Saturday, February 14, 2015

"Re-Engineering the Planet to Limit Effects of Global Warming" - Not A Good Idea!

The report that on Tuesday government -backed scientists called for research and testing of "last ditch climate interventions" - by blocking sunlight or capturing and burying CO2-   ought to get every sane and sober person's attention.  To wit, four members of the National Academy of Sciences team just unveiled lengthy reports on such methods to "deliberately re-engineer the climate in response to global warming."

According to lead member of the team, Waleed Abdalati:

"We need to do this so that in the future, if we're in a situation that requires drastic action, we can make good decisions with appropriate information."

Alas, Waleed doesn't grasp the time for drastic action has passed- which would have been proactive, not reactive, i.e. cutting carbon consumption by 50 percent or more. That should have been done when the position statement - confirming humans' outsized influence- was first issued by the American Geophysical Union in 2008, i.e.:

"The Earth's climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming. Many components of the climate system—including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons—are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century."

So what Abdalati and his extended team of 16 scientists (including  CIA -affiliated) now propose, is tantamount to closing the barn door after all the cows have left.   One of the schemes, believe it or not, is trying to inject particles into clouds to increase the reflectivity of Earth's atmosphere - so significant solar radiation is reflected back into space instead of being absorbed.

But one wonders whether these would-be planet saving stalwarts have factored in that a specific type of cloud has to be generated, not just any old cloud! For example, wispy high flying cirrus are semi-transparent to incoming sunlight but block infrared radiation emitted by the Earth, thus CONTRIBUTING to the Greenhouse Effect. Meanwhile, stratus clouds are gray, dense and low flying and have a net COOLING effect since their albedo is relatively high. So how will they ensure they generate the second type and not the first?  Also, given an average of 3.5 billion cubic meters of cloud will be needed to  even minimally offset the inputs of CO2 - just from the oceans-  where will they get the numbers of planes or whatever (boats?)  to do the seeding?

Let's also remind ourselves that this Rube Goldberg solution isn't new and indeed was first proposed (with a number of other "solutions") by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in their book entitled "Super-Freakanomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes'.   Their daft solutions in terms of planet re-engineering undoubtedly derived from their comparison of human-caused global warming to the  late 19th-early,  20th century eco-problem of an over-abundance of horse shit (piling up on city roads everywhere) because, of course, the horse was the common mode of human transport - and well, the critters dumped at will.

Of course, the comparison is idiotic since the magnitude of global warming is orders of magnitude greater than excess horsie manure problem of our great gradnfathers. But it was this type of simplistic thinking which led directly to the authors' simplistic solutions which are little different from the ones being proposed by this illustrious NAS bunch now.  Also totally absent from the  two economists' suspect radar (as it is now from the NAS team's radar) is the role of methane, now being outgassed from permafrost - as well as from wetlands, rice paddies and lakes. (See: Eos, Vol. 90, No. 5, 3 February, 2009, 'Global Methane Emissions from Wetlands, Rice Paddies and Lakes'). The article noted the current concentration then of atmospheric methane was ~ 1774 ± 1.8 ppb (parts per billion) and  accounted for 18% of all greenhouse gases. This is extremely unsettling, given that methane has a forcing component of 0.5 to 0.7 W/m^2 compared to CO2's value of 1.3 to 1.5 W/m^2 .

One of the duo's proposals was to use fiberglass boats equipped with cloud-making machines over the oceans, and seed the clouds, No thought - as I noted above - how they'd ensure they seeded the right clouds, or where they'd muster the 1.5 million odd boats to even have a remote chance. Oh- and how they'd ensure all those boats seeded the right clouds simultaneously.

Another hare-brained plan entailed sucking cold water from the depth of the sea to the surface. This fails because they have no remote idea how to locate such cold water, which emergence depends upon a downwelling wave (so-called because it lowers the thermocline, or temperature gradient). By example, typical downwellings during an El Nino prevent deeper cold water from mixing with warmer water near the surface. 

Perhaps their ultimate solution is based on the Mount Pinatubo volcano that erupted in the Philippines in 1992. The volcano sent so much SO2 (sulphur dioxide) into the atmosphere that it resulted in cooler global air temperatures (by about 1.0 F) for about three years. So why not shoot enormous quantities (about four quadrillion tonnes a month) of sulphur dixoide into the atmosphere using an eighteen mile long hose?

First, the hose would have to be - in order for effect comparable to Pinatubo- about a half mile wide. Such a hose even if made of thinnest mylar with maximum ram pressure of the flowing gas -would not remain stable against gravity. Indeed, one can do calculations showing that by the time the mass of SO2 pumped attained a height of 2 miles the "hose" will collapse.

Even if the mechanical problems could be met, it would still be a god-awful idea. For one thing, SO2 in the presence of the catalyst NO2 forms sulphuric acid, H2 SO4, and this can then generate acid rain. Do we really want ten septillion tonnes of acid rain descending on what remaining agriculture growth areas, farms remain in a greenhouse world? Not to mention raining on humans, with concentrations of pH in the range of 2-3? Ever had H2SO4 spill onto your skin in a lab?

Beyond that, the amount of SO2 needed at the given altitude for the desired effect can further erode the ozone layer. Beyond a certain threshold, this erosion of protective ozone leads to much higher influx of ultraviolet radiation - more skin cancers, more blindness, etc.

Then there is this: their idiotic SO2 pumping solution would only work IF fossil fuel production at the onset of pumping made no further increases, leading to further CO2 concentration. But this would require really draconian solutions, such as stopping all births (since human population is the base producer of greenhouse gas) and all industrial activity. 

Beyond all this, most silly solutions - whether from the econ duo or the NAS - involve reflecting sunlight, which only masks the real cause of climate change: the continuous input of methane and CO2 into the atmosphere. Again, while the NAS team offers a "solution" or two to deal with CO2 ("stripping CO2 from the air and pumping it deep into water and gas wells") they don't say HOW nor can they assure us there won't be massive collateral damage effects, say like earthquakes - which we now know are associated with pumping fracked fluids deep underground. Ask Oklahoma!   Apart from that they offer no solutions at all of controlling methane input.

So pardon me if I side more with the critics based at one brain trust - Erosion Technology Concentration- which argues that these interventions provide an "escape hatch" to the fossil fuel industry - which would be quite happy to send this planet into oblivion by excavating every last erg of oil - in whatever form.  Their only concern is profits, not people. 

Marcia McNutt, former director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said (quoted in the Denver Post piece referencing the the plans):

"These (proposed) technological interventions should be a wake up call that we need to do more now to reduce emissions."

She added that - if not - we may "have to deploy some kind of carbon dioxide removal".  Good luck on that! Because even if you succeed with CO2 there's still that methane to ponder, and if we hit the runaway greenhouse marker - which may be within 25 years or less- all bets will be off. 

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