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Earth Science

Climate Scientist: Climate Engineering Might Be the Answer To Warming 343

Posted by samzenpus
from the warm-up-the-cloud-gun dept.
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Tom Wigley is one of the world's top climate scientists, and in this interview he explains his outspoken support for both nuclear energy and research into climate engineering. Wigley was one of the first scientists to break the taboo on public discussion of climate engineering as a possible response to global warming; in a 2006 paper in the journal Science, he proposed a combined geoengineering-mitigation strategy that would address the problem of increasing ocean acidity, as well as the problem of climate change. In this interview, he argues that renewable energy alone will not be sufficient to address the climate challenge, because it cannot be scaled up quickly and cheaply enough, and that opposition to nuclear power 'threatens humanity's ability to avoid dangerous climate change.'"
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Climate Scientist: Climate Engineering Might Be the Answer To Warming

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  • by ubergeek2009 (1475007) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:32PM (#46751117)

    I'd be leary of either overcorrecting for climate change or having massive unpredicted effects. I'm all for trying to fix the problem. I just don't think our climate modelling is yet good enough.

    • by Knee Patch (2647703) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:35PM (#46751133)
      If you thought our influence on the environment was bad before... just imagine what it will be like when we are actually trying.
      • by brxndxn (461473) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:52PM (#46751255)

        Some people still try to debate things that are already settled and others look for solutions before everything becomes a problem. Mankind has a huge list of fuckups to fix - but we either continue as is or we continue to try to improve things. Your viewpoint is incredibly pessimistic. Very few people would say life was better 200 years ago than it is today. Let's take that viewpoint and move forward with it.. We need more Star Trek and less Water World.

        Either way, we should be investigating options like these.. You're being pessimistic during the initial stages of discussion - so it brings very little to the table.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Penguinisto (415985)

          ...that are already settled...

          So, before we make that pronouncement stand as incontrovertible fact, two things are needed...

          1) where can we find a completely accurate (or even reasonably accurate) climate model? Even pro-AGW climatologists would shy away from claiming that they have one. Point is, the science is not "settled", unless everyone is agreeing on the mere fact that climate does change over time (which, seriously, no one credibly argues against).

          2) what is the rate of change, and is is accurate enough to take action against?

          • by bobbied (2522392)

            ... trying to keep everything just like it is in the 1980s (or whenever) may do more damage than just letting it cycle naturally.

            Oh yea, we want to go back to 1980? Shesh, does ANYBODY here remember what LA looked like in the 80's? Apart from all the women in big hair and the plaid suits going out of style? No, don't want to go back to the orange brown haze myself.

            It's like all the environmentalists who want us to go back to horse and buggy days..... They are NUTS! Does anybody remember how many people DIED from preventable illness and substandard sanitation? From starvation? There are a LOT more people on this earth now days and

            • ... trying to keep everything just like it is in the 1980s (or whenever) may do more damage than just letting it cycle naturally.

              Oh yea, we want to go back to 1980? Shesh, does ANYBODY here remember what LA looked like in the 80's? Apart from all the women in big hair and the plaid suits going out of style? No, don't want to go back to the orange brown haze myself.

              I remember, as a kid, flying into LA and seeing that thick brown layer over the entire valley.

              Look, we had the Clean Air Act and it worked. The same goes for switching from tax-subsidized and tax-exempted Coal, Oil, and Gas to cleaner fuels. Get rid of the tax exemptions and remove the "grandfather" permits for inefficient old power plants. The market will self-correct to cheaper Solar fairly quickly, if you can provide low-cost capital in low-interest loans from part of the money we save by removing those

              • by bobbied (2522392)

                The market will self-correct to cheaper Solar fairly quickly, if you can provide low-cost capital in low-interest loans from part of the money we save by removing those inefficient tax subsidies for coal, oil, and gas.

                Shesh, nope. First, what tax subsidies are you talking about? There is no way Coal is subsidized, nor is oil and gas. There ARE significant subsidies and tax abatements for renewable energy already. Second, The problem is the huge drop in natural gas prices due to fracking and the increased production it has made possible. Projections are clear, we will have at least a decade of natural gas prices in the current range. It is what is driving old (and newer) nuclear plants out of business and it is driv

                • by stoploss (2842505) on Monday April 14, 2014 @09:06PM (#46752519)

                  First, what tax subsidies are you talking about? There is no way Coal is subsidized, nor is oil and gas..

                  The fossil fuel "subsidies" they speak of are nothing but specious reasoning. Seriously: all but an irrelevant fraction of the "subsidies" amount to "we don't believe fossil fuels are being taxed punitively enough, therefore the absence of those punitive taxes means they are receiving a subsidy".

                  It's a basic begging the question fallacy.

                  Look at this link: Global fossil fuel subsidies amount to $1.9 trillion – IMF [ewea.org]

                  Today, in advanced economies, fossil fuels do not get much the way of direct subsidies – although they do still exist, for example Germany spends 0.07% of its GDP supporting coal and the US spends 0.05% of its GDP on petroleum. But fossil fuels do continue to benefit from subsidies in those economies in the form of mispriced taxation levels.

                  In advanced economies, “subsidies often take the form of taxes that are too low to capture the true costs to society of energy use, including pollution and road congestion,” the IMF said. “Taxes imposed on energy are not high enough to account for all the adverse effects of excessive energy consumption, including on the environment,” says the David Lipton, First Deputy Managing Director of the IMF."

                  Even the Iraq war is literally a fossil fuel tax subsidy in their mind. Don't debate these people: either their logic is broken so there's no point in trying to use reason, or they are being deliberately disingenuous so there is no way to engage in an honest debate.

                  Either way, it's a good idea to know where their talking points are coming from.

          • by mbkennel (97636)
            | If we overestimate, then our best efforts may well over-correct, and we touch off a new ice age. If we underestimate, then there is little-to-no remediation

            The most important part would be to use remediation technology which has a physical timescale of persistence substantially shorter than the effective residence time of the longest-living and most significant greenhouse gas, namely CO2, which is in the hundreds-to-thousands of years.

            If you're using aerosols which have a residence time of a few years, th
          • by OneAhead (1495535) on Monday April 14, 2014 @08:02PM (#46752173)

            where can we find a completely accurate (or even reasonably accurate) climate model?

            Oh hello, where can we find completely accurate anything (outside the field of mathematics)?

            Even pro-AGW climatologists would shy away from claiming that they have one.

            Are they completely accurate? Of course not, only an idiot or someone intent of spreading FUD would ask for complete accuracy. Reasonably accurate? Hell yes, what do you think all these IPPC reports are based on?

            This is disingenuous due to the fact that you left out *why* life is better now than it was 200 years ago. Was it primarily due to politics, culture, technology, medical/scientific knowledge... what? Most of what I just listed has bugger-all to do with the climate.

            You completely missed GP's point. -1 reading comprehension.

            to keep everything just like it is in the 1980s (or whenever) may do more damage than just letting it cycle naturally.

            Good evening, debunked climate myth #56 [skepticalscience.com].

            before your investigations turn into actions, you'd damned well better know for certain what you are doing - making mistakes on a global level will have global consequences, and will last for a very long, long time.

            There's something I can agree with. While the climatological effect of reducing CO2 emissions has been reasonably well studied and falls within the parameter space on which we have real-life data, climate engineering is totally out there and gives me the creeps. The easy answers are usually not the right ones.

          • by sg_oneill (159032) on Monday April 14, 2014 @09:33PM (#46752649)

            1) where can we find a completely accurate (or even reasonably accurate) climate model? Even pro-AGW climatologists would shy away from claiming that they have one. Point is, the science is not "settled", unless everyone is agreeing on the mere fact that climate does change over time (which, seriously, no one credibly argues against).

            Lets be clear here. "Pro-AGW climatologists" is a redundant phrase. In the *scientific* community (Ie not in the blogger peanut gallery), theres no more "ANTI-AGW" climatologists then there are "Creationist biologists". A very very tiny minority of mostly unqualified right-wing think tank employees at best. But actually nobody is "Pro AGW". Nobody wants this. My sister has been working on the hydrological parts of the modelling for the past decade and she utterly hates the science because the implications are so dismal. But its what needs to be done. Its like saying Oncologists are "pro cancer".

            That humans are causing climate change isn't a debate anymore. Hasn't been for a long time, the science is fundamental and would require major revisions to fundamental science that we'd have to throw away 50+ years of scientific progress across the board. A whole new system of chemistry, a whole new physics going back to the 1800s (When scientists first started warning about the 'greenhouse effect' after discovering CO2's infra-red properties in the lab) , a whole new system of optics to account for why CO2 appears to be creating banding in the infra-red spectrum, it just goes on and on.

            There are two things required for AGW to be false.
            1) A mechanism that is stopping the CO2 humans are putting in from following the laws of physics by trapping IR light and introducing energy into the atmosphere.
            2) A mechanism that is making measuring devices pretend that physics is still working as expected.

            Perhaps when man makes CO2 its different to natural CO2 and instead of creating heat it creates some sort of strange particle that causes physicsts to lie, like orgone energy.

            Does this sound strange? Well it exactly how strange science needs to get for AGW to be false. At this stage, scientists are happy to use the standard scientific model that says if you have a theory that predicts an effect and then the effect turns up in the observation, its a good bet the effect is true.

            As for models, well yes, they are not without peril, however certain things can be predicted with certainty.Namely If you introduce x amount of CO2, it will trap in y percent of Infra red (and certain other spectra) light that is passing throught the atmosphere at the time. Since we have a good understanding of how much CO2 is in the air (We've more or less doubled it), we can do a back of the napkin calculation to work out how much energy is being added to the climate system. Remember, this is 1870s science here, nothing is controversial about this, and it can be verified in a high school laboratory.

            The question then is how this energy manifests. The options are by heat (Warming) , by kinetic manifestations such as increased winds, cyclones, hurricanes, etc, by increased pressure gradients, such as the one that caused the huge chill over winter in the US, and so on.

            Thats what the models are trying to work out. Whatever the case is, we know that the very minimal baseline is still pretty bad.

            More to the point, the state of the art in modelling is that our models can attach error bands to the predictions. So "We think this is 80% likely to happen, give or take 5-10%" Currently we're pushing close to 100% certainty give or take a few percent. Not quite the sigma-5 type certainty of 'we've proven it" (Although we *HAVE* proven AGW), but pretty damn close.

            At this stage its highly unlikely that the least-bad models will turn out over-done, and we can safely say with certainty that SOMETHING is going to happen.

            Thus the precautionary principle states that even taking into account the small likelyhood we are wrong about it, we've g

      • by goombah99 (560566)

        I recently read that at the same time light bulbs have gotten more efficient, total lighting power expenditure has gone up! Evidently, it's a combination of people using a lot more light when lighting gets cheaper to operate, and more ligthing being installed in general.

        I can imagine if we start offsetting global warming we will produce more of its anthropogenic causes.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Nothing should be implemented that can be quickly stopped.

      • Nothing should be implemented that can be quickly stopped.

        That's a bit of a problem with slow-changing things like climate... a high amount of effort is required for even a short-term budge, and when you found out you gave it too much gas, it's too late to stop it, even if you let your foot off the accelerator.

        Think of it like trying to drive a supertanker or uber-sized cruise ship down a very narrow channel... it takes a very experienced person to steer and accelerate the things safely through tight quarters (and they don't really come with brakes per se).

        Carryin

        • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday April 14, 2014 @06:33PM (#46751593)

          That's a bit of a problem with slow-changing things like climate... a high amount of effort is required for even a short-term budge, and when you found out you gave it too much gas, it's too late to stop it

          This is not true for some proposals. For instance, fertilizing the oceans with trace amounts of iron can drastically increase the amount of CO2 taken up by phytoplankton. But if you stop spraying the fertilizer, the phytoplankton will absorb all the available iron within a few weeks, and then the process will stop. The iron will not only reduce CO2, but will also cause big increases in fish populations, thus relieving pressure from overfishing. Some may say we should leave the oceans alone, but that is silly considering what we are already doing to the oceans today. This could balance out some of the other harm.

          • For instance, fertilizing the oceans with trace amounts of iron can drastically increase the amount of CO2 taken up by phytoplankton. But if you stop spraying the fertilizer, the phytoplankton will absorb all the available iron within a few weeks, and then the process will stop.

            Honest question - would doing this induce a population crash [wikipedia.org]? If so, then the results could cause more harm than good (or would the recovery cycle be too fast to have an impact?)

          • by Sique (173459)
            Fertilizing the ocean with iron will not increase the fish population, it will rather kill it off. Yes, phytoplankton will increase, but at the same time this will bind much of the oxygen in the ocean, thus animals (including fish) will just suffocate. Ask someone who lives near the ocean what happens if you have an algae bloom: fish populations die.
            • Fertilizing the ocean with iron will not increase the fish population, it will rather kill it off.

              Obvious solution: don't over do it. Some nutrients will increase both plankton and fish. Too much will cause problems. We should run some small scale test projects, and then scale them up as we learn.

            • by MrBigInThePants (624986) on Monday April 14, 2014 @07:58PM (#46752147)
              If you don't mind I will leave it to the experts who spend years studying it and then devote their lives to it.

              As opposed...say...to people who live near the ocean....
      • by symbolset (646467) * on Monday April 14, 2014 @06:07PM (#46751373) Journal
        It's OK. In the winter the gorillas will freeze to death.
    • syfy movie of the week

  • Right. There isn't an engineer or a group of engineers smart enough to do that without dire consequences.
  • While it's not a solution most people want to consider, pumping sulfuric acid into the atmosphere would counter act the green house effect. But it's sort of the "old lady who swallowed the fly" issue since we then would need to figure out what to do about all the acid rain.
  • the 70's called (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dlt074 (548126) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:45PM (#46751215)

    good thing we didn't cover the poles with dark soot, like they were calling for in the 70's to stop the impending ice age.

  • Watch Snowpiercer - good movie.

    • by symbolset (646467) *
      On Netflix now is "Pandora's Promise". Released last year, this documentary talks about the specific IFR type nuclear power referenced in the fine article. It is a little one-sided, but pretty interesting overall. The reactor can enrich depleted uranium, and burn it over and over until all the uranium is gone. It is not prone to meltdown, either.
  • Maybe if Clinton... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bodhammer (559311) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:46PM (#46751223)
    had not be so busy getting a knobber, we might not have this problem:

    Then again AlGore would not have a job being a global alarmist alarmist either...

    "BAS: Are you surprised that so many environmental groups remain vehemently opposed to nuclear power?

    Wigley: “Saddened” would be a better word. Often the main concern of those groups is proliferation—the use or theft of nuclear material to make weapons. I think that that is a misrepresented issue as well. One of the saddest things was when the Clinton administration shut down the program on fast reactors.1 Clinton, [Al] Gore, and John Kerry are to blame there. If that program had not been shut down, and fast reactors had continued to develop, within maybe three years we could have started building Integral Fast Reactor systems with the whole nuclear cycle on one site—reprocessing waste materials onsite and having very little residual waste to deal with. If that had happened, I don’t think we would have a global warming problem now at all. We could have started on a pathway of rapid introduction of fourth-generation nuclear technology, and we would have gained 20 years in solving the climate problem
  • I told you so (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:48PM (#46751235)

    If anthropogenic global warming is not only real but as apocalyptic as its proponents claim, we will not only have to go nuclear but we will have to geoengineer our way out of it. None of the processes outlined in this article, like spraying high-albedo compounds into the upper atmosphere, can run away. We can implement a method to the point where we start to get observable effects, and then back off if problems develop. In other words, we need to be as adventurous and willing to assume large-scale risk now as we were when we ran the Manhattan Project.

    To put it another way: the greenhouse effect, if it is actually happening, is already a form of geoengineering. It is making cold countries warm. If it's going too far, the geoengineering steps in this article are what it might take to arrive at the stable, human-based optimum we want for our long-term survival.

    • I'd mod you up, but the ifs are out of place.

      There's no "if", it's happening right now.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      I would prefer we built giant 'shields' be tween us and the sun so that we can move them if need be.
      I don't want to spray anything into the atmosphere.

      Really, if we could figure out how plants work so efficiently on a the molecular level to get CO2 and convert it to sugar, O, and H we could solve this issue..

      But, yeah 4 Gen nuclear plants need to be built, and ran by the government, not private industry.
      Remove the profit and bonus motivation, and people won't try to find ways to skirt, or delay on m

      • So you want to reduce the amount of growth in plants by reducing the amount of sunlight they get?

        • Although growing plants take CO2 out of the atmosphere, Warmists believe that this is not happening fast enough to overcome the new carbon we're belching into the atmosphere. Hence, the need for non-natural sequestratiopn and/or screening technology.

          No, you don't get to have it both ways.

  • that we can't just end the carbon binge we are on?

    • by Bodhammer (559311)
      Give a time frame for "just end" that would not put the whole world back into the stone age? The #1 cause of pollution (or carbon de-sequestration for you pointy types) is poverty. http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/... [adamsmith.org]
      Just think about how it will be if you are drinking your starbucks that was heated by burning cow dung...
      • Just think about how it will be if you are drinking your starbucks that was heated by burning cow dung..

        Well, it might taste better. :)
        I love good coffee. Therefore I can't stand Starbucks.

  • by slapout (93640)

    Didn't any of you people watch "The Time Machine"?!

  • Taboo?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mspohr (589790) on Monday April 14, 2014 @06:12PM (#46751411)

    I don't think there is much of a taboo on discussing climate engineering. It's just that all of the proposals I have heard about are just stupid / won't work / would screw up things more, etc. Then there is the "what could possibly go wrong" factor.
    It's fine to discuss climate engineering but they'll have to come up with something much better than anything now out there.

    • My problem with it is that in general people aren't as smart as we believe we are. We keep coming up with new things that have terrible side effects but when something new comes along we don't possibly believe that anything could go wrong with it. Maybe we are just hopelessly optimistic.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Monday April 14, 2014 @07:00PM (#46751753)

    What they want is control over global industry, insane amounts of unaudited "international aid money" and absolute moral authority.

    Solve the problem and you take away their power, their money, and their claims to moral superiority.

    This is something they will never let die.

    If we fixed the climate tomorrow they'd still be harping about it.

  • set off a few nuclear bombs deep underground at a supervolcano and that should cause it to throw enough debris in to the atmosphere blocking enough sunlight to cool the planet off and possibly cause a mass extinction event

    wheres my Nobel Prize? if obama can get one for making stupid comments then so can I
  • Nuclear power is the slowpoke when it comes to scaling owing to its high cost: http://www.rmi.org/Knowledge-C... [rmi.org]

It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. - W. K. Clifford, British philosopher, circa 1876

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