Guest post by Richard S. Courtney
Climate change is a serious problem. All governments need to address it, and most do.
In the Bronze Age Joseph (with the Technicolour Dreamcoat) told Pharaoh that climate has always changed everywhere and always will. He told Pharaoh to prepare for bad times when in good times, and all sensible governments have adopted that policy since.
But now it is feared that emissions from industry could cause additional climate change by warming the globe. This threatens more sea level rise, droughts, floods, heat waves and much else. So, governments have attempted to reduce the emissions of the warming gases, notably carbon dioxide.
The UN established the Kyoto Protocol which limits the emissions from developed countries until year 2012. But the Kyoto Protocol failed. It has had no detectable effect on the emissions which continue to rise. Now the pressure is on to get a successor to that Protocol for after 2012, and negotiations are being held around the world to decide the new treaty at a conference in Copenhagen in December (CoP15).
But the negotiations have stalled. All industrial activity releases the emissions. Developing countries say they will not limit their emissions, and industrialised countries have problems reducing theirs. China releases more of the emissions than any other country, is industrialising, and says it is entitled to the same emissions per head of population as the US. So, China says it intends to increase its emissions more than four fold. India says the same. The US is having problems adopting a ‘Cap & Trade’ policy that would harm American industries and force industries from America to China. The EU adopted a ‘Cap & Trade’ policy that collapsed and has not affected the EU’s rising emissions. The Australian Parliament has recently rejected a similar policy.
Politicians have been responding to the failure of the Kyoto Protocol by showing they are ‘doing something’. They have adopted pointless and expensive impositions on energy industries, energy supplies and transportation. And the public is paying the large costs of this in their energy bills.
The Copenhagen Conference will provide a decision because it has to, but that decision will have no more effect than the Kyoto Protocol. And this will put more pressure on the politicians to be seen to be ‘doing something’ with further cost and harm to peoples and to industry.
There is as yet no clear evidence that the additional climate change is happening. But environmental groups are pressing the politicians to act “before it is too late”. And politicians are responding because of the fear of dire consequences from the additional climate change.
Politicians have decided how much additional climate change is acceptable, because they have decided that global temperature must not be allowed to rise to 2 degrees Celsius higher than it was at the start of the last century. But they need a method to overcome the urgency which is forcing them to do things and to agree things which do not work.
There is an available solution to the problem. The urgency is because of fear that the effects of the emissions may be irreversible. However, the additional climate change can be reversed, quickly, simply and cheaply. This provides a complete solution to the problems.
There is no need for the Copenhagen Conference to reach a forced, inadequate, and premature agreement on emissions. The Conference needs to decide funding to perfect the methods to reverse the additional climate change if and when that becomes necessary. This decision would give politicians decades of time to conduct their negotiations about what to do to limit the emissions. So, the politicians can agree actions that work instead of adopting things everybody knows do not work.
The solution addresses the cause of the fear of the additional climate change. Every sunbather has noticed it cools when a cloud covers the Sun, and this is because clouds reflect sunlight to cause negative radiative forcing. The fear of the additional climate change is based on an assumption that global temperature is determined by net radiative forcing, and the emissions induce additional positive radiative forcing.
The forcing can be altered in many ways. An increase to cloud cover of a single percent would more than compensate for the warming from a doubling of carbon dioxide in the air. There are several ways to increase cloud cover, for example small amounts of sulphates, dust, salt or water released from scheduled aircraft would trigger additional cloud formation. And the carbon dioxide in the air is very unlikely to increase so much that it doubles.
And there are many other ways to reflect sunlight so it is not absorbed by the ground. Crops could be chosen for reflectivity, roofs could be covered with reflective materials, and tethered balloons could be covered in reflective material.
Each of these options would be very much cheaper than constraining the emissions by 20 per cent for a single year. So, any delay to implementation of emission constraints by use of these options would save a lot of money.
Global temperature has not again reached the high it did in 1998 and has been stable since. But it could start to rise again. If it does then use of one or more of these options could be adopted when global temperature nears 2 degrees Celsius higher than it was at the start of the last century. This would be a cheap and effective counter measure while the needed emission constraints are imposed. Indeed, it would be much cheaper than the emission constraints. It could be started and stopped rapidly, and its effect would be instantaneous (as sunbathers have noticed when a cloud passes in front of the Sun).
Until then there would be no need for expensive ‘seen to be doing something’ actions such as capturing and storing carbon dioxide. Energy and financial policies would not need to be distorted, and developing countries could be allowed to develop unhindered.
Indeed, there would be no need to deploy the counter measures unless and until global temperature rises to near the trigger of 2 degrees C rise.
The various methods for reflecting sunlight need to be developed and perfected. They each have potential benefits and problems which need to be assessed. But if the problems are detectable they need not be significant. For example, the additional cloud cover could be induced over oceans distant from land. This requires much research.
Politicians know they need to be seen to be ‘doing something’ and they would be seen to be doing something worthwhile. Each counter measure experiment and demonstration provides opportunity for media coverage.
Richard S. Courtney
Energy and Environment Consultant
Richard S. Courtney is an independent consultant on matters concerning
energy and the environment. He is a technical advisor to several UK MPs
and mostly-UK MEPs. He has been called as an expert witness by the UK
Parliament’s House of Commons Select Committee on Energy and also House
of Lords Select Committee on the Environment. He is an expert peer
reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in
November 1997 chaired the Plenary Session of the Climate Conference in
Bonn. In June 2000 he was one of 15 scientists invited from around the
world to give a briefing on climate change at the US Congress in
Washington DC, and he then chaired one of the three briefing sessions.
His achievements have been recognized by The UK’s Royal Society for Arts
and Commerce, PZZK (the management association of Poland’s mining
industry), and The British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Having been the contributing technical editor of CoalTrans
International, he is now on the editorial board of Energy & Environment.
He is a founding member of the European Science and Environment Forum
h/t to Barry Hearn