Artificial cooling tricky topic for climate panel

Apr 10, 2014 by Karl Ritter
In this May 10, 2011 file photo, workers cover the glacier with oversized plastic sheets on the peak of Germany's highest mountain Zugspitze (2962 meters) near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany. The sheets are meant to keep the glacier from melting during the summer months. It's Plan B in the fight against climate change: cooling the planet by sucking heat-trapping CO2 from the air or reflecting sunlight back into space. The U.N.'s expert panel on climate change is under pressure from both sides this week in Berlin, Germany, as it considers whether geoengineering should be part of the toolkit that governments use to keep global warming in check. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File)

It's Plan B in the fight against climate change: cooling the planet by sucking heat-trapping CO2 from the air or reflecting sunlight back into space.

Called , it's considered mad science by opponents. Supporters say it would be foolish to ignore it, since plan A—slashing carbon emissions from fossil fuels—is moving so slowly.

The U.N.'s on is under pressure from both sides this week as it considers whether geoengineering should be part of the tool-kit that governments use to keep global warming in check.

Russia, in particular, has been pushing the panel to place more emphasis on such techniques in a key document for policymakers being finalized in Berlin this week.

Drafts leaked before the conference only mentioned one of the options, removing CO2 from the air and storing it underground. Russia, a major oil and gas producer, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should also mention solar radiation management, which could include everything from covering open surfaces with reflective materials or placing sun-mirrors in orbit around the Earth.

"It is expedient to give a short description of the approach and mention the major 'pro and contra'," Russia said in comments submitted to the IPCC and seen by The Associated Press.

But even advocates of studying geoengineering express doubts.

"Really at the present moment there is a high level of uncertainty surrounding all of these options," said Steve Rayner, co-director of Oxford University's geoengineering program. Still, he said it's worth continuing to research geoengineering "to get a better sense of whether there's any merit in pursuing these technologies further."

In this July 4, 2005 file photo Marc Olefs, left, and Andrea Fischer, researchers from the Innsbruck University check a field covered with white polyethylene against the backdrop of majestic jagged peaks at Eisgrat (Ice Spine) skiing station on Stubai glacier near the village of Neustift im Stubaital in the alpine Austrian province of Tyrol. It's Plan B in the fight against climate change: cooling the planet by sucking heat-trapping CO2 from the air or reflecting sunlight back into space. The U.N.'s expert panel on climate change is under pressure from both sides this week in Berlin, Germany, as it considers whether geoengineering should be part of the toolkit that governments use to keep global warming in check. (AP Photo/George Jahn, File)

After discussions among governments and scientists, a mention of geoengineering was added last year to the first of four summaries of the IPCC's authoritative assessment on climate change. They are now working on the third one, which deals specifically with fighting climate change.

The document is important because it will be used as scientific guidance for governments as they negotiate a new global climate pact, set to be adopted in 2015.

Some environmental activists watching the talks in Berlin want the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to scratch references to geoengineering altogether. They worry that such technologies would be ineffective, possibly harmful and delay efforts to shift the world's energy system from oil and coal to low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar power.

"It seems like a dangerous gamble to hold up this technology that may not work," said Jim Thomas, of the Canada-based ETC Group.

However, the IPCC's draft document says that unless emissions are cut much faster than currently projected, measures to scrub CO2 from the air will be have to be deployed to avoid potentially dangerous levels of warming.

The problem is those technologies don't exist yet or are in an experimental stage. No one knows whether they will be successful.

Ideas include spraying clouds with seawater to make them more reflective or pumping aerosols into the air to mimic the cooling effect from major volcanic eruptions.

Each is associated with unknown risks, including potentially shifting weather patterns or damaging the ozone layer that protects the Earth from ultraviolet sunrays.

One technology that is currently being tested at a small scale is called "bio-energy with carbon capture and storage," or BECCS. The idea is to grow crops that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere then burn them in a power station to generate energy. The resulting CO2 emissions are captured at the plant and then stored deep underground. The net effect of that process is that CO2 is removed from the air.

In a scientific report underlying the summary for policy-makers being discussed in Berlin and obtained by AP, the IPCC notes that BECCS could play a key role in curbing the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere, which scientists say is the main reason for . However, it would have to be deployed at a large scale, which would require major investments. There could also be negative impacts if food crops are replaced by bio-crops.

Right now the carbon removed through this technique is only a fraction of the 30 billion tons of CO2 emitted annually from the combustion of fossil fuels.

"BECCS faces large challenges in financing and currently no such plants have been built and tested at scale," the IPCC says in the draft report.

Explore further: Climate meeting to discuss future of fossil fuels

3.8 /5 (12 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Climate meeting to discuss future of fossil fuels

Apr 05, 2014

After concluding that global warming almost certainly is man-made and poses a grave threat to humanity, the U.N.-sponsored expert panel on climate change is moving on to the next phase: what to do about it.

Recommended for you

Study shows no lead pollution in oilsands region

18 hours ago

New research from a world-renowned soil and water expert at the University of Alberta reveals that there's no atmospheric lead pollution in Alberta's oilsands region—a finding that contradicts current scientific ...

User comments : 11

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TegiriNenashi
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 10, 2014
"Some environmental activists watching the talks in Berlin want the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to scratch references to geoengineering altogether. They worry that such technologies would be ineffective, possibly harmful and delay efforts to shift the world's energy system from oil and coal to low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar power."

So it is not about global warming (and it never were), but about enforcing a specific policy. I wonder what those notorious Koch brothers did to piss off those kids, did they pay (with evil oil money) to bully them in school?
julianpenrod
1.3 / 5 (6) Apr 10, 2014
Always the same, the rich create the problems and, instead of "government" coming right out and ordering them to stop, the "rank and file" get stuck with the bill. The criminal conspiracy between "doctors", "drug" companies, insurance carriers and the "courts" resulted in "healthcare" prices rising so high, people could no longer afford to pay out of pocket. Instead of reining in the crooks, Obama simply orders everyone to but insurance, whether it's too expensive whether it works for them or not! The rich ruin the environment and the "rank and file" are offered prospects like umbrellas in space eliminating bright, blue skies. And, face it, it's chemtrails, the program of adulterating the air with weather modification chemicals from high flying jets, producing long, non dissipating vapor lanes which stretch from horizon to horizon and can last for up to an hour, which is causing climate change, not "fossil fuels".
ScooterG
1 / 5 (4) Apr 10, 2014
The criminal conspiracy between "doctors", "drug" companies, insurance carriers and the "courts" resulted in "healthcare" prices rising so high, people could no longer afford to pay out of pocket.


Ha!

Rising health care costs is likely due to too many welfare recipients paying nothing for world-class health care - in other words, too much governmental intervention in what should be private enterprise and free market.

If the government forced Wal-Mart to give one-third of their inventory free-of-charge to "the poor" each year, what do you think would happen to the selling price of the other two-thirds?
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 10, 2014
If we really must try some cooling trick as "plan B" then put a largish lightsail at L1. I feel that would be feasible and economically possible given today's technology, as it isn't complex and does not require overly much in the way of payload*.

That way we don't endanger the environment by any unanticipated side-effects and we can always "turn it off" when it's done its job (or it turns out that there are unintentional side effects) at a moment's notice.
(A "plan B" with a "plan C", so to speak).

*And, being a lighsail, it could autocorrect its position with minimal adjustments in geometry/reflectance since L1 isn't stable.
howhot2
5 / 5 (3) Apr 12, 2014
I'm of the opinion that the flatearther's have won. The Koch's and all of the minions have invaded and taken over the free speech on Phys.org such that a good discussion is hard to have. However, who needs debate when everyone knows the flatearthers and deniers of AGW are nothing more than flying monkeys sent in by Koch money.
The question from the article is can "bio-energy with carbon capture and storage" BECCS help reduce CO2 levels at a global scale? We will see won't we?

Its the same Howhot, but with a different email.

The Alchemist
not rated yet Apr 12, 2014
@hothot-Was there ever a chance they would loose? They have the money. Even though we've been on different shores, we've been fighting the same tide. Alas.

So pertinent question for you Hh: What do models make of the recent "cooling." Do they inductively parameterize the magnitude, source or anything. It is quite the puzzling to me, barring some crazy stuff, as the Sun is in a local max., right?

On another strain: I suppose it is stupid to stop cutting ourselves, when we can bandage the wound?
The Alchemist
not rated yet Apr 12, 2014
(Healthcare costs are about applying the "your money or your life" economic principal to Healthcare. Oh wait, that's a highway robbery principal.)
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (2) Apr 12, 2014
There may come a time when we are pining for global warming. Solar minima anyone?

https://www.youtu...AnECkaME
The Alchemist
5 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2014
It is at a local max, but that max is smaller than previous ones...
http://m1.i.pbase...wX0C.jpg

Obfuscators are always pulling this legerdemain.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2014
It is at a local max, but that max is smaller than previous ones...
http://m1.i.pbase...wX0C.jpg

Obfuscators are always pulling this legerdemain.

Watch the video, he isn't referring to the 11 year-cycle in this context. The minima being discussed is one of Maunder significance.
Shakescene21
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2014
@Antialias -- Your lightsail is a much better idea than placing sun-mirrors in orbit, and probably much cheaper.
I prefer the BECCS concept, although a straight biofuel power plant might be a more realistic way to reduce carbon emissions while we wait for carbon-capture technology to improve.