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Cooling the Earth: CO2, SO2, and The Sunscreen Fix

by technopolitical Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 11:26:00 AM EST

Climate, technology, and politics

Contents:

  1. Reducing CO2 emissions will not reverse warming
  2. Nature has shown us that an SO2 sunscreen can reverse warming
  3. Creating an SO2 sunscreen appears to be low-harm and low-risk
  4. The sunscreen fix would be relatively inexpensive
  5. Pollution cleanup has been removing sunscreen
  6. The main problem with the sunscreen option?
  7. A toxic political dynamic has begun
  8. Conclusion

    back from the front page. - Jrme


CO2 emission reductions can do no more than reduce the rate of increase of CO2 concentrations. As warming increases and understanding grows, groups not aligned with green ideologies will increasingly call for action. Among them, at least, any plausible technological fix will likely gain advocates. And indeed there is a technological fix -- the sunscreen fix -- that can quickly and inexpensively cool the Earth. This fix is more than plausible, I expect it to get a lot of attention.

The sunscreen fix is this: Replicate the cooling effect of natural volcanic eruptions by adding sulfur dioxide (SO2) to the stratosphere. The quantity required would be several percent of total human SO2 emissions. An SO2 sunscreen can't fix all the problems caused by excess CO2. Just the global warming problem.

I urge that we examine this concept with open minds and then consider whether to urge that others do so as well. Whether we do this or not, the stratospheric sunscreen fix is, I think, on its way to becoming a live option. The reasons for this are presented (rather timidly) by Paul Crutzen, a Dutch scientist who won the Nobel prize for discovering the chemistry of ozone depletion. Once again, he is telling us something about the stratosphere, human choices, and the fate of the world. Let's listen.

His article in Climate Change, August 2006, can be gotten here:

http://www.springerlink.com/content/t1vn75m458373h63

And here is the journal's only slightly confused press-release:

http://physicsweb.org/press/12980

The potential human and ecological benefits of a fix for global warming are reason enough to take this seriously. And considering the political prospects, dare we not? As I describe below, a toxic political dynamic has already begun, a dynamic that positions environmentalists and their allies to be discredited in an area where they now hope to find their greatest strength.

I have set out the positive case for the sunscreen fix below in part to show what it sounds like. Documentation of various points can be provided on request. First, some background --

1. Reducing CO2 emissions will not reverse warming

If CO2 emissions stopped completely, near-current CO2 levels would persist for decades. If emissions stopped increasing today, CO2 levels would continue to increase at roughly present rates. But with China and India industrializing, even this dramatic achievement -- holding emissions constant -- would merely stop the acceleration of the rise in CO2 levels. And let's not forget the positive-feedback loops: melting ice darkens arctic waters, growing vegetation darkens arctic land, warming tundra emits CO2, and so on. As we know from Earth's history of rapid climate change, this process creates enormous risks.

In short: even with the application of political will far beyond what we've seen, a policy limited to reducing CO2 emissions would let the Earth slide deeper and faster into global warming, with unpredictable and possibly disastrous consequence.

2. Nature has shown us that an SO2 sunscreen can reverse warming

From time to time, explosive volcanic eruptions put millions of tons of SO2 into the stratosphere. SO2 stays in the stratosphere for 2 year or so in the form of microscopic sulfate particles. These scatter sunlight, making sunsets redder, the sky slightly whiter, and the Earth a bit cooler. This happened most recently after June, 1991, when Mt. Pinatubo exploded in the Philippines. This placed about 10 million tons of sulfur into the stratosphere and cooled the Earth by about 0.5°C in 1992. According to many climate models, 0.5°C corresponds to several decades of greenhouse warming. The cooling effect can be scaled up: In August, 1883, Mt. Krakatoa exploded in Indonesia; this lowered global temperatures by about 1.2°C in 1884. In 1815, Mt. Tambora exploded in Java; 1816 is known as "the year without a summer" -- there were snowstorms in New England in June. Applying the sunscreen fix would provide a temperature control that can be adjusted over a wide range.

Nature's messy way to put SO2 into the stratosphere (Mt. Pinatubo, Luzon, Philippines, 1991):

The stratosphere seen from space, before and after Pinatubo:

3. Creating an SO2 sunscreen appears to be low-harm and low-risk

Volcanic eruptions are natural experiments that show the effects of adding SO2 to the stratosphere, and modeling can tell a lot about how these effects would operate if sustained. It's a safe bet that, with experience and modeling, there wouldn't be big surprises. Also, the effects would take years to create, because it would take years to build the capacity to make and lift the required millions of tons of SO2. This would give time to observe and judge the effects, which would anyway fade away in a few years if the program were stopped.

The effect on ozone concentrations was shown by the Pinatubo experience: According to Crutzen, who pioneered the chemistry of stratospheric ozone depletion, the global effect was negative but small (2.5%), less than the loss after Pinatubo. This is similar in magnitude to year-to-year variability and is about 10% of typical seasonal variability. For perspective, in the famous southern-hemisphere ozone hole, the loss has been in the range of 40 to 70%. (Nonetheless, the magnitude and distribution of ozone depletion strikes me as one of the more important uncertain effects.)

Adding SO2 to the stratosphere would later increase the precipitation of SO2. The increase, however, would be a few percent of current human SO2 emissions (which total about 80 million tons per year). Since human SO2 emissions have recently been decreasing by a few percent per year, maintaining an SO2 sunscreen in the stratosphere would do no more than temporarily slow the decline of SO2 in the lower atmosphere. The SO2 sunscreen fix would add a small amount of a natural substance to the environment. By reasonable standards, it can be considered clean.

The overall risks and adverse effects seem comparatively small and uncertainties will shrink as models are refined and the historical data are studied. If the comparison is made not to some ideal standard of zero adverse effects and absolute certainty, but instead to the enormous effects and sickening uncertainties of ongoing warming, the relative risks seem clear.

4. The sunscreen fix would be relatively inexpensive

Crutzen estimates that 5.3 million tons (5.3 billion kg) of sulfur per year would offset the warming effect of doubling atmospheric CO2; something like 2 million tons per year would offset CO2 levels projected for 2050. Sulfur production could be increased by this much at a cost around 0.1 $/kg (mining operations of similar scale and cost were shut down 30 years ago because of falling prices). Regarding the cost of delivery to the stratosphere, Crutzen cites a 1992 estimate of 25 $/kg, but the of delivery using jet aircraft should be less than 5 $/kg, even with fuel costs based on oil at 150 $/barrel -- some ways of doing the job would burn no fuel at all. (For comparison, the airfreight industry worldwide carries about 30 million tons of cargo per year, earning revenue of about $60 billion.) A generous estimate of the total annual cost would be about $10 billion, about 1/5000 of the current gross world product.

5. Pollution cleanup has been removing sunscreen

In the journal Climate Change, Crutzen summarizes recent discoveries regarding low-altitude atmospheric particulates, including SO2-derived sulfates:

...the warming of earth by the increasing concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is partially countered by some backscattering to space of solar radiation by the sulfate particles, which act as cloud condensation nuclei....Through acid precipitation and deposition, SO2 and sulfates also cause various kinds of ecological damage. This creates a dilemma for environmental policy makers.

...after earlier rises, global SO2 emissions and thus sulfate loading have been declining at the rate of 2.7% per year, potentially explaining the observed reverse from dimming to brightening in surface solar radiation at many stations worldwide....According to model calculations by Brasseur and Roeckner (2005), complete improvement in air quality could lead to a decadal global average surface air temperature increase by 0.8 K on most continents and 4 K in the Arctic. Further studies by Andreae et al. (2005) and Stainforth et al. (2005) indicate that global average climate warming during this century may even surpass the highest values in the projected IPCC global warming range of 1.4 - 5.8°C. [emphasis added]

In short, cleaning up SO2 in the lower atmosphere is increasing warming, but adding smaller amounts of SO2 to the stratosphere could compensate. The stratospheric sunscreen fix could be viewed as a prudent way to offset an unintended consequence of cleaning up the air we breathe.

6. The main problem with the sunscreen option?

The sunscreen option will, of course, undermine efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, and CO2 emissions have effects other than warming. For one, increasing CO2 lowers ocean pH, with unknown but possibly enormous ecological effects. For another, although screening sunlight can reduce global mean temperature, the geographic distribution of heat input and loss would still change, hence some degree and kind of climate change would still occur. Adding an SO2 sunscreen isn't equivalent to reducing CO2 levels, but it can keep the polar ice caps from melting.

(By the way, I've ignored other sunscreen options here, such as using carbon particles instead of SO2. Crutzen expects that these would be ozone-neutral, and perhaps positive.)

Looking toward future decades, it may well be that improvements in production technologies will make emission-free energy sources inexpensive enough that reducing emissions will become easy. If so, then a moderate degree of political pressure at that time will accomplish more than major political mobilization could accomplish today. The more attractive the energy alternatives, the less the resistance to change. An partial solution today will not preclude a more complete solution later.

Still, there is a natural impulse to oppose any development that lessens public motivation to address the root problem. This is an instance of the familiar political logic of wanting a situation grow worse in order to force change. Trying to make things worse, however, tends to make one unpopular.

7. A toxic political dynamic has begun

I had planned to explain why I expect anti-green forces to embrace the fix as a "solution", while green forces feel threatened by the promise of positive climatic effects, oppose the proposal for that reason, and get politically clobbered. I then found that this toxic political dynamic has already begun, saving me the effort of explaining. Here are excerpts from an article on the Heartland Institute website:

Nobel Laureate Offers a Solution to Global Warming

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Paul Crutzen, professor emeritus at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, has set the scientific community afire with a proposal to address global warming, should it be demonstrated to endanger the planet....

"This whole issue is a reasonable subject of debate," said Patrick Michaels, professor of natural resources at Virginia Tech University and past president of the American Association of State Climatologists.

..."The technology exists to engineer the planet's climate to our liking, and the subject will increasingly be discussed in public and scientific circles because people who look at the data know that there is very little that can be done to alter the temperature trajectory of the planet merely by curtailing carbon dioxide emissions with present technology."

Censorship Suggested

...Nevertheless, the Independent reported Crutzen's proposed atmospheric insurance policy "is so controversial that some scientists opposed its publication in the peer-reviewed scientific press, fearing that it may encourage the view that it is easier to treat the symptoms rather than the causes of climate change."

"That's a pretty naked admission that what is scientifically true and credible is being repressed, for political purposes, by ideologues," observed Michaels. "This is not the way science is supposed to operate. Such behavior speaks for itself regarding how so many alarmists are willing and indeed eager to throw truth under the locomotive wheels of political advocacy." [emphasis added]

In the press release for his paper, Crutzen is quoted:

"Given the grossly disappointing international political response to the required greenhouse gas emissions,...research on the feasibility and environmental consequences of climate engineering of the kind presented in this paper, which might need to be deployed in future, should not be tabooed...the possibility of the albedo enhancement scheme should not be used to justify inadequate climate policies but merely to create a possibility to combat potentially drastic climate heating." [emphasis added]

Consider the scale of attention that global warming should be getting today, and may get in the near future. Imagine that the green/progressive end of the political spectrum backs to CO2 reduction positioned in opposition to SO2 cooling. Now, imagine the dynamic illustrated above, but scaled up to match the true magnitude of the issue. Imagine the policy debates... the talking points... the "balanced" news stories... the full consequences of defending a policy that ensures accelerating climate change, and doing so for what will be seen as politically manipulative reasons.... Not a pretty picture. And not even good for the polar bears.

8. Conclusion

The policies generally advocated to mitigate climate change are -- with respect to global temperature -- ineffective in comparison to the sunshade fix. It would be hard to argue that the fix is worse than the problem without appearing to advocate global warming. If the facts are as they seem at the moment, then to stand in opposition would be objectively harmful and politically disastrous.

If CO2 and projected global warming are important, then SO2 and potential global cooling are equally important. It is time to consider a newly emerging option with an open mind.

That's the basic story as I understand it. I was relatively indifferent until I started looking into this last week, and perhaps I am being hasty.
------------------

A postscript for the introspective:

If the sunscreen concept disgusts you, please ask yourself why. Then, please formulate reasons that you can articulate. Finally, please consider whether you can state those reasons in a way that would make sense to a family on the Bangladeshi flood plains, or to voters who watch talking heads on television in Ohio. Here is your audience:



Display:
I'm going to go have a postponed meal with my wife.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Thu Oct 12th, 2006 at 08:48:18 PM EST
tp, you have a[n almost] duplicate paragraph in section 1.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 04:18:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks: fixed.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Tue Oct 17th, 2006 at 01:36:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is an interesting solution especially if we have to stop an positive feedback of CH4 but so far, only one team has modeled this kind of stratospheric albedo modification, and with few inputs.

But this solution will make the planet, a drug addict, if we implement it without drastically reducing the causes of the problems.Any interruption (war/economic/politic whatever) of the process would lead to a catastrophic increase in temperature (specially if we continue to improve our technology an therefore reducing the solar dimming).

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Thu Oct 12th, 2006 at 10:05:42 PM EST
This is the drug-addict's solution to the side-effects of drug use.  

Designed to enable MORE drug use.  

Incidently, that SO2 won't stay in the stratosphere forever.  Where does it go?  What happens THEN?  

While I do think volcanos are wonderful, by what stretch of the imagination are they benign?  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Oct 12th, 2006 at 10:46:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Incidently, that SO2 won't stay in the stratosphere forever.  Where does it go?  What happens THEN?

You are entirely right, and you ask basic and important questions that must be addressed.

For particle lifetimes in the stratosphere, please see diary section 2, paragraph 1.
(Lifetime before returning to the ground: roughly 2 years)

For the effects of particles leaving the stratosphere, please see diary section 3, paragraph 3.
(Effect: about a year's setback in ongoing global SO2 emission reduction, which is currently few percent per year.)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 02:11:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A more complete analogy would be to a patient with a chronic, worsening disease who takes a drug that alleviates many of the symptoms, but doesn't treat the cause. Stopping the drug lets the symptoms return.

To extend the analogy, however, there would be something costly and difficult that the patient could do to slow or arrest the worsening of the disease -- which the patient would be less likely to do if the symptoms were lessened.

Also, since natural systems typically respond better to slow changes than to fast ones, the analogy would have to include nasty effects caused by sudden withdrawal of the drug.

To round out the analogy, the symptoms must themselves cause cumulative harm, which the drug prevents. Here, I'm thinking of effects like progressive melting of icecaps.

----------------

Regarding interruptions, if the cost is only 1/5000th or less of GWP, South Korea or the Netherlands could do it themselves.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 02:00:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If a temporary SO2 sunscreen can reduce global temperature the way Pinataubo did, great.  And probably using coal-fired plants to do it, as Migeru suggests, would be to rely on technology already in place. But the expense of modifying scrubbers to permit SO2 release will not be undertaken voluntarily by utilities.

In any case, we also must mitigate CO2 on a large scale.  There is a limit to how much carbon dioxide forests, deserts, and soils and can take up before they start expelling CO2 into the atmosphere.  

Forgive me for repeating a comment I posted on Techno's Ocean Acidification diary:

The ocean is a tremendous carbon sink.

Oceanographers I've talked to are thinking that the changes in ocean temperature are too rapid for many species to adapt.  The acidification rate of the ocean may also be too rapid for adaptation of species.

At present carbon emissions from human activities continue to increase at a steep rate.  

Meanwhile, the increase in ocean temperature is speeding up the chemical processes of acidification.  This is ultimately bad news for critters with exoskeletons. And for the food chain.  One billion people rely on the ocean for food.

If the present acidification due to carbon absorption continues at the present rate, erosion from terrestrial rock will not supply enough buffering to counter the acidification.  At some point the ocean will fail as a carbon sink.  So the carbon will remain mostly in the atmosphere, creating a rather Venusian environment.

In this scenario, there's a tipping point that will be catastrophic unless drastic reduction of carbon emissions are undertaken.

by Plan9 on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 10:16:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Modifying coal power plants is easy:  The scrubber that removes SO2 by reacting it with lime doesn't remove anything else of note, so you just take it out.  The problem is that you don't want SO2 in the lower atmosphere.  It doesn't stay there, instead it causes smog and gets washed out as acid rain.  Bad idea.

Neither forests, deserts nor soils are carbon sinks, only (very limited) carbon stores.  To remove CO2 from the atmosphere, you have to create organic matter and then bury it.  As a first step in that direction, do not use recycled paper.  Making paper and burying it in landfills is the only human-caused process that puts carbon back into the earth.

Earth will never become comparable to venus.  Our oversized moon prevents earth from accumulating such a thick atmosphere.  Also, please try to stay reasonable.  We're talking about 380ppm CO2 on earth while venus has 965000ppm CO2.

by ustenzel on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 06:09:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good points all.  Thanks.

The Venusian reference was irresistible, but, as you say, an exaggeration.

by Plan9 on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 12:07:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To remain in the metaphor, a diabetic is a kind of "drug addict". And I also believe there is a valid medical and social case to be made for drug maintenance programs for certain addiction profiles as a last resort.

I don't know enough to either endorse or reject the sunscreen idea. At first sight, I find it unpalatable.

But I fear that responding to global warming is going to mean choosing the least ugly of a whole range of unpalatable options.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt t gmail dotcom) on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 04:36:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Unpalatable." A good description.

It becomes somewhat more palatable, though, if it's a bridge to a better answer. I expect that projections of ongoing, large CO2 emissions will turn out to be pessimistic because falling costs for solar-energy based electric power and fuels will provide an attractive alternative to burning stuff. At that point, political pressure should be very effective at forcing a switchover.

If solar energy gets cheap enough, as I expect, then we can start thinking about removing surplus CO2 from the atmosphere. Extracting it would require a lot of energy, but not completely overwhelming -- a fraction of human power consumption in 2006 over a fraction of a century.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 02:59:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW the Sunscreen concept must by its nature reduce the efficacy of solar panels...  to the same extent that it is efficacious in preventing solar radiation from getting inside the atmosphere.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 12:33:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not necessarily, since there isn't simply "radiation".  SO2 might preferentially reflect wavelengths that are useless for solar panels.  This isn't all that unlikely, since solar panels use quite a narrow part of the spectrum anyway.  (But I don't have exact data to prove this either way.)
by ustenzel on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 05:53:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, give or take different effects at different wavelengths. As you note elsewhere, reduced sunlight is also an issue for agriculture. A key question is the size of this effect relative to other sources of variability.

This NREL map of mean annual PV solar radiation indicates that, at equal latitudes across the southern U.S., the energy available for photovoltaic systems varies by something like 40% because of variations in clouds, haze, and so forth. Photosynthesis should see a similar variation.

A rough estimate of the reduction in sunlight needed to offset warming of 1°C can be made by noting that 1°C is about 1/300 of the absolute temperature. Because of the T^4 scaling of thermal radiation with temperature, this is equivalent (keeping albedo and thermal emissivity constant) to a change of about 4/300 in the input and output radiated power -- about 1.3%. From a photovoltaic power perspective, this would be equivalent to reducing PV cells from (for example) 30% to 29.6% efficiency.

From this rough calculation, it seems that weather variability is a much larger effect.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Tue Oct 17th, 2006 at 02:06:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
..."The technology exists to engineer the planet's climate to our liking  

What would I say?  Perhaps this:  "Don't we have problems enough without falling for hucksterism?"  

The claim quoted above is certainly hucksterism.  We have absolutely no idea of the ongoing, long-term consequences of the recommended sulfer dioxide application.  We may know it would counter-act CO2 loading, but we do not know what else it would do.  We do know it moves us into "uncharted territory"--an innocuous-sounding but alarming phrase that means we have altered our situation to the point where past survival-knowledge no longer applies.  Not a good place to be--as death usually follows.  

Remember the old, now-largely-ignored, "first, physician, do no harm?"  It was not such a bad idea then, and it certainly applies here.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Oct 12th, 2006 at 11:06:56 PM EST
More on that Heartland Institute quote in a moment, but first --

What would I say?  Perhaps this:  "Don't we have problems enough without falling for hucksterism?"

Let's assume that the Bangladeshis and Ohio voters haven't fallen for hucksterism, but that they are instead (several years from now) responding to many credible studies that present an option that they think looks hugely better than the alternative. What would you say if they were well informed, rather than being dupes?

The disgusting huckster-quote is from the Heartland Institute's article, and is a statement made by "Patrick Michaels, professor of natural resources at Virginia Tech University and past president of the American Association of State Climatologists". Wikipedia tells us that Michaels is "noted for his views as an opponent of global warming theory", "edits the World Climate Report, published by the Western Fuels Association", and gets money from the oil industry.

This quote illustrates my point. The sunscreen fix makes a great excuse for telling people not to worry about CO2 emissions. It seems likely that it will be pushed, and we can see already that it can be hyped beyond any factual basis. What Michaels says tells us nothing about whether it is in reality a good option by rational human and ecological standards. Opposing whatever the other camp advocates is one way to put them in control of what you think and do. (Look at how Osama played Bush.)

We have absolutely no idea of the ongoing, long-term consequences of the recommended sulfer dioxide application.  We may know it would counter-act CO2 loading, but we do not know what else it would do.  We do know it moves us into "uncharted territory"--an innocuous-sounding but alarming phrase that means we have altered our situation to the point where past survival-knowledge no longer applies.

But we do have some idea of the long-term effects, and can get a much better understanding before anyone commits to anything (including reflexive support or opposition, I hope). Nature's demos have lasted a few years (some lasted longer than Pinatubo), and this is a substantial step toward long term.

For example, it is my impression that ozone effects equilibrate faster than that, and that we've therefore already seen the long-term effects.

The SO2 precipitation effects are simple to predict: what goes up later comes down. The magnitudes are known, and would barely offset a year's improvement in pollution control.

The reduction in sunlight is the main remaining source of effects, but these effects are what climate modeling is supposed to tell us about. They would be modeled and argued ad nauseam long before anyone would actually do anything. And the main, unarguable effect would be global cooling. Nature has shown us how this works.

You say that "it moves us into 'uncharted territory'". If we weren't already plunging into uncharted territory already, there'd be no reason to discuss this in the first place. Slowing or reversing global warming isn't plunging deeper -- it is restraining a plunge that is already in progress.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 03:26:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We know almost nothing how the Earth system handles CO2 stress... or how it would handle SO2 stress...

There is a logical possibility that the core functionality of the Earth system is to handle any kind of destabilizing stress, be it an asteroid impact, or over-expansion of some new highly effective but greedily species. Yeah, I am talking about Earth as a functional cybernetic system - the Earth "knows" its forces, it can order them to solve strained situations. The Earth might have done it many times locally, and on several occasions globally. Nothing happens by mere deterministic chaos... Damn, even seismic events might be linked cybernetically to global warming, as they are powerful signals to biosphere. The Earth might already be "committed" to a course of action... but it might be following and learning signals of our behaviour as well. If this interpretation is remotely true, our technological solutions might be marginal compared to unleached Earth's powers. We would be facing the challenge of surviving the rewind of a geological cycle, provoked by ourselves. On the other hand, the cybernetic model offers the possibility that the Earth might "appreciate" measures of genuine stress relief, that humanity and the Earth might communicate for mutual benefit, ha ha.

I leave this as far fetched as it might seem.

by das monde on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 12:53:25 AM EST
We know almost nothing...

...and therefore we shouldn't be doing anything?  That's not a rational decision.

Assuming there are only two options (do nothing or put up an SO2 sunscreen), and both options are poorly understood, then it is still the rational thing to go through with the option where the better outcome is predicted.  No matter how large the uncertainties are.

by ustenzel on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 06:26:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your point makes sense, but there's a question of what "a better predicted outcome" means. Obviously, an option with a better mean outcome could be worse overall than another, if it has considerably more uncertainty. (I'm just noting the effect of risk aversion here, and the meaning of "better" and "worse" could simply include this.)

In the present case, however, there's no conflict between expectation and risk. As best I understand it, the negative effects of unchecked warming also produce what seem to be far greater risks -- setting positive feedback loops in motion, changing weather patterns, possibly switching off the Gulf Stream...

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 11:15:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...would presumably be done before anything of the magnitude of a massive SO2 release went forward.  

As it happens, we already know the consequences (smog, acid rain, global temperature drop if scale is large enough) of a massive SO2 release, as you have pointed out.  So the modeling should not be too fraught with uncertainties.  

Carbon sequestration, which is on everyone's lips these days, is a most likely a problem with more uncertainties--how carbon dioxide will affect subterranean rocks and soils; question of leakage and release after a few hundred years, etc.

by Plan9 on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 12:00:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but this wouldn't be a massive SO2 release: it would be a small release (by global emission standards), but in a more effective place, well above typical jet cruising altitudes.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Tue Oct 17th, 2006 at 02:10:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought tropospheric S02 caused acid rain. The stratospheric SO2 is bound to migrate down to the troposphere (Sulphur compounds are heavier than air: there's nowhere for them to go but down).

The "most efficient" implementation of this idea is to burn coal, capture the exhaust, separate the SO2, release the CO2, and inject the SO2 into the stratosphere. The dirtier the coal the more sulphur it has so the better it compensates for its CO2. Toxic, I'd say.

But I have to agree that these things need to be discussed candidly and that the ideologically driven dynamics in the scientific literature that you mention are indeed toxic.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 05:01:59 AM EST
Migeru, I'm shocked. You are of course correct regarding where the SO2 goes, but this was addressed in Section 3 ("Creating an SO2 sunscreen appears to be low-harm and low-risk"), paragraph 3:

Adding SO2 to the stratosphere would later increase the precipitation of SO2.

(You can see why I numbered the sections. Irritating, isn't it?)

All effects of SO2 precipitation, including reductions in the pH of rainwater, are addressed implicitly (Sec 3, para 3, continued):

The increase, however, would be a few percent of current human SO2 emissions (which total about 80 million tons per year). Since human SO2 emissions have recently been decreasing by a few percent per year, maintaining an SO2 sunscreen in the stratosphere would do no more than temporarily slow the decline of SO2 in the lower atmosphere.

Also, acid rain has been a regional problem that occurs downwind of major industrial areas. The already small effect would be further attenuated by being globally distributed, with no real hot-spots.

I like your idea of using SO2 scrubbed from coal power plant flue gases. It is elegant, and as you say, has a kind of efficiency to it. A bit of digging (Wikipedia: Flue gas desulfurization) reveals that:

It is possible to scrub sulfur dioxide by using a cold solution of sodium sulfite, this forms a sodium hydrogen sulfite solution. By heating this solution it is possible to reverse the reaction to form sulfur dioxide and the sodium sulfite solution.

I highly recommend Google searches of Wikipedia.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 03:46:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, I like using Google on Wikipedia so much that I've made a search page with options for searching the whole web, Wikipedia, Google Images, or PubMed (which is also more useful when Googled than when searched from inside).

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 03:56:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm afraid I lack the knowledge to comment here, but writing this diary is a good prospect.

I believe that if you can't stop one of the causes of global warming, you can indeed try to stop the other.

Stupid question: does mankind have the kiloton capacity and engineering skills to shift the Earth's orbit by a tad bit, to cool it off? (without sending us all to hell prematurely). Wait, I know the answer to that one: we fail to land most probes on Mars, why on Earth would we think we're capable of pulling off a stunt like that?

by Alex in Toulouse on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 06:29:44 AM EST
The human race is very far from being able to move the Earth significantly. Nudging an asteroid to prevent it from striking Earth is quite feasible, but this only requires moving it a few thousand kilometers in the course of many months, and a typical threatening asteroid would have a mass less than one trillionth that of Earth.

(This reminds me of where the phrase "astronomically large" originated.)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 04:04:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is somehow related:

Imagine Earth without people

Humans are undoubtedly the most dominant species the Earth has ever known. [...] And we're leaving quite a mess behind: ploughed-up prairies, razed forests, drained aquifers, nuclear waste, chemical pollution, invasive species, mass extinctions and now the looming spectre of climate change. If they could, the other species we share Earth with would surely vote us off the planet.

Now just suppose they got their wish. [...] Left once more to its own devices, Nature would begin to reclaim the planet, as fields and pastures reverted to prairies and forest, the air and water cleansed themselves of pollutants, and roads and cities crumbled back to dust.

"The sad truth is, once the humans get out of the picture, the outlook starts to get a lot better," says John Orrock, a conservation biologist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California. But would the footprint of humanity ever fade away completely, or have we so altered the Earth that even a million years from now a visitor would know that an industrial society once ruled the planet?

In other words, if an alien ship would find the Earth a millions years after our extintion, what traces would they find of our existence? What they would conclude about our civilization or intelligence?

by das monde on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 06:55:51 AM EST
They would find concrete structures (cities, roads) buried under a million years of sediment, and steel fossils. And the footprint of mining operations.

It would be quite obvious, I think. A million years is nothing in geological time, and our geological foorprint is quite extensive.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 07:00:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What Migeru said. I'd add that any core sample through the right layers in seabed sediments or (much later) rock would show clear markers of chemicals, soot, and strange particles of various sorts.

"The sad truth is, once the humans get out of the picture, the outlook starts to get a lot better..."

The collision of human beings with the natural biosphere is ugly, getting worse, and has enormous momentum. Looking at what's already happened, consider that agriculture has consumed enormous areas, and that it has (of course) selectively destroyed regions of high biological productivity. For similar reasons, we tend to think of "primitive" people as living in hostile environments -- the arctic, deserts, mountains, hell-holes of tropical disease -- but this is because the nicer places were quickly grabbed by more powerful cultures, and largely for agriculture.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 04:24:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An alien species, capable of interstellar travel, would probably have sensors good enough to locate a number of artifacts in space in and around the solar system (remember Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, at least, are in the process of leaving the solar system), as well as some on the Moon. In vacuum conditions these should be identifiable for millions of years.

A careful examination of the fossil record and the distribution of species around the planet, would also reveal an era (in geological terms extremely brief) of unusually rapid long distance migrations of plants and animals; as well as the mass extinction). This is evidence independent of the direct discovery of fossil humans and human artifacts.

I suspect all these strands of evidence would be diagnostic of an intelligent species which was not wise enough to avoid global catastrophe.

Of course, as the ultimate technological fix, we might have downloaded our minds to machines or created artificial intelligences as our successors; so the aliens could get a first hand account of what happened.

by Gary J on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 02:26:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the extintion thing will happen fast, there will be just a few artificial objects outside Earth's gravity. Vast majority of satelites will be burned in the atmosphere by then. But we may indeed have left enough objects near geostationary orbits - and that would be a convincing indication of intelligence.

One funny possibility is that we would leave enough evidence to suspect existence of our civilisation of this level, but not enough to establish it up to scientific certainty. We can imagine a bunch of rather gifted allien enthusiasts of Terrestial civilisation being derided by their scientific "establishment" :-)))

Intelligence detection is an interesting problem for science. Positive confirmation by single artifacts looks more feasible than falsification of the hypothesis by single observations. What would Popper say?

by das monde on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 10:35:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have read your replies to my comments, and re-read your post.  

I don't think I have ever read anything so depressing--at least not since spending a day and a half on the Die-Off website.  

Or reading about Easter Island.  

You have convinced me:  This thing is fated to occur.  

Not for the reasons Crutzen suggests.  

Most certainly not.  

It will be used, but NOT to transition to a lower-energy, lower CO2-producing way of life.  I love Jerome's windmills, but I have yet to hear any but a few fans of greening advocate for the lower-energy way of life they imply.  Our politicians don't want that, (more importantly) our corporations don't want that, and (incidently) it appears most folk in America don't want that either.  Our civilization is quite obviously addicted to oil and does not plan to change.  If stratopheric SO2-injection can keep the addiction going, then plainly, it will be used, and the addiction will be KEPT going.  

Why do I say this?  I intuit it from the fact that even before SO2 injection becomes well-known as a possible technique, it is gaining strong support from those most invested in continuing the addiction.  

We are not dealing with a chemistry problem, nor an engineering problem, nor even an environmental problem, but a political problem, and a human and spiritual problem of precisely the sort our political and social institutions are not suited to solve.  

This means we are now in the death-slide.  As our civilization seeks (not-quite consciously) to destroy what is left of the Earth, it also sets in motion its own destruction.  So destruction will occur.  In effect we are in a race:  How much of the Earth can be destroyed before our civilization finally goes down for good?  Evidently, the longer our civilization can be propped up, the greater the destruction, and the more desolate post-boundary period to follow.  

Notice that with collapse, SO2-injection will stop, and the effects of lower, normal albedo will kick back in.  The masked effects of previous CO2 emission will kick in with it, and we move to our WORST AVAILABLE global warming case.  

Whether or not humans survive the boundary, less desolation rather than more is plainly desirable.  SO2 injection will increase the post-boundary desolation.  If their are any human survivors, they will not be grateful for this.  

The inevitability of SO2 injection leads to a conclusion:  

It is not desirable to prolong our civilization.  Prolonging just increases the accumulated damage.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 01:44:42 AM EST
An old tale as told here:

In Persia many centuries ago, the Sufi mullah or holy man Nasruddin was arrested after preaching in the great square in front of the Shah's palace. The local clerics had objected to Mullah Nasruddin's unorthodox teachings, and had demanded his arrest and execution as a heretic. Dragged by palace guards to the Shah's throne room, he was sentenced immediately to death.

As he was being taken away, however, Nasruddin cried out to the Shah: "O great Shah, if you spare me, I promise that within a year I will teach your favourite horse to sing!"

The Shah knew that Sufis often told the most outrageous fables, which sounded blasphemous to many Muslims but which were nevertheless intended as lessons to those who would learn. Thus he had been tempted to be merciful, anyway, despite the demands of his own religious advisors. Now, admiring the audacity of the old man, and being a gambler at heart, he accepted his proposal.

The next morning, Nasruddin was in the royal stable, singing hymns to the Shah's horse, a magnificent white stallion. The animal, however, was more interested in his oats and hay, and ignored him. The grooms and stablehands all shook their heads and laughed at him. "You old fool", said one. "What have you accomplished by promising to teach the Shah's horse to sing? You are bound to fail, and when you do, the Shah will not only have you killed - you'll be tortured as well, for mocking him!"

Nasruddin turned to the groom and replied: "On the contrary, I have indeed accomplished much. Remember, I have been granted another year of life, which is precious in itself. Furthermore, in that time, many things can happen. I might escape. Or I might die anyway. Or the Shah might die, and his successor will likely release all prisoners to celebrate his accession to the throne".

"Or...". Suddenly, Nasruddin smiled. "Or, perhaps, the horse will learn to sing".

By the mid-21st century many things can happen. The slow global growth of environmental awareness may continue. Beyond community blogs, beyond Wikipedia, beyond what we imagine, collective intelligence may bloom in internet-space. And transform thinking, and visions, and politics. And enable the step beyond.

In the world of the physical, learning from life the arts of abundance may replace coal with sunlight, poverty with wealth, and Earth's crushing human burden with a far lighter load. And the next generation may laugh at our fears as they draw carbon from air and put it back in Earth's depths.
------

Perhaps our horse will learn to sing.
It sometimes seems, for a moment, to hum a few notes.
What songs should we try to teach?

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 03:33:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is our political economy that has to change, and our attitude for the Earth.  

Enabling addiction will not serve.  

When the SO2 comes out of the stratophere after civilization collapses, its a snap-back:  The problems that have been masked re-assert themselves in full.  

It is stupid and cruel to buy time at the expense of the future.  

There is something wrong with humanity that we could even think it.  But that is probably why we are in the fix we are in.  

If there are any human survivors on the other side of this geological boundary, they will not thank us.  Really.  

So, to your second point, what is worth doing RIGHT NOW--what "song?"  Well, perhaps, relearning sustainable ways.  This is harder than it sounds--civilized destruction of life support is real.  And certainly it is as quixotic as singing to a horse.  

Because this is a process not of governments, but of small groups, who certainly are going to (at best) be ignored.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 04:19:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know of a snap-back effect that is so horrible that it would justify destroying civilisation for fear of what might happen if civilisation were destroyed.

Indeed, some effects are in the opposite direction: Warming delayed means less ice melted, less tundra darkened by scrub, less defrosted humus releasing CO2...
--------------

Regarding what to say, consider the difference between two situations:

  1. Those most concerned and knowledgeable regarding climate change take the lead in evaluating the facts and uncertainties of any proposed fix. They strive to keep the discussion reality based. If people and political leaderships choose to go forward, they strive to keep expectations realistic, and to keep unaddressed problems -- ocean acidification, and so on -- in clear view. They urge that a fix be a bridge to something better.

  2. Those most concerned and knowledgeable oppose the concept en mass, as if by reflex. As public discussion unfolds, they're easily positioned as merely defending their old agenda. Since the option they oppose will, in fact, stop global warming, they become the "pro-warming" faction. Right about there, the wheels come off. The hucksters win almost by default, set the agenda, stomp the losers, and tell everyone that the world is safe for coal and SUVs. Then warming is, in fact, stopped.

I prefer (1), that is, putting truth before policy. This will, in the end, lead to more influence and better policy.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 06:34:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Will civilization survive?  A loaded question I suppose, and anyway, people, if alive, will always be doing something, and that by definition that is their civilization.  

But what WE are doing is unsustainable, and we will not be doing it much longer.  So yes, OUR civilization will go, will COLLAPSE--whether we like it or not--and it is not a question of SEEKING to destroy our civilization, which is actually doing that particular job all by itself.  

I do believe good thought, including scientific knowledge, might be used--and indeed should be used--to ameliorate the consequences of what is happening now.  But the SO2 scheme is at least a double-edged sword--if it does not have more edges than that--because its capability for harm is at least as great as for good, and depends critically on who studies it and implements it and when.  To be a back-up plan, used only in need, in a context where sustainability is actually happening (not our world) is totally different from introducing it in the fore, with--as is clearly the case for some--the intention that the transition to sustainability be evaded and postponed.  In this latter scenerio SO2 will make the catastrophe of transition worse.  

Your point 2) opens an evil scenerio that never occurred to me:  A world thick with smog but kept just barely cool enough by heavy doses of stratospheric SO2, which must be perpetually increased as CO2 loading of the atmosphere continues, until we find effects from precipitating SO2 (acid rain returns) becoming important.  

Perhaps this was anticipated in Marge Percy's "Woman on the Edge of Time."  

But you are wrong to imply that this can be continued indefinitely, and that to oppose it is to be pro-warming.  It would just be another stage in the death-slide.  

Are you asking how can we persuade people to avoid this scenerio?  It is surely worth doing.  

I suspect there is a good reason to oppose stratospheric SO2 injection intuitively.  And should we find un-intuitive, logical and fact-based reasons?  That is a good idea.  

Your scenerio of point 2) is reason enough to oppose, but there is no reason not to have more facts.  

Migeru read me right.  The snap-back is not the problem of the SO2 returning, which is separate and not argued here.  It is that using SO2 to allow greater CO2 loading will mean that when the SO2 comes out of the stratosphere, the global warming will be greater and sharper than it otherwise would have been.  

This creates a more desolate post-boundary environment.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 07:04:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But what WE are doing is unsustainable, and we will not be doing it much longer.  So yes, OUR civilization will go, will COLLAPSE--whether we like it or not...

I agree that it isn't sustainable, and I don't expect it to last long by historic standards, or even by human-lifetime standards. Collapse is possible, but what I think more likely is a radical transformation (for better or worse) driven by increasingly powerful technologies. Self-destruction is one possibility, but not quite the same as collapse.

...its capability for harm is at least as great as for good, and depends critically on who studies it and implements it and when.

Yes. My main reason for bringing up this topic is that, a week ago, I realised that there may well be a "who", "when", and "why", and that we need to give this careful thought before it gets much higher on the public radar screen.

...A world thick with smog but kept just barely cool enough by heavy doses of stratospheric SO2, which must be perpetually increased as CO2 loading of the atmosphere continues, until we find effects from precipitating SO2 (acid rain returns) becoming important.

The numbers say that along an endlessly-increasing-fix path, acidity caused by SO2 would always be much less than that caused by CO2. The oceans would still acidify.

...you are wrong to imply that this can be continued indefinitely, and that to oppose it is to be pro-warming.

I'm sorry, I didn't intend to imply that it could continue indefinitely. I do think that, if the facts look as they do now, and if the debate slides in the direction that scares me, the label "pro-warming" could be made to stick.

I suspect there is a good reason to oppose stratospheric SO2 injection intuitively.  And should we find un-intuitive, logical and fact-based reasons?  That is a good idea.

Intense, sceptical evaluation is vital. I think there will be no problem in getting this to happen, however, because I can't imagine anything going forward before climate scientists model it inside-out and critics raise every imaginable objection, both good and bad. So, I recommend calling loudly for study, expecting to get it, and proceeding on that assumption.

What I'm encouraging here is that we consider which advocacy positions will and won't make sense, depending on what the facts seem to be at the time. I see pitfalls here that need to be clearly recognised and avoided.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Tue Oct 17th, 2006 at 02:48:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Analysing the sunscreen proposal is a good thing to do, staying ahead of the curve and all. But you two also raise another question that I would phrase as this:

"Sacrifice the lifeboats to plug the holes in the ship or start tearing things from the ship to make make-shift lifeboats?"

And ay, that be a mighty good question.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Oct 17th, 2006 at 09:49:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I like the image, but I don't understand how you intend for the metaphor to apply.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Wed Oct 18th, 2006 at 01:55:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is an image that has come to me during different discussions (internet and IRL), and seemed appropriate here as Gaianne is basically arguing against something that would worsen the situation in the lifeboats (snap back).

Perhaps it can be better formulated as: "At what time do you stop sacrificing the lifeboats to plug the holes in the ship and start tearing things from the ship to make make-shift lifeboats?"

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 11:38:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gaianne, do you know about biological pest control? Often the best remedy for the havoc wreaked by the introduction of an allochtonous species into an ecosystem (which becomes a pest even if it wasn't one in its home environment) is to identify a specific parasite  or predator from its home environment and introduce it in its turn.

After a few instances of this we have learnt that it is just not wise to introduce new species into an ecosystem. Because of the economic consequences of this, the US has strict controls on importation of food, let alone living beings or seeds.

It is unfortunate that the same awareness does not extend to GM foods, but eventually it must when the economic damage from it forces governments to regulate GM crops like they do foreign species.

I agree with technopolitical that it is always a good thing to know more, not less, about what can be done to mitigate the effects of our past mistakes.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 07:15:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is our political economy that has to change, and our attitude for the Earth.  Enabling addiction will not serve.

Pseudoreligious nonsense.  If this SO2 sunscreen (or some other technology) proves that no fundamental change is necessary, you still won't even consider changing your opinion.

When the SO2 comes out of the stratophere after civilization collapses,...

...nobody will be around to give a fsck about it.  So what?!  Besides, read paragraph 3 of the post to understand just how much SO2 will come out.

by ustenzel on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 06:35:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that Gaianne isn't concerned about the effects of SO2 coming out (which it would do on a steady basis, regardless), but instead about the negative effects of losing its cooling effects all at once, causing abrupt warming that might well be more ecologically damaging than slow warming.

There is a valid concern here, though I think that Gaianne gives it too much weight for several reasons:

  • First, treating the collapse of civilisation as certain claims more knowledge of the future than I think anyone can have at this point.

  • Second, the scenario requires that a collapse be both world-wide and remarkably thorough, because putting SO2 in the stratosphere isn't very difficult. Since a generous estimate of the cost is 1/5000 of GWP, an economic collapse could be 99% complete, yet the cost would be no more than 2% of the remaining GWP. (And the job could be done with technology at the WWII level or less.)

  • Third, I don't see any snap-back effects that are likely to be worse than the cumulative effect of decades of warm conditions, for example, polar melting.

(BTW, I usually avoid claiming that I know any particular person's unspoken thoughts and motives, or predicting that they will never reconsider an opinion. I'm much more comfortable making predictions that substantial groups will react in a particular way -- for example, I think that your prediction regarding Gaianne will surely prove true of many people.)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 11:40:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I usually avoid claiming that I know any particular person's unspoken thoughts and motives

So do I, but "it is our political ecomony that has to change" is a spoken thought and presented as a given, without factual support or room for a counter argument.  Without an argument, why our economy has to change, it's religion and not science.

by ustenzel on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 06:14:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You make my point for me:  

In the absence of change, we enter the scenerio implied by technopolitical's point 2).  SO2 injected into the stratosphere keeps the Earth just barely cool enough.  Making no change, we keep releasing CO2 into the lower atmosphere at an increasing rate, as a by-product of continuing and expanding industrial civilization.  As a result, the amount of SO2 that needs to be injected into the stratosphere also increases, until the precipitating SO2 DOES become an environmental problem.  We have then achieved a world that is just barely cool, and multiply polluted.  

At what point do these extra problems add to the accelerating destruction of the biosphere to the extent that it ends human life support?  That time comes.  

Fundamental change is not only necessary, it is going to happen whether or not anybody likes it.  The only question is whether there is a way to choose the better, rather than the worse, changes.  

nobody will be around to give a fsck about it.

I don't favor policies of extinction.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 07:19:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Read the article again: this isn't about avoiding change.  CO2 reduction alone will not reverse global warming, not within a timeframe of a few decades.  But a SO2 sunscreen will.  The two are orthogonal, and probably both will be necessary.

Am I still making your point for you?  Most certainly not.  This whole "but $TECHNOLOGY will not accelerate transitioning to $GREEN_PIPEDREAM and is therefore bad" argument is still religious in nature, off-topic anyway and prevents rational discussion of the proper course of action.  Besides being just wrong, that is.

by ustenzel on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 03:08:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You have convinced me:  This thing is fated to occur. Not for the reasons Crutzen suggests.

Exactly, we will most likely take over the entire biosphere and use huge amounts of energy to make up for the cleaning and stabilization functions of the biota that won't be there any longer. We may even come to see acid rain as an acceptable price to pay to prevent global warming.

Luckily, we don't have more than 50 years of coal anyway.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 07:07:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought it was at least 200. According to the Wikipedia article on coal, an estimate from British petroleum is 155 years. I don't know under what assumptions this was made, if we don't just adjust for economic growth but also assume that coal should substitute for oil and gas when those run out, it would become less.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 08:19:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's 155 years at current demand. Assuming demand grows by just 4% per year, over 159 years' worth of the initial demand is consumed in 51 years.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 08:33:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And if coal is turned into fuel to replace oil, we will run out of coal even sooner.
by Plan9 on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 10:05:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, that is a point...

I looked into it, and first, BP is taking proven reserves. Estimated reserves are 10% higher, but that's not very much. Coal has grown very much over the past two years (around 5%) due almost entirely to China, but the 10-year average is 2.5%.

So if we factor in that coal will have to gradually replace oil and gas as a source of electricity, 4% growth or higher is necessary, otherwise the growth rate it will be lower, I think.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 11:01:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We may even come to see acid rain as an acceptable price to pay to prevent global warming.

Anthropogenic SO2 emissions have recently fallen by several percent per year. Because an SO2 sunscreen would increase SO2 emissions by several percent, it would set back progress in cleanup by several years. For example, if this were to start tomorrow, it would make the rain about as acidic as it was in 2004 (and reverse global warming, of course). We might not get back down to today's emission levels and resume progress until 2008.

If we suggest that delaying progress in SO2 cleanup by a few years might be worse than the effects of ongoing global warming, what would that mean? It seems to me that it would would be equivalent to announcing that global warming is an almost negligible problem.

(BTW, if we got good at making useful stuff, like greenhouses and photovoltaics, why would we be inclined to destroy the biosphere?)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 12:22:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Solving a first order problem with potentially second order negative consequences sounds like a good idea to explore.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 08:58:08 AM EST
It's better than seeding the oceans with iron dust, I guess.

Good post, especially on how this could play in the public. I don't know if the public might not be convinced that the risks of geoengineering are too high, though. Playing the Dr. Strangelove card might work. Especially as some of the proponents fit the profile. And the audience isn't merely your average elderly Ohio couple, but also the countries that are committed to reducing CO2.

We have to keep this in its original context. Geoengineering is a last resort, and can only be used transitionally, in the case of catastrophic, runaway climate change (warming at and above the 5 degrees celcius range). Like lobbing a nuke at an incoming meteorite. It can't replace reducing CO2 emissions.

We also need to prioritise. Planting trees and mechanical air capture of carbon are better than injecting SO2 into the stratosphere, which again is better than seeding the oceans with iron dust. In my opinion...

The problem we will see lies partly with the political discourse on climate change. It is now all about combatting CO2, whereas it needs to be about shifting to a sustainable economy.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 09:25:12 AM EST
Nanne just wrote everything I would've written.


Geoengineering is a last resort, and can only be used transitionally, in the case of catastrophic, runaway climate change (warming at and above the 5 degrees celcius range). Like lobbing a nuke at an incoming meteorite. It can't replace reducing CO2 emissions.

We also need to prioritise. Planting trees and mechanical air capture of carbon are better than injecting SO2 into the stratosphere, which again is better than seeding the oceans with iron dust. In my opinion...

The problem we will see lies partly with the political discourse on climate change. It is now all about combatting CO2, whereas it needs to be about shifting to a sustainable economy.

That's my thoughts to a T.

by Nomad on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 01:09:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This fits Crutzen's position, which seems well considered.

It also fits into situation (1) in this comment, and avoids the trap of situation (2).

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 01:21:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's better than seeding the oceans with iron dust

And why do you think so?  Obviously, you can't foresee all effects of either option (neither can I), so how can you rank them?  (Certainly not by price, iirc fertilizing the oceans would be cheaper.  It's not iron dust, btw, but a ferric salt.)

Planting trees...

Oh, how cute.  It just doesn't help.  To capture CO2, you must also be willing to cut them down and cover them with enough dirt to prevent them from rotting.

by ustenzel on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 06:45:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Planting trees...

Oh, how cute.  It just doesn't help.  To capture CO2, you must also be willing to cut them down and cover them with enough dirt to prevent them from rotting.

Planting new forests captures CO2. Many trees grow for up to a century during which they will capture and store CO2. This is roughly the same as the atmospheric lifetime of CO2. As long as the forest doesn't burn or isn't cut down, the sink remains (though after 100 years little to nothing is added).

I did say that all geoengineering options are transitional. Planting trees on the scale of, like, half the Sahara will have a big effect (and might have some questionable ecological consequences).

On seeding the seas: I think that algae have a very important role in the self-regulation of our planet that we don't fully understand yet. For that reason, I think that tinkering with algae on a large scale is more dangerous than an option that has a natural experiment as a precedent which indicates that it will not have catastrophic side-effects. Otherwise, I think that it might lead to mass extinctions among other sea life through eutrophication.

Iron dust is definitely considered, see here and here, and here.  

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 11:08:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Obviously, you can't foresee all effects of either option (neither can I), so how can you rank them?

Being able to see all the effects (of anything) is too high a standard. Ranking options and choosing actions always goes forward with imperfect predictions and best judgement.

From what I can see, the iron approach isn't very attractive, but I'm glad that it was taken seriously enough to be investigated through open-sea experiments.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 01:38:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this diary. I didn't know any of this beforehand.

While I do think the words "climate control" are an oxymoron, we will have to address what seem to be practically insurmountable problems by at least trying to control climate at some point.

The drug metaphor is also apt. I'm thinking of William Burroughs who knew of a radical but absolutely effective treatment for drug addiction. Basically, you poison the addict everytime he takes the needle. Pretty soon, the human bottle learns that poison + heroin = extreme sickness. It's effective. It works in the end.

Burroughs underwent this treatment, and then he spent the rest of his life thinking about himself as a poisoned, damaged human being.

by Upstate NY on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 10:30:33 AM EST
if the experience of living downwind of a volcano is anything to go by, this is a terrible idea.

huge, by nature clumsy, techno-fixes should be left to sci-fi, imo.

kudos to nanne and gaianne for their pointing to the real issue: scaling back demand, thoroughly and fast.

this is a political problem, and when enough people are discomfited, bottom-up pressure from the public can change the future.

i fear waiting that long though, and am hoping against hope for an awakening of common sense and humility.

humility enters because i am so fed up with the sense of entitlement we in europe and america have to our 'lifestyles', which should be called 'deathstyles'.

we assume it's ok that 4/5ths of the world will never have a hundredth of the frivolous luxury we take for granted, and debate from that premise.

this is not to preach from some moral high horse, rather a cool(ish!)appraisal of the relative alienation our lifestyle comes packaged with.

solar panels, wifi and laptops are potentially brilliant global consolidators, and i wish for their spread, to foster connectivity (and collectivity).

i honour all the brilliance our cultures continue to offer the world, but  hopefully we can rein in our superiority complex, and especially act more respectfully to our neighbours.

for example the way putin's been treated by europe lately really makes us look callow and clueless.

sometimes i think the fact that america is so much worse at diplomacy lately. is letting europe seem genteely restrained in comparison.

we should not be excusing our own behaviour with this kind of relativism.

indeed we cannot afford to, and should realise that pronto.

out of the ashes of many failed empires, here in europe we are cobbling something special in world history together.

by reaching out the hand of friendship to poorer countries, we are building concordance, and investing in future conditions for lasting peace.

without getting too specific about ideology or the lack of it, there is a euro-model emerging, one that we could perhaps bless, but ONLY if we radically change our relationship with energy use.

art, culture, education, social frameworks are all to be proud of, but unless we leave the earth in a much more livable condition, they are all moot.

european women are reproducing 1.5 children, to 'break even', they need to produce 2.1, or there will be no support for the old folks.

italy's offering a one-off payment of €2,000 to have a child.

we are told it's good when affluent societies reduce their birth rate.

considering what it takes to raise a child, this is not even symbolic, unless of how little faith governments have in the worth of their future citizens.

perhaps if cities weren't so toxic, and the rural areas underserved, mothers would want to have more children.

perhaps if families were not being financially bled by the month to pay increasing utilities, they could afford to salt a little more away for their kids' future educations.

if there is another revolution, it won't be with guns.

it will be the streets and piazzas clogged with furious citizens waving sheaves of bills they can't pay!

bills asking for money that will be siphoned off to other countries to pollute more with.

and so it goes

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 12:17:15 PM EST
kudos to nanne and gaianne for their pointing to the real issue: scaling back demand, thoroughly and fast.

I thought the real issue in this case is the claim that, even if we stopped all CO2 emissions today, the current elevated levels and the greenhouse effect would continue unabated for decades.

But I have no interest in living through "Dr. Strangelove: how I learned to stop worrying about CO2 love Acid Rain."

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 12:24:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks for relinking to deanander's april diary, and the great comments appended to it, migeru.

may we all strive for such a coherent overview as she consistently brings to our table.

as for the claim of current greenhouse effects continuing unabated, they are probably right, yet i believe there is much more that we don't know, than that we do, so the old uncertainty principle kicks in and, rightly or wrongly, time alone will tell, i manage to get a few more hours of good sleep!

denial is cheap, yup, but doom can warp our minds too.

although after a flagellation session of global worry, if kept up long enough can lead to a desperate wish to have as much fun as poss before we all go down in a mess of charred feathers...

which is why i spend more time here and less time making art than i used to.

as sven said here recently, becoming more intelligent is not a guarantee of happiness,

but when there is an opportunity to question and learn in such an amusingly snarklaced atmosphere, my little intellect is constantly stroked and tickled into growth, and that's a Good Thing, as it feels very understimulated still, though thanks to dial up and the internet a lot of progress has been made.

and most of all by finding such a bright group of people as those gathered here at et.

smart ain't the word, informed and caring too.

special thanks to you migeru for all you do to keep the top whizzing, i know i've made some thoughtless comments here that have justly ticked you off, and i apologise.

you are one of the funniest posters here, and i can't imagine this place without you.

it may well be true that the gods wish to destroy me, but i want to be just mad enough to laugh while they're doing it!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 01:37:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A situation with less acid rain than we have today would be Strangelovian? I wouldn't mind that aspect, but complacency about rising CO2 looks like a major problem.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 02:22:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Rising CO2 plus rising SO2 cannot be good for ocean acidification.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 04:11:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Rising SO2? Given general trends, why would there be an increase?
-----------------------

There's an acidification concern here, not because of a delay in ongoing reductions of SO2, but because of reduced motivations to reduce CO2.

And that poses a problem, because it is hard to argue to people that they shouldn't do X because it will make Y less painful, and we want the pain caused by Y to make them do Z.

Here, X = SO2 cooling, Y = CO2 increase, Z = CO2 emission reduction.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 04:16:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I still think the gold standard of CO2 mitigation is reducing emissions in the first place. I also think that the only way to do this without advocating some harebrained back-to-the-19th-century plan that no one (including me) will accept, is this.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 12:50:44 PM EST
Me thinks that the ultimate technology of climate change mitigation will be ethics. Changing the rampant behaviour is not terribly expensive, actually.
by das monde on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 10:39:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the context of geoengineering and "the transition to a sustainable economy" I can't help but be reminded of the Kardashev Scale, in which a "Type I Civilisation" is one that "harnesses all the power vailable to an entire planet".
A possible method by which Earth can advance to a Type I civilization is to begin the heavy use of ocean thermal energy conversion, wind turbines and tidal power to obtain the energy received by Earth's oceans from the Sun. However there is no known way to successfully utilize the full potential of Earth's energy production without complete coating of the surface with man made structures. In the near and medium future, this is an impossibility given humans' current lifestyle. We are, however, already "harnessing" Earth's production through our dependence upon ecosystem services, which may prove more efficient and sustainable than our own technology well into the future. If we choose never to fully substitute synthetics for nature's services on this planet, we may still achieve a Type I civilization by assuring that Earth's ecosystem services are maximally functional.
Barring collapse, it is maybe more likely that we will become a Type I civilisation (and beyond: type II would harness the entire energy output of the Sun) rather than stabilize at a constant level, but it is a matter of policy (and hence a matter of choice) whether we try to keep the Earth's ecosystems "maximally functional" or we try to "geoengineer" them. I am not optimistic about the prospects of changing our economic system so the "maximally functional ecosystems" model prevails, and a more equitable global system would be necessary.

According to the wikipedia article I quote, Carl Sagan calculated that Earth was a "Type 0.7 Civilisation". While maybe not on total power output, it is entirely possible that, on ecological carrying capacity, we are approaching the "Type I", at which point we "harness" the entire biosphere. It is again a matter of policy whether we strive to keep the ecosystems "maximally functional".

In this context, I would revisit De Anander's The Future I Was Promised.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 01:45:16 PM EST
Related to De Anander's diary, in a way, I found this column by Michael Chabon moving. I didn't live through this period of technooptimism personally, although as a kid I did spend a lot of time in the library looking at books on the stars, forms of space travel etc. So I can relate.

Back to the column, this quote is great:

The Sex Pistols, strictly speaking, were right: there is no future, for you or for me. The future, by definition, does not exist. "The Future," whether you capitalize it or not, is always just an idea, a proposal, a scenario, a sketch for a mad contraption that may or may not work. "The Future" is a story we tell, a narrative of hope, dread or wonder. And it's a story that, for a while now, we've been pretty much living without.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 03:22:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(cough) link here
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 03:23:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a moving essay and it's interesting how closely it mirrors my own sentiments, giving me that eerie feeling of "not being as totally out of step with the culture as I thought I was."  Thanks for the link...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 02:01:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Based on the ratio of human power consumption to global net primary production by photosynthesis (not necessarily the best standard, but interesting) we're roughly a Type 0.15 civilisation at present. That's close enough to 1.0 to scare me, especially when I hear talk of chewing up more biosphere to make fuel.

But wherever we are on the Kardashev scale, I vote that we skip becoming an Earth-killing Type 1 civilisation and move on toward being a fractional Type 2. This could have benefits, from a lemur's perspective and ours.
------------------

One story reads something like this --

With Solar space open, Earth looks small. Warm, sunny land becomes more abundant by far than what a planet could offer. People are drawn there for the freedom it offers: They can tear it up and rebuild exactly as they please. The New Lands become places as beautiful (or ugly) as imagination and unimaginable wealth can make them.

Those who stay behind think differently. Many like Earth simply because it is Earth, and they support environmental laws too strict for some... who emigrate, leaving behind a polity ever more inclined to support stricter laws. As the cycle continues, unstoppable, biospheric reserves grow and merge until they encompass the Earth, stewarded by people who make homes there because they love the Earth for itself.

And they have the powers they need to live lightly, and heal.
------------------

No Type 1 civilisations, please.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 03:39:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Based on the ratio of human power consumption to global net primary production by photosynthesis (not necessarily the best standard, but interesting) we're roughly a Type 0.15 civilisation at present. That's close enough to 1.0 to scare me, especially when I hear talk of chewing up more biosphere to make fuel.
The Kardashev scale is logarithmic with a base of 10^10... So, if you put the "Type 1" at total power output = total photosynthetic capacity, 15% capacity is "Type 0.92".

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 04:09:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah! A logarithmic scaling does make more sense. I see that this extension by Sagan, though.

Definitely uncomfortably close to "1.0", though the power level would be no problem if the collection and dissipation weren't being done on Earth.

(If I were doing the numbers more seriously, I'd start by looking at total solar input power and total radiative heat dissipation capacity. To look at a silly but physically sound possibility, however, it is possible to dump substantially more heat from a planet than can be radiated from it by a black surface at its ambient temperatures. The trick, of course, is refrigeration.)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 04:29:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most of what I might have said has been said.

three thoughts leap to the forefront of my brain.  One is

"Boy oh boy, some people will do ANYTHING rather than ride a bicycle."

and the next is

The Grand Plan for the Transformation of Nature

and the last is

Parachuting Cats into Borneo

grandiosity and a bad paradigm is what got us into this mess -- more of the same ain't gonna get us out.

oh, and one other thought:  we're already seeing declining agricultural and forest productivity and we want to allow less sunlight to reach our forests and plantations?  while continuing to destroy the ocean food chain?  seems like this is one more technofix that makes sure we can keep driving SUVs and lighting up Las Vegas -- while destroying our food and water supply.  there's a prioritisation problem here.

I would say the destruction of civilisation is already well under way (Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur...) -- and I would say that the flooded-out Bangladeshi peasantry know very well that the SUV-driving, air-conditioned US bourgeoisie are the proximate cause of not only their poverty but their climate disasters, and that the poor of this earth will understand quite well that "Sunlight Defence Shield Engineering" is just another ploy of the Rich to keep gobbling (and create obscene no-bid contracts for the corporadoes) while the Rest starve.

and when the unintended consequences (and there will be some, there always are) kick in?  then what?

in retrospect the entire reductionist technomanagerial approach has failed repeatedly, lurching from vandalism to bandaid to flailing correction to failure again. it's time to junk the whole model of "engineering the planet," imho, and learn some biomimicry skills.  instead of treating biota like machinery, learn to make machinery that works like biota, or to work with biota instead of machinery.

"anything that can't go on, probably won't."

one of the most depressing articles yet to appear at ET, congrats technoP -- and I thought I was depressing...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 05:03:56 PM EST
Depressing, but does that make it factually wrong?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 07:43:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
one of the most depressing articles yet to appear at ET, congrats technoP -- and I thought I was depressing...

Thank you. I could probably do another article or two on other topics that might be contenders, if you're not depressed enough by this one.

(BTW, Parachuting Cats into Borneo deserves a link. I'd never heard of these heroic beasts.)
------------------

it's time to junk the whole model of "engineering the planet," imho, and learn some biomimicry skills.  instead of treating biota like machinery, learn to make machinery that works like biota....

>>> Yes! <<<

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 02:04:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On reflection it seems to me that there are two "stealth hinges" to the argument for the Sunscreen Defence Shield.

One is that the CO2 problem is insoluble by reduction -- i.e., that even if we stop releasing CO2 tomorrow, the global warming curve remains steep enough and continues long enough to produce disasters (pick your favourites), and feedback loops are uninterrupted.  It's too late for reduction, in other words.  Given that this argument is coming most loudly from the same folks who for the last 20 years have been denying that global warming is happening at all, then denying that it is anthropogenic, etc, I think I may be permitted a little skepticism.  They have gone from the rhetoric of ridicule to the rhetoric of denial to the rhetoric of despair, but the underlying message is simply Business As Usual, and I do mean business as usual -- fossil-fuel industrialism is the heart of capitalism, and global capitalism is what keeps today's aristocrats secure on their thrones, so they would rather die (or more like, don't care how many millions of others will die) than change the way things work.  Any argument that keeps the SUVs rolling off the dealer lots and the cheap air tickets selling like hotcakes is a fine argument by them.

So this talking point, "It's too late to do anything about CO2 reduction so never mind, party on," strikes me as one that needs closer examination.

Then there is Part 2, Assuming there are only two options (do nothing or put up an SO2 sunscreen)  which imho is a false dichotomy.  It assumes that carbon reduction is impossible, let alone ineffective, in other words that "The American Way of Life is Not Negotiable."  This sentiment is echoed elsewhere upthread in disparaging comments about "returning to the 19th century" (actually I would say the carbon economy is the one that is forever stuck in the 19th century, and some of us are urgently trying to move beyond it).  In other words, despite the legendary adaptability, creativity, flexibility and hardihood of human beings, we are supposed to believe that energy efficiency, carbon reduction and lifestyle adaptations are simply Impossible, end of story.  All of a sudden human flexibility and adaptability have ended:  it's the End of History and evolution has stopped, we can never do or live otherwise than as we do today.

If people can learn to take their shoes off on command before getting on airplanes and to meekly hand over their bottled water and shampoo based on ludicrous comic-book "terrorism" scenarios -- without rioting or rebelling -- after nothing more earth shaking than a media blitz and one (one!) successful hit on a major landmark, are we to believe they cannot learn to turn unused lights off, drive smaller cars or use public transit, eat a lower-carbon diet, adapt to lower energy use?  Americans have complacently tossed their Constitution in the rubbish bin, resigned themselves to police-state levels of surveillance, and footed the bill for the most expensive Cabinet war in history, all based on an alleged "state of emergency" far less grounded in reality than climate destabilisation and other carbon-economy side effects.  Why are we to assume that they, and others in the Consuming Nations, are an immovable rock, an intransigent, resolute and adamantine roadblock that prohibits carbon reduction?  Why is it always Politically Impossible to (say) ban SUVs, but Politically Easy to make it everyday and normal to spy on library records and rig elections with proprietary voting machines?  How is it that the most radical of authoritarian programs and rights reductions is justified (and accepted) because "everything changed after 9/11" and yet in the next breath we are told that carbon reduction is impossible because nothing can ever change?

What is insane is the AWOL energy consumption pattern, not the attempt to reduce it to a manageable footprint.  And the energy consumption pattern that drives the CO2 emissions and the climate change is only one symptom of the general consumer-industrial-capitalism problem:  the myth of infinite growth, the core/periphery dynamic with colliding peripheries of competing cores, the "necessity" of population growth to "expand markets" to absorb overproduction and ensure unrealistic (transbiotic) rates of return, the privatisation of all resources (Enclosure), etc.

Suppose the Sunscreen Defence Shield works, temporarily (it has to be temporary, we run out of sulfur to inject and fossil fuel to haul it up there after some number of centuries).  All that does is permit the continuance of the 'cheap fossil fuel' high-burn-rate economy, removing one of the primary motivations for relocalisation, bioregionalism, and other tactics needed to remedy the other pathologies of hypertrophied industrialism.  Which means that we'll hit some other wall -- the killing-the-soil wall, the depleting-the-aquifers wall, the killing-the-oceans wall, the monocropping wall, the complexity wall (cf Tainter), the population wall, etc.  Memo from the past:  "You can never do just one thing."

I have a friend who's dying of cancer.  She has cancer in her spine, in her liver, and in her lungs.  Chemotherapy has succeeded in reducing the liver and lung cancer, extending her life -- which she wanted, and which has been in some ways a blessing. However the extension of life has allowed the spinal cancer (which is less responsive) to proceed further, and now she is at risk of dying far more painfully and slowly of spinal cancer (lung or liver cancer is relatively merciful by comparison).  I see the current state of liquidationist capitalism in a similar light, since we are pursuing medical metaphors:  there is a systemic problem causing multiple symptoms, all of them bad and dangerous, all possibly lethal, some offering a more slow/painful/lingering decline, some offering a faster crash/burn.  We can mask or temporarily remedy one symptom, but the others are still present.  [There's a fundamental disconnect between capitalism and thermodynamics, and between capitalism and robust biotic systems.  Industrial capitalism as we know it is not reality-based, and therefore one of its many conflicts with reality will force a paradigm change.  Or so I suspect -- barring a cinematic miracle (friendly aliens arrive and Save Us, or the Rapture really does happen).]

Actually we are worse off than my friend the cancer patient in the sense that her tumours are growing more or less independently, each on its own clock;  but our fossil fuel binge is one of the primary drivers for our other cancers (salination, deforestation, desertification, toxification of rivers, overpaving, destruction of coastal buffers, extinctions, immiseration of peasants, concentration of capital and erosion of democracy, yada yada) so that "solving" the primary brake on the fossil fuel binge actually exacerbates the other symptoms... which in their way are as potentially lethal as climate change.

A bandaid only "buys time" if you believe that a genuine remission or cure is possible in the time that is bought.  Bought time that merely allows the patient to get sicker or suffer greater pain, is not even a real bandaid.

As was pointed out upthread, 1 bio people rely on the ocean food chain for their sustenance.  We are perilously close to destroying that food chain worldwide.  Continuing to pump CO2 into the atmosphere looks like the handiest murder weapon w/which to finish the job, and that is what the "Sunscreen" project (as sold by the Cornucopian faction) will most likely enable -- another decade or more of inaction (and profiteering), any public sense of urgency or purpose squandered.  How do we face those 1 bio people and say, "Oh goody, we've found a way to go on pumping CO2 into the oceans while protecting rich people's coastal real estate investments from destruction by extreme storms, isn't that great?"

We might also want to consider whether the cancer metaphor is really a good fit.  In using it I have myself played into Frame One above -- tsk tsk -- the notion that our situation is terminal anyway so we should buy time by any stopgap measure available to us, take Laetrile and consult faith healers, and hope for a miracle.  OTOH what if our problem is actually diet and lifestyle related, not terminal cancer but a very severe food allergy or some side effect of a sedentary lifestyle or chronic drug abuse?  In that case, we might feel very much better if we stopped eating wheat, got more exercise, or kicked our habit.  Our problem would be autopathic and it would be fairly obvious that stopgap measures are far less effective than tackling the real problem.  Advil might keep the allergenic headache at bay, but only removing wheat from the diet will really solve the problem -- and chronic Advil use has side effects :-)

Our problem is autopathic, no doubt about that.  The real question is whether it is "terminal anyway."

One of the divisions among those trying to assess our current predicament is in where we place our optimism and our pessimism.  I would say the Crutzen approach and the argument marshalled in favour of it, place their optimism in technology (techno-Laetrile, a miracle cure from the Science Juju or the Energy Fairy);   and the "hardcore green" stance represented by -- picking a name out of the hat -- Gaianne for example, above, is one whose optimism is placed in people, in the ability of human beings to adapt and, when all other options are exhausted, to do the right thing.  Similarly the Gaianne argument places its pessimism in technology -- a disillusioned, disenchanted view based on a long history of huckster claims, frantic bandaiding, malfeasance, arrogance and stupidity in grandiose technomanagerial engineering projects -- and the Crutzen/technoP view places its optimism in technology, a "something will turn up" optimism based on a long history of engineering advances and specifically the series of "miracles" that have been delivered by industrialism over the last 2 centuries.

Obviously from my track record here and elsewhere, I tend to agree with the techno-pessimist and human-optimist assessment.  But arrayed against this stance is the whole weight of the corporate profiteer establishment.  Solutions that involve people living more lightly and spending/consuming less, having more free time, etc. (contraction/convergence) mean less money churning, less skimming off the top, less graft, less extortion, less profit.  Bandaids that involve high-tech fixes, mining, transport, large government or private contracts, etc, mean money churning, embezzlement opportunities, political powermongering, porkbarrel oppos, etc.  What is considered "possible" by politicos who are also CEOs and high-stakes investors in the capitalist casino, has a lot to do with their portfolios and their career ambitions and very little to do with the actual possibilities in the situation.

One of the biggest deposits of sulfur in the world is in the state of Texas.

I think we can expect BushCo to like the Sunscreen Defence Shield idea.

Because I don't believe in Laetrile, faith healing, or "cavalry over the hill" rescues in the final reel (not in real life anyway), I can't get too excited over the time-buying strategy.  Maybe it will not do too much harm (except in lulling the public back to sleep), though given the unintended consequences of every other "let's fix nature" bright idea so far, I'm not sanguine about the predictability of side effects.  But I don't see what is going to miraculously fix all the other symptoms of the underlying autopathy, even if we can buy a few years of stabilised weather.

BTW, The Type I civilisation that has covered the entire planetary surface with human-made structures sounds to me like, literally, Hell.  Suicide looks good by comparison;  but actually the concept itself is suicidal.  If we translate the concept "humans capture all the energy available to the planet's surface," what it really means is "everything else but us has to die."  It is an exterminist idea -- also ludicrous and unattainable since our very lives depend on the biota that capture and transform that energy.  It is as horrifying to me as that other famous exterminist idea, the one that Godwin's Law prohibits me from mentioning.  I shudder to read it.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 01:56:39 AM EST
You've presented many of the deeper issues and conflicts in this area. I find that I agree with much of your perspective, and where I go in different directions, it is largely because we have different expectations regarding future technologies. I'd like to say more about expectations.

You remark that "the Crutzen/technoP view places its optimism in technology, a `something will turn up` optimism based on a long history of engineering advances and specifically the series of `miracles` that have been delivered by industrialism over the last 2 centuries." Mind reading is hazardous. Optimism? I can't speak for Crutzen, but I think my closest friends would tell you that my view of the future contains a thick, black mass of near-despair centered on the technologies I expect. And although `miracles` of the last 2 centuries should be reason enough to be sceptical about projections of a carbon-burning civilization in 2100, gazing at trends from the outside isn't the basis of my expectations. Instead, I have for many years looked at technologies from the inside, examining what natural law says about their potential, and seeing how research is moving toward exploiting that potential.

Above, you say that "it's time to junk the whole model of 'engineering the planet,' imho, and learn some biomimicry skills.  instead of treating biota like machinery, learn to make machinery that works like biota, or to work with biota instead of machinery." I am persuaded that the human race is well on its way to doing what you urge by applying the most fundamental molecular-level principles of biological systems to making things. Making high-performance products cleanly, inexpensively, from common materials can provide the leverage needed to make solar power inexpensive and coal absurd, to shut mines, to decentralize production, to make products endlessly recyclable. Enough even to get the damned CO2 back out of the atmosphere and set things right. I'll give you even odds, though, that these technologies will instead be used to destroy everything we care about.

You write of "optimism...placed in people, in the ability of human beings to adapt and, when all other options are exhausted, to do the right thing". But consider the words you then use in speaking of a corresponding "pessimism in technology -- a disillusioned, disenchanted view based on a long history of huckster claims, frantic bandaiding, malfeasance, arrogance and stupidity in grandiose technomanagerial engineering projects". This is pessimism, yes, but technology itself produces no "huckster claims, frantic bandaiding, malfeasance, arrogance and stupidity". Like the optimism, this pessimism is placed in people.

Could you please direct me to a center of progressive vision that looks toward a future of enormously more powerful technologies and is working to shape and share the understanding that might make that future work? It seems that humane people are drawn instead to imagined worlds of shrunken, easily manageable technologies, where the issue isn't explosive potential, but the fear (hope?) that failing resources will make the 21st century blur and shift into a world of locally grown vegetables. This abandons expansive revolutions -- and the future -- to be twisted, narrowed, and directed to suit the power crowd and the hucksters who serve them.

--------------

Regarding the two "stealth hinges", I hope that you aren't inclined to shoot the messenger. I've done my best to present the facts as I understand them, to show why the sunscreen option will be appealing and what I think some of the consequences may be. Showing why it will be appealing isn't the same as liking it or the behavior it encourages.

Regarding Part 1, whether the CO2 problem is insoluble by reductions, if CO2 emissions were stopped today, I think we might be in reasonably good shape (might...), but this is a straw man scenario. My best guess is that the IPCC makes a reasonable range of projections. On the left, some projected emission rates; on the right, their cumulative results:

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The curve on the right keep going up all the way across.

Regarding Part 2, whether it is a false dichotomy to say that are only two options (do nothing or put up an SO2 sunscreen) -- it is indeed false. So far as I know,  however, no one believes that it is true.

----

Regarding the feeding behavior of the the profiteers, what you describe seems all to familiar.


Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 06:19:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
good conversation TP -- as you say there is a surprisingly wide realm of agreement, so I'll focus on the central issue of where we invest our optimisms and our pessimisms.

one thing I don't understand is what is so wrong with a world of locally-grown vegetables :-)  they taste better, are fresher, are more nutritious and cost less (i.e. their EROEI actually makes a kind of sense) -- what more is needed?  only the fossil-fuel industry, food processors, marketeers and other middlemen (the unproductive sector) benefit from the dysfunction that is our delocalised industrial food system.  suggested intro reading:  The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan.  

and then of course intensive polyculture is far more efficient in terms of food calories produced per acre and per gallon of water than industrial farming, surely a very important factor given current population, loss of arable land, and water contamination and drawdown.  I consider local vegetables, sustainably grown by small-scale polyculture, far from an impractical or fuzzy or sentimental proposition.   it's an extremely sensible, hard-headed and practical proposition -- far saner and more realistic than the truly warped and twisted dysvalues and dysfunctions of corporate industrial ag.  and it can be done and is being done today, without having to wait for miracle technologies.  it is being done now in real time, at Polyface Farm by a conservative Christian/libertarian farm family, it is being done throughout Cuba by mobilised citizens of a socialist nation, it is being done in Pasadena in a suburb by "LA liberals," in Pittsburgh in abandoned urban lots by low-income social justice organisers.  there's nothing sentimental or impractical about something that is already working.  no, imho it is the bizarre fictions of finance capitalism and its fantasies about free lunches and fairytale rates of return that are "sentimental" in the sense of reflecting wishful thinking rather than biological, chemical, and thermodynamic realities.

anyway, I think for shared perspective I'd earnestly suggest a read of Hornborg The Power of the Machine ... for an imho compelling analysis of why pessimism about industrial (C19 and its lineal descendants) technology is not merely a pessimism about human nature per se but a pessimism about the technology itself.  Hornborg makes a good case for the industrial/Cartesian paradigm (and its associated justificatory ideology, freemarketism) as inherently productive of intensifying inequalities and accelerating resource destruction. in other words, the technology shapes the behaviour and the culture, not just the other way around.  what this means is that the technomanagerial approach and the heavy industrial tech it relies on cannot be fixed.  it is what it is and it works the way it works, just like a shark or a virus.  a whole different approach is required to stop the ungoverned feedback loop of more resource destruction leading to more profits, which at each iteration, converted into the fiction of generic money (fungible and infinitely mobile) enable even more resource destruction, and so on.

so I have to ask, why do we require "enormously more powerful technologies"?  [except, of course, to remedy the damage done by previous generations of "enormously more powerful technologies"... and that's another amplifying feedback spiral into disaster.]  what we require, as human beings, is air, clean water, food, shelter, security of our persons from violence and humiliation, a degree of autonomy, community and a role in it, a sense of meaning or purpose, art and culture, some cultural mediation of brute ranking and inequality, a sense of continuity and hope for our offspring.  industrialism  (communist or capitalist) and "development" have by and large undermined these qualities for 9/10 of the human race with their (literally) powerful technologies -- technologies which amplify the power of core elites to appropriate time, space and resources from the peripheries.  those things -- time, space, and resources -- have been subtracted  from the lives of real people, who as a result live without some subset of the requirements listed above, with a diminishing quality of life.  a "world of local vegetables" would, for the majority of humanity, result in a higher quality of life, greater security, less malnutrition and disease, more autonomy, etc.

all these processes of accumulation and dispossession can occur in the absence of heavy industrial technology -- in antiquity for example;  but the "efficiencies" of the fossil-based technology enable them to happen at ever-greater speed and on an ever-greater scale.  when we say "more powerful" technologies we generally mean technologies that could compress time, appropriate space, and convert resources on an even greater scale -- more of the same, in other words.  if the patient is anaemic, we'll still prescribe cupping :-)

how can more powerful technologies improve this situation?  the increase in technomass can only come at the expense of biomass and the further impoverishment of the core.

so far I know of no high-tech "biotech" efforts that are not perched atop the same pyramid of inherently destabilising and runaway industrial tech, nor any which do not focus on destructive goals like the privatisation of whole genomes, the Enclosure of the cycle of seed to crop, and other attempts to subsume the biotic world into the control-metaphor of the machine.  the molecular-level work may look light in theory, but it's based on the same extreme resource pyramid of industrial tech that impoverishes the periphery more viciously with each passing decade.

by contrast a bin full of Hermetia turning hog shit into (a) high quality compost and (b) chicken food without my having to lift a finger except to check on their progress now and then -- now that's what I call biotechnology :-)  and any peasant farmer in the temperate latitudes could use this "technology", and perpetuate it, without incurring debt, sacrificing autonomy, or allowing the pillaging of local resources in exchange.  it is in fact not technology at all, but symbiosis, and there's the essential difference -- not encrusting the planet with an ever-thickening carapace of Dead Stuff, but exercising intelligence and ingenuity in establishing symbiosis and cooperation with biotic processes.

speaking of parachuting cats and institutional stupidity, I note that NZ govt is now engaged in a major biocriminal effort -- they've had the bright idea that to "control" the varroa mite in apiculture they will poison all feral bees.  this is the technomanagerial mindset at work.  this is insanity.  words fail me.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 04:47:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a lot to think about. I will try to reply this evening.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 04:58:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is a piece of what I mean:  the hidden costs of industrialised farming:  autopathic problems and a neverending, cost-escalating, ologarchogenic merrygoround of desperate bandaids.  
Soon after the news broke last month that nearly 200 Americans in 26 states had been sickened by eating packaged spinach contaminated with E. coli, I received a rather coldblooded e-mail message from a friend in the food business. "I have instructed my broker to purchase a million shares of RadSafe," he wrote, explaining that RadSafe is a leading manufacturer of food-irradiation technology. It turned out my friend was joking, but even so, his reasoning was impeccable. If bagged salad greens are vulnerable to bacterial contamination on such a scale, industry and government would very soon come looking for a technological fix; any day now, calls to irradiate the entire food supply will be on a great many official lips.  That's exactly what happened a few years ago when we learned that E. coli from cattle feces was winding up in American hamburgers. Rather than clean up the kill floor and the feedlot diet, some meat processors simply started nuking the meat - sterilizing the manure, in other words, rather than removing it from our food. Why? Because it's easier to find a technological fix than to address the root cause of such a problem. This has always been the genius of industrial capitalism - to take its failings and turn them into exciting new business opportunities.

[...]

Surely this points to one of the great advantages of a decentralized food system: when things go wrong, as they sooner or later will, fewer people are affected and, just as important, the problem can be more easily traced to its source and contained. A long and complicated food chain, in which food from all over the countryside is gathered together in one place to be processed and then distributed all over the country to be eaten, can be impressively efficient, but by its very nature it is a food chain devilishly hard to follow and to fix.

    Fortunately, this is not the only food chain we have. The week of the E. coli outbreak, washed spinach was on sale at my local farmers' market, and at the Blue Heron Farms stand, where I usually buy my greens, the spinach appeared to be moving briskly. I tasted a leaf and wondered why I didn't think twice about it. I guess it's because I've just always trusted these guys; I buy from them every week. The spinach was probably cut and washed that morning or the night before - it hasn't been sitting around in a bag on a truck for a week. And if there ever is any sort of problem, I know exactly who is responsible. Whatever the risk, and I'm sure there is some, it seems manageable.

    These days, when people make the case for buying local food, they often talk about things like keeping farmers in our communities and eating fresh food in season, at the peak of its flavor. We like what's going on at the farmers' market - how country meets city, how children learn that a carrot is not a glossy orange bullet that comes in a bag but is actually a root; how we get to taste unfamiliar flavors and even, in some sense, reconnect through these foods and their growers to the natural world. Stack all this up against the convenience and price of supermarket food, though, and it can sound a little ... sentimental.

But there's nothing sentimental about local food - indeed, the reasons to support local food economies could not be any more hardheaded or pragmatic. Our highly centralized food economy is a dangerously precarious system, vulnerable to accidental - and deliberate - contamination.

[...]

It's easy to imagine the FDA announcing a new rule banning animals from farms that produce plant crops. In light of the threat from E. coli, such a rule would make a certain kind of sense. But it is an industrial, not an ecological, sense. For the practice of keeping animals on farms used to be, as Wendell Berry pointed out, a solution; only when cows moved onto feedlots did it become a problem. Local farmers and local food economies represent much the same sort of pre-problem solution - elegant, low-tech and redundant. But the logic of industry, apparently ineluctable, has other ideas, ideas that not only leave our centralized food system undisturbed but also imperil its most promising, and safer, alternatives.

it is cheaper not to break things in the first place than to patch them up afterwards.  but in a monetised industrial economy there is "profit" to be made in the ever-expanding market sector of Patching Things Up Afterwards, which in turn spawns whole new market sectors to patch up the side effects of the bandaids.  so there is always more profit to be made by doing things wrong (DeAnander's Law of Industrial Capitalism) which explains why the "logic of industry" is insane and suicidal, and feeds a death spiral of increasing energy inputs, increasing authoritarianism and centralised control, and diminishing returns...

words to live by:  "elegant, low-tech, redundant".  I would add:  ubiquitous, distributed, transparent.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 08:00:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, I've dug my way out far enough.

It seems that humane people are drawn instead to imagined worlds of shrunken, easily manageable technologies, where the issue isn't explosive potential, but the fear (hope?) that failing resources will make the 21st century blur and shift into a world of locally grown vegetables.

...what is so wrong with a world of locally-grown vegetables...
Please forgive my lack of clarity. I've spent enough time turning compost heaps and avoiding processed foods and truck-ripened fruits to appreciate locally grown vegetables. What I intended to criticise was what I see as a tendency to welcome the idea of harsh resource constraints that would force people to tend their gardens and eat their veggies because they'll be so incapacitated by shortages that they can't move things around any more. (Mind you, one could argue people would soon be quite happy with the arrangement -- partly because of hedonic-treadmill effects.)

My claim is that a future where technology stagnates is easy to imagine and very soothing to contemplate, compared to one in which a something like the Moore's law explosion in the infosphere begins to take off in the world of physical technology. Superficially, these capabilities on this scale seem like an optimist's dream because they could be used to solve many of the overwhelming problems we face today (for example, by spreading global wealth while decreasing environmental impact). On closer examination, they lead to possibilities that are scary, complex, and very, very hard to think about. After grappling with this, the idea that resource limits will stop all that starts to seem like... well... an easy excuse for avoiding the hard issues.

...the technomanagerial approach and the heavy industrial tech it relies on cannot be fixed.  it is what it is and it works the way it works, just like a shark or a virus.  a whole different approach is required to stop the ungoverned feedback loop of more resource destruction leading to more profits
This may well be true in practice, though of course it could be different in theory :^). But what if heavy industrial tech can, in fact, be replaced by something that beats it in productivity, cost, product quality, cleanliness... ? Something that resembles heavy industrial tech about as much as a kid's cell phone resembles [>>warning: obligatory Moore's law comparison from pre-1950<<] a room full of technicians in white coats tending a 30 ton vacuum-tube computer that eats 40 kW and delivers about 1/1,000,000 the computing capacity. Or about as much as an oak leaf resembles a billion-dollar semiconductor fabrication facility. (Guess which one makes smaller electronic devices.)
...why do we require "enormously more powerful technologies"?
Let's assume that we don't need them. The question is, what do we do with them when they arrive anyway?
...the power of core elites to appropriate time, space and resources...
...those things -- time, space, and resources -- have been subtracted  from the lives of real people...
Time, space, and resources (for quite a while at least) don't have to be counters in a zero-sum game. What scares me is that core elites are full of people who crave ever more power, because it is people who crave ever more power who climb to the top, and they're forcing a nasty game on the rest of us. Being forced to live more like peasants wouldn't keep people from being stomped.

Moving in the opposite direction may offer a chance, but humane, far-sighted people seem to prefer contemplating (fantasies of) shortage-induced collapse, or warming-induced collapse, or nuclear-winter induced collapse, or [fill in blank]-induced collapse. So I predict that lots of planning will be done for a future of limited options that never happens, and almost none for a future of enormous possibilities that seems hard to avoid.

how can more powerful technologies improve this situation?  the increase in technomass can only come at the expense of biomass and the further impoverishment of the core.
They could easily make the situation worse, but not because of a zero-sum resource dynamic. My thesis is (1) that enormously powerful technologies will emerge whether we want them or not and (2) that so much could change that there may be a chance to break out of some old, destructive patterns.
the molecular-level work may look light in theory, but it's based on the same extreme resource pyramid of industrial tech that impoverishes the periphery more viciously with each passing decade.
Molecular-level developments aren't inherently and necessarily based on this resource pyramid, but regardless of their potential, they are of course slotted into the system. And this pattern may continue even when really radical developments could be leveraged to replace they pyramid with something different.


Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 04:47:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's too late for reduction, in other words.  Given that this argument is coming most loudly from the same folks who for the last 20 years have been denying that global warming is happening at all, then denying that it is anthropogenic...

Not so fast... look at the precious little facts first:

  • There is a greenhouse effect.  It is caused by carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, but mostly by water vapor.  It's a good thing.
  • The effect of any atmospheric gas is roughly logarithmic.  Increasing CO2 concentration from 0ppm to 80ppm has a lot more effect than from 300ppm to 380ppm.
  • Atmospheric composition is not the only variable that affects average temperatures, variations in Earth's orbit are another, and I'm sure there are still others.
  • From about 1940 to 1970, average temperature on Earth was falling.  Now it is rising, but is not (yet?) unusally high.
  • Currently Earth is picking up excess warmth (2W/m² or so).  That means, even if we reduce the greenhouse effect, Earth will not cool, it will just stop heating at a lower peak temperature.

Considering all this, your choice of the word "deny" is wrong, because you can only "deny" a fact you are convinced of.  There is quite some reason to doubt that significant global warming occurs, that it is human made if it occurs and that it is catastrophic if it occurs.  Don't insult the few people who still approach the topic scientifically.

Assuming there are only two options...

Who said that?  There are always at least two options: 1) do $WHATEVER (nothing, reduce CO2 emission, fertilize the ocean, pray, ...) and 2) do $WHATEVER and put up the sunscreen.  The point being made is that option 2 is always better, no matter what you chose to put in for $WHATEVER.

I have a friend who's dying of cancer.

My consolations.  But regarding the metaphor: do you know a cure for the cancer?  Likely not, for killing the patient (civilization) is out of the question.  But then again, more medication might actually be an improvement:

http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/

by ustenzel on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 03:31:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is quite some reason to doubt that significant global warming occurs, that it is human made if it occurs and that it is catastrophic if it occurs.  Don't insult the few people who still approach the topic scientifically

approach it scientifically by defying the world consensus of qualified climatologists?  I don't insult such persons, I simply ignore 'em -- as I do godbotherers, flat-earthers, perpetual-motion inventors and astrologers :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 04:07:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You haven't been ignoring me...

Not that I agree with ustenzel as phrased above.

by Nomad on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 12:22:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well it is really the "as phrased" issue, of course.  'twas the Cato Institutional tone that tweaked my irritability...

there is always room for doubt whether I may be a philosopher dreaming that I am a butterfly, or vice versa, but this does not make jumping off tall buildings an advisable hobby :-)

ah, if we were only tardigrades...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 06:09:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tardigrades seem only one step removed from nirvana, surely.

Good to see you back in full swing, De. You always make me scramble for the google machinations.

by Nomad on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 11:08:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...jumping off tall buildings...if we were only tardigrades...

You long, perhaps, to cross the seas,
dry and floating lightly on the breeze?

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Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Tue Oct 17th, 2006 at 03:05:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
aha, I am a tardigrade dreaming that I am a programmer.

that explains a lot.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Oct 17th, 2006 at 04:08:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've been a fan of minor phyla since I was a lad.

Apologies for continued delay below. (Deadlines: crunch, crunch...)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Wed Oct 18th, 2006 at 01:59:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are always at least two options: 1) do $WHATEVER (nothing, reduce CO2 emission, fertilize the ocean, pray, ...) and 2) do $WHATEVER and put up the sunscreen.  The point being made is that option 2 is always better, no matter what you chose to put in for $WHATEVER.

If putting up sunscreen means "inject our atmosphere with a chemical species of which we know it also has several adverse effects besides blocking solar radiation", I'm not buying that. I do not favour the analogy of comparing the earth's climate with a human's illness, but in this case: it's chemo-therapy - it doesn't work on the long run, and the side-effects aren't pleasant either. Focus on the $WHATEVER instead.

There is quite some reason to doubt that significant global warming occurs, that it is human made if it occurs and that it is catastrophic if it occurs.  Don't insult the few people who still approach the topic scientifically.

Hopefully I am one of those in that group, but I can't completely agree there either. Global warming is pretty much undeniably there - even when there is discussion left at what scope. I'd join you if you were to state there is still uncertainty at how much of the warming can be contributed to CO2, how much to other anthropogenic influences and how much to influences outside our grasp. Also the estimates surrounding 2x[CO2] are still up in the air.

As you may know, I've been previously busy at ET to show that CO2 reduction may not necessarily be the magic bullet to solve the global warming increase - but it sure won't hurt our planet either.

by Nomad on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 12:28:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"...CO2 reduction may not necessarily be the magic bullet to solve the global warming increase..."

I know that you understand the topic, but a difficulty with discussion in this area is ambiguity in the language we use to describe it.

"CO2 reduction" might plausibly be read as (1) reducing CO2 concentration, or (2) reducing emissions, or even (3) reducing projected increases in emissions. These are very different, with (1) outside the range usually considered possible, (2) very challenging, and (3) feasible, but not well defined.

"Solving global warming increase" might plausibly be read as (a) reducing temperature, or (b) preventing further increases, or (c) keeping increases within some bounds considered acceptable. These are also very different. Accomplishing (a) would require (1) or a cooling fix, while (c) could be accomplished by (3) transitioning to (2). The standard of acceptability to be used in (c), however, is a matter of opinion, and the requirements for achieving any particular standard are uncertain.

Meaning (3) reminds of political games with budgets, where a "budget [or tax] cut" is actually an increase, but lower than a larger increase that someone had "projected".

Are there better terms we could use that would be short, yet make the distinctions clear?

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 05:25:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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