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View Diary: Wherein I talk about solutions to the worst effects of climate change (116 comments)

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  •  James Hansen predicts a runaway greenhouse (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WarrenS, lotlizard

    effect, leading to a Venus-like heating of the atmosphere, that would result from the burning of all of the tar sands.

    That would mean extinction of life on Earth.

    •  Here is what he said: (7+ / 0-)
      After the ice is gone, would Earth proceed to the Venus syndrome, a runaway greenhouse effect that would destroy all life on the planet, perhaps permanently? While that is difficult to say based on present information, I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.
      That's an enormous if. The amount of carbon still locked up in all tar sands and tar shales is gargantuan. Frankly, we won't be burning all of it, because civilization will collapse long before we can do that.

      We have forgotten that there is something even more fragile than the biosphere, and that is the technosphere. For reasons I won't go into now, people mistakenly believe the technosphere is much stronger than biology. It isn't. It is extremely fragile, and it will break and collapse within this century -- probably within the next 50 years.

      •  I'm something of a pessimist about this, I admit (1+ / 0-)
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        Because every ongoing study of climate change seems to indicate that it is proceeding ever faster, with ever increasing extremity, and ever increasing chance of catastrophic events, that exceed all previous predictions, I have the sense that Dr. Hansen's prediction of what it would take to trigger the Venus Effect is off the mark. I think it may take less than his estimate, but we may not find that out until it is truly too late.

        However, there may yet be a technological solution. Many of the readers here are probably aware of the possibility of using an asteroid to create and anchor a dust cloud that would screen a small percentage of the Sun's solar energy from the Earth - just enough to offset the heating from greenhouse gases, at least for long enough to find other, more permanent solutions on Earth.

        May seem far fetched now, but I think in 10-20 years, when even the deniers can no longer deny the warming, it will seem less so, and perhaps even become a planet-wide imperative as it will be apparent that no Earth-based solution can stem or reverse catastrophic warming in time to avert the collapse of civilization.

        The technological capability exists now to do this - we just need to work through the engineering problems, just as we did in the '40's for the Manhattan Project, and the '60's for the Moon landings. I predict that, once the decision is made by the powers that be, it will take no more than a decade to resolve the engineering challenges, launch the missions, and have the first elements of the dust cloud in place.

        •  But the more dramatic the geoengineering solutions (4+ / 0-)

          the more likely we are to make catastrophic mistakes that were unanticipated. Prevention is far less risky than attempted cure, which may kill the patient (or make it even sicker).

          "Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

          by Kombema on Sun Nov 10, 2013 at 07:57:47 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You are correct, of course. Where I am coming (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Kombema, some other george

            from is that I anticipate that no truly comprehensive action to curb greenhouse gases will happen until the warming becomes so obvious, with great disruption to food production and water supplies, that there will be massive protests around the world demanding action, and governments will panic.

            When (if) that happens, I expect that we will be so far along the warming curve that only extremely drastic actions will have any chance of halting or reversing the trend. And right now the only action I am aware of that could have a dramatic impact in a relatively short period of time, and which is politically and economically acceptable to most governments (i.e., does not result in economic collapse or government overthrow) is the dust cloud.  

            Yes, it is extremely risky and I am not an advocate of this project. Once in place, it is not easily dissipated if we go too far. However, I predict that, given the current trends of increasing fossil fuel burning around the world, and the current and foreseeable unwillingness of the political classes in most governments to take substantive action to reverse these trends, this is the geoengineering project that will be offered up as a relatively quick fix to the warming crisis.

          •  Consider the sulfate aerosol "solution" . . . (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            some other george, Turn Left

            There's no technical reason it wouldn't work, and execution could be relatively low-cost.  Sulfate aerosols could be released from aircraft, or even sprayed into the stratosphere from fixed lines held up by lighter-than-aircraft.  Once in place, the particles would deflect some percentage of sunlight back out into space, thus defusing the basic mechanism of longwave radiation -> excess CO2 -> atmospheric forcing.

            Two problems, though.  For starters, in the absence of any other approaches, what this would allow is, in essence, BAU - we could just keep on burning all the coal and tar sands and natural gas and oil we find, and keep things humming along.

            What that means, in the long run, is that the sulfate aerosol injection process could never, ever stop.  Say you go from where we are today, at about 395 ppm  CO2, to a new world of 550 or 650 ppm, and then stop the aerosol process.  Voila!  Suddenly, you're in a world where the atmosphere's capacity to absorb heat energy isn't 15% or 20% greater than during the pre-Industrial, but double that and the sun, meanwhile, hasn't gone anywhere.  

            How long is "forever"?  Well, we don't know.  We haven't really tried to maintain structures or processes with indefinite lifespans before.  Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall lasted maybe a century as intended before becoming stone quarries and sheepfolds, the Great Wall of China (with occasional intermissions for invasions and civil war) has been around for a couple thousand years, as have a number of temples and churches.  But in the end, they're objects of bricks and stone and mortar and wood, not complex processes like sulfate injection would be.  The only analogue in terms of impact and complexity of maintenance would be really big dams like 3 Gorges, Hoover or Glen Canyon, and we haven't maintained them long enough to quality for the Forever File.  We have noted that they seem to be silting up faster than expected, and we don't quite know what to do, but I'm sure those scientists will think up something.

            The other problem with sulfate aerosols is that the proposal wouldn't do a damned thing about ocean acidification, and that would likely cook us before things get Venusian.  The main point though is that a solution that doesn't encompass all of the potential impacts isn't really a solution.  

            The only solution that does is to cut fossil fuel energy use - drastically and soon - and still be prepared to ride out the consequences.  And there's no sign that this is anywhere in the cards, Haiyan and the Warsaw climate talks notwithstanding.

      •  The military-hardened technosphere will hold out (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pescadero Bill, MarthaPeregrine

        … until the bitter end, even if the civilian technosphere ceases to function.

        It's what they've been planning for. We civilians can all die, it won't matter to the military planners. Plan B is already in place. It's the same old 1950s post-H-bomb-apocalypse scenario, just without the H-bombs.


        The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war. ♥ ♥ ♥ Forget Neo — The One is Minori Urakawa

        by lotlizard on Mon Nov 11, 2013 at 05:52:24 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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