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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 @04:32PM (#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 @04:35PM (#46751133)
    If you thought our influence on the environment was bad before... just imagine what it will be like when we are actually trying.
  • I told you so (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Monday April 14, 2014 @04:48PM (#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.

  • by brxndxn (461473) on Monday April 14, 2014 @04:52PM (#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:Brilliant! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday April 14, 2014 @04:54PM (#46751275) Homepage Journal

    yes.
    One was random ignorant circumstance, the other a planned way to go forward and start correcting it.

  • by ubergeek2009 (1475007) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:01PM (#46751329)

    Exactly. The only problem is we only have access to one habitable planet to toy with. I think it makes more sense to just adapt to the changes that will happen rather than try to manipulate a system we don't understand and can't afford to completely destroy.

  • Taboo?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mspohr (589790) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:12PM (#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.

  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:23PM (#46751503) Journal

    ...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? 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. As it is, there's still too much slop factor, and the degree of confidence isn't high enough across the spectrum of scientists.

    Very few people would say life was better 200 years ago than it is today.

    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. In fact, if memory serves we were going through a mini-ice-age around 200 years ago, which makes your advocacy of dragging down global temperatures from today's averages just a touch ironic, no? ;)

    Either way, we should be investigating options like these..

    Investigate all you like, but do it with two caveats:

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

    2) 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.

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:24PM (#46751511)

    Very few of the people you'd ask were alive 200 years ago.

    Irrelevant. The lifestyle available 200 years ago is still available today. Yet practically no one voluntarily chooses to live that way. You can go out in the woods, build a cabin, and live without electricity or indoor plumbing. You can grow potatoes or mill your own wheat, and learn to shoe a horse. The only thing you can't have is the smallpox.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:30PM (#46751567)

    Climate Change is far from settled. There ARE questions that remain unanswered, the MAIN one is if the noted climate change is actually something we (man) is largely responsible for. There remain many questions, many valid questions. Yet, there are those who will take ideological exception to anybody posing questions as if this is settled science, that the world is in self destruct mode somehow caused by man. I may not be man's fault, at least not mostly his fault. We don't really know. We also don't know exactly WHERE this is all going. We have some dire predictions from the ideologues who have been notoriously inaccurate in the long term, yet even with their track records they get listened too because of the emotional presentations of their arguments. Remember the disappearing Ice Flows with the Polar Bears in Al Gore's movie? Oh the horror (but it wasn't really true.)

    First, until we know and it is settled that we KNOW what's going to happen, how on earth can we even contemplate trying to change it? Right now, we struggle to forecast the weather a week in advance at a single location and somebody wants to tell me they can forecast the climate world wide in a decade? It cracks me up to think somebody out there is trying to say they can. Yea, and you can forecast the future of the Stock Market too... Nada going to happen.

    But I'll bet there are the ideologues out there who will crank up the rhetoric and try to make such positions as I hold out to be uninformed or stupid, after all it's "settled science". But that's because this has gone way beyond science facts and is now an ideology, an Ideology that is slowly divorcing itself from any semblance of science or fact that can be questioned.

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:33PM (#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.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Monday April 14, 2014 @06:00PM (#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.

  • by OneAhead (1495535) on Monday April 14, 2014 @07:02PM (#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 @08:33PM (#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

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