Earl Killian sends me this WSJ op-ed, “Thinking Big on Global Warming” (subs. req’d.), which I will reprint below in its entirety. He sees some good news in it — the WSJ “published a non-denier [opinion] piece.”
Yes, but geo-engineering is one of the Delayers’ sexiest strategies — holding out the promise of a pure techno-fix that doesn’t require all those annoying regulations needed to completely changing our energy system. The conservative (duh!) authors of the WSJ piece embrace trying to “develop capabilities for increasing the fraction of sunlight that is reflected outward by the upper atmosphere back into space.” They claim:
We know it would work because it happens naturally all the time.
Yes, volcanoes spew out aerosols that cool the Earth. I have previously debunked aerosol geo-engineering. The authors seem unaware of a major study that finds “doing so would cause problems of its own, including potentially catastrophic drought.”
And, of course, this strategy allows unfettered ocean acidification, and as noted recently, “When CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you put calcification out of business in the oceans.”
So we might temporarily stave off superheating the planet, but still bring ruinous climate change and destroyed the ocean ecosystem! The authors claim:
Do not try to sell climate geo-engineering to committed enemies of fossil fuels. Although several geo-engineering options appear to be highly cost-effective, ideological opposition to them is often fierce. Fashionable blogs are replete with conspiracy theories and misinformed attacks.
Who are these enemies of fossil fuels? I don’t know such people. I know enemies of greenhouse gases. I am one of those. But we tend to like natural gas, and many of us would be okay with coal if you added permanent carbon capture and storage. Greenhouse gas mitigation avoids catastrophic global warming with high confidence and few negative side effects (and, indeed, many positive side effects). No one has proposed a geo-engineering plan that meets either of those two tests.
Here is the full op-ed:
Thinking Big on Global Warming
By FRED C. IKLE AND LOWELL WOOD
October 15, 2007; Page A22
What is to be blamed for global warming?
Since the 1980s, man-made emissions of greenhouse gases have been designated as the principal culprit, especially CO2 emitted by the burning of coal and petroleum products.
Numerous measures have been proposed to reduce these emissions. And since climate change does not stop at national borders, European governments, the United Nations and more recently the United States have tried to establish world-wide emission goals by organizing a cavalcade of international conferences — from the 1997 Kyoto conference to an upcoming convention in Bali.
Yet no binding agreement has been reached on reducing global CO2 levels, let alone on the means to assure compliance. Decades into this debate, we have neither widely agreed-upon limits on future greenhouse gas emissions nor the administrative capabilities to implement such limits. Moreover, climate scientists warn that emission controls alone may not stabilize the climate.
Is there anything that can be done?
Actually, there is. One approach rarely discussed at global warming conferences is to develop capabilities for increasing the fraction of sunlight that is reflected outward by the upper atmosphere back into space. This approach is called “climate geo-engineering.” Expressed in terms of the metaphor of the “greenhouse effect,” it would work like this: Geo-engineering would put a “parasol” over the greenhouse to deflect 1% or 2% of the sunlight that now affects the Earth. Scattering this small fraction into space would reduce global warming.
In the language of climate science, we would increase by a few percent the Earth’s “albedo” — the ratio of incoming sunlight reflected back into space relative to the total inbound from the sun.
We know it would work because it happens naturally all the time. Clouds routinely deflect sunlight and thereby cool the Earth. Volcanoes — when they erupt and inject millions of tons of fine particulate material into the stratosphere (mostly sulfate aerosols) — have also cooled large regions of the globe. Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in 1991 and cooled most of the Earth for a few years, erasing for a short time roughly half of the global warming that took place during the entire 20th century.
The idea of artificially increasing the Earth’s albedo is not new. In 1992, a report by the National Academy of Sciences found the prospect of stratospheric albedo enhancement “feasible, economical, and capable.” And there are a great many geo-engineering options apart from adding sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere.
But beware. Do not try to sell climate geo-engineering to committed enemies of fossil fuels. Although several geo-engineering options appear to be highly cost-effective, ideological opposition to them is often fierce. Fashionable blogs are replete with conspiracy theories and misinformed attacks. Because of this intimidating opposition, no serious geo-engineering research programs have been started. And without some small-scale tests, not enough data will be available to assess the benefits, cost and possible harmful side effects of such
Much could be learned about this other half of the global warming picture with a tiny fraction of the funds that have been allocated to climate-change studies focused on greenhouse gas emissions. Those who now oppose climate geo-engineering should understand that none of the suggested options is meant to be a free-standing, long-term solution to global warming. If the greenhouse effect continued to increase, the geo-engineering measures would not only have to be maintained indefinitely but also be gradually augmented to keep pace. Moreover, accumulating CO2 in the atmosphere would make the oceans harmfully acidic over the next few centuries [try “decades” — JR].
Clearly, we need both: adequately explored geo-engineering options for contingent climate stabilization, and truly effective, practical measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
Mankind’s current energy system evolved during the 20th century as an offspring of the Industrial Revolution. It may take almost as long to replace this system with the novel energy sources and distribution networks that future generations will need. This huge transition would be greatly facilitated if geo-engineering options are developed and tested to provide a safe breathing space without a massive global-warming crisis.
Mr. Ikl©, an undersecretary of defense policy for President Ronald
Reagan, is with the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Mr.
Wood, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is affiliated with
the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Intellectual Ventures LLC. A version of this article will be published in the January issue of The National Interest.