Fed report: Time to examine purposely cooling planet idea

February 10, 2015 bySeth Borenstein

It's time to study and maybe even test the idea of cooling the Earth by injecting sulfur pollution high in the air to reflect the sun's heat, a first-of-its-kind federal science report said Tuesday.

The idea was once considered fringe—to purposely re-engineer the planet's climate as a last ditch effort to battle global warming with an artificial cloud. No longer.

In a nuanced, two-volume report, the National Academy of Sciences said that the concept should not be acted upon immediately because it is too risky, but it should be studied and perhaps tested outdoors in small projects. It could be a relatively cheap, effective and quick way to cool the planet by mimicking the natural effects on climate of large volcanic eruptions, but scientists concede there could be dramatic and dangerous side effects that they don't know about.

Because warming has worsened and some countries might act unilaterally, scientists said research is needed to calculate the consequences.

Panel chairwoman Marcia McNutt, editor of the journal Science and former director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said in an interview that the public should read this report "and say, 'This is downright scary.' And they should say, 'If this is our Hail Mary, what a scary, scary place we are in.'"

This is the first time a government-associated science panel talked about the controlled small scale outdoor tests of the artificial cloud concept, called solar radiation management or SRM. But even then panelists downplayed the idea and said it would require some kind of government or other oversight before it is done.

"Yes, small scale outdoor tests might be allowed, but it wouldn't just be in the hands of scientists to decide what's allowable and what's not allowable," McNutt said. "Civil society needs to engage in these discussions where the line is to be drawn."

Some scientists worry that research itself it will make this type of planet hacking more likely to occur.

"This creates a bit of what we call a moral hazard," said Waleed Abdalati, a University of Colorado ice scientist and former NASA chief scientist who co-authored the report. "There will likely come a time we're going to want to know the ramifications of that kind of action. ... You're talking about potentially changing weather and climate. You don't want to do that without as good an understanding as you can possibly have."

And the committee scientists said once you start this type of tinkering, it would be difficult to stop because warming would come back with such a force. So a decision to spray particles into the air would have to continue for more than 1,000 years.

The report was requested by U.S. intelligence agencies, academy president Ralph J. Ciccerone said. Because the world is not reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, scientists have been forced "to at least consider what is known as geoengineering," he said.

The panel did favor technology to suck carbon dioxide from the air and bury it underground. But unlike the artificial cloud concept, it would be costly and take decades to cool the planet. The panel wrote a separate volume on this method with the idea of distancing the concept from the idea of the artificial cloud, which McNutt described as a political hot potato.

Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the burning of coal, oil and gas. Removing it from the air treats the cause of man-made global warming, while deflecting the sun with an artificial cloud only treats the symptoms and does nothing about ocean acidification, the report said.

A leading climate engineering scientist, David Keith of Harvard, hailed the report, but said it could have gone further. With backing from billionaire Bill Gates, Keith has proposed an experiment involving putting about two pounds (1 kilogram) of a sulfur solution in the air to see what happens.

Rutgers University scientist Alan Robock said it would be interesting to spray a small sulfur dioxide into a cloud, and use a blimp or drone to measure what happens. But that should only be done with proper oversight, he said.

Other climate scientists are adamantly against injecting sulphates into the air, even as a last ditch effort.

Such an idea "could do far more harm than good" and scientists should treat the Earth like doctors do their patients, abiding by the rule "first, do no harm," said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann. But he favors increased study of the issue "if only for one purpose: to expose just how dangerous many of these schemes might be."

While the artificial cloud idea is a much worse option that carbon dioxide removal, it is more attractive to some people because "we could probably do it right now," said Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences professor Andrew Dessler. "There's really very little that's technologically standing in our way."

Explore further: 'Climate hacking' would be easy – that doesn't mean we should do it

More information: National Academy of Science: www.nas.edu/

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18 comments

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LariAnn
3.5 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2015
It's more attractive . . . because we can do it right now? Yes, well, global thermonuclear war is something we can do right now, but is it what we really want to do? To me, tampering with the Earth as proposed by these "scientists" is as irresponsible as global thermonuclear war, and would probably have similar, if slower, effects (global year-round winter and a premature onset of a major ice age). If this is what "science" has to offer, perhaps we need to eliminate the National Academy of Sciences. The resulting sharp decrease in hot air emission would surely slow global warming more efficiently than what they are proposing.
foolspoo
5 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2015
This is pathetic. the answers are right in front of us, but there are too many pockets that are unwilling to get smaller.
egolla
2.7 / 5 (6) Feb 10, 2015
It is not as big a gamble as most of you seem to think. Volcanoes have been doing this in an uncontrolled way for millions of years and they are injecting thousands of tons of Sulfur Dioxide. And, just like volcanoes, any Sulfur Dioxide we do inject will have a limited life time in the atmosphere. I agree that reducing the input of Carbon Dioxide would be preferable for many reasons. But, I doesn't look like that is going to happen anytime soon. Should we just sit on our hands and do nothing?
Losik
Feb 10, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Shootist
1 / 5 (5) Feb 10, 2015
Fed report


Obama, The Community Organizer in Chief's Fed?

ROTFLMAO!

The Climate Fraud® continues. "The polar bears will be fine" - Freeman Dyson.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2015
"FED" report?

I thought the NAS was supposed to be independent.
Water_Prophet
1 / 5 (5) Feb 10, 2015
Hmmmm, considering they still don't understand the current state, end goal, and what they'd be changing, I still have to come down for it. The thing is what are they really changing? Upper atm flux does not equal ground heat.

Removing radiation is very different from changing CO2. If they do this they're going to have to admit the real issue. Whatever it may be, and regardless it won't exactly be apples to apples.

But why seed the atmosphere? Why not do something cool like reforest deserts, or something. I know, it's cheaper. But was building the pyramids cheaper? Was going to the moon cheaper?
xstos
4 / 5 (4) Feb 11, 2015
Classic. Treating the symptoms not the cause. Seven billion simian nutbars hell-bent on destruction. It doesn't matter anyway. An unforeseen exigent event unrelated to warming will unravels us. They'll be paying attention to their thermometers when our overstressed and depleted ecosystems pull a black swan. Somehow symbiosis is too difficult to fathom for the psychopaths that drive world industry.
Returners
1 / 5 (5) Feb 11, 2015
Classic. Treating the symptoms not the cause. Seven billion simian nutbars hell-bent on destruction. It doesn't matter anyway. An unforeseen exigent event unrelated to warming will unravels us. They'll be paying attention to their thermometers when our overstressed and depleted ecosystems pull a black swan. Somehow symbiosis is too difficult to fathom for the psychopaths that drive world industry.


If not for Steve Jobs and company plus Bill Gates and company none of us would be here discussing anything, as home computing and mobile computing would basically be non-existent.
tear88
5 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2015
Spraying ANOTHER chemical into the atmosphere won't do anything to address ocean acidification. Only removing CO2 will do that.
Losik
Feb 14, 2015
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Water_Prophet
1 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2015
Spraying ANOTHER chemical into the atmosphere won't do anything to address ocean acidification. Only removing CO2 will do that.

How about floating barges of floating glassy CaO? Very benign, as slow dissolving as you like, very basic.
Shelgeyr
not rated yet Feb 15, 2015
Won't happen. Plenty of people would consider such to be acts of war and respond accordingly, as they should.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2015
Question to Water_Prophet
To be clear to everyone observing your evasion first verify u accept terms/definition re vocation as real PC does:-
https://en.wikipe...hemistry
?
This is your very obvious pattern.

When asked direct question re your claimed degree U ignore it & instead make irrelevant claims, u CANNOT answer simple direct questions in your claimed degree - why ?

It appears u are caught out yet AGAIN !

So, as a claimed Physical Chemist, is your particular training commensurate with the definition in link I supplied above ?

Obviously it SHOULD be as the uni definitions r global but, I will give u a chance to exclude an issue u missed in a lecture or failed to pass in or needed a supplementary due to illness at a main exam.

So tell re Physical Chemistry as per link above.

R U or R U not educated in this field re a degree with ALL it implies ?

btw: In Oz "graduate level" means studies towards uni degree qualification.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2015
Elsewhere re the tragedy of Water_Prophet...

Water_Prophet claimed
This means all future increases in atmospheric temperature must have another powerful source. Not CO2!
I wonder what it could be?
I wonder Y someone who claims to be a Physical Chemist (PC) is impotent/clueless as to how to determine quantification of the most appropriate units of Watts per Square meter re CO2 or ANY greenhouse gas ?

As if Water_Prophet completely lied about his claimed degree as a PC ?

Why can't a PC determine energy in Joules by formulating the increase in thermal resistivity of CO2's absorbancy/re-radiation of long wave infra red to Space ?

What seems to be wrong with this Water_Prophet, who makes lots of egotistical claims re his multiple 4 technical degrees yet CANNOT talk like one, articulate fundamentals like one & evades any discussion on issues he cannot find addressed via google ?

Water_Prophet grow up, own up or AT LEAST prove your claimed credentials ?

Caught !
barakn
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2015
Spraying ANOTHER chemical into the atmosphere won't do anything to address ocean acidification. Only removing CO2 will do that.

How about floating barges of floating glassy CaO? Very benign, as slow dissolving as you like, very basic.

CaO, produced by heating limestone (CaCO3) and driving off enormous quantities of CO2? Not going to happen.
Dethe
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2015
It's time to study and maybe even test the idea of cooling the Earth by injecting sulfur pollution high in the air to reflect the sun's heat, a first-of-its-kind federal science report said Tuesday
"Federal science" is an oxymoron. The only federal thing is the lobby of people, motivated on wasteful if not downright harmful governmental projects. In particular, the droughts are already recognized as a result of aerosol pollution at China and another places. The Texans and Californians have already bad experience with droughts and these "experiments" would just make their problems even worse. It's rather sad, that PhysOrg participates on dull federal propaganda, which has no support in actual research.
Water_Prophet
1 / 5 (2) Mar 27, 2015
barakn, well we're making CaO anyway...
I am all about shutting up the source. But the source is:
http://disc.sci.g...es.shtml
and no one is even talking about it:

The ocean produces O2 via absorption of CO2. This is the cause of increased CO2 and acidification. Extra CO2 from fossil fuels, not as much.

The oceans used to sink much more CO2 than they do. What IS the impact of the controversially named "Dead Zones?"

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