If We Don’t Stop Global Warming, You’re Not Going to Like Plan BOct 10 2014
If we don’t take immediate and concerted action to slash fossil fuel emissions, we face “high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally” from climate change, according to a leaked draft of a report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
But in this country, there is no possibility for the all-encompassing energy
policy that is needed to confront the threat. The Obama administration has raised auto fuel efficiency standards and is moving to restrict power plant emissions, but Republicans and those Democrats who hail from coal-producing states call the plan a “war on coal” and will sue to keep them belching pollution. The American public is largely indifferent. Constant naysaying in the partisan media has persuaded 1 of 4 Americans that global warming is a hoax or of little concern, says an April Gallup poll; only 39% are “concerned believers”; the rest had mixed views.
But even those who disbelieve should spend a few moments to think about what will happen if they turn out to be wrong and nothing is done sufficient enough to reverse global warming. What sort of world will we live in when, too late, we need to take desperate measures?
Clusters of scientists around the globe are dealing with the question of what we would have to do. Expecting that mankind will go on heedlessly extracting and burning ever greater quantities of fossil fuels, they follow a different path from the usual climate scientist. Their fear is that the planet may tip beyond a point of no return and experience a climate emergency for which we had better have a Plan B. To that end most are exploring ways to affect the climate itself. The umbrella term for their hypothetical solutions is geo-engineering.the search for solutions
One camp favors capturing carbon dioxide. Increasing plant life is of course a well-known antidote, especially planting the more rapidly-growing genetically-modified trees developed by the lumber industry. But plant matter releases its CO2 when it dies, so we would only be borrowing time. There’s capture and burial of carbon dioxide by emitting industries, but industry can’t be counted on to adopt this costly technology.
So one solution engineers propose is “direct air capture” that sets up
arrays of fans to pull air through filters to capture CO2 for burial. A variant of this idea would use plastic mesh sheets to trap CO2 from the wind that would then be doused with sodium carbonate, yielding harmless baking soda.
But few see these as adequate to the global task. An oft-mentioned method puts nature to work. It would fertilize vast stretches of the oceans with iron dust. Blooms of plankton algae would sprout to suck carbon dioxide from the air in order to grow by photosynthesis. When the algae dies, the assumption is that it would sink to the bottom rather than release its CO2 into the atmosphere. Done widely enough to make a difference, however, the worry is that it would change the chemical composition of the oceans with unknown consequences for marine ecosystems.
We endanger ecosystems now. In desperate times consequences will be ignored.
Instead (or as well), what about increasing pollution in the atmosphere to block the sun’s rays from reaching Earth? This is probably the most
widely advanced solution. The trade off would be hazy days in place of sunny days, and reddish sunsets like the skies “Blade Runner” anticipated (the 1982 film that, eerily, was set in 2019, almost upon us). This method would pump sulfur compounds into the stratosphere above where rains would wash them out, so they would sink only slowly back to Earth. Never mind our long campaign to scrub from power plant emissions the sulfur that caused smog and acid rain. If warming gets out of hand, smogging the planet now becomes desirable .
The sulfate particles that form would reflect sunlight back into space. We know that works from past volcanic eruptions. It was called “the year without a summer”, with July frosts on New England farms, after Indonesia’s Mount Tambora blew in 1815. And after the Philippines’ Mount
Pinatubo exploded in 1991, the earth’s temperature fell by a full Fahrenheit degree across three years from the sulfuric acid haze that winds carried around the world.
We would need to reflect back just 1.1% of the sun’s energy still a huge amount to counteract all of the temperature rise forecast by mid-century. This calls for spraying 10 million tons of sulfate particles into the upper atmosphere every year. A fleet of portly, specially-designed aircraft carrying 10 tons each trip for release at 65,000 to 80,000 feet (burning high sulfur content fuel while at it) could manage the job in 100,000 flights a year.
Bill Gates invested in a company that would do it differently: sun-blocking sulfur dioxide particles would be pumped from the ground through a 19-mile long hose suspended by helium balloons.
A setback is that these estimates have since been weakened in more recent IPCC findings that say that aerosols such as sulfates have less of a cooling effect. And there is the question of what reduced sunlight will do to agricultural output. Temperature forcing could also disrupt weather patterns, such as the Indian monsoons that a billion people rely on for water.
Would working with clouds be better? Different groups from Edinburgh to Texas have signed onto this approach. The belief is that clouds could be made whiter, and therefore more reflective of sunlight, by spraying them with sea water. The moisture in clouds would condense around the salt to make shiny droplets. The calculation is that some 1,500 specially designed ships would be needed to drag turbines to make the electricity to power pumps that would spray 1.4 billion tons of ocean water a year into the skies.
Far more radical is a scheme to emulate the little-known phenomenon that oxygen leaks into space at the poles. It is impelled to do so by Earth’s magnetic fields. A Swedish scientist, with support from Univ. of California-Berkeley, postulates that lasers could ionize molecules of carbon dioxide and radio waves could be tuned to spiral them out the same magnetic funnel, to be lost forever in space.
Another polar remedy deals with the problem of polar ice melting more rapidly than predicted. It would lock the ice caps in place. This would not slow warming, but would retard the feared rise of the oceans from the conversion of ice to sea water. The cause of the rapid calving of glaciers is melt water that gets under them and acts as a lubricant to speed their journey to the sea. The notion is to arrest movement by freezing the melt water with liquid nitrogen at key points.
Every answer to the looming problem is the subject of serious scientific inquiry, but before considering the ethics and politics of geo-engineering, we’ll leave you with this one. A professor at the University of Arizona says that if we were to build 20 mile-long electromagnetic guns, so powerful that they could shoot Frisbee-like ceramic disks into static orbit at the gravitational midpoint between Earth and Sun, and if were to fire 800,000 such disks every five minutes for ten years day, night, weekends, holidays into the same spot, we would create a shield to bring about an annual solar eclipse of a size enough, apparently, to cool the planet.moral hazard
Geo-engineering is done on the quiet. Partly, it is taboo for being scary; people don’t want to think that it could come to this as the only recourse. But the greater concern by climate change believers is that climate change skeptics will see geo-engineered solutions as exculpatory substitutes for doing nothing. If there is technology in the wings, why leave hydrocarbons in the ground, why spend on alternative fuels, why change our lifestyles when these magical rescues await?
But they don’t. All would need proving, and the scientists behind these projects urge that we embark on small-scale testing of these many propositions to see what works or doesn’t, to see whether harmful side effects come about from poking at the clouds or the oceans. It becomes all the more urgent to stage trial experiments as we go ever onward with business-as-usual fossil fuel burning. We would at least know which glass to break, which extinguisher to grab, when the climate emergency alarm goes off.reality
With that dutiful and sensible recommendation having been said, how would the world’s nations ever come to an agreement in the use of any of these weapons? Who would get to decide? How, for example, would Russia or Canada go along with a plan to make their countries colder again, taking away their tantalizing prospect of a rosy global warming future? These techniques are meant to affect the whole planet. Some look surprisingly cheap. What happens when a single nation acts on its own a Bangladesh refusing to accept disastrous flooding and unleashes some climate altering fix to its own problem to the detriment of everyone else? We will have devised a new reason for war.
But there is a still larger reason that geo-engineering looks to be a delusion. Few think of it as a permanent solution. Rather, it is thought of as buying breathing room while the world weans itself gradually of fossil fuels and converts to renewables. Sounds good, but here’s the rub. All the while during the decades in which geo-engineering is deployed to hold down the global temperature during that transition to green energy, we will have continued to pump CO2 into the atmosphere where it will be suspended for as long as a hundred years before settling to earth. When the day comes that we stop spraying sulfates or sea water or powdered iron, vastly more CO2 than ever will be in the atmosphere, lying in wait. When geo-engineering stops, its heat-trapping greenhouse effect will burst forth. Temperatures would zoom to the same levels we are predicting for that future time as if geo-engineering had never been used.
It’s grim enough to make a warming skeptic set aside doubts and join the fight against global warming as the safer bet.
To return to this page, enter : http://letsfixthiscountry.org/?p=1288