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With the effects of global climate change becoming more acute, interest in solar radiation management is growing. The question is, who would control the thermostat if the world were to adopt such a model?

As the prospect of a warmer planet becomes reality, scientists are seeking ways to control the climate and keep the planet cooler. It’s a risky and highly controversial idea and, if successful, could imperil the ozone layer and lead to changes in rainfall patterns worldwide. It could also pit nations against one another as they try to control the weather or even use it as a weapon.

“Whose hand would be on the thermostat?” a leading climate scientist at Rutgers University, Alan Robcock, asked the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in 2009. “What if Canada or Russia wanted the climate to be a little warmer, while tropical countries and small island states wanted it cooler?”

The major danger of this approach is that it would create one more source of conflict. Nations with aspirations to become more powerful like Canada might want the weather warmer so that it would be able to exploit the oil that is lying underneath the North Pole. African nations might want it cooler in order to mitigate droughts. The US might use it as a weapon in order to keep the Middle East in conflict. These are just possible examples.

Consequently, most of the nations of the world have already signed a convention to ban the use of widespread solar radiation management until the issue is studied further. But some US states are already using other forms of weather control; ten different US states are already using some form of cloud seeding. This includes the states of California and Nevada. However, cloud seeding has not mitigated the present droughts in those two states.

One of the main obstacles to implementing a Solar Radiation Management system is cost. One of the main arguments used to oppose cloud seeding has been cost; it is likely that the cost of putting together a Solar Radiation Management system would be astronomical.

And there are unintended consequences anytime a project that is this drastic is proposed. Any such system would interfere with weather patterns that farmers have relied on for generations. Therefore, such a system would risk disrupting the production of food, either for good or for bad.

But there is also a risk in doing nothing. According to the main article:

Despite that, the increased emphasis on the study of SRM began when Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Cruzen suggested it in a 2006 paper. Attempts to lower greenhouse gas emissions have been “grossly unsuccessful,” he argued. A worst-case scenario of warming — a 5 degree Celsius increase in this century — could melt the ice sheet of Greenland or the poles and cause the sea level to rise dramatically. SRM could possibly prevent that, he wrote.

Since Cruzen’s paper was published, more climate scientists and physicists have begun studying the technology and its effects. But most are quick to state that they hope it is never needed.

“The solution to global warming is to stop putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” says Robock. “Every person working on geoengineering will tell you that. Nobody really wants to be working on geoengineering. They want mitigation to work.”

But the risk of a worldwide Solar Radiation Management system is that it would decrease the incentive for nations and corporations to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases. And making such a decision would be irreversible; if the plug were to be pulled on such a system for whatever reason, the earth, as the article notes, would likely revert back to a high degree of global warming in a short period of time.


Shall the Obama Administration push for a worldwide Solar Radiation Management system?

37%10 votes
62%17 votes

| 27 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  While Doing Nothing to Prevent Collapse of Sea (12+ / 0-)

    life as the plankton, corals and shellfish become increasingly unable to survive increasingly acidic waters.

    Shading without reducing carbon is close enough to doing nothing.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 09:01:48 AM PST

  •  Dumb idea (8+ / 0-)

    What about the fact no one has come up with an idea for geoengineering that doesn't have massive negative effects or have the potential to cause even more harm than climate change already is?  

    Sorry, but the only way to get out of the mess we're in is to reverse how we got into it--burn less and less fossil fuels.

    The next Noah will work a short shift. - Charles Bowden

    by Scott in NAZ on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 09:02:49 AM PST

  •  Why would (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    David54, Eric Nelson
    The US might use it as a weapon in order to keep the Middle East in conflict.
    Sorry. I'm just not "getting it."

    Dear future generations: Please accept our apologies, We were roaring drunk on petroleum -Kurt Vonnegut

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 09:33:15 AM PST

  •  Don't worry, when the Yellowstone Caldera (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    erupts and obliterates most of the upper midwest and Northwest, we'll be plunged into a decade of winter. It'll cool off.
    I'm not sure what that will do to ocean acidification, though.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 10:15:43 AM PST

  •  Wichita Falls is going to begin cloud seeding (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice, FarWestGirl

    to try and mitigate the drought. Central Texas is in very, very bad shape now. Salt Creek here in Young Co has completely dried up. I've never seen that before.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 10:20:10 AM PST

  •  simple (0+ / 0-)

    all you would need is a big piece of aluminum foil at the gravitational saddle point between the earth and sun.  About 1000 miles in diameter oughta do it.

  •  Geoengineering is too dicey. Pretty much the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson

    epitome of a breeding ground for unintended consequences.

    Also, ocean acidification is a greater threat, long term, to the biosphere. Reducing atmospheric CO2 is the solution for both.

    We currently have an unusual solar minimum, we need to take advantage of it as quickly as possible, since we don't know how long that reprieve is going to last.

    Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. ~The Druid.
    ~Ideals aren't goals, they're navigation aids.~

    by FarWestGirl on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 11:19:40 AM PST

  •  "Ring World" Sci-fi writer Larry Niven.. (0+ / 0-)

    A huge world with a belt of panels wired together out of single molecule thread (incredibly strong and invisible - cut a finger right off if mishandled it's so thin)  that orbit the world to create day & night in a world with too much sunlight all the time everywhere.

    We don't need to block the sun, we need to harness, store, and deliver it's energy  smarter.

    Little lightning in a bottle storage units of a sort (yet to be invented - that would seem to work like super batteries but in reality not storage units so much as transmission devices that tap into and download energy via a stored source or the PV collectors themselves) for electronic hand held devices or vehicle use and more.
    But collecting the sun's energy without having to filter through atmosphere would increase the yield hugely.

    Anything that would reduce, and sooner than later, end carbon burning is a good thing.

    collecting and storing solar energy = good, but trying to block the sun (?) because it's hot seems dumb.

    Especially dumb if it (and it will from the climate denier RWNJ's) becomes a "new" excuse to burn more carbon. (like CO2 is good for the plants & trees therefore...RWNJ...):

    As fossil fuel emissions continue to climb, reducing the amount of sunlight hitting the Earthwould definitely have a cooling effect on surface temperatures.
    thx Eternal Hope
  •  There is an unfortunate lack of data in this Diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Cloud seeding is at the level of cargo cults, or of quack medicines for diseases that have no effective treatment. There are claims of 10% increases in rainfall, but none have been confirmed, and all of them depend on clouds forming before they can be seeded, so this has no impact on serious drought. There is a segment of the population that finds these various scams and superstitions comforting, because We Have to Do Something!!!

    Cloud seeding is also irrelevant to the issue of Global Warming. We would want to increase cloud cover in order to reflect more sunlight, not turn the clouds to rain or snow a bit sooner than would happen otherwise, or somewhere else.

    The Diary makes no mention of any proposed SRM systems that would address Global Warming. They are all in the realm of bad science fiction at the scale of operations required, either because of impracticality or because of side effects.

    For example, painting roofs white is environmentally benign, but we do not have 67,000 square miles of rooftops, and the cost of the trillion gallons or so of paint required for that area is prohibitive. Reflective sheeting on deserts would cost less to install, but would have huge environmental impacts even if there were that much desert available, and would require continuous maintenance.

    A million square miles of aluminum foil for a sun shade in orbit is equally ludicrous, at the present cost of several thousand dollars per pound of payload in orbit. Just the aluminum, at a penny per square foot or so, would come to $250 billion. Total world production is 44 million tons, worth about $600 billion, so we are talking about a bit less than half a year's production, plus something like a quadrillion dollars in launch costs, plus CO2 from making and burning rocket fuel that I will not even bother to calculate. Even NASA's most ambitious plans for lowering launch costs will only reduce them to $100 per pound, reducing costs for the sun shade to only some tens of trillions of dollars.

    Putting sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere is calculated to be effective at reflecting enough sunlight, at a cost of $25–50 billion a year, if we don't mind the acid rain that would result.

    And so on.

    It is possible to talk about removing CO2 from the atmosphere, for example by fertilizing the oceans with iron dust and silicic acid. The cost on a global scale would be on the order of tens of billions of dollars annually, sequestering several billion tons of CO2 annually. We do not know how effective it would be, that is, how long the carbon would stay sequestered, and we do not know what the side effects would be.

    The Mount Pinatubo volcano gave us much observational data to work with on this. It deposited 40,000 tons of iron dust into the oceans, producing a measurable but relatively brief pulse of oxygen from phytoplankton, and an equally brief decline in atmospheric CO2. In the best case we would need to dump millions of tons annually for decades, until we had an all-renewable economy, and then for decades more to reverse the previous damage.

    A carbon tax and repeal of subsidies is still needed to limit and eventually drive down CO2 emissions until renewables are simply less expensive than fossil carbon fuels. We are approaching that tipping point, known as Grid Parity, more rapidly than has been previously predicted.

    It would take centuries for the atmosphere and oceans to recover without intervention. So this discussion is worth continuing. It may be that we will decide that we have to do something for real, and that we will be able to work out what that should be, but nobody should expect results any time soon.

    Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

    by Mokurai on Fri Feb 21, 2014 at 12:42:55 PM PST

  •  Geotherapy Not Geoengineering (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice

    I've been going to the joint Harvard/MIT seminar on geoengineering, which is all about solar radiation management, for the last couple of years.  Don't think I've heard or seen an ecologist in any of the sessions.

    We need to restore and regenerate existing ecological systems instead of taking "heroic" one shot, "easy" solution measures.  If you want to do solar radiation management, try something like Allan Savory's Holistic Management which restores bare ground to grasslands, significantly reducing the re-radiation of sunlight and reducing the temperature of the soil all through using herd animals as herd animals.  Too bad it's more complex than sprinkling sulphur throughout the stratosphere.

  •  There is no 'thermostat' (0+ / 0-)

    When you look at the step function that humanity has performed on the atmospheric CO2 concentration, it is foolishness to think that there would be any "stasis" in the system response.

    It's indeed an  interesting planetary engineering problem: does temperature adjust to the new CO2 level with a decaying exponential, or does it over shoot and ring?  Since the step function occurred over a couple of centuries, it could take several millenia before the answer to this question will be known.  But I will bet that the climate modelers are already modeling it.

  •  There's One Plausible Scenario for Geoengineering (0+ / 0-)

    I wholeheartedly agree with all of the above comments because:

    1) Geoengineering is untested, and we could easily miscalculate and produce an even worse outcome.

    2) It doesn't address ocean acidification.

    3) Once you start, you can't stop.  It's not like one big intervention will solve global warming.  You'd have to continually introduce the particles into the atmosphere at ever increasing levels until we actually started mitigation.

    BUT, that being said, IF we observe runaway warming in the Arctic, including rapid increases in Arctic Ocean sea temperatures or wide areas of thawing permafrost, it may be necessary to inject an aerosol in the Arctic to mimic the albedo effect of the missing snow to prevent rapid releases of seabed and permafrost methane.  Unlike CO2, Methane concentrates in regions where it is being emitted, so if methane starts to heat the region significantly faster than other areas of the Earth's surface, it could create a runaway warming scenario.  We'd need to do everything we can to stop that from happening, including aerosols in the atmosphere.

  •  We already do some "management" thanks to (0+ / 0-)

    the thousands of Airline flights per day all over the world. And the particulate pollution in the exhaust released in the stratosphere, it is as we speak blocking a certain % of the Sun's energy from reaching the lower atmosphere ... and the greenhouse gases  CO2 and H2O.

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