back to article Boffins: Give up on CO2 cuts, only geoengineering can work

Top British climate boffins have said that the only practical hope for arresting global warming is the use of "geoengineering" - techniques intended to reduce the effects of CO2 emissions, as opposed to reducing the CO2 emissions themselves. The scientists add that not only are large emissions cuts politically and …

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Poorly understood intervention:

Hmmm you have a large pot of oil that has caught fire... we should probably put that out - let's spray some water on it - that has been proven to put out fire.

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Flame

Mischaracterisation of their position?

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions would still be beneficial - their opinion that halving emissions would not keep temperatures from rising by 2 degrees however emphatically does *not* mean it is OK to keep emissions at current or greater levels!

However, these scientists' sad conclusion is that we are too selfish, shortsighted and politically motivated to do so, and so they are hawking a cheaper alternative in the hopes that something good will come of it.

In response, my first point is that such projects should not be alternatives, but complements, to CO2 reduction. Don't fall for false dichotomies.

My second point is that even if you don't believe in global warming (though how you can fail to do so I don't know), it seems absurd to wastefully burn the raw material (oil) that forms the basis of almost all consumer products in existence (plastics). Synthesising plastics from other sources is far more expensive and would put enormous pressure on agricultural resources.

So - don't burn our future supply of plastics, please, even if you don't believe in global warming, but by all means consider additional means to mitigate global warming.

P.S. For those idiots who still seem to think that global warming means we will all be slightly warmer, it doesn't work like that; the main effect is more energy and energy disparities in the atmospheric system, resulting in more extreme weather and changes to weather cycles. Given how utterly dependent we are on existing weather cycles, both for crops and for where we have based our populations with respect to water sources, this is not something to take lightly...

/End seriousnesses

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Gates Halo

Hmm

"If you start introducing poorly understood "fixes" to a poorly understood phenomenon then you are as likely to cause and even bigger disaster as you are to fix the original problem."

Also known as "Windows Update".

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Silver badge
Pint

Its too late anyway

As someone pointed out, due to the government 1/2 hearted energy 'policy' IE do nothing in case doing something might be unpopular, we are heading for peak time power cuts in 8 years time.

In case you dont know what that means is that many serious industrial users of power will be turned off, server centers for example, maybe manufacturing plants in order to preserve power going to domestic customers.

So we could be laid off from work and still be able to watch daytime TV. great. until the power bill comes in.

Nuclear is not an option because it takes at least 10 yrs to build one (thats 9 yrs for planning/appeals/inquiries, 6 months to evict/shoot the 'direct action' hippies and 12 months to build it), so we are back to building fossil fuel stations.

Which makes a mockery of anyone trying to reduce atmospheric CO2 by geo-engineering

Beer... because when to world ends hopefully I'll be too drunk to notice

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Grenade

Trees

Really? If we're chopping down football fields' of trees a day, then we need poor nations to industrialize ASAP.

Seriously. From 1945 to 1990, the amount of woodlands in the US east of the Mississippi quadrupled. *Quadrupled* This is in a time of blow-out urban sprawl in the most densely populated part of the country.

What happened is industrialization (ie the at-the-time technological industries) needed people to work for them ASAP. A lot of people on marginal farmland, tired of farm work (and who can blame them), decided they'd had enough of farming and looked forward to a regular weekly wage.

If you want to save trees, build factories.

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Dead Vulture

its all about ballance

Trying to create 'artificial trees' or solar mirrors or seeding the ocean are just technological pipe dreams. The sheer amount of focil fuel energy we'd use to manipulate the environment in this way would just be a zero sum game.

For our immediate term electrical energy supply we should look towards, Nuclear and hopefully in time fusion power. Planting trees (or just letting nature soak up the excess co2) will help and offers a simple and foolproof method of sequestrating the C02 in the short term.

Over the eons of time, oceanic organisms have effectively scrubbed co2 from the atmosphere by laying down Carboniferous rocks such as chalk and limestone, this is the best buffer we have.

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FAIL

@AC MMCC is bullshit.

"Pollution on the other hand, is an issue long ignored and one that will cause some nasty messes in the not too distant future." No shit Sherlock. And yet in the interest of keeping the lobyist funded spigot flowing, minimalist pollution control has been and still is standard practice in politics.

"If there was genuine, universal scientific support for the idea that we are near to the "tipping point" cars would already be outlawed, as would most flights, most heavy industry and so on." Whoopsie. No even remotely non-totalitarian government would even begin to contemplate political suicide on such a scale. For the same reason that world fisheries are collapsing, and rainforests are being destroyed.

The tried and true method for political survival is to maintain the status quo through just one more election cycle. And much the same for survival in the corporate world. Each and every one of them is fully aware that the fecal matter is going to hit the rotarty oscillator sooner or later, their one and only concern is to keep things limping along just long enough for the shit to do its flying on someone else's watch. Be it a climate induced global catastrophe such as a multi-metre rise in sea levels, or a corporate collapse brought about by gutting a company in pursuit of ever increasing profits.

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Geobugineering

Can we try it on Mars first?

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Stop

@Dr Mouse

"So we need to kill a bunch of people to reduce the population to manageable levels, and limit population growth to manageable levels. Simples."

A fine plan. Would you care to go first?

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FAIL

@Pro Nuclear

"What's wrong with a load of Nuclear power plants? That's as green as it gets "

FAIL.

People conveniently forget that the Uranium used to power nuclear reactors is painstakingly dug out of the ground in huge open cast mines, requiring vast amounts of fossil fuel to extract and transport. Open cast mining also tends to destroy the vegetation from large areas of land in the process.

There are technologies being researched to produce viable nuclear fuel from reactor waste, but these are merely research projects, not destined for production use any time soon.

I completely agree with comments above about halting the rate of rainforest destruction. It makes the most sense, but governments won't consider acting in that area because it affects *business* ooooooohhh couldn't knock company profits eh!

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Unhappy

@Baying Lynch Mob

The numbers I was alluding to was the "missing" raw data that started the "global warming" crisis in the first place. If you can find the raw global dataset with position and time of each measuring station then you are a better person than I. I don't want hypothetical nonsense based on conjecture (that conveniently avoid any benefits of global warming). I don't need another doomsday scenario based on flawed models (if I want doomsday computer models I'll boot up left 4 dead) . Just show me some convincing evidence that 1 - there is a problem (e.g. death rates > birthrates) 2 - that the cause has been indentified scientifically using the scientific method (and not a "concensus" we all know how well that worked out for the flow of electricity) and 3. the "cure" can be shown to be effective without causing more damage than the problem. Too much to ask?

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Ocean Acidification...

What a pack of morons.

The oceans are going to get more and more acidic as we keep dumping CO2 into the air. Many species are having a hard time reproducing at the current pH. Do they WANT to test the hypothesis that if the oceans die, everything dies?

I'm a big fan of nuclear power for base load and solar / wind for spikes on hot days. Coal is a disaster. It causes an order of magnitude more deaths than nuclear and people accept it as business as usual. For example, 3 Mile Island killed no one and released less radioactivity into the local environment than the locals got from their TV sets. It shut down the nuclear industry in the USA. Where as 37 miners dying in a coal mine in the Ukraine is such a non-issue the media can't be bothered reporting it.

However, 9 out of the 10 biggest corporations on Earth are involved in oil (the 10th Walmart depends on cars). They make darn sure that the media minimizes the impact of their pollution and is shrill about pointing out the dangers of other sources of energy.

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WTF?

@AC @JWS U235 is not the only available fuel.

Simple table top scale devices exist right now, this minute, that can both "breed" and burn their own fuel from depleted uranium extending your projected fuel supply (assuming consumption at current rates) to somewhere between 3000 and 15000 years. And that is entirely ignoring the availability of thorium, an element that is several times more common than uranium.

These same devices have several other major selling points: They can be used to "incinerate" nuclear waste, rendering the multi-millenium storage argument moot; They can be used to manufacture useful radionucleides without needing a whacking great nuclear reactor; because they actively burn their fuel there is no need to pile it up until it spontaneously "ignites", thus completely eliminating all possibility of a runaway nuclear event (meltdown); and because they are fully scalable, they allow for nuclear power generation on all scales from kilowatts to multiple megawatts.

Very few technical hurdles exist for a large scale switch to nuclear power, virtually every roadblock that exists today is political in nature.

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Grenade

Re: Pointlessness

'As Bill Bailey said, "Of course, the universe is gradually slowing down and will eventually collapse inwardly on itself, according to the laws of entropy, when all it's thermal and mechanical functions fail. Thus rendering all human endeavours ultimately pointless."'

um... no. Currently accepted science is that the universe is continuing to expand (some even say still accelerating) and will eventually expand to the point where gravity becomes so weak and diffuse that atoms no longer stick together and everything just dissolves.

That is, of course, grillions of years into the future. And right before the Master turns the remnants of humanity into little balls of flying mechanical nastiness to come back in time and kill us all.

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Not science at all

Climate crap is politics and religion, not science, as this passage shows:

"Cox and Jeffery say that most climate scientists have until lately refused to discuss geoengineering as it might seem to allow continued or even increased carbon emissions - generally seen as totally unacceptable among specialists in the field."

A real scientist wouldn't try to bias a political outcome by not doing the science. These "climate scientists" are actually priests, formulating doctrine and warning off the heretics. They want to rule the world, not inform it, nor even, apparently, save it.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC

">What's wrong with a load of Nuclear power plants?

Fuel - we've got at most 100 years left at current consumption rates."

Not heard of thorium then? Or seawater uranium recovery?

The typical ecomentalist wouldn't like it, because fission's bad (M'kay?). But it's technology that's far more likely to reduce global carbon emissions (if that's what floats your boat) at a vastly lower economical and political cost than any number of wacky green-o-schemes (wind, solar, wave... etc ad nauseum)

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@nuke shortage

That would be at most a century of uranium based fuels. Thorium is far more common and with modern technology, energy can be extracted from it both more efficiently and more safely than with the old generation of pressurised water reactors.

The kinds I'm talking about range from High Temperature pebblebed reactors (Which have the advantage of complete passive safety) to liquid salt reactors, which are compact and allow for online reprocessing of the fuel to achieve almost 100% burnup (And thus very little long term waste). Both of those designs can run on thorium, though they may need some uranium or plutonium to start the reactor up.

This way, there's no need for relatively risky and hard to control breeder reactors. Thorium based reactors have the additional advantage of not producing significant amounts of uranium or plutonium, making them fairly useless for a country that wishes to build up a nuclear stockpile. Similarly the thorium fuel is pretty much useless for nuclear weapons.

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Fuel Left...

So the 100 years of Uranium at current consumption is not only proven reserves, but it is proven reserves which can be mined at the current price. Once those get depleted, there are plenty of reserves that are just more expensive, and will mined once demand pushes the prices up enough. With /all/ proven reserves we'd have nearly 50 years left running the entire planet on nuclear, with out breeder reactors. And breeder reactors are great and all for fuel, but the Plutonium they produce is just about the most toxic substance known to man, even if it wasn't highly radioactive. It isn't as simple as just saying "Lets have breeder reactors," because they make the situation so much more complex.

And whoever said we're past the oil peak production is listening to the wrong people. Oil production is not based on reserves, but on demand. Like Uranium, if demand forces prices high enough, oil production will keep up. As it stands generally only the cheapest 15-20% of oil is removed from any given reservoir before wells are shut down.

Plus most of our energy doesn't come from oil, but from coal, of which we have hundreds of years of proven reserves.

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Black Helicopters

Nuclear option

Yes the solution is nuclear. Not to power power plants ( limited amounts of fissile material, will be quickly used up, if we all moved to it as an energy source), but to treat the source of the problem, Too many greedy people. China meet the US... Go for it boys.

As a nice side benefit a nuclear winter should offset global warming to a degree...

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WTF?

A particlarly bad idea

@Elisha Sessions > "The issue is whether we want to live in a world of richness and diversity or whether we want to spend the next million years or so living in a drab, uncomfortable planet of weeds"

You are aware that the tropical regions (global warming would make the whole planet tropical) have the richest diversity of anywhere on the planet... something like 80% of all plant / animal / insect species exist only in tropical regions.

@Eponymous Cowherd > "If you start introducing poorly understood "fixes" to a poorly understood phenomenon then you are as likely to cause and even bigger disaster as you are to fix the original problem."

Exactly!!! Mankind has a spectacularly bad record when it comes to messing with natural systems. There is no reason to believe they would do any better with "engineering" global climate.

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Boffin

Climate Denial Crockery

@Fading:

Your argument looks like you're in favour of believing whatever justifies making the least effort. What "benefits" of global warming? (Being able to sit around in shorts and t-shirt more often than needing a coat isn't a huge benefit.) What "flaws" in the models? (The existence of fiction about bad stuff happening doesn't stop bad stuff happening in real life.)

``Show me some convincing evidence that

1 - there is a problem''

Dying coral reefs? The breakup of the Wilkins ice shelf?

``(e.g. death rates > birthrates) ''

Claiming that things must be OK because the population keeps growing is an incredibly simplistic, short-sighted view. The population has been growing since, um, the first human, and a potential (and potentially avoidable) catastrophe just round the corner won't be reflected in *current* birth and death rates. Are you saying that nothing needs to be done until people start dying?

``2 - that the cause has been indentified scientifically using the scientific method''

"The scientific method" involves coming up with a hypothesis based on observations, and testing it - you can reject the hypothesis when you find something that contradicts it. Have you observed something, missed by much of the scientific community, that casts doubts on the hypotheses that CO[2] (i) is a greenhouse gas and (ii) results from burning fossil fuels?

``3. the "cure" can be shown to be effective without causing more damage than the problem.''

This is the difficult bit. There aren't even any remedial actions, let alone "cures", that don't cause some damage to individuals' comfort, convenience or bank balance. That's why discussions of any new potential solutions, such as geoengineering, are important.

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Nuclear apocalypse anyone ?

The best approach to stave off global warming and to protect the 'planet' would be to engage in a global nuclear war. This would reduce the human population to sustainable levels and cause global cooling for many decades afterwards because of all the debris thrown into the atmosphere much like the proposed geoengineering.

It would also create zones uninhabitable to humans which would allow biodiversity to recover as has happened around Chernobyl. It also has the bonus benefit of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

It is also very likely to happen as food, water and energy supplies become scarcer with global warming and oil depletion - might as well get it over with sooner rather than later and then move on.

Enjoy the rest of your day.

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Silver badge

Best we get on with non-carbon energy #

Best we get on with non-carbon energy #

By Martin Gregorie

well said!

i quite like the nuclear war case by shoddy bob too.

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Black Helicopters

@Steve Swann (2nd September 2009 16:55)

Your response to Dr Mouse's global population reduction idea was: "A fine plan. Would you care to go first?". Has it not occurred to you that, if even the median level of bad that the global warming brigade is correct, there will be no need to choose amongst those of us that have the ability to read these articles and respond to them? Sure, lots of people are going to die as a result of these bad effects, but most of them are going to be in those troublesome countries close to the Equator. Whether the deaths will be as a result of weather events, lack of food/fresh water, or war brought on by the other two, the numbers of those bothersome chappies with skin that isn't really white, and that don't use enough contraception, are going to be reduced dramatically. The population of the world is likely to be significantly reduced, but not of Caucasians!

Surely, the biggest worry for those holding the reins of power is that there aren't going to be any major effects from climate change*, and the they are going to have to deal with the "problem" directly. As it is, they can just sit back and say "Well, we tried - it was their fault for not conforming to CO2 reduction because they wanted an economy like ours".

(Black helicopter because I may just have leaked the Western world's foreign policy for the next hundred years!)

*I don't believe in MMCC myself, with my reasons being well-covered by other commentators here, but I do know enough to find it astounding that people want to ascribe something that was bound to happen at some point as a result of purely natural planetary development as being bizarre. Plus, I'm old enough to remember when the climate predictiors were saying that we'd be significantly colder by now, and heading for an ice-age, so I think that really, no-one knows. For that reason alone, no-one should be starting to piss about with geo-engineering.

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