Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SO2 Stinks

Well it really does, and it has other nasty habits you would know about if you ever got a face full. Eli has had that experience too, it ain't no walk in the park, and having written serious SOPs for students working with the stuff (we are oh so DOE Tiger Team at Rabett Labs when we ain't sniffing gases out of cylinders) he was always a bit cynical about proposals for blasting zillions of tons of SO2 into the upper trop, besides the question of how you hope to get it up there.

The bunny was going to post something oh so smart on this, among other things pointing to Ken Caldeira's papers on the subject, another reason why Levitt and Dubner seemed a bit full of it when reporting on Caldeira's opinions, however, James Wimberley says it better

(a) this and all such schemes on the relevant scale are seriously dangerous, since we don’t understand the possible side-effects, including changes in regional weather patterns, and anyway leave untouched ocean acidification and other non-greenhouse effects of increased CO2,

(b) the geoengineering options must be studied in depth as an emergency Plan B in case humanity doesn’t cut emissions enough, or the climate turns out to be more sensitive than we thought to those already made. . . .

That's pretty much Caldeira's position.

It’s possible, however, that these climate experts don’t know much about global governance, and I know a little, having spent my working life in intergovernmental cooperation, so here goes on that side of the problem.

1. Because large-scale geoengineering is dangerous, it will only become a live option when emission control efforts have clearly failed and things have reached a crisis: hundreds of thousands dying every year in droughts, hurricanes, coastal floods and so on. The polar bears will already have gone. Whoever does it will need cast-iron political cover against the unforeseen consequences – including the risk of killing millions more.

2. For the same reasons, the measures cannot be national or regional in scale. They will be inherently global in their effects, even if carried out by or in a single country. The political cover accordingly has to be global.

3. There’s only a little room for experiment – primarily to test engineering feasibility and cost (say of Venetian blinds in space.) There’s so much noise in the climate system that the effects of small-scale pilot projects won’t be properly measurable. It will have to be live or nothing.

4. The knowledge required to manage an emergency global geoengineering scheme is very considerable, and very rapid and expensive action will be essential when things go wrong, as they probably will. Accordingly the scheme cannot be run democratically with any hope of success, only technocratically. Thought experiment: you have a project running on ocean fertilisation with iron in the Pacific. Evidence has come up that this is pumping up the El Niño cycle, with droughts and fires in Australia and the collapse of Peruvian fisheries. Do you suspend or not?

That's only the beginning. The bottom line is that geoengineering requires fleets of black helicopters to get done. The requirement for something that will not amuse the guys at the Breakthrough Institute and their CEI/Heartland type funders. (OK, that's a WAGNER, but Eli is a smart bunny). Stuff like that on a global scale requires a global Ghengis Khan to pull the strings.



Anonymous said...

bjchip said:

Of them all, the "venetian blinds in space" (or something else in space) is most easily reversed. You know it will work on SOME scale because it directly affects the insolation. What's the scale? Not known. Degree of difficulty is large but manageable.

Since it isn't a "fixed" system you can move whatever problems come up around so everyone shares - ain't that sweet? :-)

Need for Ghengis Khan (or Josef Stalin) to pull it off? Acceptable at that point, and a bargain even if despotism reigns for a thousand years... but one would hope we manage it a bit better than that... and I think we can.

Without the Black Helicopters.

Damned if I know how ELSE we're going to get an 80% reduction by 2050.

Global Thermonuclear War maybe? We have no talent for anything else as a species.

If one considers it a ecological IQ test, we're failing.


Magnus said...

How come so few mentions Acid rain? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_rain

We up north like our unbuffered lakes just as they are....

Martin Vermeer said...

Nah, no global Ghengis Khan. Just a nucular power with the necessary hardware, and a thick skin (can you say 'missile defense'?).

But then, perhaps this is a global Ghengis Khan.

Anonymous said...

bjchip says:

True Magnus. I omitted that and I should not have. I reckon that the timeline plays something like this.

For the next decade or so the denialists and delayers continue to stonewall things and keep progress to a minimum. The CO2 goes over 400 the system continues to push and stuff starts to break. Not sure what... droughts, heat-waves in summer... famines, actual measurable acceleration in the sea-level changes. Something profound that gets Joe Six-Pack off his couch. He starts to look for where the delayers live.

By 2030 the effects are undeniable and people are getting seriously hurt. The delayers and deniers have been strung up from the nearest tree or run out of town on a rail, suitably tarred and feathered. The CO2 has hit 430 or so, and feedbacks are starting to take it completely out of our hands even though the cost of carbon credits has hit $1000 a ton and we're doing (finally) what we should have started doing ten years ago.

At this point we push a bunch of balloons or mirrors or whatever is required into position to alter the power of the sun that is reaching the planet's surface. This allows us to lower the temperature while we and Mother Nature work to clean up and sequester the CO2 again.

When the CO2 level gets sane we turn the mirrors sideways just enough to let the planet's energy balance achieve stability again.

That's the whole story. I don't think we get effective changes in emissions behaviour until the public realizes the dimensions and dementia of the lies.


Magnus said...


still a bad idea...

Anonymous said...

BJ, so the next question is, WHO is going to be sitting at the control panel? Or will there be 5 control panels in separate 'major powers', each trying to adjust the climate to some optimum value for THEIR interests (whatever those interests happen to be). Things could get messy...

_Arthur said...

"and anyway [SO2] leave untouched ocean acidification"

That's completely false!!!

The SO2 rains down over the oceans as H2SO4, therefore completly settling the acidification question.