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I'm co-author of a recent paper in the journal Oceanography that shows that even if all man-made greenhouse gas emissions were stopped tomorrow and CO2 levels stabilized at today’s concentration, by the end of this century the global average temperature would increase by ~2.4ºC (~4.3ºF) above pre-industrial levels, which is significantly above the level which scientists and policy makers agree is a threshold for dangerous climate change.  Of course, greenhouse gas emissions will not stop tomorrow, so the actual temperature increase will likely be significantly larger, resulting in potentially catastrophic impacts to society unless other steps are taken to reduce the Earth’s temperature.

We also find that the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report likely underestimates the potential dangerous impacts that man-made climate change will have on society. Furthermore, while the oceans have slowed the amount of warming we would otherwise have seen for the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the ocean's thermal inertia will also slow the cooling we experience once we finally reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. This means that the temperature rise we see this century will be largely irreversible for the next thousand years.

The study concludes that because the risks of climate change cannot likely be mitigated solely by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, society should significantly expand research into so-called geoengineering solutions that are meant to either reduce the amount of solar energy that reaches the earth or removes and sequesters greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere. Geoengineering solutions must be in addition to, not replace, dramatic greenhouse gas reductions if society is to avoid the most dangerous impacts from climate change.

A few clarifications for those who want to dig in deeper.  The +2.4ºC figure refers to an increase above pre-industrial levels and assumes that the atmospheric CO2 concentration stays constant and that aerosol pollution that cools the planet drops out of the atmosphere (after all, we eliminated all CO2 emissions in the scenario).  The "danger level" that most scientists and policy makers have agreed to is +2ºC.  Note that it is possible that the CO2 concentration may drop if we eliminate CO2 tomorrow (let's hope so).  On the other hand, the +2.4ºC figure does not assume "longer term" feedbacks such as methane release from the permafrost or undersea methane hydrates so, on balance, this is probably a best case view and certainly is considering there is no way we are going to eliminate or even drastically reduce CO2 emissions in the next few decades.

On the path we are on, scientists think we will hit +2ºC in 30 or 40 years and +5ºC by the end of the century (and that doesn't include methane release from the permafrost or oceans either!).  These temperature numbers don't mean much to most people so I came up with an analogy that might help.

Note that geoengineering includes not only "smoke in the atmosphere" type techniques (albedo management), but also reforestation, biochar, and "artificial trees" (carbon capture and sequestration).  And while it is true that some of these techniques (especially the albedo management ones) have bad side effects, like chemotherapy, the alternative is not very acceptable.

We are not calling on governments to implement geoengineering, only to increase research into the techniques.  If and when the time comes for deployment (and I think it will come sooner than most people think), we should make decisions based on careful research, not make uninformed decisions out of desperation.

I discuss geoengineering in my talk on climate change.  Get a link to the talk here and then you can skip to Chapter 12 once the talks starts (after the ad).

Dan Miller

Originally posted to dannym999 on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 12:37 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Only proven geoengineering is plant growth.... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, RunawayRose, bablhous

      The growing of large numbers of plants and the sinking of their carbon into locations where it won't be biodegraded and released is the the only proven-safe form of geoengineering.  

      Can we start those right now?  Reforestation and biochar are examples.  I see no reason not to implement them immediately.

      -5.63, -8.10. Learn about Duverger's Law.

      by neroden on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 01:36:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Biochar is (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        badger, RunawayRose, bablhous

        in fact the only true, widely available option we have.  It can be applied directly into the earth and will actually have beneficial consequences such as increased soil pH, increased water infiltration and reduced runoff/erosion, eventually it will help increase soil fertility and the magic bullet...increase soil-C by increasing soil biotic activity.
        One draw-back is that traditional methods of making charcoal release large quantities of methane and other more-potent-than-CO2 greenhouse gases.  Currently there are many types of machines that can be used to capture those gases, burn them and be used in the charring process.  This is where research and investment need to be focused, making these machines more efficient, cheaper and easier to deploy.

  •  I just got back from speaking to the County (9+ / 0-)

    Board of Supervisors.   As a scientist I have been writing letters and doing this.  It seems that some of the local people have started a campaign to reverse the language passed a while ago about the dangers of Global Warming and Climate Change.  It seems that they wasnt to substitute language that affirms that the whole idea is scientific fraud perpetrated by godless democrats who want to take over the country.  Thanks for what you are doing.  I have a relational model of the earth system that pretty well establishes that it has all the causal attributes of a living organism.  This means closed loops of efficient cause.  It also means it has repair modes.  Unfortunately these repair modes are not good for the cancer that we humans seem to be.

    An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the moment. It stands or falls on its own merits.

    by don mikulecky on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 12:46:30 PM PDT

  •  It is the overwhelming magnitude (9+ / 0-)

    and, in practical terms, inevitability, of these temperature rises, that IMO makes so many people deny climate change.  I think a great many who profess to deny, actully KNOW, in their hearts, that it is happening, and they further know that it's a runaway train with unimaginable momemtum.  So they revert to playing pretend. It's not ordinary ignorance, it's WILLED ignorance. Make hay while the sun shines, get yours while the getting is good.  

    In short, your alarming results don't surprise me. But I think they are closer to common expectation than is generally admitted.  

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 12:46:44 PM PDT

    •  Willful Ignorance? (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, RunawayRose, bablhous, yuriwho, lgmcp

      While I agree that some people may know the real story but chose to ignore it, I think a bigger problem is that climate change does not have any of the threat indicators that humans respond to (1. immediate, 2. visible, 3. historical precedence, 4. caused by an enemy (e.g., Al Quida), 5. simple causality, and 6. direct personal consequences).  Climate change scores 0 out of 6.  Also, I think many people have an optimism bias that let's them find comfort with the deniers false messages.

      I am in a minority that believes that increasing the (totally justifiable) fear factor may help get people to act.  Fear was (unjustifiably) used successfully to get us into Iraq.

      •  That's kind of what I'm getting at (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, yuriwho, neroden, dorkenergy

        in my sig line.  But your six factors do a nice job of dissecting WHY we have this inability.  

        The drumbeat for climate-based must, and will, increase.  But I am not at all sanguine that the optimism/denial bias can be successfully countered in enough cases.

        "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

        by lgmcp on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 01:11:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  None the less (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lgmcp, lonelyutahdem15, Calamity Jean

        if we could deal with global warming by building a huge number of weapons and invading someone, I'm pretty sure that our government would be pursuing the solution enthusiastically.

        "Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!" -- Situationist graffito, 1968

        by Pesto on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 01:14:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Like Most Realism-Based Scientists (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bablhous, greenskeeper, yuriwho, lgmcp

    I have long urged folks to migrate now and put down roots, to strategically located safe areas before regional or international doors slam shut.

    The Pluto Chronicles. You want reality? You can't handle reality!

    by Pluto on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 12:58:44 PM PDT

  •  Yep I've been saying for some time (5+ / 0-)

    that we need to start scrubbing the atmosphere of carbon (methane + CO2) to have a chance to prevent massive climate change. I think we need to embrace Nuclear in a big way right now as well as renewables. There some promise of xeolites (ceramics) that could be scaled up to separate gasses from air in a flow system and then compress these into liquids and pump them down to depth in the ocean where they can form chlathrates and sink to the bottom of the ocean. But I'm open to any reasonable suggestion on how to do it in the next 30 years.

    "Everybody does better, when everybody does better" - Paul Wellstone 1997

    by yuriwho on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 01:00:24 PM PDT

  •  Heat of fusion? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lgmcp, LookingUp

    I am curious as to how climate models account for the heat of fusion of the world's ice.

    Specifically, could the current warming we see actually be understated because some of the energy is going into melting glaciers?

    •  Both the melting of ice and evaporation of water (5+ / 0-)

      going at increasing rates account for some of the extra energy added to the Earth system, but in total it didn't amount to as much as 0.1 degree Celsius the last time I calculated it.

      Someone also brought this up at RealClimate, and one of the climate scientists there said that these factors don't reduce warming very much.  It's not nothing, but it's not big in the long run.

      What really matters in each case is the feedback effects.  Ice melt in oceans reduces energy reflected back into space and increasing evaporation rates lead to more water vapor in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.  This really matters a lot.

      Also more water vapor means more intense rain and snow falls.

      "Trust only those who doubt" Lu Xun

      by LookingUp on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 01:10:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The oceans have been cooling us off (6+ / 0-)

      Most of the "global warming" heat has gone onto the oceans and only a small fraction has gone into the atmosphere.  Think of the oceans as a thermal flywheel.  That's why it will get warmer even if we stop emissions and it is also why it won't cool off quickly after we somehow lower the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.

  •  Can you provide a link to the site where (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, neroden, lgmcp, dorkenergy

    the paper is downloadable?  Rather than just the paper itself, I want to be able to link people to an explanation of what it is and what it means before they ever open the document.

  •  Snark Fails Me (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, bablhous, yuriwho, lgmcp, jfromga

    So I'll just have to hit the tip jar and the rec button and resign myself to the fact that I'm not likely to die before the shit hits the fan in a big way.

    Tipped and recc'd for sanity.

  •  Taking the long view, (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bablhous, yuriwho, neroden, lgmcp, dorkenergy

    the history of our planet is one of catastrophe. I think most life has been eliminated about 5 times from the Earth over the last billion years. So, when we talk about saving the planet, we are really talking about saving our particular incarnation as an industrial culture. The planet will do fine without us, just as it has done very well without the dinosaurs.

  •  Convert coal power plants to nuclear asap (6+ / 0-)

    I had a dairy up yesterday about GE's modular reactors (PRISM) that can be placed adjacent to existing coal-fired power plants.  Converting them from producing lots of carbon to zero, by burning nuclear waste (creating no new nuclear waste, and making that waste much less radioactive.)

    The nuclear problem is the solution to Global Warming

    Republican marriage is between one man and one another woman on the side.

    by Alan Arizona on Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 01:15:42 PM PDT

    •  Are those the 4th gen Breeder reactors (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, yuriwho, dorkenergy

      Hansen writes about. Hansen is pro-nuke. Says the latest gen of nucl reactors are much safer and efficeint than current crop.

    •  Nuclear Winter Is Not Likely The Best Answer To (0+ / 0-)

      Global Warming.

      Some 11 millenia ago, inhabitants of the Americas were utilizing Mother Earth's own nuclear reactor.  It not only can be utilized quite safely for power generation, it may also be utilized for disposal of greenhouse gases.

      Convert coal power plants to nuclear asap


      They are already being converted to a far less dangerous power source that cleans up the environment rather than destroying it.


      So rare that if it was steak from a cow, it wouldn't even be badly wounded.

         Oregon Power Plant Will Use Small-Diameter Trees for Fuel
         Fire mitigation motivated planners.

         December 2007

         A new biomass power plant to be built next year in southern Oregon will run on small-diameter trees. The Lakeview Biomass Plant is being constructed as part of the Lake County Resource Initiative, which aims to restore ecological balance to the Fremont-Winema National Forest. The initiative just completed a 20-year stewardship contract with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) whereby the USFS will remove small-diameter trees and deliver them to the biomass plant.

         The contract represents the first of its kind in the United States to use forest thinnings to produce electricity. One of the USFS goals for participating in the agreement is to eliminate overloading of fuels in the National Forest that fuel wildfires. "This small diameter sawmill is essential for forest health and biomass recovery in the Lakeview area," said energy office director Michael Grainey.

      See here.

      You can't imagine the vast scale of devastation a combination of bungheaded environmentalism and rapacious business interests has created in the area without seeing it.

      That is "bi-partisanship" that somehow has been made to work as opposed to Obama's kind.

      We will learn or we will die out.  Maybe then Mother Earth can evolve an intelligent species.  She has clearly failed this round.

      Best,  Terry

  •  The Cuyahoga River syndrome.. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    neroden, lgmcp, Calamity Jean, dorkenergy

    The Cuyahoga River caught fire in the early 1970s and this fact collectively grossed out the American people enough to begin the ecology movement.  Before that point people were still arguing that pollution was a sign of prosperity.

    I believe that Americans are impotent to act on climate change until they see something happening in front of their eyes that should not be happening.  Until that happens you will have people "hoping" that all of the calculations are wrong.

  •  Isn't it amazing ... (8+ / 0-)

    how the religious zealots believe the world will end because of the antichrist, Jesus will return, and they will all get beamed up into heaven ... but global warming is a hoax and you'd be nuts to believe it.

    And I'm calling it here, when the shit really does hit the fan, the religious nuts will claim they told us all along, and blame it on the homosexuals.

  •  I'm not going to make any predictions (3+ / 0-)

    Did a diary a few days back about AGW, and I think it is next to impossible to make very accurate predictions on global average temperatures in the near future, and impossible to make them long-term.

    Let's just assume, that for higher latitudes we'll continue to see rapid and startling increases, and we'll see warmer winters and less diurnal temperature range.  But other than that, trying to quantify this when there are so many potential feedbacks and human interventions (both positive and negative) is setting you up for almost certain error.

    I'd be more concerned right now with oceanic acidification!

  •  i don't think it's too late (0+ / 0-)

    we'll have to deal with the consequences but i think it's in our power to remove CO2 in mass quantities, if we tried.

    it is just highly unlikely we do anything in ten years time.  the damage is done but i think it is theoretically possible to remove the CO2.

  •  Thank you very much ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, dorkenergy

    ... for posting this.  I'm reading the paper now.

  •  The permian extinction started at 5 degree (0+ / 0-)

    global warming caused by massive persistent lava flows that raised co2. Scientists were puzzled by this finding because it didn't explain the massive dieoff of the permian extinction. Then they found a plausible explanation. The 5 degree waring caused enough ocean warming to release massive amounts of methane fro the ocean floor which was responsible for the next 5 degrees of warming. So when I see 5 degrees by the end of the century I think oh shit.

    The Permian–Triassic (P–Tr) extinction event, informally known as the Great Dying,[1] was an extinction event that occurred 251.4 million years ago,[2][3] forming the boundary between the Permian and Triassic geologic periods. It was the Earth's most severe extinction event, with up to 96 percent of all marine species[4] and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct; it is the only known mass extinction of insects.[5][6] Fifty-seven percent of all families and 83% of all genera were killed. Because so much biodiversity was lost, the recovery of life on earth took significantly longer than after other extinction events.[4] This event has been described as the "mother of all mass extinctions".[7]

    from Wikipedia.

    For several years I have believed the IPCC was understating the severity of our dilemma and felt that we all will end up in a situation where geoengeneering are inevitable. Research and development now for deployment wide scale deployment soon is a great idea. Lovelock favors massive biochar and there are ways to create the char that don't produce a lot of greenhouse gas in the production. I also like the idea of spraying a lot of water into the air that an obscure inventor came up with and at least one climate modeler has said is almost as efficient as directly transferring heat into outer space. Both these methods, along with massive reforestation seem to offer the most benefit at the least risk of associated negative side effects. We are in deep dodo.

    Love = Awareness of mutually beneficial exchange across semi-permeable boundaries. Political and economic systems either amplify or inhibit Love.

    by Bob Guyer on Sat Mar 27, 2010 at 08:03:19 AM PDT

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