IEET > GlobalDemocracySecurity > Fellows > Jamais Cascio > Eco-gov
New Geoengineering Study: Can We Fix the Planet?
Jamais Cascio   Jan 28, 2009   Open The Future  

The article The radiative forcing potential of different climate geoengineering options is now out and available for download and discussion. As expected, it offers one of the first useful comparisons of different geoengineering techniques.

In the paper, Tim Lenton and his student Naomi Vaughn, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the University of East Anglia, UK, focus strictly on the radiative impact of geoengineering—that is, how much heat absorption is prevented—and don’t examine costs or risks. The goal here is to help figure out the “benefit” half of the cost-benefit ratio. Lenton and Vaughn have another paper (to be published later this year) taking a look at the cost side, and that will be just as important as this one.
LentonandVaughnx4440x.png


Lenton and Vaughn split geoengineering proposals into two categories:

  • Shortwave options that either increase the reflectivity (or albedo) of the Earth or block some percentage of incoming sunlight. These include megascale projects like orbiting mirrors and stratospheric sulphate, as well as more localized and prosaic methods like white rooftops and planting brighter (=more reflective) plants.
  • Longwave options are those that attempt to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere in order to slow warming. These include massive reforestation projects, “bio-char” production and storage, various air capture and filtering plans, and ocean biosphere manipulation with iron fertilization or phosphorus.

Lenton and Vaughn run the numbers on the likely maximum results from each of the methods, working under the assumption of simultaneous aggressive carbon cutting efforts. One thing that becomes immediately clear is that no form of geoengineering would be enough to avert catastrophe if emissions aren’t cut quickly. Unfortunately, they also argue that even aggressive carbon emission cuts won’t be enough to forestall disaster.

(It should be noted that the accuracy of the measurements and predicted effects of the various proposals is likely to be moderate at best; the value comes from having a clear comparison using the same modeling standards for each approach.)

So, what works?

Here’s the first cut analysis in a chart form:

geo-comparison-chartx4440x.png

Most effective (again, strictly in terms of radiative impact) over this century would be either space shields, stratospheric injection, or increasing cloud levels with seawater. Any of these, alone, could actually be enough to counteract global warming along with aggressive carbon emission reductions.

Next would be increasing desert albedo (essentially putting massive reflective sheets across the deserts of the world) or direct carbon capture and storage (ideally captured from burning biofuels). These would slow global warming disaster, but wouldn’t necessarily be enough to stop it. Biochar, reforestation, and increasing cropland & grassland albedo come in third, half again as effective as the previous proposals; the remaining methods would be even less-effective, in some cases multiple orders of magnitude less-effective.

And all of these proposals have drawbacks. Space shields would be ridiculous expensive absent later-stage nanofabrication techniques. Stratospheric injection alters rainfall patterns, and any abrupt cessation of albedo manipulation would be worse than what had been prevented. Laying thousands upon thousands of square kilometers of reflective sheets across the desert is an ecosystem nightmare, while reforestation at sufficient levels to have an impact—and any kind of biofuel or cropland/grassland modification—would be incompatible with feeding the Earth’s people. Carbon capture has the fewest potential drawbacks, other than cost—and the fact that it alone wouldn’t be sufficient to stop disaster, only delay it.

With the various drawbacks (which Lenton and Vaughn will examine in more detail later this year), why even consider geoengineering?

The explanation comes as an extension of the “bathtub model” Andy Revkin talks about today in the New York Times.

Imagine the climate as a bathtub with both a running faucet and an open drain. As long as the amount of water coming from the faucet matches (on average) the capacity of the drain, the water level in the tub (that is, the carbon level in the atmosphere) remains stable. Over the course of the last couple of centuries, however, we’ve been turning up the water flow—increasing atmospheric carbon concentrations—first slowly, then more rapidly. At the same time, one consequence of our actions is that the drain itself is starting to get clogged—that is, the various environmental carbon sinks and natural carbon cycle mechanisms are starting to fail. With more water coming into the tub, and a clogging drain, the inevitable result will be water spilling over the sides of the bathtub, a simple analogy for an environmental tipping point catastrophe.

With this model, we can see that simply slowing emissions to where they were (say) a couple of decades ago won’t necessarily be enough to stop spillover, if the carbon input is still faster than the carbon sinks can handle.

That said, our efforts at stopping this catastrophe have—rightly—focused on reducing the water flowing from the faucet (cutting carbon emissions) as much as possible. But the flow of the water is still filling the tub faster than we can turn the faucet knob (we’re far from getting carbon emissions to below carbon sink capacity). Without something big happening, we’re still going to see a disaster.

The shortwave geoengineering proposals, by blocking some of the incoming heat from the Sun, are the equivalent here to building up the sides of the tub with plastic sheets. The tub will be able to hold more water, although if the sheeting fails, the resulting spillover will be even worse than what would have happened absent geoengineering.

The longwave geoengineering proposals, by increasing carbon capture, are the equivalent here to clearing out the drain, or even drilling a few holes in the bottom of the tub (let’s assume that just goes to the drain, too). The water will leave the tub faster, but you may have to drill a lot of holes to have the impact you need—and drilling too many holes could itself be ruinous.

According to Lenton and Vaughn’s study, the longwave geoengineering proposals would be much more effective in the long run—at millennium scales—than shortwave, but the shortwave would have a more immediate impact. It’s clear that a combination of the two approaches would be best, of course coupled with aggressive carbon emission reductions. Build up the sides of the tub and drill a few holes, in other words.

Of all of the proposals, air capture seems to be closest to a winner here, but the costs (and technology) remains a bit unclear, and will take some time to get up and running in any event. That delay will mean pressure to use one of the shortwave approaches, too. My guess is that stratospheric sulphate injection will be cheaper at the outset than the cloud albedo manipulation with seawater, but the latter seems likely to have fewer potential risks; we’ll likely try both, but probably transition solely to cloud manipulation (at least until molecular nanofabrication allows us to do space-based shielding). The various minor proposals—reforestation, urban rooftop albedo, and the like—certainly won’t hurt to do, and every little bit helps, but alone are massively insufficient.

Lenton and Vaughn’s study is precisely the kind of research that is needed to better understand what the geoengineering options are. As I emphasize here at every turn, this doesn’t obviate the need for aggressive reductions in carbon emissions. But it’s looking more and more like simply changing our light bulbs, boosting building efficiency, and taking a bike instead of a car, while clearly helpful, will still be insufficient to avert disaster, and even a global shift away from fossil fuels wouldn’t come in time to stop the water from spilling over the edges of the tub.

Nature stopped being natural centuries ago. It’s been in our hands, under our influence, for much longer than we’ve been willing to admit. We’ve got to get smart about how we’re reshaping the environment—and do so before it’s too late.

                 

 


Jamais Cascio
Jamais Cascio is a Senior Fellow of the IEET, and a professional futurist. He writes the popular blog Open the Future.



COMMENTS

I thought these updates and endorsements may interest you,

Senator / Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has done the most to nurse this biofuels system in his Biochar provisions in the 07 & 08 farm bill,
http://www.biochar-international.org/newinformationevents/newlegislation.html

Below are my current news & Links to major developments;


Cheers,
Erich J. Knight
540 289 9750

Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages SIMULTANEOUSLY!

The IBI Announces Success in Having Biochar Considered as a Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Tool;

POZNAN, Poland, December 10, 2008 - The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) announces that the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has submitted a proposal to include biochar as a mitigation and adaptation technology to be considered in the post-2012-Copenhagen agenda of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A copy of the proposal is posted on the IBI website at
The International Biochar Initiative (IBI).

Modern Pyrolysis of biomass is a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration,10X Lower Methane & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.
Every 1 ton of Biomass yields 1/3 ton Charcoal for soil Sequestration, Bio-Gas & Bio-oil fuels, so is a totally virtuous, carbon negative energy cycle.

Charles Mann (“1491”) in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.

Please put this (soil) bug in your colleague’s ears. These issues need to gain traction among all the various disciplines who have an iron in this fire.
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/soil/mann-text


I also have been corresponding with Michael Pollan ( NYT Food Columnist, Author ) to do a follow up story.

Since the NGM cover reads “WHERE FOOD BEGINS” , I thought this would be right down his alley and focus more attention on Mann’s work.
It’s what Mann hasn’t covered that I thought should interest any writer as a follow up article;

Biochar data base;
http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

NASA’s Dr. James Hansen Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference, placing Biochar / Land management the central technology for carbon negative energy systems.
http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0804/0804.1126.pdf

The many new university programs & field studies, in temperate soils; Cornell, ISU, U of H, U of GA, Virginia Tech, JMU, New Zealand and Australia.

Glomalin’s role in soil tilth, fertility & basis for the soil food web in Terra Preta soils.

Given the current “Crisis” atmosphere concerning energy, soil sustainability, food vs. Biofuels, and Climate Change what other subject addresses them all?

This is a Nano technology for the soil that represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.

Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

In a recent National Public Radio interview, Michael Pollan talks about how he was approached by a Democratic party staffer about his New York Times article,  The “Farmer & Chief”,  an open letter to the next president concerning U.S. agriculture/energy policy. The staffer wanted Pollan to summarize the article into a page or two to get it into the hands of Barack Obama. Pollan declined, saying that if he could have said everything that needed to be said in two pages, he wouldn’t have written 8000 words.

Michael Pollan is well briefed about Biochar technology, but did not include it in his “Farmer & Chief” article to President Obama, (Which he did read & cited in a speech) but I’m sure Biochar will be his 8001th word to him.

Erich
540 289 9750

 


Total CO2 Equivalence:
Once a commercial bagged soil amendment product, every suburban household can do it,
The label can tell them of their contribution, a 40# bag = 150# CO2 = 160 bags / year to cover my personal CO2 emissions. ( 20,000 #/yr , 1/2 Average )
http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_calculator.html

But that is just the Carbon!
I have yet to find a total CO2 equivalent number taking consideration against some average field N2O & CH4 emissions. The New Zealand work shows 10X reductions.If biochar proves to be effective at reducing nutrient run-off from agricultural soils, then there will accordingly be a reduction in downstream N2O emissions.

This ACS study implicates soil structure as main connection to N2O soil emissions;
http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Paper41955.html


Biochar Studies at ACS Huston meeting;

578-I: http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Session4231.html

579-II http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Session4496.html

665 - III. http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Session4497.html

666-IV http://a-c-s.confex.com/crops/2008am/webprogram/Session4498.html

Most all this work corroborates char soil dynamics we have seen so far . The soil GHG emissions work showing increased CO2 , also speculates that this CO2 has to get through the hungry plants above before becoming a GHG.
The SOM, MYC& Microbes, N2O (soil structure), CH4 , nutrient holding , Nitrogen shock, humic compound conditioning, absorbing of herbicides all pretty much what we expected to hear.

 

Company News & EU Certification

Below is an important hurtle that 3R AGROCARBON has overcome in certification in the EU. Given that their standards are set much higher than even organic certification in the US, this work should smooth any bureaucratic hurtles we may face.

EU Permit Authority - 4 years tests
Subject: Fwd: [biochar] Re: GOOD NEWS: EU Permit Authority - 4 years tests successfully completed


Doses: 400 kg / ha : 1000 kg / ha at different horticultural cultivars

Plant height Increase 141 % versus control
Picking yield Increase 630 % versus control
Picking fruit Increase 650 % versus control
Total yield Increase 202 % versus control
Total piece of fruit Increase 171 % versus control
Fruit weight Increase 118 % versus control

There is list of the additional beneficial effects of the 3R FORMULATED BIOCHAREU DOSSIER for permit administration and summary of the results from 4 different Authorities who executed different test programme is under construction
I suggest these independent and accredited EU relevant Authority permit field tests results will support the further development of the biochar application systems on international level, and providing case evidence, that properly made and formulated (plant and/or animal biomass based) biochars can meet the modern environmental - agricultural - human health inspection standards and norm, while supporting the knowledge based economical development.

We work further on to expand not only in the EU but in the USA as well. My Cincinnati large scale carbonization project is progressing, hopefully the first industrial scale 3R clean coal - carbon plant will be ready in 2009.

Sincerely yours: Edward Someus (environmental engineer)
HOMEPAGE 3R AGROCARBON: http://www.3ragrocarbon.com

http://www.terrenum.net
EMAIL 1: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
EMAIL 2: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

 

Also:
EcoTechnologies is planning for many collaborations ; NC State, U. of Leeds, Cardiff U. Rice U. ,JMU, U.of H. and at USDA with Dr.Jeffrey Novak who is coordinating ARS Biochar research. This Coordinated effort will speed implementation by avoiding unneeded repetition and building established work in a wide variety of soils and climates.
http://www.EcoTechnologies.com

Hopefully all the Biochar companies will coordinate with Dr. Jeff Novak’s .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  soils work at ARS;

http://www.ars.usda.gov/pandp/people/people.htm?personid=24434

By the way, here is a practical mechanical method of removing CO2 from the ocean:

“Researchers at Harvard University and Pennsylvania State University have invented a technology, inspired by nature, to reduce the accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) caused by human emissions.  By electrochemically removing hydrochloric acid from the ocean and then neutralizing the acid by reaction with silicate (volcanic) rocks, the researchers say they can accelerate natural chemical weathering, permanently transferring CO2 from the atmosphere to the ocean. Unlike other ocean sequestration processes, the new technology does not further acidify the ocean and may be beneficial to coral reefs. The innovative approach to tackling climate change is reported in the Nov. 7 issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology…”—“Engineered weathering process could mitigate global warming,” EurekAlert, 7 Nov ‘07

The above compliments the following geoengineering scheme:

“The Panel (on Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming) calculated that adding stratospheric aerosol dust to the stratosphere would cost just pennies per ton of CO2 mitigated.” —“The Incredible Economics of Geoengineering”

“Stratospheric aerosol injections and sunshades in space have “by far” the greatest potential to cool the climate by 2050…” —‘Geo-engineering could cool globe,’  The Press Association, 27 Jan ‘09

Biochar Soil Technology

Biotic Carbon, the carbon transformed by life, should never be combusted, oxidized and destroyed. It deserves more respect, reverence even, and understanding to use it back to the soil where 2/3 of excess atmospheric carbon originally came from.

We all know we are carbon-centered life, we seldom think about the complex web of recycled bio-carbon which is the true center of life. A cradle to cradle, mutually co-evolved biosphere reaching into every crack and crevice on Earth.

It’s hard for most to revere microbes and fungus, but from our toes to our gums (onward), their balanced ecology is our health. The greater earth and soils are just as dependent, at much longer time scales. Our farming for over 10,000 years has been responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. This soil carbon, converted to carbon dioxide, Methane & Nitrous oxide began a slow stable warming that now accelerates with burning of fossil fuel.

Wise Land management; Organic farming and afforestation can build back our soil carbon,

Biochar allows the soil food web to build much more recalcitrant organic carbon, ( living biomass & Glomalins) in addition to the carbon in the biochar.

Biochar, the modern version of an ancient Amazonian agricultural practice called Terra Preta (black earth), is gaining widespread credibility as a way to address world hunger, climate change, rural poverty, deforestation, and energy shortages SIMULTANEOUSLY!

Senator / Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has done the most to nurse this biofuels system in his Biochar provisions in the 07 & 08 farm bill,

http://www.biochar-international.org/newinformationevents/newlegislation.html

Charles Mann (“1491”) in the Sept. National Geographic has a wonderful soils article which places Terra Preta / Biochar soils center stage.

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/soil/mann-text

It’s what Mann hasn’t covered that I thought should interest any writer as a follow up article;

Biochar data base;

http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

NASA’s Dr. James Hansen Global warming solutions paper and letter to the G-8 conference, placing Biochar / Land management the central technology for carbon negative energy systems.

http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0804/0804.1126.pdf

The many new university programs & field studies, in temperate soils; Cornell, ISU, U of H, U of GA, Virginia Tech, JMU, New Zealand and Australia.

Glomalin’s role in soil tilth, fertility & basis for the soil food web in Terra Preta soils.

Given the current “Crisis” atmosphere concerning energy, soil sustainability, food vs. Biofuels, and Climate Change what other subject addresses them all?

This is a Nano technology for the soil that represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.

Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.

Cheers,

Erich J. Knight

Shenandoah Gardens

540 289 9750

This article makes me both want to vomit, then kill myself. 

Apparently, “scientists” (in particular, the kind that cannot distinguish crappy statistics and models, from causal mechanisms and mathematical certainty) NOW think they’re going to control, not only the earth’s climate, but also all the forces in the universe that influence our planet. 

And they’re going to do it with what?  Giant space umbrellas, undoubtedly made from huge amounts of natural resources, requiring energy intensive processes to pull off, and huge amounts of fossil fuel energy to deploy.  And this is going to solve our problem of what again?  Oh yes, emissions from heavy industry and the burning of fossil fuels.  Of course.

Or alternately, we can dump iron powder into our oceans and atmosphere to reduce the alleged armageddon being brought on by so called “GLobal Warming Pollution”.

Obviously this article was intended for nitwits who are moved by statements like :

“and the fact that it alone wouldn’t be sufficient to stop disaster, only delay it.”

...specifically the use of the term “disaster” to describe the “inevitable” outcome of a loosely concocted, scientifically unsound theory that has failed to predict an actual real-world outcome in 20 plus years of shameless promotion.

Yet now the “environmentalists” who buy this nonesense, are fully prepared to undertake the most undeniably environmentally taxing courses of action to mitigate a made up problem.  And they just love to show how smart they are for coming up with these completely cockamamie ideas.

Folks its time for a reality check.  The generations before us, DID a lot of great things.  They had foresight, will, and commitment behind them.  In this day and age we seem to think we are so much smarter because we can BS ourselves into belieiving we are so powerful and enlightened, that we are capable of hurting then saving the planet.  But we are wrong on all counts.  NONE OF THESE THINGS WILL EVER HAPPEN.  Which will be great because the alleged “problem”, Climate Change/Global Warming/or whatever IS A COMPLETE JOKE OF A HOAX/FRAUD.  So if we did pull this off, all we would do is make ourselves worse off anyway.

As a scientist, articles like this make me want to punch someone in the face.  This type of BS and self promotion may play well in the papers but it is not science.  And anyone who says it is a not only no type of scientist, but likely a full-of-BS, self denying retard moron. 

Is that clear enough?

Derek D:

You are a troll, but much worse you have very poor judgement.

“This article makes me both want to vomit, then kill myself.”

“Obviously this article was intended for nitwits…”

“NONE OF THESE THINGS WILL EVER HAPPEN. Which will be great because the alleged “problem”, Climate Change/Global Warming/or whatever IS A COMPLETE JOKE OF A HOAX/FRAUD.”

“It isn’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble; it’s what you do know that ain’t so.” —Mark Twain

Here is what Climate Code Red says:

—Human emissions have so far produced a global average temperature increase of 0.8 degree C.

—There is another 0.6 degree C. to come due to “thermal inertia”, or lags in the system, taking the total long-term global warming induced by human emissions so far to 1.4 degree C.

—If human total emissions continue as they are to 2030 (and don’t increase 60% as projected) this would likely add more than 0.4 degrees C. to the system in the next two decades, taking the long-term effect by 2030 to at least 1.7 degrees C. (A 0.3 degree C. increase is predicted for the period 2004-2014 alone by Smith, Cusack et al, 2007).

—Then add the 0.3 degree C. albedo flip effect from the now imminent loss of the Arctic sea ice, and the rise in the system by 2030 is at least 2 degree. C, assuming very optimistically that emissions don’t increase at all above their present annual rate! When we consider the potential permafrost releases and the effect of carbon sinks losing capacity, we are on the road to a hellish future, not for what we will do, but WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY DONE.

These semantic discussions of most geoengineering options do so very little other than misdirect from the core issue. In more than a century of fossil fuel burring we’ve belched hundreds of billions of tonnes of CO2 into the air. The vast majority of this is still in the air as CO2 has a residence time of over a century in the atmosphere. The issue is that the CO2 already in the air amounts to a lethal dose of slow poison to the ocean ecosystem. Sure it creates climate change and global warming but those are glacially slow processes that threaten change that is far from what the oceans are already suffering. The carbon bomb airborne and now impacting on the oceans is more than sufficient to destroy higher life in the oceans, that above the level of bacteria for example. Even if we stop the emission of another single molecule of CO2 that airborne carbon bomb will destroy higher life in the oceans… unless something is done to mitigate the damage from the already emitted deadly dose of CO2. No matter whether you jet off to a winter holiday, drive a Prius, buy more energy efficient light bulbs, or even build planetary beach umbrellas the dose of CO2 already in the air will do its deadly job.

ONLY the massive immediate enhancement of photosynthesis on this small blue planet offers a means or even a chance to capture the existing lethal dose of CO2 and convert it into green life instead of acid death.

But engaging in meaningless semantic debates while fueling up the Prius or pointing fingers of blame at those who drive SUV’s is so much easier than actually doing something meaningful like perhaps saving the planet. If we merely sit back and critique others and reduce the amount of new poison we belch into the air it all amounts to doing nothing.

It’s as if we treated patients arriving in hospital emergency rooms bleeding profusely from traffic accidents by first making them take drivers education class before treating the wounds that will surely kill them. Stop carping and do something, get a life, save a life of a plant (and planet) today.

You want to know all the secrets about biochar ?
This book will help !

http://www.biochar-books.com

Here practice and theory merge under a single cover of “The Biochar Revolution”  and reveals hidden secrets of science called Biochar

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