back to article Obama science chief: Geo-engineer to save Gaia!

If we can develop the scientific knowledge needed to change the climate for the benefit of humanity, and change it in a controlled manner, shouldn't we be trying to do it? Is it so different from developing antibiotics? Remarks this week by Obama's chief science advisor John Holdren have reopened the debate. Holdren says he's …


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  1. Edward Noad

    Did anyone else notice...

    ...the subtitle is a M*A*S*H quote?

    Mines the one with the Korean War Memorabilia catalog in the pocket

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  3. Nigel

    Don't forget agriculture

    I read some time ago about carbon capture by crops being a major uncertainty and variable in climate models, and a way to do geo-engineering. Chances are, humanity has been causing climate change for a lot longer than is generally realized. Since the dawn of agriculture, in fact.

    Wheat, for some reason, produces silica nodules around its rootlets. The root within one of these nodules is protected from decay for many thousands of years. Some varieties of wheat produce many more silica nodules than others. It looks like a small effect, but we grow wheat on a vast scale. When you do the sums, the amount of carbon being trapped by wheat is significant. We could increase it many-fold just by growing different existing varieties of wheat, and we could probably square that factor by selectively breeding wheat varieties to capture carbon.

    More generally, there's the root-to-leaf ratio. For any plant in any environment, there's an optimum ratio, when the roots are capable of supplying all the nutrients except for the carbon (which comes from the air as CO2). Plants do of course self-optimize. So as the level of CO2 in the air increases, they'll grow proportionately bigger roots. When the plant dies, it will have buried a greater amount of CO2, and deeper. This is probably how the biosphere remains stable, in the face of natural CO2 erruptions from supervolcanoes and continental splitting events, which dwarfed anything we've done (so far).

  4. Colin Millar

    stabilising the system

    But what represents system stability? and is it what we really want? We don't pursue stability in industrial or financial growth. We don't seek to cap the number, age or consumption of people. If we accept that human activity has an impact on the global ecosystem and don't accept that we stabilise that activity then what is actually being sought is a method to actively change the climate element to conveniently accomodate that changing activity. Given the lack of credibility of the only general model which has(had?) some degree of consensus and the week-by-week contradictions from inside the climate industry I would be very wary of large calibre magic bullet solutions. You know what they say - be careful what you wish for - you might just get it.


    Humans are meant to be good at adapting to changing situations - and even if we're not we will anyway.

  5. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Déjà vu?

    I'm sure I saw the effects of a plan to block out the sun in a documentary about 10 years ago - I think it was called "The May Tricks" or something like that...

  6. Chris Gray
    Thumb Down

    Acid Rain?

    I don't know much about this, but doesn't sulphur in the atmosphere result in the formation of weak sulphuric acid, which drops out as acid rain? That kills lots of trees, which isn't going to help the situation. This has been an issue for many years, with the effect being seen downwind of large industrial sites that spew sulphur.

  7. Stephen Hunt

    Wait a few years....

    Taking these actions may be popular in drawing in 'group-think' voters. But we do not understand the full dynamics of the ecosystem to even make valid predictions about what will occur.

    I would give it a few years, as in all likelihood all the climate models of today will be thrown out by then as 'naive'.

    Of course if you just want to spend some cash on something that feels nice to do - give it a whirl. It is unlikely that any human endeavour will have a significant impact without a huge investment. But be prepared to write off all that cash 5 years down the line.

  8. Peyton

    an apt point

    "Is it so different from developing antibiotics?"

    MRSA ftw

  9. Nev Silver badge
    Thumb Down


    This was on Tomorrow's World about 20 years ago.

    I seem to remember they reported that it'd result in pink skies.

  10. Phillip Allen

    @ Uncle Slakey

    Surely you're thinking of Highlander 3

  11. John Latham

    The main problem...

    ...with building a dam against nature is that when it fails, you drown.

    If you believe in MMGW, any safe solution must address the causes. Catastrophic failure of a sunshade with very high atmospheric CO2 levels would be "a very bad thing".

    New Scientist covered this adequately a few months ago.

  12. MinionZero

    This could do more damage than good.

    Great so we still can't predict the weather, even short term, (like say for even a few weeks), so now they want to mess with the weather.

    How the hell can they predict the long term effects, of forcing any changes to the climate, if they cannot even predict the short term behaviour of the climate.

    Talk about dismayed. The closeminded ignorant arrgance of some people seems to have no limit. But even worse this is scientists behind this move.


  13. Scott Swarthout

    @ Chris Gray

    You, sir, took my words.

    But the part that scares me is the fact that all of the climate change models ignore cloud formation; which as any one who's been out on a dreary, overcast day knows can affect the temperature. I know that's a local occurrence, but if a cow farting in a field can have global repercussions, so can a cloud reflecting several Km^2 of sunlight.

    The part that scares me even more, is that with this admittedly poor understanding, these "Friends of the planet" are proposing things like sulfur in the atmosphere (didn't we just clean up acid rain?), ruining the global economy, practicing eugenics/population control, and other extreme efforts to prevent a catastrophe that may not happen. Especially seeing as how the climate models cannot even accurately "predict" the past.

    Maybe when our understanding is complete enough that the weatherman can tell me with 95% accuracy weather or not it will rain in two weeks, I'll listen to what the climate change people are saying. Until then, they do not have the data, the models, or the math to back them up on any of their claims.

  14. Steve Foster

    Reinventing the (carbon capturing) wheel?

    Hmmm.... "carbon capture towers"...

    Didn't we used to call 'em TREES?

    Here's a really simple idea: reforest a chunk of the USA.

  15. Anonymous Coward


    Does this mean I can have my chlorofluorocarbons back? The "hole in the ozone layer" is still there... And paying 3 times as much for refrigerants that only work half as well is a sucker's game.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Skyhook with a big heat-sink.


  17. chris swain

    No, no, of course it's not...

    ..."Is it so different from developing antibiotics?"

    Er, hello? You notice odd behaviour in a petri dish, try it on a few desperately ill sample humans and it works, downside if it fails; some poorly humans die.

    If your geoengineering fails and the poorly planet takes a sudden nosedive? How many centuries of uninformed tinkering led to penicilin and how many unintended fatalities were there along the way?

    I'm fairly ambivalent about MMGW because I'm cynical about the skills of the powers that be to do anything useful but rest assured, I'm doing my bit, my collection of old nails are all appallingly fuel-inefficient so petrol won't be a problem for much longer! Their oil consumption should balance things out nicely with the particulate-albedo contribution too :o)

    Petrol is evil and must be burned!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Give it 5 years or so

    World Governments will declare that world temperatures are falling and proclaim their climate-change measures as unmitigated successes - why else would they be covering up the fact that temperatures are falling already? It's a global conspiracy.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Simpsons Did It

    Didn't Mr. Burns try this already? And we all know how that turned out...

  20. BioTube

    We're in an ice age

    Global warming just means we're moving on. These wackos need to get over themselves.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Man Arrogance

    Ahh, the arrogance of man, thinking he can control nature. Isn't it everytime man tries to fix something he just creates another problem. Just leave it alone, there will be a good volcanoe erruption every now and again to correct things.

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  27. Anonymous Coward

    Do you really want to eat?

    "But what represents system stability? " - Colin

    To a first order approximation we can presume the climate over the last 2,000 years excluding the last 100 which has been artificially warmed by man.

    Further research will be used to provide the second and third order components.

    "and is it what we really want?" - Colin

    Do you really want to eat?

  28. Vendicar Decarian

    Whining American Conservatives

    "I don't know much about this, but doesn't sulphur in the atmosphere result in the formation of weak sulphuric acid, which drops out as acid rain? "

    It does, and that is why it won't be used, no matter how much whining American Conservatives demand it.

  29. Colin Millar

    @ AC 13 April 10:45

    Too busy spamming to read the whole of something before responding eh?

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