Study: Climate engineering can’t erase climate change

The idea that climate engineering can’t really do anything is well founded, the idea that we MUST do something, not so much. This looks like another press release timed to fit discussion of Obama’s war on energy. – Anthony

From Simon Fraser University:

Tinkering with climate change through climate engineering isn’t going to help us get around what we have to do says a new report authored by researchers at six universities, including Simon Fraser University.

After evaluating a range of possible climate-altering approaches to dissipating greenhouse gases and reducing warming, the interdisciplinary team concluded there’s no way around it. We have to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere.

“Some climate engineering strategies look very cheap on paper. But when you consider other criteria, like ecological risk, public perceptions and the abilities of governments to control the technology, some options look very bad,” says Jonn Axsen.

The assistant professor in SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management is a co-author on this study, which appears in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. It is the first scholarly attempt to rank a wide range of approaches to minimizing climate change in terms of their feasibility, cost-effectiveness, risk, public acceptance, governability and ethics.

It states reducing emissions, through some combination of switching away from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and changing human behaviour, is still the most effective way of confronting climate change.

The authors note though that some approaches to climate engineering are more promising than others, and they should be used to augment efforts to reduce the climate-change effects resulting from human activity. For example, strategies such as forest management and geological storage of carbon dioxide may be useful complements.

Other climate engineering strategies are less appealing, such as fertilizing the ocean with iron to absorb carbon dioxide or reducing global warming by injecting particles into the atmosphere to block sunlight.

“Take the example of solar radiation management, which is the idea of putting aerosols into the stratosphere, kind of like what happens when a large volcano erupts,” Axsen explains.

“This is a surprisingly cheap way to reduce global temperatures, and we have the technology to do it. But our study asked other important questions. What are the environmental risks? Will global citizens accept this? What country would manage this? Is that fair? Suddenly, this strategy does not look so attractive.”

Working under the auspices of the National Science Foundation, the authors spent two years evaluating more than 100 studies that addressed the various implications of climate engineering and their anticipated effects on greenhouse gases.

The authors hope their study will help the public and decision-makers invest in the approaches with the largest payoffs and the fewest disadvantages. At stake, they emphasize, are the futures of our food production, climate and water security.

###

Background: Axsen’s collaborators were Daniela Cusack, an assistant professor of geography in the University of California, Los Angeles’ College of Letters and Science; Lauren Hartzell-Nichols, acting assistant professor in The Program on Values in Society and The Program on Environment at the University of Washington; Katherine Mackey, a postdoctoral researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory; Rachael Shwom, assistant professor in human ecology at Rutgers University; and Sam White, assistant professor of environmental history at Ohio State University.

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51 thoughts on “Study: Climate engineering can’t erase climate change

  1. Could we please have an indication of which of these “assistant professors” are dependent on taxpayer funding, and to what extent they are influenced by national politics? Have they considered the obvious alternative course of action – doing precisely nothing? As an engineer, I am upset that they should be polluting the name of engineering to associate it with “climate engineering”!

  2. Change exactly WHAT to exactly WHAT exactly? And what will be the cost to the American taxpayer, you know, the poor slob that will have to foot the bill for your socialist utopia? Any bleeding heart out there care to answer those questions?

  3. Anyone surprised? The answer is always to limit the “carbon emissions”, as that will allow raising even more nigh-unlimited funds for further squandering through the power of taxation with faux representation. Of course there is always the allure of benefiting friends and punishing enemies by mandating with emission controls which industries to benefit or punish. Let them build their natural gas burning generation facilities, if they pay off the solar and wind generation companies by buying their emission allowances.

    But allowing things to happen and see what it really costs based on what really ends up happening, rather than jumping in and stealing the few remaining dregs of imagined idealized freedom? Where do you think you are, in America?

  4. The solution to global warming is the same as it was for global cooling in the ’70s. Wait.

  5. It’s worth asking, could they possibly come to any other conclusion? Would we ever see a paper published in this journal that says, “eh, wait, we can fix it later?” That would blow up their entire industry.

    This was my favorite:“Take the example of solar radiation management, which is the idea of putting aerosols into the stratosphere, kind of like what happens when a large volcano erupts,” Axsen explains.

    “This is a surprisingly cheap way to reduce global temperatures, and we have the technology to do it. But our study asked other important questions. What are the environmental risks? Will global citizens accept this? What country would manage this? Is that fair? Suddenly, this strategy does not look so attractive.”

    So we have a cheap, low cost solution, but we think investing trillions of dollars in unreliable forms of energy is better because we can’t figure out who would manage this and whether it’s “fair”?

  6. “… and changing human behaviour.” Coercion in other words. Let me guess who will be the coercer and who will be the coerced.

  7. kadaka (KD Knoebel):

    At June 3, 2014 at 1:56 pm you say and ask

    Anyone surprised? The answer is always to limit the “carbon emissions”, as that will allow raising even more nigh-unlimited funds for further squandering through the power of taxation with faux representation. Of course there is always the allure of benefiting friends and punishing enemies by mandating with emission controls which industries to benefit or punish. Let them build their natural gas burning generation facilities, if they pay off the solar and wind generation companies by buying their emission allowances.

    But allowing things to happen and see what it really costs based on what really ends up happening, rather than jumping in and stealing the few remaining dregs of imagined idealized freedom? Where do you think you are, in America?

    Oh, yes! And that is why those such as Jonn Axsen decry the ‘aerosol option’ which they admit

    “Some climate engineering strategies look very cheap on paper.

    By asserting

    “ But when you consider other criteria, like ecological risk, public perceptions and the abilities of governments to control the technology, some options look very bad” .

    But those “other criteria” also apply to the emission constraints which they advocate.

    In reality, the cheap and effective ‘aerosol option’ means that NOTHING needs to be done unless and until anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is observed to be a real and present danger. And there has been no global warming from any and all causes for at least 17 years. The ‘aerosol option’ provides politicians with the appearance of their doing something about AGW while they do the right thing (which is nothing) about AGW.

    In the improbable event that a real need to respond to AGW were to become a reality then the ‘aerosol option’ would provide an instant remedy while emission reductions were introduced.

    I explained this on WUWT several years ago here. Sadly, several people failed (refused?) to understand my argument and pretended I was advocating adoption of the climate engineering.

    Richard

  8. Not a scientist or an engineer among these very junior faculty (what the heck is an acting assistant professor anyway?) who with any luck will never get tenure. It is really disheartening to see what is thought of as scholarship these days, especially in the Department of High Falutin’ Made Up Subjects. Sigh.

  9. Heck, Chindia is already doing climate engineering. With all their new coal fired electricity generation plants creating all that cooling air pollution. And they will buy all the US coal the EPA won’t let us burn here, in order to make all the things we won’t be able to make here, in order to sell us those things, in order to get the dollars to buy our coal to burn there . God bless em.
    /sarc off. Except it isn’t really sarcasm, it’s a true description of global economics and ‘free’ trade.

  10. Having graduated from the “old” University across town (in water resources and pollution control), we had lots of fun making up sayings to go with the acronym “SFU”. I am sure a few will quickly come to mind.

    Of course, this fits right in with the Pacific Coast Collaborative: http://www.pacificcoastcollaborative.org/Pages/Welcome.aspx

    A Kool-Aid policy making group. (check their sidebar articles). Have to stop before I say something dumb as I don’t know whether to be sick at the waste of taxpayers money or angry. So glad I moved east across the Rockies out of LotusLand.

  11. Tinkering with climate change through climate engineering isn’t going to help us get around what we have to do…….nonsense….I’ve been swinging a white chicken over my head for the past 15 years
    …it worked
    chicken will never be the same though

  12. This a war with only negative consequences; an crippling tax, scientific minds employed on fruitless tasks, beneficial research suspended and the economy rendered impotent.

  13. The CAGW movement favors geoengineering by reduction of carbon dioxide, a form of geoengineering with extreme negative biological side effects (greatly reduced plant growth and water usage efficiency), because the astronomical cost of it in crippling industrial consumption (production) is the actual goal and objective.

    Once in a while, someone naive enough to believe their global warming doom predictions starts to favor more mathematically literate geoengineering, such as stratospheric reflective dust (micron-sized to stay suspended for months) added to airline exhaust to reflect some sunlight (a tiny tiny fraction of sunlight but more than the effect of CO2 emissions), vastly more efficient, several orders of magnitude more radiative forcing change per unit mass, to cause as much radiative forcing change for on the order of 1% the cost and with lesser harm to the biosphere.

    That, however, is merely an unintended consequence of the movement, missing its actual objective which has jack to do with temperature in itself. Or another method of geoengineering is talked about briefly as a PR spin to pretend “we are considering this because the problem is so serious,” to try to reinforce in the public a perception that global warming is serious, albeit with no intent or desire for actual implementation. The last thing desired by alarmists is for the whole pretend problem to be quickly solved and thus inconveniently go away.

    In reality, such geoengineering is not desirable due to the facts that colder is not better and that the world is headed for global cooling rather than warming anyway (as in the context of my usual http://www.webcitation.org/6PsOoxWKN illustration, enlarging on further click, illustrating why global warming, the “pause,” etc. happened in the first place). However, if cooling was desirable, that would be far less costly than the CO2-reduction geoengineering method.

  14. evaluating a range of possible climate-altering approaches to dissipating greenhouse gases and reducing warming

    Would anyone like another winter like the last one with a further 5°F taken off courtesy of ‘climate engineering’?

  15. Remember, folks , the only thing you need to know about climate change is that there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Was that P.J.O’Rourke’s quote?

  16. Say Jonn Axsen take your self and like minded buds and head down to wreck beach and chill out.

  17. Tinkering with climate change through climate engineering isn’t going to help us get around what we have to do says a new report authored by researchers at six universities, including Simon Fraser University.

    After evaluating a range of possible climate-altering approaches to dissipating greenhouse gases and reducing warming, the interdisciplinary team concluded there’s no way around it. We have to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere…..

    So we must tackle climate change by reducing our co2 output? So what would the results be??? What has happened in recent decades.?
    GET READY FOR A SHOCKER! We must act against climate change and the causes of climate change. What a load of shi!t.

    Act against THIS.

    Act for THIS. Cold is better for homo sapiens from tropical Africa than heat. You know it’s true. We must act now!!!

  18. The following should be un-indented. It’s my comment.
    —————–

    So we must tackle climate change by reducing our co2 output? So what would the results be??? What has happened in recent decades.?
    GET READY FOR A SHOCKER! We must act against climate change and the causes of climate change. What a load of shi!t.

    Act against THIS.

    Act for THIS. Cold is better for homo sapiens from tropical Africa than heat. You know it’s true. We must act now!!!

  19. As an environmentalist I am totally against any crazy manipulation of NATURAL phenomena. I think even crazy Mann agreed with this. There is no AGW all the data is telling us this. People who attempt to fiddle with natural gases in the atmosphere are completely anti-environment LOL

  20. Useless eggheads. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the ivory towers of academia are a magical world where common sense is slowly sucked out of you.

    Shouldn’t someone at least demonstrate that climate can be “engineered” before we start talking about doing it? The term “engineering” implies a preciseness in the outcome you desire. Dropping a bomb on a building isn’t an engineering achievement; a controlled demolition is. Until someone demonstrates, for example, the amount of CO2 absorbed per unit iron deposited in the ocean, the amount of actual (as opposed to theoretical) temperature decrease for which that is associated, and the quantified actual downstream effects of that actual temperature decrease, this nonsense about “climate engineering” is nothing more that the musings of fools living in the vaporware of their own imaginations.

  21. Even though I live in Australia, I get to see the synoptic charts for the US.
    I have come to the conclusion that Texas will be ideal for “green” power. When it is not blowing a gale, the sun is shining profusely. The Texans could probably export their excess “green” power to the rest of the world!!!!

  22. mikelowe2013 says:
    June 3, 2014 at 1:53 pm
    “……..As an engineer, I am upset that they should be polluting the name of engineering to associate it with “climate engineering”!
     Amen to that brother. Being an engineer myself, I’ve also bristled at calling garbage men ‘Sanitation Engineers’

  23. It’s getting to the point where every time my eyes read “peer reviewed” my brain registers “crony approved”, remember even Homeopathy has peer reviewed journals.

  24. 4 June: Australian: Graham Lloyd: Earth scientists split on climate change statement
    AUSTRALIA’S peak body of earth scientists has declared itself unable to publish a position statement on climate change due to the deep divisions within its membership on the issue.
    After more than five years of debate and two false starts, Geological Society of Australia president Laurie Hutton said a statement on climate change was too difficult to achieve…

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/earth-scientists-split-on-climate-change-statement/story-e6frg8y6-1226942126322#

  25. Global warming for the last 100 years resulted in two thirds of the temperature stations going up and one third going down. If you do anything to make the world cooler who is going to make reparations to the one third where the temperature has decreased already?

  26. My background’s engineering, accounting and public administration. I have to ask – what about the insects? they have been accused of being as big a source of carbon pollution as us. Why should they go untaxed and not take their share of the consequences too? Were they responsible for turning off the 70’s cooling, if so good on them but have they gone too far?

    Humans cannot live on vapourware alone and carbon fires should at least be allowed for pie warmers. The EPA and Obama can ban what they like but the insects will continue.

  27. So…we can’t do on purpose…what we might be doing by accident. Only in this administration.

  28. My view is that a warmer world is better then a cooler one, so nothing should be done even if the world is warming due to human influence. But if we needed to, we should engineer the environment.

    On aerosols: “a surprisingly cheap way to reduce global temperatures, and we have the technology to do it. But our study asked other important questions. What are the environmental risks? Will global citizens accept this? What country would manage this? Is that fair?”

    1) No risks to the environment (except that cooler is worse than warmer)
    2) Will global citizens accept it? There are no “global citizens” and quite frankly, who cares?
    3) What country? The US, obviously. As bad as the US government is, it’s the only one that can do anything globally.
    4) Will it be fair? Who cares?

  29. “Obamas war on energy”… I love it and will use it. I hope it catches on. Thanks Anthony

  30. A few degrees warmer encourages more precipitation and humidity. Anyway these people are behaving like middle ages (medieval) witch doctors, who think they can control the weather. I know one guy, who thinks he is a warlock, and can summon thunderstorms. There are those who are just one notch above this fellow. Some university suggested seeding clouds with SO2, like volcanoes, that are known to cool the climate. Gee – don’t they know it is dust and ash spewed out at high altitudes that cool the planet for a short time. I suppose they were paid great grants to come up with that solution. Same as the so called scientists paid a huge sum to remove nitrous oxide from soils. My lecturer said, just add gypsum to break the soil up and let air in. So much for our academics, eh. Or some.

  31. Once the planet starts cooling and it is clear that the real danger is (and always has been) the powerful albedo cooling feedbacks that regularly plunge the planet into 100,000 year glacial periods then the case for climate engineering will be urgent and unambiguous. The only question will be whether we waited too long. Will the next cooling be the big one, or do we have another natural warming period in our future to give us a chance to get our ducks in a row?

    The technology is pretty simple: just dot the great white north with lots of coal burning soot-production plants. (Forget using them for generating more than the neighboring town’s own electricity needs, since transmission would be inefficient. Just maximize soot production.) But we better plan ahead. Once the snow and ice start getting deep its going to be hard to build anything up there.

  32. Honest question here, but the study posted makes it sound less like any alternatives wouldn’t effectively work, but that there are just a lot of questions about it. For instance, the aerosols, they don’t claim it wouldn’t work, just that they don’t think it sounds attractive. Besides wondering if that’s really an important question when researching a solution, I notice that Anthony states in the headline: “The idea that climate engineering can’t really do anything is well found”

    Can anyone let me know why this would be? From what I’ve read there are definite issues and difficulties surrounding it, but why would climate engineering NOT work to regulate the climate? Especially when you consider that the difficulties with the solutions people are posing (ie the entire world cutting emissions by whatever percent, cap-and-trade, development of power sources that have no ability whatsoever to replace current conventional sources, and so on) are not without difficulties themselves. My personal opinion is that they would be worse, but even still.

    I suppose I might guess that part of the reason would be because we still don’t actually know everything that goes into climate yet it is idiotic to begin engineering it, and another might be the conservative approach that a group of educated researchers are no more able to determine how best to steer the climate than central planners are with the economy, but I’m wondering what prompts someone to say that it is “well found”.

  33. Sorry, that last paragraph was written pretty poorly. But what I mean is that it might not be wise to try climate engineering, but that is not necessarily the same is it won’t work. So my question is why it wouldn’t work?

  34. They tried seeding clouds in Australia to encourage rain. Didn’t work I’m afraid, Mum Nature has her own agenda and we mere mortals can not tempt her to act differently. If they began to think palaeclimatology they would realise that for the last 2 million years we have been an ice planet with interstadials or glacials cropping up now and again, with mini ice ages coming and going. There was one about 5,500 years ago. That some geophyicists believe sparked the myth of Noah. When the land bridge separated the black sea (then a fresh water lake) to break as it warmed up again, and flooded land around there and flowed into meet the Mediteranean sea. The myth of Gilgamesh was recorded at around 5,500 years ago, that reported a great flood, well before the old testament story. As the scientists reported, the last glacial period has had intermittent cold phases and we are due for another one. And there is nothing we can do but adapt.

  35. “Other climate engineering strategies are less appealing, such as fertilizing the ocean with iron to absorb carbon dioxide or reducing global warming by injecting particles into the atmosphere to block sunlight.”

    It is a really good idea because it increases the productivity of the oceans – a lot. Imagine the first farmers discussing whether or not it was wise to increase crop production by using cattle dung as a fertilizer. There will always be those who say Nature is Best, while disregarding our ability to understand then control some aspects of nature. It is important to note that the fanatical resistance to iron powder fertilization emerged the instant it was announced as a really effective – far beyond expectations – method of increasing ocean production (because growth is limited by a complete lack of iron in many places – it is all used up).

    The reaction was that something that simple and cheap was just too much of a threat to the grand plans greenies had to control everything and everyone. They rose in fanatical opposition without a shred of evidence, which they are working on trying to accumulate. Unfortunately for them is it just a simple matter of doing what rivers do quite naturally, but out at sea where the iron has been used up to supply micro-animals nutrients. When a good and simple idea is fanatically opposed and the evidence is to be found later, you know it is not alarm, it is fanatical resistance to something that undercuts the perception of there being a problem.

    I am actually not advocating iron powder as a CO2 absorber, it is not necessary. But if it were, it would be a good way of doing so. Erosion of lateritic soils (red clays) does exactly the same thing involving billions of tons a year.

  36. If honest people ever retake control of federal government.a degree in climate engineering will be worth about as much as a degree in climate science. Who outside of government and government funded academia would hire such people?

  37. Mount Pinatubo Facts
    • 15-20 million tons of sulfur dioxide were discharged in the atmosphere following the eruption which caused a global cooling among others.
    • Mount Pinatubo’s eruption caused the ejection of 10 cubic kilometers of magma

    The Pinatubo eruption delayed temperatures for about 3 years, so this would require 5 to 7 millions tons or SO2 per year and 3 KM^3 of dust per year. All injected up around 50,000 ft.
    In what world besides an ‘Ivory Tower’ is this cheap and easy.

  38. DD More:

    re your post at June 4, 2014 at 6:37 am

    Your analogy is mistaken.

    There is no need to emulate Mount Pinatubo as a method to increase Earth albedo. Additional sulphate ions in the upper atmosphere would increase cloud cover in the same way and for the same reason that increased DMS (i.e. dimethyl sulphide) does.

    It is costly to remove sulphur from aviation fuel. Leaving it in the fuel of long-haul aircraft over ocean routes would be very cheap and not difficult.

    Richard

  39. richardscourtney says: June 4, 2014 at 7:13 am
    DD More:
    re your post at June 4, 2014 at 6:37 am
    Your analogy is mistaken.
    There is no need to emulate Mount Pinatubo as a method to increase Earth albedo. Additional sulphate ions in the upper atmosphere would increase cloud cover in the same way and for the same reason that increased DMS (i.e. dimethyl sulphide) does.

    7.8.1. Databases on Fuel Properties
    Thus, average sulfur content around the world is probably in the range of 0.04-0.06%; this results in a typical EI(SO2) of 0.8-1.2.

    http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sres/aviation/110.htm

    My anology is that the volumes needed to show an effect is in the millions of tons per year. So unless you are proposing to burn 5 million tons / 0.0006 = 8,333 tons of fuel your still not cheap or difficult. Get your head around the size and volume requirements first.

  40. “Russell Edwards says:
    But what I mean is that it might not be wise to try climate engineering, but that is not necessarily the same is it won’t work. So my question is why it wouldn’t work?”

    You’ll never know whether it works because there is no measurement instrument that can distinguish between natural climate variations and those due to particulates, CO2, etc. If you seed the oceans with iron, or spit out a bunch of soot, or whatever, and global temperatures drop, how are you going to conclusively determine whether the decrease was due to your “engineering” activities? You’d have to conduct essentially a millenial-scale experiment that seeds oceans for 5 decades, then stop for the next five decades, and repeat about 20 times to gather enough statistics to show any causal relationship. That’s why I mock the term “engineering” as applied to the climate.

  41. To follow up on the last post – even after you have shown a general causal relationship, you still have to quantify it to know how much X you need to add to the air/oceans to get Y change in temperature. All of this is beyond the ability of science.

    If there were some magic scientific procedure that could quantify the effect that substance A has on system X, which avoids the hassle of actually testing for the effect in a controlled manner, don’t you think that epidemiologists would be using it? Why do we bother performing actual crash tests on new cars? Just do a computer simulation and call it quits. If climate “scientists” can quantify and determine impacts using computer models and by coming together and agreeing on numbers, why is it that scientists in other disciples don’t follow suit and save themselves the time and expense of all that pesky experimentation stuff? Got a new aircraft design? Get a computer to tell you if it can fly and jump straight to the production runs. I’m sure the public will hop right on without asking silly questions about whether the prototypes did OK.

  42. DD More:

    Your post at June 4, 2014 at 11:07 am says to me

    My anology is that the volumes needed to show an effect is in the millions of tons per year. So unless you are proposing to burn 5 million tons / 0.0006 = 8,333 tons of fuel your still not cheap or difficult. Get your head around the size and volume requirements first.

    No. As I said, your analogy is wrong.

    You are comparing
    (a) the effect of a large emission from a single source at one place of a substance which washes out of the atmosphere in days
    with
    (b) the effect of a much smaller total emission from very many sources of the substance when the sources are distributed over very large areas.

    The effect of interest is cloud cover and the emitted SO2 nucleates cloud condensation formation. The distributed small emission will have large effect on total cloud cover.

    Any increase to the emission from your single source will have no discernible effect because the increased emission will be transported to the ground before it can reach an area where the additional nucleation has not been induced.

    You need to “get your head around” the subject under discussion before seeking analogies for it.

    Richard

  43. Anthony, I just don’t believe that “the idea that” biochar, artificial coal, carbon removal and controlled burns in forests, mineralization including injection into volcanic rock formations, “can’t really do anything is well found[ed].” Could you possibly point me to this solid foundation in print somewhere? I’m at a loss for why you would make such a claim.

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