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Scientists reconciled to the reality of global warming are discussing geoengineering, or "the deliberate modification of Earth’s environment on a large scale to suit human needs and promote habitability."  High tech ideas include solar radiation management (a humonguous umbrella in the sky to deflect sunrays), iron fertilization of the ocean to stimulate carbon-capturing algae bloom, spraying water on the polar ice cap to thicken it, and stratospheric sulfur aerosol (spraying sulfur in the sky to simulate volcanic action).

Geoengineering -- the word alone has a Buck Rogers, all-science-is-good-and-d@mn-the-consequences, gee-whiz feel to it.  All of the ideas listed above have Unintended Consequences writ large.  Instinctively, I don't like geoengineering.

However, I do like trees.  And mountains.  And critters who live on them.  Read on for bad news and good news: another American animal endangered by global warming, another chance (probably not to be taken) for the Obama administration to take bold and decisive action or (more likely) engage in piecemeal politicking; but geoengineering that the administration will try -- and so can you!

This weekend I encountered many animals while hiking the remote, spectacular Mineral King section of Sequoita National Park.  Some have adapted to humans -- the local marmots have decided that car parts are delicious.  Some have learned to be wary of humans -- I startled several Bambis and their mamas.  And then there's the fast moving American pika, which I saw but couldn't photograph.  The American pika (pronounced PIE-ka, as in "I like-a pie-ka," hence the bad pun diary title) is neither a kind of font nor a yellow Pokemon, but a hamster-sized small mammal that roams the Sierra mountains at about 8,000 to 13,000 feet.  It's particularly vulnerable to warm temperature, dying after one hour at 75 degrees.  Which makes it poster child #2 for global warming (#1 being large, white, and furry).  title=

As the pika's habitat warms, it moves further up its home mountain...if it can.  A biologist specializing in studying pikas reports that 8 out of 25 colonies in the Great Basin area (the area between the Rockies and Sierras) are simply gone:

"The pikas are completely gone from a third of their sites," Beever told us. "It's clearly related to global warming," he said, because thermal influences appear to be the most important driver of pika losses. However, Beever also said it is also clear that those temperature influences are combining with other factors -- such as the extent of rocky habitat and land use factors such as roads -- to affect populations across the Basin.

 Unlike some critters, the pika can't descend a mountain to relocate to an adjacent mountain, so it's particulary vulnerable to climate change.

On May 6, 2009, the US Fish & Wildlife Service agreed to study whether the pika should be considered endangered; a final decision is due February 1, 2010.  The pika would be the second animal (after the large, white, and furry one) to be listed as endangered specifically by global warming.  

Which brings us to the polar bear rule.  After dragging its feet for years and being threatened by environmentalists, scientists, and people with common sense, the recalcitrant Bush administration finally agreed to list the polar bear as a threatened species.  Normally the listing would give the Secretary of the Interior the right to regulate development that endangers the species, in this case greenhouse gases.  The Bush administration instead manufactured a "polar bear rule": it would not take any action against the global threat of greenhouse gases, but instead adopt limited, toothless local rules to protect the bear.  Sadly, Obama has continued Bush's policy.  

Next February with the expected listing of the American pika, Obama will have a chance to revisit the polar bear rule.  He can do nothing, face years of litigation, and let the pika become extinct.  He can take bold and decisive action by using the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gas, thus effectively reversing the Bush polar bear rule -- a highly controversial yet effective move (in other words, fat chance for a President afraid of the coal lobby).  He can try to save the pika by simply trapping colonies and moving them to higher mountains, a la the California condor program.  Or he can create a "pika rule," regulating development only across the pika's habitat (mountainous western United States).  And then what?  Wait for another animal whose existence is threatened by global warming, list that one with a local rule taking another slice out of America, and continue piecemeal, without planning, without ever addressing the root cause of all these extinctions?  Geoengineering almost looks good by comparison.

Despite all the bad news for the polar bear and the pika, there's some reason to hope.  Call it "Geoengineering For Dummies."

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in't!

The Department of the Interior controls 20% of American land, between Sequoia and other national parks, the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Surface Mining, and the like.  National forests, controlled by the Department of Agriculture, add another high percentage.  What if all of that land (or as much as feasible) were transformed into carbon sinks?

Some carbon capture and sequestration techniques (or carbon sinks) are billion dollar Buck Rogers solutions: bury it underground in coal mines! in the ocean! make it have an exothermic reaction with manganese! (huh?) However, there's another carbon capture technique known to every schoolchild: trees!  Flash back to elementary school: people breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, but plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen.

David Hayes, the #2 person at DOI and a noted biodiversity expert (Kossacks remember him as being the appointee with a hold placed on his nomination), has recently discussed "re-greening the emerald planet":

trying to measure and understand the carbon-absorption properties of the various lands under its control; seeing how they can be improved, including with market-based offsets; telling the story to the public of why protecting and expanding forests, grasslands, wetlands, etc has an important climate-change component; making forest-preservation an important part of international climate negotiations (rather than talking only about clean-energy sources); and a lot more.

 In other words, study which trees to plant, plant them, teach the public, and include trees in the Copenhagen negotiations.  James Fallows of the Atlantic reports here, and you can watch a video clip here (no embedding, sorry).  Hayes is not the only one looking to trees.  Tomorrow, July 22, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee will conduct a hearing on "The role of agriculture and forestry in global warming legislation."  And the House's version of the cap and trade bill (ACES, aka Waxman-Markey), features planting trees as a potential "trade" for emitters to make.
 
Compare the beautiful simplicity of Geoengineering for Dummies with any other carbon capture and sequestration technique:

* It's as inexpensive and low-technology as buying a $20 tree at the nursery and planting it

* It can be understood by a third grader

* It's been field-tested, and proven to work, over millions of years

The Kyoto Protocol focused on carbon emissions and ignored carbon capture, for political reasons, but Hayes believes it's time to start looking again at trees to capture carbon emissions.  He's not alone.  A UNEP paper, Carbon Capture and Storage -- Nature's Way (68 pg pdf, but highly recommended for more detail on the subject) predicts that much of the December 2009 Copenhagen meeting will be taken up with paying developing countries for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).

Action alert!  There's nothing wrong with planting trees on your own, without waiting for the Department of the Interior to do it.  You can even try planting a tree recommended for a slightly warmer climate than yours.  Of course, follow some sensible ideas: plant it where it won't need extra water, don't plant where your homeowners association frowns on it, and take care of it until it's established.

I don't wish to paint mere tree-planting as a magic bullet that will solve all global warming issues.  Among other points, we may not be able to plant enough trees, fast enough, to reverse or even halt the alarming pace of global warming.  However, we can plant trees and paint rooftops white (another example of low-tech geoengineering) and change our lightbulbs and strengthen and pass ACES in the Senate.  Let's hope it's not too late for the polar bear and the American pika, the Arctic ocean and the mountains of the western United States, and the planet.

Originally posted to RLMiller on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 05:02 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This diary preempts my usual Healthy Minds & (19+ / 0-)

    Bodies series.  Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse asked me to participate in DK Greenroots' series, and I am honored to do so.  (Shhh! don't tell her! I still managed to work in a bit of national park blogging!)  If you're interested in strengthening ACES in the Senate, or otherwise in global warming and other critical environmental issues of our time, please join DK Greenroots.  And if you want to see pictures of the car-eating marmots -- I am not making them up! -- check here next Tuesday at 5 PM PDT.  Until then, hike on!

    Healthy Minds & Bodies, discussing outdoor adventures Tuesdays 5 PM PDT

    by RLMiller on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 03:07:58 PM PDT

  •  You don't need an "umbrella in the sky." (2+ / 0-)

    Just cover everything in reflective paint and you could turn the world into an ice box.

    Charles Dickens would shit in his grave if he saw An Apollo Carol

    by Troubadour on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 05:05:36 PM PDT

  •  I think some geoengineering is called for. (4+ / 0-)

    My worry is that the promise of geoengineering makes us complacent about actual reductions in emissions.  In fact, the big problem (as I see it) is that precisely because we have so many promising partial solutions, ranging from renewables to conservation to carbon sequestration to geoengineering, everyone's going to hitch their wagon to their favorite partial solution and forget about the importance of all of the others.  That's just human nature, compounded by institutional factors (e.g. "fund my initiative, even if it means de-funding the other guy's!") of the sort noted by Amory Lovins.

    Al que no le guste el caldo, le dan dos tazas.

    by Rich in PA on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 05:11:17 PM PDT

    •  A Siegel has done some very good posts (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, alizard

      here on the importance of "and" (click on that word in the last paragraph of my diary) and on using lots of different silver beebees instead of one big silver bullet.  Agreed, generally; as noted in the diary, I'm more comfortable with natural/tried and true/cheap than science fiction/expensive.

      Healthy Minds & Bodies, discussing outdoor adventures Tuesdays 5 PM PDT

      by RLMiller on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 05:38:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, I'm not cool with the Buck Rogers stuff. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, RLMiller

        But white (or green) roofs are something I would love.

        Al que no le guste el caldo, le dan dos tazas.

        by Rich in PA on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 05:41:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RLMiller

          we're going to have to use every cost-effective solution we can find, including some of the SF category solutions if we're going to come out the other side of global warming with a planet fit for human and other animal life forms to live on. And we're going to have to do a WWII-scale mobilization of society to build those solutions.

          What we're going to have to keep an eye out on with respect to solutions (other than inadequate testing of the "iffy" ones) is to make sure the ones whose primary purpose is corporate enrichment don't happen.

          The longer we delay in getting serious about solutions to global warming, the more SF-style solutions we're going to have to apply and the longer those of us who are around at the time will have to stay mobilized.

          Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

          by alizard on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 10:52:24 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Pika out of luck in California (8+ / 0-)

    Just last month, California denied legal protections for the pika. The pikas will soon run out of mountains to move up. When it does, the pika will be extinct in the wild. A pika just cannot "crank the AC" to deal with climate change.

  •  planting trees is nice (6+ / 0-)

    but just strikes me as something we (the entire world) should  have been doing all along as well as not cutting them down. sometimes i wonder where humans got their brains. :)

    very good diary, RLM. thanks so much for being part of our new series.

    Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Mohandas K. Gandhi

    by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 05:21:24 PM PDT

  •  unfortunately (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    alizard, RLMiller

    The discussion in the ag hearing will be overwhelmingly about how industrial farmers can get subsidies in a cap-and-trade system instead of the extraordinary costs global warming is causing to our food system and how sustainable agriculture could help save both our economy and our planet.

    Find out the latest in the global warming fight at Wonk Room!

    by The Cunctator on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 05:26:27 PM PDT

  •  the poor pika (4+ / 0-)

    the australian cassowary bird is threated by stoopid sugar cane farming, losing acres to its habitat.

    stoopid cattle rangers and the stoopid 1872 mining law.  

    "Gloom we always have with us . . . but joy requires tending." Barbara Holland

    by jlms qkw on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 06:26:49 PM PDT

  •  Mineral King is the heart and soul... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    ...of my spiritual renewal each year.

    I've been going there for the past 25 years for a week or two each time.

    I've watched the snow caps shrink each year, and the bark beetles destroy at least a fourth of the forests up there over the last 10 years or so.

    It's heartbreaking. I've hiked and visited every trail destination at least 3 times.

    The place is like my soul's home.

    Thank you for the diary. I hope the road stays the way it is forever(25 miles that take an hour and a half to drive), to keep out those with big RVs and trailers, and those who like to mix alcohol with nature (not a good idea on that road).

    Mineral King, along with the rest of the earth (of course) is a precious gem.  It's just closer to my heart than other places because I can get there in  and a half hours.  May it survive all we do to it.

    "Only when the last tree has withered, and the last fish caught, and the last river been poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money." Cree

    by Tyto Alba on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 07:00:31 PM PDT

    •  Next week I'll do a diary on it (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Tyto Alba

      I'd never visited that section of the park before, and I was just amazed by its awesomeness (using word in original sense, not slang).  I'm not a terribly good photographer but I got some beautiful pix, because the place is so beautiful.

      But OMG! that road!  Great for those who own stock in Dramamine, I suppose....

      Healthy Minds & Bodies, discussing outdoor adventures Tuesdays 5 PM PDT

      by RLMiller on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 07:45:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Coorection: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RLMiller

      I can get there in six and a half hours.

      "Only when the last tree has withered, and the last fish caught, and the last river been poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money." Cree

      by Tyto Alba on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 07:46:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not cutting down trees (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ebby, RLMiller

    is even easier than planting them.  We (i.e. the developed nations) should be paying countries with tropical forests to keep those forests intact.  In addition to preserving biodiversity this would reduce the amount of CO2 heading into the atmosphere.

    One minor biology quibble with your diary and I'm only bringing this up because it is related to a very common misconception that drives those of us who teach introductory biology crazy.

    Plants actually carry on respiration the same as animals - their cells use oxygen and produce carbon dioxide when they break down organic molecules.  However they ALSO perform photosynthesis which is biochemically the opposite of respiration - giving off oxygen and taking in CO2.  Over the long haul plants are net producers of oxygen and consumers of CO2.  If that wasn't true we wouldn't have the atmosphere we have.  However at night plants are taking in oxygen and producing CO2 just like an animal.

  •  Great diary, tipped and recced (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ebby, RLMiller

    In the introduction to the flora of california, a botany book whose author might be McMinn (poor memory, the book is in my basement) the author talks about California and how the flora in earlier warmer geologic periods were different and corresponded to the relationship to latitude and altitude. What this meant is that oaks were in the High Sierras not in the valleys, and the valley had plants that are now seen in lower latitudes, like Central America, such as nutmeg. Our CO2 effect is on a time lag, and planning will need to take that into account. We may need to think about species to plant in a model that recognizes the fact that we are shifting the relationship of plant habitats to latitudes and altitudes in ways that we have not yet figured out very well.

    In the meantime, plant like it matters.

    Yes we did, yes we will. President Obama

    by marketgeek on Tue Jul 21, 2009 at 07:16:57 PM PDT

  •  Here in Colorado we (still) have pikas (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ebby, RLMiller

    in Rocky Mountain National Park . . . but they're running out of room too.

    Thanks for the diary.

  •  Can't wait to see (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller

    a "Pika" option in the next DKos poll...  :)  

    Great diary -- I'd love to see a national tree-planting campaign in every city.  In addition to the carbon-sequestration benefits, there is just something very satisfying about planting a tree.

  •  You'll eventually beg for geoengineering (0+ / 0-)

    I find it hypocritical that people loooove nature, but won't advocate cooling down the Earth immediately and simply by adding a little (more) sun dimming aerosol to the upper atmosphere.  Instead, they will watch as nature rather dramatically crashes and burns, but will only use geoengineering when they are threatened:

    "The alternative (to geoengineering) is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity and a return to an Earth that freely regulates itself but in the hot state." --Dr James Lovelock, August 2008

    We are warming up at about .2 C/decade, and will probably warm at .3 C/decade this decade:

    'Leemans and Eickhout (2004) found that adaptive capacity decreases rapidly with an increasing rate of climate change. Their study finds that five percent of all ecosystems cannot adapt more quickly than 0.1 C per decade over time. Forests will be among the ecosystems to experience problems first because their ability to migrate to stay within the climate zone they are adapted to is limited. If the rate is 0.3 C per decade, 15 percent of ecosystems will not be able to adapt. If the rate should exceed 0.4 C per decade, all ecosystems will be quickly destroyed, opportunistic species will dominate, and the breakdown of biological material will lead to even greater emissions of CO2. This will in turn increase the rate of warming' --Leemans and Eickhout (2004), 'Another reason for concern: regional and global impacts on ecosystems for different levels of climate change,' Global Environmental Change 14, 219–228

    You'll watch the ecosystems collapse, but will wait until mankind is threatened by a massive natural cull, and you yourself are inconvenienced before resorting to the answer that ought to have been deployed a lot sooner.

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