Climate: Could 'Dr. Strangelove' idea be an option?

Aug 30, 2012

A controversial idea to brake global warming, first floated by the father of the hydrogen bomb, is affordable and technically feasible, but its environmental impact remains unknown, a trio of US scientists say.

Sowing the stratosphere with particles to reflect the Sun and cool the planet is possible with current technology and would cost a fraction of the bill from or reducing emissions by fossil fuels, they argue.

Back in 1997, as man-made global warming became a political issue, US Edward Teller and others suggested spreading sulphate particles into the .

Carried around the globe on high-speed winds, the whitish , known as aerosols, would reflect the Sun, reducing by around one percent.

It would provide a cooling similar to when volcanoes spew out , said Teller, who argued this option was far smarter than switching out of cheap and dependable .

Teller, a hawk on who reputedly inspired the movie character Dr. Strangelove, was lashed for an idea that critics said was unworkable and laden with risk.

The new study, published in the British journal Environmental Research Letters, makes a cost analysis of so-called solar radiation management, or SRM, by aerosols.

In itself, the publication shows scientists' growing interest in examining—if not endorsing—once-mocked options as bust new records and political solutions lie beyond the horizon.

The study says the basic technology to distribute the aerosols exists and could be implemented for less than $5 billion (four billion euros) a year.

By comparison, the cost of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to safer levels is estimated at between 0.2 and 2.5 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP) in 2030, roughly equivalent to $200 billion to $2,000 billion (160 to 1,600 billion euros), it says.

"We think this work demonstrates that it (SRM) is feasible by showing that several independent options can transport the required material at a cost that is less than one percent of climate damages or the cost of mitigation," says the paper, headed by Jay Apt, a professor at the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.

"Removing this uncertainty is relevant whatever one's view about implementation of SRM."

The probe estimated costs of systems that would deliver one million tonnes of particles each year at a height of 18-25 kilometres (11.25-15.6 miles) in a latitude range of 30 degrees north and 30 degrees south.

The best option would be to develop specialised aircraft, as current airliners cannot fly at such attitudes. Airships would be cheaper but their bulk would make them vulnerable to jetstream winds.

Other options included guns to fire particle-stuffed shells into the atmosphere and a 20-km (12-mile) -high pipe, suspended by helium-filled floating platforms, to disgorge a particulate stream.

Compared to aircraft, though, the technology was either underpowered, too costly or too hypothetical.

The investigators stress they did not look at environmental risk or problems of governance and warn SRM can only be implemented when these and other questions are answered.

In a 2009 overview of geo-engineering, Britain's prestigious Royal Society said could be deployed quickly and could start reducing temperatures within a year.

But, it warned, they would not stop the buildup of atmospheric CO2, which is leading to dangerous acidification of the oceans. There could also be an impact on Earth's ozone layer and on regional rainfall patterns.

In July, German reseachers reported on another geo-engineering idea—of fertilising the sea with iron particles so that the plankton sucks up CO2, eventually storing the carbon on the seabed when it dies and falls to the depths.

The scheme did work in particular conditions of a swirling Antarctica eddy, but further work is needed to see what happens in conditions with sideways currents, they said. The German experiment did not look at the environmental impact.

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freethinking
2.1 / 5 (15) Aug 30, 2012
Trust Environmentalist Progressives to come up with plans which if implemented would destroy the world.

axemaster
4.4 / 5 (9) Aug 30, 2012
But, it warned, they would not stop the buildup of atmospheric CO2, which is leading to dangerous acidification of the oceans.

This is the primary problem with all geoengineering ideas. And it's one of the main reasons most scientists regard the concept with something akin to horror. Geoengineering is nothing more than a pretext to allow the continued operation of industries that would otherwise end up heavily regulated because of the damage they are causing.

Trust Environmentalist Progressives to come up with plans which if implemented would destroy the world.

I would point out that this concept is mostly supported by conservatives and oil industry execs.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) Aug 31, 2012
Geoengineering is a really bad idea. We're still too much in the phase where we think in monocausal terms: "have problem A - apply solution B"...without realizing that we live in a fully interconnected world (universe) where changes in A will also affect C, D, E, etc.
and the number of hotfixes one would need to apply to fix THEM, should anything go awry, will become increasingly finnicky (if a fix is possible at all).

Example: Fukushima is in danger of blowing up. Let's fix this by dumping seawater on the reactor. Unexpected (?) result: radioactive fish are appearing on dinner tables everywhere.
Hotfix for that? None available.
And that was for a very local disaster.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (6) Aug 31, 2012
It would be hard to resist getting into a mode of operation: "now it's less expensive to cause this much more pollution - we can always just inject more of these aerosols into the atmosphere to remediate." And the net radiation is reduced by 2%, 5%, 10%, etc.

This will eventually have undesirable side effects, but they will appear so gradually, and the pressure to keep applying this remediation will be so irresistible, that it won't be possible to stop.
Sigh
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 31, 2012
Trust Environmentalist Progressives to come up with plans which if implemented would destroy the world.

That's the first time I have seen Teller described as an environmental progressive.

If you want data on who is in favour of or reassured by geoengineering, read this and follow the links to the published papers: http://www.cultur...ate.html
kiwiiano
5 / 5 (5) Aug 31, 2012
This is an old suggestion, crawling with loopholes. Blocking incoming radiation may limit temperature rises but it won't stop oceanic acidification (climate change's evil twin brother). Do you really want lifeless oceans at a time when populations pressures are increasing? Plus once you get that tiger by the tail, you can't let go, ever. If you do, and fossil carbon emmissions have continued unrelentingly, the temperature bounceback may be horrendous.
rubberman
5 / 5 (4) Aug 31, 2012
Let's turn the earth into the solar systems equivalent of an aging hollywood starlette. Repeated plastic surgury to cosmetically fix each problem so that in the publics eye everything still looks good, while continuously masking growing problems that will eventually cause her demise.

It's very sad that we are at the point where this option would even be considered as a last ditch effort, let alone a mitigation strategy so that we can continue doing what we are right now. This is a gun that is going to backfire and kill the wielder of the weapon.
Jeddy_Mctedder
3 / 5 (2) Aug 31, 2012
The only thing more reassuring than the utter incompetence of people who conceive of these plans, is the utter predictability of the politicians who will not even entertain stupidity like this.

the only shame is that there is funding for studies like this. I would as soon fund studies about the effects of sacrificing first born upon climate change. this psuedoscience garbage.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Aug 31, 2012
Let's turn the earth into the solar systems equivalent of an aging hollywood starlette. Repeated plastic surgury to cosmetically fix each problem so that in the publics eye everything still looks good, while continuously masking growing problems that will eventually cause her demise.


Cue music fom 'Brazil'.

It's very sad that we are at the point where this option would even be considered as a last ditch effort,

And it speaks volume about who calls the shots. Geoengineering is something that allows one business to keep doing something very profitable (polluting) while it starts up another business (someone will have to pay for the materials needed and the deployment)

But I rather suspect not all nations will agree to do it and some may even see this as an act of war if it's deployed unilaterally (especially if that nation has a significant solar power industry).
rubberman
5 / 5 (2) Aug 31, 2012
"But I rather suspect not all nations will agree to do it and some may even see this as an act of war if it's deployed unilaterally (especially if that nation has a significant solar power industry)."

This was actually my first thought when I read the article, it would require global agreement beyond the level of the Montreal protocol. Except not all nations will be hurt by global warming, which makes a global concensus to stop it via geoengineering very unlikely. Well said AP.
jerryd
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2012

If you add all FF together plus likely finds the world only has 40-50 yrs worth so using this tech to use them means we'll just pay more as FF prices continue to rise.

On the other side is getting off FF's because they are expensive and getting more so with a bullet, other sources can and will easily make up the difference. Nor does it have to cost anymore than we pay now, just have to put up 2-4yrs worth of fuel costs to buy the rather simple equipment, more simple than a moped, and get almost free energy for 20-50 yrs. Now which of these are less expensive?

Those who don't go this or other than FF way will pay through the nose over the next 5 yrs with energy doubling and oil tripling.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2012
Now which of these are less expensive?

The problem is that the ones buying it are people and companies. especially companies are shareholder driven (i.e. long term planning with 2-4 years worth of investments is a big no-go). Likewise with a shrinking middle class and a larger poor class. They don't have the money to invest in this kind of future technology.
Almost all nations are also so far in debt that they cannot stem that investment.
It's really a vicious cycle of paying ever more for something that you cannot get rid off because the initial cost would kill you.
axemaster
not rated yet Aug 31, 2012
It's really a vicious cycle of paying ever more for something that you cannot get rid off because the initial cost would kill you.

I don't agree with that at all. We paid for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they costed more than a trillion dollars. For the same price we could probably get most of the way to 100% solar usage, especially given that the price of solar is expected to be cut in half over the next few years.

It's purely a lack of political will. The GOP has decided to pretend that global warming isn't real. And overall, most politicians don't have any training in math or the physical sciences, so they really aren't capable of comprehending the problem.

Also, I think it's a hubris thing. The USA has this weird notion that we can survive even while the rest of the world goes wrong. Sadly that is going to prove brutally incorrect.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2012
Geoengineering is a really bad idea. We're still too much in the phase where we think in monocausal terms: "have problem A - apply solution B"...without realizing that we live in a fully interconnected world (universe) where changes in A will also affect C, D, E, etc.
You see, I can fully agree with it by now. The contemporary science is too oriented to deterministic low dimensional models. The more complex emergent phenomena make trouble for schematically thinking people and they open place for those, who are promoting simple straightforward solutions. Especially when they promise an opportunity of god income. From technical perspective, I'm not aware of particles, the surface of which could remain reflecting for years under atmospheric conditions. Even the silver mirrors are losing their reflectivity fast and they change into ideal absorbers.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Sep 01, 2012
. We paid for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, they costed more than a trillion dollars. For the same price we could probably get most of the way to 100% solar usage,

Fair enough. I would point out that different people would benefit from investement in solar than in war. The government is (and has always been) owned by those who benefit from war.

War is something you can pay for by taxcpayers money (and taking up loans from other nations). Insulating homes, putting solar on roofs, buying electric vehicles....that's all stuff that has to come largely out of individuals' pockets (even with state subsidies). Most people aren't in financial shape to do that. And China doesn't give out loans to indiviuals (and individual money printing presses are not yet on the market)
So I think the comparison is not quite as simple.