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UK Royal Society Claims Geo-Engineering Feasible 316

Posted by samzenpus
from the jury-rigging-the-planet dept.
krou writes "The BBC is reporting that a UK Royal Society report claims that geo-engineering proposals to combat the effects of climate change are 'technically possible.' Three of the plans considered showed the most promise: 'CO2 capture from ambient air'; enhancing 'natural reactions of CO2 from the air with rocks and minerals'; and 'Land use and afforestation'. They also noted that solar radiation management, while some climate models showed them to be ineffective, should not be ignored. Possible suggestions included: 'a giant mirror on the Moon; a space parasol made of superfine aluminum mesh; and a swarm of 10 trillion small mirrors launched into space one million at a time every minute for the next 30 years.'"
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UK Royal Society Claims Geo-engineering Feasible

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  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:34AM (#29296513) Homepage Journal

    I really like the way the article seems to indicate that geo-engineering is the short term solution and conservation is the long term solution.. I've always seen it as exactly the opposite. If we were to stop all greenhouse gas producing industry *right now* there would still be a global warming problem. If the problem is real then the only solution is global engineering. Hiding in the dark will only buy us time, the world needs a plan to use that time to find a solution.

    • by faquino (1417463) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:40AM (#29296567)
      The most simple geoengineering technique would be the most effective one: JUST PLANT TREES INSTEAD OF BURNING THEM
      • by siloko (1133863)

        JUST PLANT TREES INSTEAD OF BURNING THEM

        Ok already I heard ya, now just let me finish writing my rc.d script ('planttreeonboot') and I'll get my shovel outta the garage!

      • by faquino (1417463) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @04:42AM (#29296885)
        The point in my previous post is that there are already machines available which are capable of capturing CO2 from the atmosphere using nothing else than solar power, these machines are also auto-replicating and their fabrication process doesn't produce additional CO2 emissions. Furthermore some of their subproducts can be used to feed animals or build... buildings (excuse my poor english pleas). We have these machines already. We know them as PLANTS. I'd rather not get into the real motivations of the current push in favour of geoengineering, but I'm sure it comes from the same people always trying to make money from human disgrace.
      • by TheUglyAmerican (767829) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @07:30AM (#29297563)
        Trees are only effective removing co2 from the atmosphere during their growth phase. Once they mature it's pretty much a wash - the co2 they remove vs the methane they emit due to organic decomposition. To use trees for geo-engineering we first need to cut down the old growth forests (including as much of their root system as possible) and use the lumber in a way that will sequester the co2 (like build housing). This will free up land on a huge scale so we can then plant new trees.
        • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:29AM (#29298665) Journal
          bio-char [google.com.au]. As for old growth forests, 30yrs ago I was literally cutting them down for a living, the area is now a national park [google.com.au].

          It's much smarter to prune than mow. The pin in the map link is where I worked in the early eighties the policy was to cut individual trees (mountain ash [wikipedia.org]) marked by the parks authority. If you scoll north over the border where the rules were different you will see a giant bald patch created by woodchiping during the 70's. The last time I drove through the bald patch (1990's) it was covered with tree stumps standing a few feet high on a ball of roots because the soil had long since washed away.
      • by poetmatt (793785)

        Umm? I remember someone telling me before that what you're talking is essentially carbon sequestering, and wouldn't do as much as people think.

        Not so many trees are burned as you think, it has taken years but we don't have a "We're running out of forest" crisis that much anymore mostly because loggers plant their own trees.

        I'm still all for planting more, though.

      • because as soon we started restrictions on importation of certain types of wood the places where they grow chopped them down to never replant and instead turned the forested areas into farms.

        Recently a large tract in my area was clear cut but is already being prepped for its next batch of trees. I fully agree that planting more trees is helpful but don't forget that they are a renewable resource and when managed properly and encouragement is given for their use we actually end up with more trees.

        Its the re

    • by BuR4N (512430) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:48AM (#29296611) Homepage Journal
      Geo-engineering is a short term last resort solution when everything else fails. It has so many unknown factors that in worst case it can lead to an even worse disaster than the one its trying to prevent.

      Reducing emissions is the best way in the long run. Part from reducing the Co2 emissions it drives technology development towards more efficient use of energy, new products, new companies, new jobs etc etc.

      We have to face the facts, quick fixes does not exists to this problem, we have to clean up our mess and take the consequences.
      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @04:10AM (#29296737) Homepage Journal

        You're really not listening.. to me or to the article.. geo-engineering is not a short term solution, nor a quick fix.. it's a required on-going effort that will last forever. Imagine you're in a spaceship, what do you need to maintain life? You need active management of your environmental systems or, in the long term, they will fail and you'll die. Well guess what, we are on a spaceship, and it's called Earth.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by vargul (689529)
          now that is interesting. James Lovelock [wikipedia.org] states in one of his book that this is exactly the real risk in geoengineering. namely if we take the responsibility to maintain the very complex balance what is living earth (see James Lovelock's Gaia theory for details) from the earth (gaia) itself (eg your point of view: earth as spaceship) we end up with a very complex task which we never be able to stop doing. doing some clever hack with earth to win some time to reduce co2 and *methane* emissions, that sounds de
          • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @06:53AM (#29297397) Homepage Journal

            You are aware that James Lovelock is a fucking kook who has been discredited more times than creationists in Kansas right?

            No scientifically educated person thinks the commonly used term "Mother Earth" is anything more than a pleasant analogy. There's nothing written in the stars that says the Earth will be good to us if we're good to it. If we stopped all industry right now the majority of people on Earth would die, and the remaining would be overtaken and killed by "nature".

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by gilleain (1310105)

              You are aware that James Lovelock is a fucking kook who has been discredited more times than creationists in Kansas right?

              Really? I wasn't aware of this. I have a book here by Lovelock called "The Ages Of Gaia", and in the preface he addresses the use of the term "Gaia" directly (emphasis added):

              Towards the end of my talk ... I said, "Perhaps Gaia likes it cold." This was intended simply as a verbal shorthand for some wordy technical phrase such as: the evidence suggests that the system, comprising the algal ecosystems of the oceans and those of the land plants, taken together with the atmosphere and the climate, maintain thermostasis only at global average temperatures below about 12C

              So, yes he was using the word as an analogy. It is unfortunate that many people misunderstand the idea to mean a benevolent mother goddess, when - as you point out - the natural world is as indifferent to our needs and desires as we seem to be to.

              I don't particularly care if Lovelock's theories are correct or not - I'm not some kind of

            • A dark God! (Score:4, Insightful)

              by nten (709128) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @09:51AM (#29298937)

              If Gaia existed it would be the most capricious and brutal god imaginable. Only the strong survive, unless a rock falls on them, or a supernova goes off too close. Nature isn't the default state, the safe state, that we should try to cower in. Nature is the ravening maw of a stochastic greedy optimization technique with an arbitrary value function, that wants to test each individual of our species every moment of every day until we mess up and get squished. Nature is the enemy and we aren't safe until we subjugate it.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You didnt listen to the GP.

          There are countless instances where someone's bright geo-engineering idea has created disaster.

          One quick example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osborne_Reef

        • by gutnor (872759)
          That's also a starship that we do not understand very well, with no crew and in constant mutiny...

          Scientist do not even know the consequences of - at earth level - a relatively simple and common phenomenon like CO2 level and related climate change.
          Do you really trust the same scientist to fix the problem using a complex solution that involve both Earth climate and deep experience of massive deployment in Space ?

          What happen if they shoot too many mirrors or something goes wrong - we cannot even deal wit
    • Hiding in the dark will only buy us time, the world needs a plan to use that time to find a solution.

      Which, ironically, will be hiding in the dark.

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      I really like the way the article seems to indicate that geo-engineering is the short term solution and conservation is the long term solution.

      In the meantime is called 'not-realistic' to fix the economic system that put us in this mess in the first place.

    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @07:08AM (#29297473) Homepage
      Warming, schwarming. If we can't head off the next ice age, then we're royally boned. Not completely as a species, but our post-ice-age descendants will have to bootstrap themselves from wood to nuclear, since we've used up all the easily accessible fossil fuels. Sucks to be them.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:35AM (#29296525)

    Possible suggestions included: 'a giant mirror on the Moon; a space parasol made of superfine aluminum mesh; and a swarm of 10 trillion small mirrors launched into space one million at a time every minute for the next 30 years.'"

    Nice to see they consulted Wyle E. Cyote [wikipedia.org].

    Seriously, how about a chalk farm? [wikipedia.org]

    • I think this was one of the options that were rejected because it had too much effect on the environment. It is known that the rate of carbon fixing by small critters like this is usually throttled by a lack of iron. If you dumped iron salts into the open ocean in quite low concentrations, then they bloomed. However, all sorts of other things bloomed too. I seem to remember in a recent small-scale experiment, krill moved in in large numbers, and spoiled things.

      Making the oceans bloom is not necessarily a

    • by Bootarn (970788)

      a giant mirror on the Moon

      I especially like this one. It has that "evil genius" feel about it.

  • by msgmonkey (599753) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:36AM (#29296533)

    I make that 10,000 launches which over 30 years is nearly a launch a day. I was under the impression that rocket launches have a negative environmental impact not including the impact of actually building so many.

    • by Idiomatick (976696) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @04:28AM (#29296823)
      I assume this would be managed by a rail gun setup. While we can't fire anythign as big as a spaceship into space shooting a shiny ball into space is no problem at all.

      However this does show just how desperate we are getting. Shooting 10,000 metal balls into space pretty much guarantees we wont be leaving this planet... Unless they are all going for lagrange points I suppose but then I question the value or our ability to aim so accurately.
    • by Plekto (1018050) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @04:46AM (#29296907)

      I make that 10,000 launches which over 30 years is nearly a launch a day. I was under the impression that rocket launches have a negative environmental impact not including the impact of actually building so many.

      The obvious solution here is to build an orbital cannon. The biggest built and successfully used was in the 60s by the U.S. Navy to launch atmospheric probes up to 100 miles into the atmosphere. Building a 50-100m long gun up the side of a mountain(or even underground in a mine shaft or silo) isn't that technically hard. Estimates for the gun itself run about 200 million to build. The idea is to have each payload have its own small positioning rocket and external case. Drop the mirrors in the case and lob into space - the small engine moves it out to the proper position. Since we're talking just scattering the mirrors, there's nothing else required here - just position and open it up. Once a day is trivial. 10,000 launches would cost a mere 1-2 billion dollars. Even if it required 10x that many launches, with it firing off every couple of hours, it would be simple enough to accomplish. With ten of them, this could be done in just 3-5 years.

      2-3 billion for an array of ten of these. Problem solved in a new years.

      http://www.tbfg.org/ [tbfg.org]
      This is the latest company that is working on this. They will have a test-launch next year.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "In the short term, the BFG hopes to offer an on-demand (i.e. dedicated launch) suborbital service..."

        They couldn't have named their company better ! :p

      • by Tony Hoyle (11698)

        So what about orbital decay?

        10 trillion pieces of broken glass raining on us from the sky sounds pretty bad.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shrike82 (1471633)
      The maths in the article is just plainly wrong, but you've also misunderstood. It states a million mirrors every minute for the next thirty years. So we have 30 years, or 10,950 days, that's 262,800 hours, which happens to be 15,768,000 minutes. Multiply that by a million (mirrors every minute from TFA) and you get 15,768,000,000,000 which in my book is 15 trillion, not 10. Good to see BBC reporters have access to calculators and know how to use them.
  • by Anghwyr (1245932) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:37AM (#29296537)
    I would prefer a method that we can reverse if it turns out that we misunderstood a bit of the carboncycle.. so please not the millions of tiny mirrors?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by VShael (62735)

      If they each have a tiny self destruct device onboard? What could possibly go wrong there?

    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      We can easily get rid of the mirrors - nuke 'em :)

  • Space parasols (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:42AM (#29296579) Homepage

    a space parasol made of superfine aluminum mesh

    Reminds me of Kim Stanley Robinson's terraforming conjectures in his trilogy beginning with Red Mars [amazon.com] , where an orbital lens first used to provide more sunlight for Mars is ultimately sent to Venus, turned around, and used to shield that hot planet from sunlight.

    • You caught me on the reference to "terraforming". Looks like we need to start by terraforming our own planet to sustain its suitability for human life. Not so funny.

      My suggestion along these lines would be a network of large controllable mirrors in orbit. The individual sections could be aimed, essentially by rotating them with gyroscopes. Some region is too hot? Adjust more mirrors to give it more shade and reduce its temperature. Another area is too cold? Add the appropriate amount of reflected sunlight a

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by shanen (462549)

        Oh yeah. I forgot one more obvious thing that may not be obvious enough. The obvious mirror technology would just be large wire loops with thin coated plastic films stretched across them. You want them very light so that they will be responsive to the rotating gyroscopes (located at the center of mass of each mirror), and of course you want them to be cheap since you'll need a lot of them. Actually, I think you would only have one gyroscope per mirror, but it has to be on gimbals so you can rotate in arbitr

    • by Shrike82 (1471633)
      Thanks for spoiling the trilogy for me, I just started reading it...
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by CRCulver (715279)
        Yeah, because a minor detail mentioned in passing in one paragraph of the trilogy ruins its bold dramatic arc.
  • Neat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:54AM (#29296639)

    Here's how the mirror plan would work. Nuclear fission plants (or solar arrays) would power an array of about 10 billion dollars worth of solid state lasers. (at current prices, available today). The lasers would probably use LEDs to pump doped fiber optics, producing very cheap laser energy.

    The capsules containing the mirrors would be kicked into the air using a catapault and then the bottom of the capsule would be vaporized using the lasers to create thrust. The laser array alone would insert the mirror capsules into orbit...tehre would be minimal to no onboard thrusters needed.

    That's how you'd launch one every minute (need several arrays) over a 30 year period.

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      If you're going to make big lasers, why not just use them to pump heat out of the atmosphere and into space?

      Thank you Stephen Baxter.

      • That only works in science fiction. You can't create electricity to power the lasers just from ambient heat, you need a temperature differential and are limited by Carnot for efficiency. You'd end up adding more heat to the earth running the lasers. Mirrors would actually work.
        • by QuantumG (50515) *

          Sigh. It's Stephen Baxter, he doesn't write anything without doing the equivalent of a NIST level 1 study on it first. Specifically, he was using the lasers to dump the heat from mass refrigeration. You actually put power into it to freeze CO2 out of the atmosphere making giant domes of dry ice that you have to continually keep cold.

  • not again (Score:3, Insightful)

    by muckracer (1204794) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:57AM (#29296653)

    The belief, that we humans can 'engineer' the earth and bend it to our expectations is exactly, what got us into this mess in the first place. How about re-engineering ourselves instead for the better?

    • by IBBoard (1128019)

      How about re-engineering ourselves instead for the better?

      But doesn't that mean I have to put effort in to changing myself? Sod that, other people broke it so I'll let the scientists fix it and carry on as I was before ;)

    • Re:not again (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Odinlake (1057938) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @06:20AM (#29297291)

      The belief, that we humans can 'engineer' the earth and bend it to our expectations is exactly, what got us into this mess in the first place. How about re-engineering ourselves instead for the better?

      What, are you saying we tried to "engineer the earth" with the industrial revolution? Are you trying to "engineer the earth" when you drive your car? No, before now I don't think anyone (of consequence) has been trying to "engineer the earth" in the sence of the entire globe we live on.

      Now, quite obviously, we have the capability to "engineer the earth" (in relatively minor ways) even though any such project would be huge (maybe Terra$'s). The problem is that we only have one system to test on and no Live CD with which to fix a misstake. But at some point we may very well find our selves in a situation where an option seems "safe enough" relative the consequences of inaction. Not researching these "options" because you're afraid of the consequences is just stupid.

      "Engineering ourselves" on the other hand is something we have been doing since, well, I don't know - who first said "think what kind of children these two would have?"? And recently we are doing it more concretely to win basketball games. But in a larger sence than that no one has a clue what the heck "for the better" would be. Though I have my theories.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tyroneking (258793)

      Bah! We need to do both!
      Global warming isn't a punishment from God or Greenpeace to make us change our ways; it's a problem that needs to be solved in lots of different, imaginative ways.
      Semi-poisonous low energy light bulbs, noisy bird-killing wind farms, never-ever fusion, evil-genius carbon capture, and maybe some geo-engineering.
      Upside, we'll learn some new things; downside, we don't feel like we've been punished. But then that's what Confession is for...

  • The Original Report (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:59AM (#29296661)

    Royal Society Press Release:
    http://royalsociety.org/news.asp?id=8734

    Which links to a 98-page pdf:
    http://royalsociety.org/geoengineeringclimate/

    • Yeah, I think it better to read the original sources rather than the shit journalism on this. There's a non-technical section of the report and to my mind, it is saying the opposite of the headline: "Stop emitting CO2 or geoengineering could be our only hope The future of the Earth could rest on potentially dangerous and unproven geoengineering technologies unless emissions of carbon dioxide can be greatly reduced, the latest Royal Society report has found.

      I also love the variation of headlines for thi

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:59AM (#29296663)

    The planet's fine.The people are fucked.

  • so (Score:2, Funny)

    by z-j-y (1056250)

    the solution is ... one big tin foil hat for earth?

  • by Rakishi (759894) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @04:04AM (#29296693)

    I mean, so much depends on sunlight that limiting it seems like there's no way it ca possibly end well. This isn't countering global warming, this is throwing another massive climate change into the mix that may on average even out temperature changes. It's like treating an infected wound by setting a person's arm on fire.

    I mean climate and plant life depend on sunlight. So how can you not expect to get famines, mass ecological changes, large scale climate changes and so on.

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      So basically your entire understanding of this elaborate geo-engineering plan is that which was in the summary.

      Care to guess why you have come to the conclusion that it won't work while very smart people have come to the conclusion that it will?

  • Or else ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by alexibu (1071218) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @04:46AM (#29296903)
    Or we could just have a brief and rather blunt conversation with our friends in the coal, oil and beef industries.
    Which is what world leaders are tiptoeing around trying to avoid, pretending terrestrial biofuels were an option, pretending carbon sequestration is an option. All of this stuffing around to avoid some uncomfortable conversation about facts that both the politicians, the people and the companies know are true.

    Must we be stupider as a species than our individual parts ?
    • Re:Or else ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @11:10AM (#29300049)

      Or we could just have a brief and rather blunt conversation with our friends in the coal, oil and beef industries.

      And all of their customers. You know there is a reason that the people in these industries have the power that they do. See, if you force the oil industry to take some action that costs them money, the price of fuel goes up. When the price of fuel goes up, the cost of producing things (such as food) goes up. The cost of getting things (such as food) to people goes up. People get upset and yell at the politicians, possibly vote them out of office in democracies, riot in the streets, etc.. Similar things happen in the coal and beef industries.

  • Trees (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I suppose stopping deforestation and planting more trees is beyond the top 1 issue.

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @05:47AM (#29297123)
    We could do with a "Global Warming Hero" like Saddam Hussain. He cut oil production, run his countries industry into the ground and drained marshlands creating deserts - which prevented methane emission. If all governments followed this model we could cut emissions drastically.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @06:04AM (#29297209) Journal

    How about taking a SMALL NEO asteroid, carefully put it into L1 (earth-sun) and then slowly grind it into dust (spraying the dust to form a slowly dispersing cloud). If the particles are small enough, an asteroid perhaps 100m cubed could block out perhaps 1% of the sun for a few decades. Not only would it lessen our global warming predicament (temporarily until the cloud disperses through radiation pressure completely, but that's a good thing we don't want a permanent fix!) but it would teach us very valuable lessons on how to move celestial objects around; first for our protection and later for resources.

    Needed: a (probably nuclear powered) mass mover/ion drive (a gravity tractor is probably too slow for anything but gentle nudges). Then some sort of grinding machine (celestial snow blower?) which will be powered by said nuclear reactor (the dust cloud will make solar panels ineffectual).

    * I really liked the idea of iron fertilization of the ocean "deserts" but I guess it was not proven effective and the possibility of creating huge amounts of jellyfish rather than tuna was not a good thing.

  • The thing that strikes me as funny is that we are still not mending our ways. Well, just as any bacterial colony, the human race fills the available space and then dies from its own trash. Fitting.

  • I thought albedo modification was the way forward? It doesn't have to be expensive either:

    1. Make sure new/repaired roads get a more reflective/whiter surface.
    2. Make sure all new buildings get a reflective/whiter roofing.
    3. Retrofit roofs with either paint or new roofing.

    That would transform urban areas from heat-traps to energy-bouncers. And cut airconditioning usage too!

  • by divisionbyzero (300681) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @07:37AM (#29297591)

    We have been doing that for the last couple hundred years with horrible effect. You know the funny thing about each of these recommendations is that they say these projects are feasible but don't talk about what could go wrong, how to fix them, and the cost of both. Ridiculous. In my mind we should of course reduce production of CO2 but we should also prepare for the inevitable fact that governments will move too slowly and we are going to need to mitigate a lot of the damage. Some of these mitigation strategies are going to take a long time to plan and we should start now.

  • Afforestation? That'd be making new forests then. How about repackage that as "reforestation" -- putting back some of the sh*tload of trees we cut down worldwide for shipbuilding in the Imperial Era and for early industrial firewood?

    I.E. Why don't we think in terms of "righting our wrongs" rather than trying to battle against an invisible (and uncertain) enemy?

    HAL.

  • by Socguy (933973) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @08:20AM (#29297867)
    Any geoengineering solution that doesn't actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere is a waste of money because it fails to confront the totality of the problem. Though it garners the majority of the media attention, the biggest problem with increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is not climate change, rather that it leads directly to an increase in the acidity of the worlds oceans.

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