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back to article Boffins suggest orbital dust-up to combat climate change

A researcher from Scotland’s University of Strathclyde has suggested what looks to El Reg like a fairly radical proposal to combat climate change: asteroid dust. The PhD research student, Russel Bewick, at the university’s Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory, has put the idea to LiveScience ahead of the publication of a paper due …

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Mushroom

Not radical, at least nolt compared to what is actually being done

This is possible but expensive to do. Living with the existing system is not expensive yet, but it looks to become so, in the extreme. Getting rid of the present system quickly is so expensive it's just impossible.

This suggestion ought to be considered, it could be done and it could help reduce or even solve the problem.

This is the first internet post regarding Climate I have every filed under Science not under Politics.

It's the first one about anything that matters (the others may exaggerate or lie, or not, but they are also about intolerable or impossible things so their only relevance is as a motivator for attitudes and as a measure of which ones are good at motivating attitudes. As I NEVER have been affected by or concerned about another person's attitude, I judge that whole basket of information as being unconnected with my reality).

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Facepalm

Re: Not radical, at least nolt compared to what is actually being done

"1.7% barely noticeable".

Not by us, maybe, but seriously, you think removing some 23W/m2 over the surface of the earth isn't going to be noticed? The IPCC reckons anthropogenic warming results in from a net energy imbalance of the order of 2 to 3 W/m2 - one tenth of the proposed cut.

So. Considered it. It _could_ solve the problem by killing off large swathes of plants, hence food, hence people, hence CO2 production.

Bewick - step AWAY from the modelling computer.

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Re: Not radical, at least nolt compared to what is actually being done

This guy definitely needs to be hit with the 'Be careful what you wish for' cluebat.

In any case the L1 Lagrange point already has sun observation satellites, which will be royally shafted by a dust cloud there.

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Re: Not radical, at least nolt compared to what is actually being done

"you think removing some 23W/m2 over the surface of the earth isn't going to be noticed?"

A 23wm-2 reduction in incoming sunlight is not a 23wm-2 reduction over the surface of the Earth. Only part of the Earth faces the Sun, and only 70% sunlight is absorbed, so the actual reduction over the surface (on average) is about 4W/m2.

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@nomnomnom Re: Not radical, at least nolt compared to what is actually being done

My bad - the 23W/m2 reduction would of course be over the daylight half of the Earth only. However, this is the same half of the Earth that plants photosynthesise on. Given the fierce fight for light in the plant world, I suspect this would be a significant problem.

I don't get how you end up at 4W/m2.

I started with 1360 W/m2 Total Solar Irradiance (TSI)

Times 1.7% for rock dust reduction

Times 0.5 to spread the effect over to the dark side

Times your 0.7 (for planetary albedo of 0.3 ?)

gives 8.092 W/m2

still 3 to 4 times the effect the IPCC claims for AGW effects.

Thinking things through a little more though, the overall 1.7% reduction will not be evenly spread across the light spectrum of the TSI. The visible wavelengths (including blue and red light at which photosynthesis is most attuned) will be dispersed more than, say, infrared (which can penetrate dust clouds more effectively, depending on dust particle size). Thus I would expect plants to suffer effects greater than a flat 1.7% reduction in daylight.

I would like to claim first dibs on the precautionary principle on this one, especially given the near impossibility of sucking a dust cloud out of vacuum if the Earth did get a chill.

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Re: @nomnomnom Not radical, at least nolt compared to what is actually being done

TSI is on a plane perpendicular to the Sun. That means the Earth intersects that plane as a disk. To distribute that over a sphere requires division by 4, as the surface area of a disk radius R is 4 times less than the surface area of a sphere radius R.

So I did 23 * 0.25 * 0.7 = 4.025wm-2

That's so close to 4wm-2 that I suspect they intentionally calculated how much sunlight had to be reduced to offset 4wm-2 in order to come up with 1.7%. 4wm-2 being approximately how much of an imbalance a doubling of CO2 causes.

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Re: @nomnomnom Not radical, at least nolt compared to what is actually being done

I didn't figure that out myself about the sphere/disk/TSI, I am just parroting what I've read elsewhere

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Childcatcher

Re: Not radical, at least nolt compared to what is actually being done

Well supposing that climate change is not entirely due to our activities and that solar output has something to do with it. Historically this is a fact. Supposing then that this lunatics asteroid cloud is in place and we get a solar dip. Whoops! Iceball earth. And here is the problem: WE HAVE NO WAY OF GETTING RID OF THE THING.

I need I say no more. What a scarry cat.

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And the cost to the environment ...

.... building the gear to shift that kind of tonnage will be what, exactly? Then there is the issue of putting all those billiard-balls into Earth orbit, *without* accidentally deorbiting the odd chunk into Paris or Sydney. And while I'm at it, someone might want to hook Bewick up with the concept of "Hohmann transfer".

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Unhappy

Re: And the cost to the environment ...

I'm sure Bruce Willis has already sorted out all of these issues and is suiting up as we speak.

In all seriousness though, I see this as an "looking at all the options" type deal rather than something we should focus on.

The issue with any climate change solution is that science's method of acting is along the lines of "here are some suggestions, lets get everyone we can to have a look at it and see if there's an issue, and build from that" whereas politics is more akin to "this solution will get us the most votes, lets get everyone we can find to agree with it and cover up any issues so we don't have to 'flip-flop' on the issue".

When dealing with such a charged issue, it is unfortunately inevitable that politics will get mixed in at some point, and ideas will be binned or endorsed along ideological lines rather than logical ones.

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Re: And the cost to the environment ...

Yes, because a PhD student at the "Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory" would never have heard of such a basic concept as Hohmann transfer!

Oh, wait.......

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Re: And the cost to the environment ...

Then there is the issue of putting all those billiard-balls into Earth orbit, *without* accidentally deorbiting the odd chunk into Paris or Sydney

Errr....I'm not sure you're getting the scales we're talking about here. Earth-Sol L1 is a wee bit further away than that; about 1.5 million kilometres if I recall correctly. Also, L1 isn't an orbit around the Earth. It's a "fixed" gravitational point between us and our star, and any object there is "stationary" (relative to the other bodies in the system, etc, etc).

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WTF?

Great idea.

What could possibly go wrong?

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Pint

Re: Great idea.

I think this idea is stupid, based entirely on the proviso that I first heard of it reported in the Daily Mail.

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I can haz my Wing Gundam?

But seriously folks: "The L1 Lagrange point is about four times the distance from Earth to the Moon" Er... no. L1 (no qualifier) is about 1.5 million kilometres from Earth, on a direct line between the Earth and the Moon. So unless they are talking about "Sun-Earth L1" (note the qualifier)...

And anyway, L1-L3 are "nominally unstable". You can't occupy them, you have to orbit them.

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FAIL

Re: I can haz my Wing Gundam?

Never "post in anger". The 1.5 million Km is of course for the Sun-Earth L1 (1.5 million km from Earth and 148.5 million km from the Sun). <facepalm> "Standard" L1 is ~323,000 Km away, about 80% of the way to the Moon. From those numbers, I assume the Boffinry was referring to Sun-Earth L1, which is indeed ~4x further away than the Moon (at ~400,000 Km).

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Flame

Re: I can haz my Wing Gundam?

"Never "post in anger". "

No, but I understand your rage. It was "130 million billion kilos" that did it for me, too.

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MrT
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Time to ....

... build the Wikkit Gate, just in case the dust cloud gets out of hand. Better put the MCC on high alert.

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Stop

What in the name of ...

So, the solution to what may or may not be a natural phenomenon that may or may not change the world for the better (me, I'd quite like to be able to grow some tobacco around the house, like they do a few hundred kilometres further south) is to FSCKING REDUCE incoming energy?

Applied Biology 101: every* fscking organism gets its energy from the Sun in one way or another. The phototrophs use it to grow, and are in turn eaten by the food chain up to and including its apex, the cow, which then selflessly transfers all that delicious solar energy to the human body in the form of a succulent steak. Less sunlight, less steak.

While I have been toying with the idea of going to Iceland for a few years, I'm quite sure most people would be quite pissed off to see their country turned into it.

(*Yes, there are the chemotrophs, but I don't see anyone making a steak out of them.)

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Happy

Re: What in the name of ...

The image of the regal Cow as the apex predator of plants....

Very good, carry on.

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Re: What in the name of ...

Ah, the old "more heat is good" canard. Bless.

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FAIL

Re: What in the name of ...

Light =/= heat, dear. If you don't believe me, put a plant in a dark room and heat it up real good.

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Alien

we just need some Beckman drives

That's The Way I'd do it

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WTF?

Eh?

There’s currently no technology on offer to relocate something as big as Ganymed’s 130 million billion kilos, so Bewick suggests moving smaller asteroids into a cluster at L1.

Er, last time I looked we didn't have anything capable of trotting off out there to move smaller ones around either. Thus whatever does it is going to be something completely new, so we might as well build it to shift the bigger one.

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Devil

Or...

WE COULD JUST SCORCH THE SKIEZ!!!

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Seriously though...

I wish they'd stop combatting symptoms and start looking at the root cause. Make energy companies pay 100% tax on profits gained from fossil fuels, and 0% tax on renewables.See how fast you get workable, commercially-viable, clean vehicles and power when you hit companies in their bottom lines.

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Re: Root cause

For that you'd need to know precisely what the root cause is (or, far more likely are: multiple factors are probably), and I'm still unconvinced the science is there. But if a change in solar radiation is one of the factors, then reducing the level of solar radiation with dust feels exactly like addressing the root cause.

>Make energy companies pay

actually that means "make poor people pay"

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Re: Seriously though...

"See how fast you get workable, commercially-viable, clean vehicles and power when you hit companies in their bottom lines"

Rubbish.

At the moment energy companies already pay an effective negative tax (due to subsidies) on "renewables". As these build out, the marginal economics of the thermal plant are altering, such that (in Germany, and Southern Italy for example) a lot of thermal plant is already unprofitable to run through much of the year. The German government are threatening the energy companies with new laws because the companies WANT to turn off some of the thermal plant and the German government don't want them to. Electric cars attract considerable subsidies, but remain eco-bling for the well off, without materially reducing the cost of such vehicles, in the same way that London congestion charge exemptions merely enable the rich to save money that the peasants have to stump up. A further check on your optmism in market interference is the example of subsidies for low energy light bulbs. These subsidies were removed a year or so back, and the cost of the things has bounced back up to the level it was before the subsidy started. The UK government is gormlessly looking at increase UK electricity costs next year by around 20% with their carbon floor tax, which I assume you'll heartily approve of, along with an escalator for future years. Sadly this will simply go onto your bill, thanks to the religious conviction of politicians in climate change, although note this effects the electricity industry - there's no carbon tax on gas burnt at home, showing how inept government thinking is. Be sure that more British manufacturing will move elsewhere as a result.

The root cause is not evil energy companies - they do what makes money, which is what business does and should do. The root cause is that the UK consumes 212 Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent (ie from all sources) of energy each year, and that renewables can't produce any worthwhile fraction of that. In terms of what can be done, the most advantageous course is not to criminalise fossil fuels and beggar the country, but to minimise the 65 MTOE of losses, and the circa 10 MTOE of avoidable (with existing measures and technology) end use heating losses.

If I might suggest, a few facts would help you out, and they are here. First of all the DECC energy flow chart, a fantastic resource:http://www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/11/stats/publications/flow-chart/5939-energy-flow-chart-2011.pdf

And second, I don't fully agree with the underlying ethos and some of the solutions, but this next one is a fantastic attempt to crunch the numbers on going for renewables big time: http://www.withouthotair.com/

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Re: Seriously though...

"The root cause is not evil energy companies ... The root cause is that the UK consumes 212 Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent (ie from all sources) of energy each year, and that renewables can't produce any worthwhile fraction of that."

- So what you're saying is my incentivisation of moving towards renewables (and nuclear) isn't tackling the root cause? This is no different from forcing Lynx to stop using CFCs in their deodorants. Sorry. If there's a link between carbon and climate change, then we can criminalise the carbon and find alternatives.

I agree, reducing energy wastage is just as important, but who says we can't do both things at he same time?

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Re: Seriously though...

The problem with your suggestion is that, be it txes or fines, it is ultimately paid by the end user. If you feel that you are actively and avoidably wasting energy, then you are in a minority, but I suspect that like most people you use what you consider appropriate.

In the case of CFC's there were acceptable cheap alternatives. In the case of a renewables and nuclear "zero carbon" scenario, we are talking in broad terms of the solution costing about double what we pay at the moment.

Great if you're an AGW believer, not so good for those who aren't.

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Facepalm

Re: Seriously though...

"I wish they'd stop combatting symptoms and start looking at the root cause. Make energy companies pay 100% tax on profits gained from fossil fuels, and 0% tax on renewables.See how fast you get workable, commercially-viable, clean vehicles and power when you hit companies in their bottom lines."

Who's going to make them? The politicians that they put into power via campaign donations, who now owe them big-time?

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Trollface

"We don't know who fired the first shots..."

"....but we know it was us who blotted out the Sun."

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Stop

If we can do all that why not use the expertise and resources to build a proper space station or a base on the moon. Planets are useful nurseries but the future of an intelligent tool using species is space where the only limitations are your imagination :)

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Anonymous Coward

"Useful"

Is an understatement. It really does not seem to work that way. You comparing travel to the Arctic to travel to America. America boomed because it had the things people needed. The Arctic did not (only visitors planing poles). The moon and the rest of space is like the Arctic, not Americas (or Australia, South America or any other recently developed continent).

But fine, if we spent every resource currently available and sent every person into space, even with infinite fuel (which we don't have) it would take 100s if not 1000s of years to get anywhere in space.

Even with infinite fuel, thanks to relativity we could reduce that to 30 years (from the perspective of the crew). Burning Jupiter might do it. Then we can get just about anywhere. How you propose terraforming the planet we reach is anyone's guess.

So no, space travel does not help. We have more chance of a passing rogue planet being helpful than space travel being anything other than expanding our knowledge (which is good enough). It does not solve the problems of getting things right the first time (IE a pyromaniac burns down as many houses as you give them. Give us more "earths" and it solves nothing).

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Megaphone

Re: "Useful"

We can get to most places within our Solar system with current technology if we want to. Most scientists now think that most of the useful resources on Earth actually came from space and that without that input Earth would be just another lifeless rock. There are way more resources to be exploited out beyond Earth's atmosphere. Grab a convenient comet and you've got a bonanza. The second advantage is that it doesn't matter how you do it. If you want to build a nuclear reactor then fine. Build it. No real need to worry about shielding and if it throws a wobbler just kick it away and build another one.

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Stop

And who would get to decide?

In the wildly unlikely event this deranged scheme ever became feasible, who would get to decide whether it happens or not? Given that asking every country, or even a clear majority of nations on earth to agree on this would require use of the old 'herding cats' metaphor, a consensus would never happen. Or would the usual suspects simply plough ahead regardless?

Personally I'd call deliberately reducing the solar output reaching every nation (heedless of unforeseen consequences - and you can be sure there will be) an act of war.

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Re: And who would get to decide?

Well already countries are deliberately increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere over every nation (heedless of unforeseen consequences). So quite clearly the idea is for the big countries to just ignore any smaller ones who wants them to stop.

Yes if a climate disaster hits somewhere I can imagine that country might very well regard further emissions an act of war.

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Re: And who would get to decide?

Also as I point out in my comment below, cloud cover will change in response to rising CO2. Climate skeptics argue the cloud change will be a strong negative feedback, which means less sunlight reaching the surface.

In which case we already have the situation where emitting countries are slowly reducing the solar output reaching every nation.

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Meh

Re: And who would get to decide?

"Or would the usual suspects simply plough ahead regardless?"

Yes and no. The only people with any space capability of note either reject the whole warmist agenda (the Yanks), or are acting as though it doesn't apply to them (the Ruskies). The upcoming space programmes of China and India are by countries that are enthusiastically building coal fired power stations and dramatically increasing their transport emissions, and who aren't subject to Kyoto emissions targets at all.

That only leaves the Europeans, busy bankrupting themselves to hold together their comedy currency and maintain unsustainable government spending programmes. And I'd hardly call Europe's space programme credible - the height of their acheivement is the ongoing €22 billion Galileo programme to build a duplicate to the existing GPS system, which won't be full ready until 2019, a full quarter of a century after GPS became fully operational.

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The energy cost?

Moving stuff about in space at reasonable speed takes a huge amount of energy. The only way to accomplish the asteroid manoeuvre with present-day technology would be to use massive amounts of nuclear energy.

Would it not be much easier, cheaper and quicker simply to build a small proportion of the nuclear power generators that would be needed here on Earth for all our energy needs and stop making the carbon dioxide?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The energy cost?

I'd guess ideas like that don't get crazy pie in the sky idea labs any funding though. ;)

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Re: The energy cost?

"Would it not be much easier, cheaper and quicker simply to build a small proportion of the nuclear power generators that would be needed here on Earth."

Yes, yes, yes, but totally impossible. You must try to understand, nuclear power is not green, however many problems it might help us to solve.

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Re: The energy cost?

By "Green" I assume you mean "wildly inefficient and expensive"?

Yes, that was facetious, but what's greener - one nuclear power station or a thousand wind turbines? The turbines need all those rare earths, all that concrete and steel, the electrical grid, the load balancing equipment - and you still need backup power generation.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The turbines need all those rare earths, all that concrete and steel, ...

Umm. What is it nuclear power stations are made of? Fairy dust and battenburg cake? Or concrete, steel, rare-earths to turn motion into electricity, various sorts of radioactive fuel, backups for maintenance downtime, etc.

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FAIL

Re: The turbines need all those rare earths, all that concrete and steel, ...

"What is it nuclear power stations are made of?"

As you note, the same things as wind turbines - steel, concrete, aluminium, copper etc. But for similar peak output, a nuclear reactor uses about one fiftieth of the same resources as wind turbines (comparing a 2 or 3MW wind turbine to a representative nuclear plant). If you wanted to compare total output, then you'd factor in the dismal load factor for wind, say one third, compared to around 65% for nuke plants meaning that for similar output wind needs one hundred times as much in the way of raw materials as a nuclear plant. Because wind happens at its convenience, regardless of installed capacity that's 100x is a comparison that artificially favours wind turbines.

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Anonymous Coward

Yey!

And at no point will the dust turn out to accidentally be carcinogenic or kill people with respiratory problems etc etc etc.

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Stop

Red sky at night, shepherd's delight

Red sky midday, scientists at play.

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Just say no

What are these nitwits going to do when they find out that the heat Armageddon never comes to pass and, instead, we are lumbered with freezing weather instead, thanks to their meddling?

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Joke

Since when was Marjorie Dawes a scientist?

"anyone, no, DUST!

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