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Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Nov 14

Geoengineering Climate Change Solutions

Posted in Environment and Sustainability

Ozone Layer TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an organization dedicated to spreading free knowledge and inspiration by showcasing ideas from the world’s most progressive thinkers. Their latest contributor, Environmental Scientist David Keith, encourages debate about Geoengineering as an emergency solution to the looming climate change problem. He believes it may be possible to avert disaster using planetary engineering, but also urges great caution about placing too much faith on science to save the world. While it is important to begin discussion about planetary engineering, we must also be wary that these ideas could result in increased public apathy towards the global warming issue.

David Keith: A surprising idea for “solving” climate change

Would it be un-ethical to keep such research from the general public in order to encourage a much-needed reduction of CO2 emissions? Some ideas being put forth recommend atmospheric injections of fine-particles in order to reflect sunlight and cool the planet. What would the side-effects of these large-scale manipulations be? Do you think planetary interventions will be necessary or even worth the gamble?



  • Craig Mackintosh

    Regarding the fine particles for reflecting sunlight, this might be of interest. In regards to geo-engineering, here and here.

    I think you’ve asked a very pertinent question. There are several issues that concern me with geo-engineering ideas. Perhaps the biggest is that people feel they can set nature up on a whole new equilibrium. I think this is a dangerous belief. Without humans, the world works as a self sufficient, energy recycling closed system. If you tinker with nature, you must keep tinkering with it forever, as it will keep trying to return to its own balance. The world is not a machine with identical parts and predictable processes. It’s an immensely complicated interaction between elements and ever-adapting organisms. Trying to create a ‘sure’ result from manipulating nature is like trying to carve a sculpture from tepid water – you can’t, as it moves to accomodate your chisel. Economically alone, this is nonsense. Working within natural systems is healthy and free.

    Beside the likelihood of unexpected results from tinkering with nature on a global scale (just like global warming is the unexpected result from fossil fuel use), the other likely result is continued inaction by citizens, industry and politicians. There’s the “let’s wait for the scientists to work it out” mentality. We don’t have time for false hopes. Geo-engineering is a huge odds stacked against us gamble.

    In regards to the ethical issue – it is both unethical to withhold information from people, and it would also be unethical to action changes without their consent. Seeding the oceans with iron, or firing particles into space, carbon sequestration, etc., are all risks that involve every person on the planet. People should be informed about every aspect – possible gains, possible risks – and their consent sought.

  • Frank Vee

    It is a very pertinent question and it has a pretty obvious answer. Don’t do it!!!

    To try and manipulate something that we already don’t know as much as we should know about (global weather systems) before venturing into something like this is pretty silly, reckless, and very potentially dangerous in my opinion, besides immoral.

    We have already ruined the ecosystem by trying to improve crop quality and yields with bioengineering, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers. The side effects, ground water contamination, fish decimation, more pesticide resistant insects, birth defects, cancer, autism perhaps, gastrointestinal effects, less nutritious food, loss of native vegetation, bee loss (unproven as yet) etc. I could go on and on about this one.

    We have even harmed ourselves with the use of antibiotics, producing bacterial strains that are even worse than what we started with. Brilliant.

    While both of the above have been helpful in many ways, the side effects have always been disastrous and they have always been abused. “Ooops” just doesn’t cut it when you are messing with something that affects everyone on the planet. The simplest approach never seems to be the obvious approach, quit doing what is causing the problem. Yes easily said, but also maybe easily done. Won’t know until we try. Money would be better well spent doing that than trying to “fix” it like humans love to do. The cure is worse than the disease usually.

    We know what has gotten us here. Excess CO2 in the atmosphere. So quit dumping the crap into the atmosphere and let’s move onto the next problem. We reduced CFC’s and we got through that pretty easily. Other technology has been available for the last 100 years that would turn this scenario around but everything seems to be tied to money. From the time of Tesla, and probably before that, if an idea would help the general population and didn’t make the rich richer, then it went into the circular filing cabinet or was buried in a very deep hole.

    That is one thing that I loved about the Star Trek series is that they did away with money and worked together for the greater good. No greed, no corruption, no hidden agendas, no want and I noticed too, no fat people sitting on their butts doing nothing and getting a check from the government. A bit utopist yes, but not a bad idea.

    Yes I will give up my car, yes I will use public transportation if it is available, yes I will travel less, yes I will give up buying food from half way around the world, yes I will install solar panels, yes I will turn my thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer. Yes I will do a lot of things but I will never get behind something that is so morally wrong as polluting our air and water more with sulfur or iron oxide just so I can pollute our air and water more with CO2. It just makes no sense.

    Craig was right on every point in his post.

    What we really need is to get the right people in charge of the world instead of those that are out to make money regardless of the consequences to the rest of us poor schmucks. Since we are all in the same sinking boat now maybe the rich will figure it out and start bailing soon with the rest of us. I noticed Al Gore and Prince Charles with a bucket. Branson was drilling more holes in the boat and then throwing money at the holes in the boat to try and plug them. Didn’t work too well but the boat was full of money. Bush and Cheney and the Chinese were disassembling the boat as fast as others were trying to fix it. Congress just seemed to sit there and watch while counting their days to retirement and a great retirement plan it is. The oil company execs were drunk on power so they were pretty useless and just kept getting in the way. No one was steering the boat. No sense in that even though we were headed for the dangerous rocks ahead. Guess we are doomed. My thoughts”¦

  • Alex Ramon

    I agree 100%. The risks of failing at something so potentially de-stabilizing are much too great. I’d much rather take my chances by solving sustainability issues while adapting to the earth (as it adapts to us).

    Further, we should probably make a strong international treaty not to do these kinds of experiments. To date, we’ve really done nothing but f* the planet up, which really adds to my unease…

  • Sepp Hasslberger

    Well, let’s look at this without immediately getting into the emotional issues and having to take sides for or against.

    Have we not been doing geoengineering since about the start of the industrial revolution, by using first coal and then oil to burn in our furnaces for power generation and all kinds of other uses?

    Have we not been extracting coal all along and putting the carbon into the atmosphere by lighting it on fire to recover a bit of heat?

    Have we not then changed over to the use of oil and gas, extracting those and also burning them, adding more CO2? And aren’t we injecting water into the oil drill holes to recover a bit more oil?

    What really IS the definition of geoengineering, where do we start to call it that and where do we say it’s just normal living.

    Consider the aerial spray program that is going on daily, putting all manner of particles into the atmosphere. It is a covert program that isn’t officially acknowledged. We popularly give it the name of Chemtrails. What are chemtrails but an attempt at geoengineering? We don’t know what the exact purpose is, but certainly the program has increased cloud cover.

    Yes, I know that some say those airplanes are scheduled flights, and the trails are nothing but contrails, water condensing in the wake of the jet exhaust. But then – what are airplanes flying at an altitude of more than 10.000 meters putting their exhaust up there. Isn’t that also geoengineering?

    The question David Keith is asking in his presentation about geoengineering is “should we talk about it?”

    My reaction is “but of course we should”. Why close our eyes and ears to what is already happening, and to what options there might be to right the problems we are already creating.

    We can all agree to not do any geoengineering, but if we are honest with ourselves, we’d have to extinguish ourselves as a numerous (more than 6 billion last I heard) presence on this planet. We’d practically have to stop living, if that is at all possible.

    I think you see the idiocy of such a course of action.

    Humanity does exist. We are a large number of people. We are technologically advanced, and if we were to turn back the wheels we’d become largely extinct.

    I prefer to talk about what we HAVE ALREADY been doing, which is no different from geoengineering, and what we MIGHT in the future do or decide not to do. At least let’s do the research. Let the scientists get all the data. We might find a very simple way to reduce our footprint on this planet without starving everyone to death. Should we really miss out on that just because we have already decided that the problem is CO2 and that all we can do is try and make less of it?

    Don’t get me wrong, I am all for cutting CO2 and other pollution as well. I think we should get off fossil fuels as an energy source. There are other options and we should develop them. Unfortunately economic considerations determine what technology we use, and fossil fuels are IMMENSELY profitable. We should consider that as part of the equation if we want to arrive at a solution.

  • Eric v.

    I think that David Keith is a very intelligent person and he brings up a very good point about geoengineering. Al Gore’s speech on “15 ways to Reduce Emissions” was a very well presented speech. Al Gore’s speech was better presented because he created a better connection with the audience and created better credibility with them even though he is not a scientist. Al Gore is a better speaker even though he may not have a better point. I think that Keith’s speech on the question of geoengineering may not be better but his actual ideas were better supported.

    Al Gore had a better speech because of his better use of body language and his ability to communicate his enthusiasm with his audience. He is a very animated and translates his body language to the audience by moving around the stage, not using a podium and using scanning eye contact. In general Al Gore is a better speaker than Keith. The fact is that Keith has a better argument and has much more support for his argument. He proposed that it may be a bad thing to do geoengineering because it can cause people to feel less urgent about the need to reduce emissions. Gore didn’t even explain how this would work and give both sides of the argument like Keith did. Keith had a better argument and provided more support but needed to use better speaking techniques to better convey his body language to the audience. Gore was a better speaker but did not provide support for his claims.

  • Pierre Champagne

    The global warming strategy proposed in the following book could greatly speed up environmental change. It is based on green taxation and could be applicable on a large-scale.

    The author argues that it could be our best option for sustainable development. The book has received a positive review from David McCorquodale, co-chair of Green Pages (the US Green Party quarterly,

    The book:
    Henderson, Mark C. (2008). The 21st Century environmental Revolution: A Comprehensive Strategy for Conservation, Global Warming, and the Environment.

  • Pierre Champagne

    The review above for Henderson’s book on large-scale global warming strategies will be printed in Green Pages’ Feb. 2009 issue but is currently posted on the publisher’s website:

    The website above also has a lot of information on the book: the introduction, the table of contents…

  • Ed Jones

    I want to keep this as brief as possible. I believe that the carbon emission reducing strategies proposed by previous comments is far too idealistic to ever actually happen.

    Let’s face it, people respond to incentives. There is no incentive large enough to prevent the irrepressible drive of consumerism in this ever more materialistic world. The people who care about climate change so passionately that they are willing to dramatically change their lifestyles are unquestionably in the minority.

    I believe the majority of people DO CARE about the ongoing destruction of our environment, but not enough to stop them taking that summer holiday to Tenerife, buying that sports car despite the poor fuel efficiency etc. It’s these luxuries in life that make the 9-5 slog worth doing.

    So what’s the solution? Quite simply, investment in technology. I categorically agree with comment 4 above, where it is stated that geo-engineering is already happening. So why not invest some more capital in working out what the actual strengths and weaknesses of sulphur dioxide so we can stop all this speculation. It was proven with Mount Pinatubo that global cooling is definitely possible, but it is the side effects that would be of concern. Acid rain? Changes in weather patterns? Let’s plouw investment into more advanced technologies and work out the consequences.

    If the idea of geo-engineering converted world renowned climate scientist Ken Caldeira from sworn eco-activist to advocate for tinkering with nature – it is definitely a subject worth considering. If one of the world’s most informed researchers on climate change has faith in it, I’m with him.

    I love reading research from all the doomsayers with comments like ‘Everything under water by 2050’. Sorry scrap that, our means of prediction using climate models is still too unreliable to make such an outlandish statement so please stop doing it.

    To sum up my very ‘brief’ comment, it might be our only hope so let’s not discount it so hastily. I am all for preventing climate change but we need to be realistic about it. It is at a time now where scientists such as Martin Hoffert claim it is too late to reduce emissions by cleaner energy, it is too late to reverse the effects by futile efforts such as recycling. Don’t get me wrong, they are all good ideas that DO stop us polluting our planet, but if it is too little too late by now, maybe we should start looking at geo-engineering as a possible solution.

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