Geoengineering could save Earth -- or destroy it

Geoengineering could save Earth _ or destroy it (AP)
Women dance and sing as they gather to have their voices heard by governments and policy makers during the climate change conference taking place in Durban, South Africa, Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011. The U.N.'s top climate scientist cautioned climate negotiators Wednesday global warming is leading to human dangers and soaring financial costs, but containing carbon emissions will have a host of benefits. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
(AP) -- Brighten clouds with sea water? Spray aerosols high in the stratosphere? Paint roofs white and plant light-colored crops? How about positioning "sun shades" over the Earth?

At a time of deep concern over global warming, a group of scientists, philosophers and legal scholars examined whether human intervention could artificially cool the Earth - and what would happen if it did.

A report released late Thursday in London and discussed Friday at the U.N. in South Africa said that - in theory - reflecting a small amount of sunlight back into space before it strike's the Earth's surface would have an immediate and dramatic effect.

Within a few years, would return to levels of 250 years ago, before the industrial revolution began dumping carbon dioxide into the air, trapping heat and causing temperatures to rise.

But no one knows what the side effects would be.

They could be physical - unintentionally changing weather patterns and rainfall. Even more difficult, it could be political - spurring conflict among nations unable to agree on how such intervention, or geoengineering, will be controlled.

The idea of management "has the potential to be either very useful or very harmful," said the study led by Britain's Royal Society, the Washington-based Environmental Defense Fund and TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world based in Trieste, Italy.

The final report grew out of three days of talks in a quiet country retreat last March, the climax of a yearlong dialogue spanning experts in 22 countries.

It was prompted in part by the failure of a 20-year U.N. negotiating process to take decisive action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from , responsible for .

"The slow progress of international climate negotiations has led to increased concerns that sufficient cuts in may not be achieved in time to avoid unacceptable levels of climate change," the report said.

But geoengineering is not an alternative to climate action, said John Shepherd, a British oceanographer from the University of Southampton who was a lead author of the report.

"Nobody thought this provides a justification for not reducing carbon emissions," Shepherd said in a telephone interview from London.

"We have to stick with Plan A for the time being, and that could be a very long time indeed," he said. "This would buy time for people to make the transition to a low-carbon economy."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change foresees temperatures rising as much as 6.4 degrees Celsius (11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, swelling the seas with melted glacial water and disrupting climate conditions around the globe.

Releasing millions of tons of sulfur dioxide in the upper atmosphere would mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption, lowering global temperature about 0.5 Centigrade (0.9 Fahrenheit), which can last for a year or two when it occurs naturally.

But deliberately tinkering with nature to counter global warming can only be a stopgap measure, and is fraught with danger, the report said.

Action such as spraying sulfur into the air or brightening clouds with sea water to reflect more sunlight would have to be sustained indefinitely because "there would be a large and rapid climate change if it were terminated suddenly," the report said.

Hazy skies could alter and agriculture, replacing one source of climate change with another.

Years of study are required to calculate the environmental impacts, but the bigger questions are political.

Who would decide where and when to conduct experiments, and where to set the global thermostat? What would happen if a country acted on its own without an international agreement? Would it discourage efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions?

Notions of manipulating the climate to impede global warming have been on the fringe of scientific discussion for some time, but is moving increasingly toward the mainstream.

In the United States, a group of 18 U.S. experts from the sciences, social sciences and national security unveiled a report in October urging the federal government to begin research on the feasibility and potential effectiveness of geoengineering.

"The United States needs to be able to judge whether particular climate remediation techniques could offer a meaningful response to the risks of climate change," said that report sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Shepherd said the 65-page Thursday's report was intended to start the conversation.

"No government asked us to do this. The U.N. didn't ask us," he said.

"I hope it can be continued in a more formal and mandated framework, because eventually somebody will have to take some decisions."

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Dec 02, 2011
I don't like the idea of trying to control the climate, we will only seriously fuck things up way more than we have already.

Dec 02, 2011
I don't like the idea of trying to control the climate, we will only seriously fuck things up way more than we have already.

Agreed. Geoengineering is one of those sciences where we don't have a 'plan B' if it fails (spectacularly).
Not that we haven't ever acted on such make-or-break issues. The calculations for the first hydrogen bomb showed a low (but not zero) probability of setting the entire atmosphere of the planet ablaze - but tests went ahead anyways.
So I'm not sure we'll be smart enough to stop ourselves from tinkering.

Painting roofs white is a rather harmless experiment (it's easy to reverse) - but spraying stuff into the atmosphere/stratosphere or dumping iron into the oceans or somesuch? No way we could clean that up if the effects were detrimental.

Anyhow: We're polluting our atmosphere. Blocking some sunlight doesn't change THAT. So we should focus on anything that reduces the pollution.

Dec 02, 2011
The united nations is dangerous, they are already engaging in geoengineering and they won't admit to much (although bits and pieces get out). These people are the enemy, and their efforts will more than likely destroy the earth with incrementally more drastic tainting of nature.

Dec 02, 2011
Even given the wide spectrum of possible extremes, by and large our weather is very stable - or I should probably say "comparatively stable" - when compared to the other planets. Thanks, Oceans, for being such good mitigating factors! You guys* are terrific!

That said, any successful effort to seriously alter the level of solar input to an area of the planet large enough to be worth attempting will cause storms the likes of which haven't been seen in recorded history as the atmosphere attempts to cope with and neutralize unseasonable (not to mention unnatural) variances. This is hinted at in the fifth paragraph above, but instead of saying the side effects "could be" physical, which I admit is true, I think it would be better couched as "hard to see how they wouldn't be" physical...

It's not nice to screw with Mother Nature...

*No assumption of pelagic gender should be inferred from this expression of gratitude.

Dec 02, 2011
The U.N.'s top climate scientist have lost credibility.

See: "Deep roots of the global climate scandal (1971-2011)"

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo

Dec 03, 2011
Reminds me of Victor Borge who said that his uncle invented a cure for which there was no disease. When he eventually realised there was no disease he went mad. He then caught the cure and died. Seems to fit well with AGW doomsayers.

Dec 03, 2011
Oliver Manuel's recent efforts to plaster and other public news sites with his theories and personal URLs are a bit puzzling, as scientists have a variety of publications available to communicate directly to each other in. My best guess is that he is desperately trying to prop up his legacy in light of his arrest in his university office on 7 charges of rape and sodomy based on allegations by 4 of his own children. The charges have been reduced to one count of felony attempted sodomy, not necessarily because of his innocence, but because of the statute of limitations. One can only guess how the recent charges and decades of family strife have affected his ability to reason rationally and to remain objective while defending his unpopular theories

Dec 03, 2011
Yes, "or destroy it." Whence the Precautionary Principle, once a favorite tool of the prog-left-AGW-ists?
The geoengineering is the leftist's approach as well, based on the communist motto, "we can command the wind and rain". From AWT perspective all global, centralized approached tend to behave in socialistic way, whereas the capitalistic style prefers local economical feedback at the communal level. Because with increasing density of subjects the evolution becomes cyclical, it's not accidental, that the contemporary capitalism gets the communists traits gradually again. It's not good or bad: it's simply a geometric consequence of the evolution and we cannot avoid it.

Dec 03, 2011
^report abuse
- FrankH

.. even the dull and ignorant have a story to tell. You have something to say about the article FrankH ?

no one knows what the side effects would be
- from the article


Dec 03, 2011
Want to know about Chemtrails, HAARP , VLF, UHF and weather modification? Want to prove it to a non-believer? Here you go!

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