Caldeira: 99% of Effort to Avoid Climate Change Should Be on Emissions Cuts, Liability Risks Make Geoengineering Unlikely

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"Caldeira: 99% of Effort to Avoid Climate Change Should Be on Emissions Cuts, Liability Risks Make Geoengineering Unlikely"

Last week I wrote about the dysfunctional, lop-sided geoengineering panel that is trying to launch the greenwashing euphemism, “Climate Remediation.”  Many others joined in the criticism.

In particular, freelance science journalist James Hrynyshyn has a devastating critique of the report at ScienceBlogs, “The Task Force on Climate Remediation Research is wrong, and here’s why.”

I interviewed an ethicist who withdrew from the panel, Prof. Stephen Gardiner.  I also interviewed climatologist Ken Caldeira.  I asked him about the euphemism, “Climate Remediation.”  I also asked him if he stood behind his 2009 statement:

Thinking of geoengineering as a substitute for emissions reduction is analogous to saying, “Now that I’ve got the seatbelts on, I can just take my hands off the wheel and turn around and talk to people in the back seat. It’s crazy….  If I had to wager, I would wager that we would never deploy any geoengineering system.”

Below is the email he sent me (and above is a figure he created that the Task Force embraced).

Note:  Caldeira is heavily involved in geo-engineering research and at the end I’ll include an earlier statement he sent me laying out his involvement with that research and Bill Gates.

Joe,

When I am putting my name on a scientific paper, that means I agree with everything in the paper.

When I put my name on a document like this report, it means that on balance I think this document will do more good than harm and there is no recommendation in the report that I am unable to live with. I conceive of it more like voting for some omnibus legislation where there may be some particular things that do not make me happy, but overall I think the report makes a positive contribution.

I was arguing that we should not issue one report, but two: one on carbon dioxide removal and one on sunlight reflection methods. If I had my way, there would be no reason to coin any term to refer to this disparate collection of possible activities.

Most carbon dioxide removal proposals are either expensive or marginally effective (e.g., massive planting of trees), but most of these proposals do not pose new kinds of climate risk. In contrast, the sunlight reflection approaches introduce a range of new environmental and political risks, and therefore should be treated differently.

My perspective is nicely summarized in the attached figure. I see the climate problem as threatening enough that we need to explore every possible intervention point.

As I mentioned in my 2007 New York Times Op-Ed piece (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/24/opinion/24caldiera.html), I think that 99% of our effort to avoid climate change should be put on emissions reduction, and 1% of our effort should be looking into these options. So, just because this report emphasizes “after the tailpipe” approaches to attempt to diminish climate risk, there is no question that the main thing we need to work on is making sure that greenhouse gases do not come out of the tailpipe in the first place.

We have been subsidizing the fossil-fuel industry by allowing it to use our atmosphere as a waste dump. It is time for us to reclaim our atmosphere, and refuse to provide this subsidy to the fossil-fuel industry. We need to develop energy and transportation systems that do not rely on using the sky as a sewer.

I see the term “climate remediation” as aspirational: the goal is to try to remedy some of the causes or consequences of climate change. The extent to which such efforts can be successful is an open question, but there is no doubt that the environmentally safest path is to avoid emitting greenhouse gases in the first place.

If by “geoengineering” or “climate remediation”, we mean to include things like planting trees, then I think we can see deployment absent a climate emergency. If, however, we are speaking about the sunlight reflection approaches, then I still think it unlikely that these would ever be deployed unless there is some kind of crisis.

Let’s imagine the sunlight reflection method worked as advertised. How could anybody ever tell whether a weather event was due to the stratospheric aerosols, excess greenhouse gases, or natural variability in the climate system? If some region has a major drought in the decade after the introduction of the stratospheric aerosol spray, aren’t they likely to attribute that change to the aerosol spray system? Isn’t that likely to generate political friction and possibly even military conflict?

So, even if the system worked as advertised, there is still great potential that socio-political risks could outweigh climate benefits.

Of course, the system will not work as advertised. The Earth system is much more complex than any model, and so we can expect surprises to occur if a system is deployed. This adds another layer of risk.

On the other hand, if continued heating of the planet results in massive crop failures throughout the tropics and threatens huge loss of life, then it is possible that such risks would seem like a good bargain. Outside of such extreme outcomes, I do not see deployment of a sunlight reflection system to be politically attractive, even if there was an expectation that such a deployment would diminish environmental risks.

I see research into these risky options as kind of an insurance policy. If you see a bunch of kids playing with matches on your wooden deck, your first impulse should be to get the kids to stop playing with matches. You might also want fire insurance, but our first responsibility is to try to prevent the fire.

So, there is a danger if people come to believe that carbon dioxide removal or sunlight reflection methods can substitute for emissions reduction. Outside of a few nutters, I don’t think anybody thinks that the prospect of deploying these approaches mean it is OK to relax and that we can continue dumping our waste CO2 into the atmosphere.

My experience is that people who think climate catastrophe is a real possibility want both to reduce emissions and to study options that might be deployed if those emissions reductions do not come fast enough or are not deep enough to avoid such a catastrophe. People who don’t worry about climate change don’t want to bother with emissions reductions or studying these proposals.

There are very few people who say: “I think the risk of climate catastrophe is real, and therefore we should study these options, but we should not undertake efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” From my perspective, the few people who do say things like that fall squarely in the nutter camp.

Best,

Ken Caldeira

I do agree that humanity will reorganize itself to stop hundreds of millions if not billions from starving from catastrophic climate change, possibly as early as the 2030s.  Exactly how that will play itself out is hard to imagine, especially given the staggering amount of denial continues in this country.  Humanity’s desperation will lead to all sorts of schemes, though I am skeptical that  solar radiation management such as  sulfate aerosols will be among them, since that also risks major crop damage (see Martin Bunzl on “the definitive killer objection to geoengineering as even a temporary fix”).

A year ago, Caldeira  e-mailed me his financial connection to geoengineering research:

1. Funds made available by Bill Gates support several post-doctoral researchers in my lab, as well as access to computational facilities. Some, but far from all, of this research was geoengineering-related. (I attach the most recent paper supported by these funds, showing that about 1/4 of Chinese CO2 emissions support consumption, primarily in the developed world.)

2. David Keith and I have used some of these funds to support meetings at which geoengineering was discussed. The flow of money was uniformly out and not in. All of the participants at these meetings were fully informed of their nature. No funds were ever raised in activities surrounding these meeting.

3. I am listed as an inventor on patents related to vertically pumping water in the ocean and related to storing carbon dioxide in the ocean by dissolving carbonate minerals. I have publicly stated that if any of these patents are used for climate modification purposes, I will donate my share of the proceeds to non-profit charities and NGOs.

I do think that the “Climate Remediation” Task Force  should have spelled out all such interests for all its participants.

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32 Responses to Caldeira: 99% of Effort to Avoid Climate Change Should Be on Emissions Cuts, Liability Risks Make Geoengineering Unlikely

  1. Raul M. says:

    Seems to start with knowing that there are reasons for change beyond personal gratification. A child goes to town with a small coin purse. Can’t get people to change fast enough about emissions, next step figure out how to enlarge our controlled environment from the building to the entire Earth. An analysis of actions and necessary changes does seem in order for the Earth.
    Enjoy

    • Raul M. says:

      A) man was created in the image of god – can’t argue with that.
      B) man can’t change god – can’t argue with that.
      C) man has created things that weren’t found in nature – wasn’t god’s creation – can’t argue with that.

      The experts chart seems to indicate that mankind will run out of money before desires and wants. Is that like mankind will run out of the beneficent influences before we would like? Can’t argue with that.
      Of the super greenhouse gasses I once saw a thing about (FS6) well it was six sulfurs about a fluorine or vice a versa. It is used as a super coolant for metal fabrication so that metals may be formed and cooled much faster.
      Well anyway the banking expert could say desire for change, but there is still that in the red dot without solution offered.

  2. david g swanger says:

    Since I have stated in past comments that I support geoengineering reseasrch, I want to make it clear that I support it with, and only with, all the caveats that Mr. Caldeira lists above. The only thing worse than having to deploy solar reflection techniques would be deploying them without prior research into the least damaging way to do so, _if_ there is a way that doesn’t make things even worse. That’s a mighty big if…

    I’d like to add that I’d much rather see massive research into carbon removal. Even if carbon dioxide emissions stopped today, we would still have too much in the atmosphere, enough to change climate for millennia to come. We need to get below 350 as soon as possible, but most of the air scrubbing methods proposed strike me as too expensive and inefficient. My hope is that something like Craig Venter’s efforts, to find or create a bacterium that takes in carbon dioxide and converts it into a clean fuel, bear fruit and can scale up. (We might need to start looking for one that does the same for methane, too, the way things are going.)

    • “Even if carbon dioxide emissions stopped today, we would still have too much in the atmosphere, enough to change climate for millennia to come. We need to get below 350 as soon as possible”

      I believe James Hansen say we can get back to 350 quick enough via managing our forests and agriculture.

      • david g swanger says:

        Barry: Well, I hope Hansen’s right. He has a good track record, and he is an expert on climate whereas I am not. But even experts can be wrong, and on these issues, they’ve consistently erred on the side of optimism, as with the melting of the Arctic ice cap. And the most surprising future would be one that’s surprise-free. (Especially since we just got a nasty one with the Arctic ozone hole.) It wouldn’t hurt to have as much insurance as we possibly can. And my (nonexpert informed layman’s) opinion is that we’ll probably need every bit of it.

        • Joe Bftsplk says:

          Hansen, in his “Target CO2…” paper came up with a figure for what his group thinks it would cost to remove CO2 from the air, “artificially” as the NASA press release says. He says $20 trillion for 50 ppm. I would guess he thinks it far cheaper to remove using natural techniques. In his talks he deflects questions by saying it was one of the coauthors who really looked into this.

          Klaus Lackner is more optimistic. Richard Alley answered a question about is CO2 removal practical during his famous AGU presentation by saying nothing is looking easy right now so we’d be better off not putting it in.

          The book “Capturing Carbon” is an excellent review of the subject of carbon capture and storage that includes some discussion of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

          • david g swanger says:

            Joe Bftsplk: Thanks for the citations. This sounds broadly in line with my thinking, that we need to research better, cheaper ways of drawing down atmospheric carbon, but there’s nothing like digging in and doing some real research. Again, I appreciate these pointers.

            While I’m at it, though I keep hearing about the wonders of biochar, I’m worried that it’s hype. Is there any solid, definitive study on biochar that would reassure me? I know Lovelock thinks highly of it, but that’s not quite the same thing as what I want. Is there a major review article out there that has the goods? Thanks in advance.

  3. david g swanger says:

    Of course that should be “research” in the first line of my post above. Sorry for the typo.

  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    David[2]: I agree completely with your point about it being far preferable to know what we’re doing instead of winging it with such potentially damaging technologies.

    I feel quite a bit of urgency about this matter simply because I think we will not deviate substantially from the path that leads to horrible human impacts and a full-on emergency. Yes, yes, I know — the emergency has already started and not enough people have recognized it. I’m talking about it being widely recognized, as in political “leaders” being able to talk about it openly without being mocked by large majorities of the Republicans and Tea Partyers.

    This is why I’m still puzzled by Caldeira’s statement about how he’d wager on our use of geohacking. He says it won’t happen minus a “crisis”; as desperately as I want to find it, I can’t see any reason for his apparent confidence that we’ll avoid that crisis. The US isn’t doing nearly enough to curtail emissions, and China is planning a massive addition to its non-CCS coal fired electricity generation by 2035, according to last year’s (the most recent) IEA World Energy Outlook. The IEA projects that China’s CO2 emissions from electricity generation alone will rise from 3.1 GT in 2008 to 5.1 GT in 2035. India is projected to make their own contribution, with electricity sector emissions rising from 0.8GT in 2008 to 1.6GT in 2035. (The China information comes from page 233 of the WEO; the India data is from page 236.)

    Just the electricity sectors of China and India are projected to emit in 2035 roughly 20% of our current yearly emissions. Add in their other sectors, plus the emissions from a foot-dragging US and the EU, Russia, et al., and it’s hard to see how we come anywhere near the level of reductions needed to avoid hell and high water, and acts of desperation.

    We need to get off the current path as soon as possible and diverge from it as quickly as possible, or there will be a hideous price to pay.

    • Sasparilla says:

      Lou I think you said it so well.

      Based on where we are, what we’re doing and where we’re going (emissions) – we are going to find a future full of crisis.

  5. Joan Savage says:

    I’m appreciating Caldeira’s use of imagery such as taking hands off the steering wheel (2009).

    I’d like to see development of positive images of what successful reduction in carbon emissions can be expected to look like, feel like.

    It is common to see the desired process of damping down carbon emissions expressed in negative terms like reduction and avoidance.

    Unfortunately, the proposed geo-engineering measures have a visual impact that for a moment makes them seem more vivid than the alternatives.

    How can we juice up the desired outcomes of carbon reduction so people can imagine it, want it far more than the desperate measures?
    Can we at least give the power of imagery to some serene and comfortable environments in 2070? What does it take?

    • Great point. Stories of success are just as important as the grimm tales of failure. Up to all of us to come up with them and share them.

    • Sasparilla says:

      Its a very good idea Joan, but its tough – because of the lag in the climate’s warming.

      Even if we went with radical climate change action (Joe’s wedges) we’d still be looking at 50 years of a warming climate (and not good climate changes) and that would be going carbon free in 20-30 years (impossible to think of in the Koch Fox world we live in today).

      So, its one of those – if we work really hard, and everyone sacrifices (seriously) and goes on a war time corporate guidance to get off carbon fuels its going to keep getting warmer and changing the climate for much of everyone’s lifetimes (don’t know how that would play after a decade of doing that, but it seems tough) – but if we don’t do anything then things will be worse by the end of most people’s lifetimes and result in the likely end of civilization in the half a century after that.

      Back to selling the lesser of two bad destinations (with one being practically an apocalypse for modern civilization). It’s tough.

      • Joan Savage says:

        You give us some dimensions to work with, though.

        There may be relevant versions of the genre that includes “On the Beach” and “Testament” (with Jane Alexander) about how to still be human when one is doomed. More optimistically, “Robinson Crusoe”and “Dances with Wolves” work on the prospect of a constructing a meaningful existence in a very changed world.

        Maybe sic-fi can rise to the occasion of climate change.

        • Joan Savage says:

          Sci-fi instead of sic-fi, but sic-fi has a ring to it. Sick fiction!

          • david g swanger says:

            Joan: Since you mentioned sci-fi (or sf as people within the field tend to call it), and expressed a desire for more positive, motivating visions of the future, I thought I might mention that two major sf writers have announced they’re working on such projects. Alastair Reynolds, a fine British writer, has said he’s working on a trilogy set in an optimistic future, with the first volume happening in the near future. And the talented Canadian novelist and futurist Karl Schroeder has said his next book will be placed against the same sort of background. Perhaps one of these will be the sort of thing you’re looking for.

  6. free transit says:

    Simple solution, eliminate the private auto. How? Make public transit fare-free.
    free public transit

    • david g swanger says:

      Free Transit: With all due respect, I can’t agree; and I say this as someone who has no car
      and takes public transit everywhere I go.

      There’s at least 2 reasons I disagree:

      1) The fares don’t cover all of the expenses currently borne by the system. It’s heavily subsidized by the city. Dropping fares wou;d mean total subsidization, and I’m pretty sure the city wouldn’t go for that.

      2) The major problem people have, when I ask them why they don’t take buses, is that the buses don’t go where they need to go. This is definitely a problem; my system has cancelled and shortened routes over the couple of decades I’ve used it regularly, and even more so counting the period before that when I used it occasionally as a kid. Back then it stopped at the corner I lived in; not any more.

      To expand the coverage would require vast outlays of cash which, in your model, would not be covered by raising fees but even larger subsidies from the city. And you’d never be able to get _everybody_ where they need to go, especially on time.

      People in this country love their cars for many reasons, but first and foremost is convenience: the ability to go wherever you want when you want, even off-road. There’s no easy way to change that. The best we can hope is to electrify those cars (and perhaps eventually make our cities more compact).

      • david g swanger says:

        More typos: “Dropping fares would” and “corner I lived on”. Apologies.

        • david g swanger says:

          Woops, I now see you linked to a blog on the subject. I’ll have to check it out and get back to you at some point. Thanks for the link.

    • Totally free transit has been tried in some cities and it hasn’t led to significant increases in transit use. In some examples transit use declined because the buses became a “hang out” for teens which discouraged many adults and families from using them. Seattle has had some success in limited free fare zone and time.

      People choose drive rather than bus for both convenience and for an enjoyable and comfortable experience. If free fares makes transit unpleasant you will lose the very car-first ridership you are hoping to capture.

      I do think fares should be lower. I think a carbon tax is exactly the way to fund even more subsidies for public transit.

  7. This a great article, Joe. Thanks. I greatly appreciate how you interview the people at the center of the current media spin cycle on climate and set the record straight. Very helpful to those of us trying to propagate a quality climate message into our local communities.

  8. david g swanger says:

    Lou (4): Excellent point. Something similar crossed my mind when Mr.Caldeira said he’d wager we’d never deploy a geoengineering system. I’d wager we will, in a hurry, and make a botch of it, for exactly the reasons you outline. How can he rule out a crisis with such confidence, especially with things we didn’t even anticipate popping up, like the Arctic ozone hole? I’m sure he has reasons, but I’d sure like to hear them.

  9. david g swanger says:

    Free Transit: Having looked at the blog you linked to, I see a post titled “Plenty of money for free public transit”, linking to a video called, “Why Occupy Wall Street?”. So the plan is to take bloated Wall Street plutocrats, hang them upside down, and shake the shekels out of their pockets and apply them to free transit? Maybe so, but it won’t be “simple”, as you put it, or easy. And if you succeeded, there’d be an awful lot of causes fighting for their share. Good luck with that.

    (None of this should be taken as an indication that I’m not thrilled to see the beginnings of significant protest on these issues. It’s tremendously heartening, as were the 350 protests at the White House. But it is only the first step on a long and winding road.)

  10. Paul Revere says:

    “My experience is that people who think climate catastrophe is a real possibility want both to reduce emissions and to study options that might be deployed if those emissions reductions do not come fast enough or are not deep enough to avoid such a catastrophe. People who don’t worry about climate change don’t want to bother with emissions reductions or studying these proposals.”

    So why not a fifty-fifty agreement: enact a carbon tax (to reduce emissions) with the entire proceeds to go towards geoengineering.

  11. dick smith says:

    I am not a fan of geo-engineering. But, the cats already out of the bag here. I’m not sure informal taboos on discussing it, are either smart or effective.

    In his book, “Climate Wars”, Gynne Dyer opined that we aren’t going to meet the deadlines set by the real world for cutting emissions, and you can’t negotiate with physics. So, it’s necessary to have some understanding of geo-engineering techniques. That’s all been said in the comments, above.

    But, Dyer added (and I have no idea if he’s correct) that the U.S. is not the only one capable of playing this game. He argues this is not all “rocket science” which only the big boys can play. He gives an example of say, Indonesia and the Phillipines put a megaton of sulfur into the stratosphere per year via baloons to drop temps by 2 degrees. They could do it with just 5 or 6 5-ton baloons a day from 100 sites scattered across the two island nations. In his hypothetical example, China helped with money and tech, but as he points out, it wouldn’t really be necessary, especially for Indonesia.

    Dyer also cites a page-long 2006 quote from Paul Crutzen, a Nobel winning atmospheric chemist, on the chemistry behind sending the sulphur into the stratoshere by rockets or baloons.

    Dywer agrees that the moral hazard concerns of geo-engineering as a “solution” to anything is very real. But, I have to agree with his conclusion that it’s hard to make good public policy with your head in the sand.

    Finally, to the extent the U.S. military is looking at the defense implications, secrecy is a problem.

  12. David Smith says:

    Geo-engineering scares me. I hope that Caldeira is right, that the actual deployment of such technologies is unlikely. I can’t help thinking that industrialists are attracted to these potentially enormous projects because the profits, resulting in a new generation of billionaires. Huge corporations are surveying the future and this seems like a game that they can win. These corporations are getting us into this mess, for profits. We would be fools to let these same influence the path towards a solution, which probably isn’t a solution anyway.

  13. Ken says:

    David Smith, you express my sentiments. I would add a point to yours. Why wouldn’t geo-engineering become an excuse to continue burning fossil fuels? Caldeira thinks that only nutters would say so, but I disagree. Fossil fuel corporations, banks and millions of employees would believe their profits, collateral and jobs are saved by geo-engineering. I definitely see massive geo-engineering in our future as a desperate measure. OK, we must save people if we can, but our position should be, if and only if a massive effort to stop the use of fossil fuel is also deployed. Accomplishing even this small a victory will be a titanic political battle which we might lose in the end.

  14. David B. Benson says:

    I just finished doing enough of the pricing out of an olivine weathering scheme to probably not bother to finish.

    By the time enough people recognize we have a most serious problem it will become even more expensive, fabulou$ly so, to do much of anything positive.

  15. Raul M. says:

    Seems to be the greatest of the bait and switch.
    We are already doing geo-engineering as humans.
    But the suggestion is that geo-engineering may make things better.
    Changing the name of the bait doesn’t prevent the grand switch nor does it prevent the outcome of the switch.
    On a positive look at geo-engineering it seems that the flames of a biochar burner may reach as much as 5 times the height of the simple burner chamber. Seems the directions are right that it can get very hot.
    Putting some carbon back into the ground to better the growth from the soil does seem simple enough.
    Farmers should be able to understand.

  16. Jim Baird says:

    A total embargo on CO2 will not eliminate the most immediate threat from climate change, sea level rise.
    The study released in January by researchers from the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis at the University of Victoria and the University of Calgary concluded that even if we stopped putting CO2 into the atmosphere today the impact from the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will cause unstoppable effects, including sea level rise of at least four metres, over the next 1,000 years.
    For coastal cities such a rise will be catastrophic. The insurance company Allianz has estimated $26 trillion worth of infrastructure will be at risk by as soon as 2050.
    Only ocean thermal energy conversion converts ocean heat to energy, produces renewable energy 24/7, eliminates carbon emissions, and increases carbon dioxide absorption (cooler water absorbs more CO2).
    It would be so effective cooling the ocean in fact one of its major drawbacks is the potential to overturn the Thermohaline circulation if implemented on a massive scale.
    A heat pipe taking exhausted vapors from the power turbine to the depths for condensation, instead of a cold water pipe to bring water to the surface, and a counter-current heat transfer system to recirculate the latent heat of condensation back to the surface overcomes the Thermohaline problem, reduces cost and environmental effects and maximizes the amount of power the oceans are capable of producing from the process.

  17. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Dr Caldiera’s scientific expertise in his field, which has my profound respect, is such that few could hope to critique his work – yet this should not be conflated with his political judgement, which is neither a matter of formal training nor qualifications nor published works.

    His letter shown above is primarily about politics, not science, and indicates a wish to defuse outcry over the BPC’s unwise rebranding effort, which he doesn’t seem very keen to defend – he does make clear that his preference was for separate reports on carbon recovery and albido restoration, thus obscuring the need of a single name for both. Notably, he twice refers to anyone seeing albido restoration as a means to continue polluting as ‘nutters’ – indicating that there are few if any such on the BPC panel, since one does not insult people that one hopes to influence in future sessions.

    Plainly Dr Caldiera is fighting his corner in discussions, knowing that sulphate aerosols are both simple and cheap enough to be deployed within months, even by a minor nation, let alone the US. Moreover, the prior testing question is null since they can only be effectively tested at global scale on a multi-year basis. His research is primarily into alternatives, and that needs time and resources, and the lack of any public clamour for early intervention and, especially, a steady opposition to sulphate aerosols – which I suspect is the reason he talks down the need for Geo-E and talks up the risks of sulphates, even at the risk of seeming complacent and less than candid.

    For instance:
    “If, however, we are speaking about the sunlight reflection approaches, then I still think it unlikely that these would ever be deployed unless there is some kind of crisis.”
    This can still be written for a US audience, including CP readers, but in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Thailand, Colombia and scores of other afflicted countries it would seem profoundly discreditable. Consider your reaction if the US population had been hit with damage proportionate to the Pakistan floods – 1.6 million Americans and their children are still homeless and destitute from the 2010 event; with 5 million more now impacted by the 2011 event, with untold numbers of people missing, with around 18,000 villages destroyed by surging waters, along with their vital livestock and equipment, and with a large fraction of the nation’s harvest lost for a second year – Would this be enough to be called a crisis ?

    For instance:
    “I see the term “climate remediation” as aspirational: the goal is to try to remedy some of the causes or consequences of climate change. The extent to which such efforts can be successful is an open question, but there is no doubt that the environmentally safest path is to avoid emitting greenhouse gases in the first place.”
    No scientist of Dr Caldiera’s standing could be unaware of the prime justification for geo-e – that we have at least a quadrupling of warming ‘in the pipeline’ (due to thermal inertia and loss of the ‘sulphates parasol’ by emissions’ control) which will be acting on the six interactive mega-feedbacks, of which at least five are already accelerating just under today’s timelagged warming from the 1970’s 335ppmv of CO2. With albido loss reportedly already providing a forcing equivalent to around 30% of annual anthro-CO2 outputs, and Russian academics expecting fully one third of their permafrost to have melted by 2050 (predictably outgassing its carbon mostly as methane not CO2 owing to the peat’s water saturation) the feedbacks’ interactive threat is patently obvious – despite its super-exponential quantification being problematic. The safest path is thus one that addresses that early threat, and stops its long-term exacerbation by both airborne GHG stocks and further anthro-emissions.

    For instance:
    “How could anybody ever tell whether a weather event was due to the stratospheric aerosols, excess greenhouse gases, or natural variability in the climate system? If some region has a major drought in the decade after the introduction of the stratospheric aerosol spray, aren’t they likely to attribute that change to the aerosol spray system?”
    This ignores the reality that with only two suspects, natural variability and AGW, and very extreme impacts occurring, no liability case has ever been taken to the ICJ, nor does the leading culprit, the USA and its fossil fuel industry, show the slightest fear of being so arraigned. Yet with a third suspect added, intentional sulphate aerosols, it is claimed that a credible case could be made ? Notably this statement both assumes that ‘sunlight reflection’ would mean damaging sulphate aerosols’ use (rather than, say, cloud brightening) and employs the rather lame liability argument as to the improbability of that usage. It also ignores the critical need for the prior agreement of global supervision of the objectives and the technologies’ R,D&D that would nullify the liability question. As the BPC report indicates, the US preference is for control of its own exclusive coalition arrangement. Gardiner’s critique of this is telling.

    For instance:
    “However, if continued heating of the planet results in massive crop failures throughout the tropics and threatens huge loss of life, then it is possible that such risks [of unintended consequences] would seem like a good bargain.”
    It is unclear what numbers of deaths amount to “huge loss of life” but with exceptionally low per capita global food stocks and farming increasingly disrupted by climate impacts and diverse pressures, the threat of mega-famine through massive crop failure is already present and is rising by the year. With scant reserves, that crop-failure will not threaten huge loss of life: it will impose it. In this context a better bargain for vulnerable developing countries (India, Brazil, China etc) would be to decline to cut their fossil emissions until a mandated UN scientific body is supervising the careful replacement of their sulphate component’s cooling effect.

    For instance:
    “I see research into these risky options as kind of an insurance policy. If you see a bunch of kids playing with matches on your wooden deck, your first impulse should be to get the kids to stop playing with matches. You might also want fire insurance, but our first responsibility is to try to prevent the fire.”
    This again obscures the priorities: 2012 anthro-GHG outputs will not have a notable impact on global warming until the late 2040’s and while anthro outputs need to be cut ASAP, to ignore the feedback outputs, that are on track to dwarf them in the next few decades, and suggest instead that possible delay in halting anthro-outputs is a risk perhaps justifying geo-e as insurance – is surely either less than candid or implausibly ill-informed.

    It needs saying that in ignoring the need for urgent global programs to cleanse the atmosphere by carbon recovery, and to decelerate the feedbacks by albido restoration, we are plodding along a deepening canyon that leads only to extinction. Climbing out of it is getting harder the further along we go. Once the feedbacks are out of control, that’s it. No human intervention could counteract say the mass collapse of methyl hydrates as ever warmer oceans trigger their release. Cutting our direct emissions – even at a radical pace – has little or no effect on our present trajectory directly towards that outcome.
    But – the feedbacks and the pipeline warming driving them are not yet beyond our potential control –

    So why is this not an issue across the environment movement ? All we get are rather wild put-downs of geo-engineering assuming that a/. it’s a profit scam &/or b/. it’s a scam to prolong fossil profits &/or c/. it will require sulphate aerosols which might cause droughts . . . . . none of which are necessarily true. – Martin Bunzl’s “the definitive killer objection to geoengineering as even a temporary fix” is a case in point. His critique was of sulphate aerosols specifically, not even of albido restoration in general, let alone of carbon recovery too. If I wrote a piece titled “the definitive killer objection to energy supply reform” – that ignored energy efficiency entirely and only scarified say corn ethanol or mega-hydro as representing all our renewable energy options, what response would it deserve ?

    Whether enviro opinion leaders (unlike Caldiera) actually believe such nonsense as the a, b, & c reasons above, or simply enjoy vain hopes of using them as a stick to lessen the PTB’s confidence of Geo-E’s availability as a warming off-switch once it becomes convenient, is beside the point. Most of the info on the feedbacks and the pipeline warming has been publicly available for over two decades, and nothing’s been done with it. Even most enviros are very hazy on their implications, let alone the public. Thus as Caldiera’s proposal of a post mega-famine ‘good bargain’ implies, we are drifting, backwards, directly toward belated emergency attempts at geo-e, potentially using untested under-supervised technologies, that may well be applied, as in token forestry for commercial ‘carbon offsets’, for grossly counter-productive objectives.

    If the environment movement actually undertook a strategic review of the predicament, the absence of a campaign for a fully mandated UN scientific supervisory body, responsible for both the objectives and the R,D&D of geo-e technologies, would be pretty obvious as one of the critical missing components in global capacity-building for the resolution of global warming. Opposition to geo-e would be replaced with demand for its active, stringently careful R&D under formally mandated oversight. However, given the propensity of people to cling to the home-comforts of habits of mind – even here on CP – I can only hope that these perspectives may get some more people to start looking around and asking, loudly,
    “WAIRTHEFUCARWE ?”
    because environmentalism’s road map looks nothing at all like the country we’re in.

    Regards,

    Lewis