as Scientific American (volume 286, issue 1, 2002), Nature (8 November 2001, pp. 149-150) and Science (9 November 2001, pp. 1285-1286).”

I’m divided in the issue.  

On the one had it is good to see “former” sceptics accept the science.  

On the other, Lomborg has been one of the key figures in the denial movement.  

Lomborg was of the “Sure it is happening, but it’s not an issue worth worrying about” school. His writings have been instrumental convincing many politicians and decision makers to do nothing. 

Indeed, Tony Abbott – Australia’s sceptical leader of the opposition – approvingly quotes Lomborg in his biography “Battlelines”, paraphrasing his arguments in defence of ignoring climate as an issue.  

However, before we get too excited and welcome Lomborg with open arms I think more attention needs to be paid to what Lomborg is actually saying.  

Lomborg to scientists: change my climate please!  

Some time ago Clive Hamilton pointed out that think tanks and deniers formally sceptical of climate change are performing a rapid about face.

They’ve stopped denying climate change and started screaming for technological solutions such as geo-engineering:

“…a powerful group of scientists, venture capitalists and conservative think tanks is coalescing around the idea of reproducing this cooling effect by injecting sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to counter climate change. Despite the enormity of what is being proposed – nothing less than seizing control of the climate – the public has been almost entirely excluded from the planning.

Up to now, governments have been reluctant to talk about geoengineering. The reason is simple: apart from its unknown side effects, it would weaken resolve to reduce emissions.

But it may soon prove an irresistible fix. This form of geoengineering is extremely attractive because its costs are estimated to be trivial compared to those of cutting carbon. It also gets powerful lobbies off governments’ backs, gives the green light to burning more coal, avoids the need to raise petrol taxes, permits yet more unrestrained growth and is no threat to consumer lifestyles.”

I also noted this back in April:

“…The interesting thing is many of the conservative think tanks that have been active in helping distort the climate change debate seem to be advocating for geoengineering….

On the one hand they question the science of global warming, and yet the other are starting to embrace geoengineering as a means to manage climate change.

Ironic? Contradictory? Yes.

But why adopt such contradictory positions? Mostly they will tout as an excuse not to cut emissions in the short term. Having accepted funding from energy interests for decades to help mislead the public, they know the impacts of climate change are going to be felt in the coming years.

As consequence, they will need to change tact. This is how they will change their tune.

Expect to hear the term a lot more in the future. As the planet continues to warm, and the effects of climate change become more noticeable geoengineering will be an option brought to the table.

Lomborg is now leading the charge in promoting geo-engineering. Watch the debate closely, as you’ll no doubt see more such conversions.  

Says Lomborg in a recent interview with Foreign Policy Magazine:

“…geoengineering is potentially incredibly cheap compared to virtually everything else we talk about. If you look at marine cloud whitening — making clouds a little whiter by putting up sea salt into the lower atmosphere — we could actually pretty much offset all of global warming in the 21st century. The total cost of that would be about $6 billion to $7 billion in total. The cost of a 2 degree Centigrade policy [limiting climate change to 2 degrees through other methods] could easily be $40 trillion a year. We’re talking about 5,000 times less [expensive], and only once instead of every year.”

While everyone is patting Lomborg on the back about his apparent about face on climate change, they’ve not really paid attention to the fact he is proposing as the “cheapest” response to climate change.  

Yes, because in response to a serious threat to civilisation you should do things on the cheap.  

“Look…” says the scientist “..we have a problem, climate change could wipe out the human race if we don’t start mitigating it’s effects.”  

“Yes that is a problem…” replies Lomborg “… but really, how much is THAT going to cost!”  

Lomborg: “Don’t trust the scientists! No wait… trust them to fiddle with the climate!”  

There is real irony in watching someone who did their very best to undermine public confidence in scientists now asking we trust those same scientists to actively manage the planet’s climate.  

“I didn’t accept the science then, but hey – why don’t you guys go and fiddle with the planet’s temperature gauge now? I’m sure we can all trust you!”  

If the general public can’t even agree on the reality of climate change now or the need to curb emission via a carbon tax how are they going to trust scientists to manage the planets atmosphere?  

Sceptics such as Lomborg helped unleash the denial movement genie from the bottle. His writings helped fuel their dark fantasies of conspiracies. 

Just how does he imagine the denial movement will react to the thought of scientists shooting sulphates into the atmosphere to increase the planet’s albedo effect?  

“OK, climate chagne is real! Let’s get the scientists we’ve attacked for years to start fixing the problem!”

Imagine what the conspiracy theorists and nut jobs will make of that Lomborg’s calls. No doubt they will see geo-engineering as an attempt to introduce chemicals into the atmosphere designed to sterilise rich, white, conservative Anglo-Saxon males.

Nor would it be the denial movement loudly voicing their opposition to geo-engineering.  

I’d imagine most of the environmental movement would be opposed, seeing it as a distraction from tackling carbon emissions and an inherently risky proposition.  

Lomborg was instrumental in creating the fog of doubt that surrounds climate change. Now he wants us to take an even larger gamble. 

If Lomborg thinks geoengineering is an “easy sell” because it offers a quick, low cost solution he’s nuts.

This is going to be  long, controversial fight.

Having been taught by the likes of Lomborg that climate change is not an issue, and the scientists have been wrong, how is the public going to react to the thought of geo-engineering?

What, all of sudden the scientists are the good guys?

Hack the planet? The coming debate around geoengineering

Is it inevitable?

  

For those of you engaged in the climate change debate – and what ever side of the fence you sit on – you have come across the term “geoengineering“.  

Simply put, this describes proposals to deliberately manipulate the climate in order to counteract the effects of global warming. The US National Academy of Sciences describes it thus:  

“…These are options that would involve large-scale engineering of our environment in order to combat or counteract the effects of changes in atmospheric chemistry. Most of these options have to do with the possibility of compensating for a rise in global temperature, caused by an increase in greenhouse gases, by reflecting or scattering back a fraction of the incoming sunlight. Other geoengineering possibilities include reforesting the United States to increase the storage of carbon in vegetation, stimulating an increase in oceanic biomass as a means of increasing the storage and natural sequestering of carbon in the ocean, decreasing CO2 by direct absorption, and decreasing atmospheric halocarbons by direct destruction…”  

Chris Mooney over at Point of Inquiry conducted a fascinating interview with journalist Eli Kintisch on this topic covering such topics as what geoengineering is and how it relates to the politics of climate change:  

“…the idea of a technological fix to solve the problem—like seeding the stratosphere with reflective sulfur particles, so as to reduce sunlight—starts to sound pretty attractive. Interest in so-called “geoengineering” is growing, and so is media attention to the idea. There are even conspiracy theorists who think a secret government plan to engineer the planet is already afoot.   

Leading scientists, meanwhile, have begun to seriously study our geoengineering options—not necessarily because they want to, but because they fear there may be no other choice.”  

There are of course many concerns around geoengineering:  

  • It is untested and we may not know how it will work on a planetary scale
  • The publics uneasiness with such an option
  • How individual nations may go “rogue” and try to implement their own geoengineering efforts

However, people should be aware that geoengineering is being discussed amongst scientists and governments. There is no conspiracy here, it’s about addressing the “worst case scenario” if the world fails to scale back CO2 emissions and we head towards large scale temperature rises.  

What does this have to climate change scepticism?  

The interesting thing is many of the conservative think tanks that have been active in helping distort the climate change debate seem to be advocating for geoengineering (listen to the podcast for further explanation).  

On the one hand they question the science of global warming, and yet the other are starting to embrace geoengineering as a means to manage climate change.  

Ironic? Contradictory? Yes.  

But why adopt such contradictory positions? Mostly they will tout as an excuse not to cut emissions in the short term. Having accepted funding from energy interests for decades to help mislead the public, they know the impacts of climate change are going to be felt in the coming years. 

As consequence, they will need to change tact. This is how they will change their tune. 

Expect to hear the term a lot more in the future. As the planet continues to warm, and the effects of climate change become more noticeable geoengineering will be an option brought to the table.  

The debate will grow, however now is the time to get familiar with the science.

%d bloggers like this: