Geoengineering — deliberate, planetary-scale efforts to counter the impact of climate change — is so controversial that a high-powered 18-member Washington task force that spent almost two years studying the idea couldn’t decide what to call it.
Most want to rename it “climate remediation.” A few want to stick with geoengineering. But all agreed that, whatever you call it, the U.S. government should begin “a coordinated federal research program to explore the potential effectiveness, feasibility, and consequences of climate remediation technologies.”
In a 33-page report released today in Washington, the task force of the Bipartisan Policy Center emphasized that climate remediation is not a substitute for managing the risks of climate change through mitigation (i.e., reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, most of them generated by burning fossil fuels). It also says that no geoengineering technology is ready for deployment.
But, the group said, it’s imperative that governments, scientists and engineers learn more about geoengineering because the risks of climate change are increasing.
Mitigation measures currently being considered, regardless of their pace of efficacy, will not be able to return atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations to pre-industrial levels for centuries…
Although we do not know exactly how much the climate will change or how fast, globally disruptive or even catastrophic results are possible…Global climate change could unfold in ways that would be very difficult to manage
In plain language: what we’re doing (or not doing) now to deal with climate change isn’t working, and the consequences of those failures are likely to be disastrous.
“I’m not sure we would have had a consensus recommendation on research if mitigation efforts were going great guns,” said Stephen Rademaker, co-chair of the task force and a former assistant secretary of state during the Bush II administration.
Indeed, the report points to a number of climate impacts — threats to food supply, threats to water supply, lost of Arctic ice which could accelerate the rise in global temperatures or the massive releases of CO2 and methane from the Arctic — that, if they occur, would create the kind of global emergency that, without warning, could put the idea of geoengineering front and center.
“We’re being driven by a fear of climate change that is real and palpable,” said Jane Long, a climate and energy expert from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and co-chair of the panel.
“We don’t know when the climate may tip,” said Richard Elliot Benedick, a former ambassador and chief U.S. negotiator for the 1987 Montreal protocol to protect the ozone layer. “Nature does not give us an early warning system.”
Other members of the BPC task force included natural scientists, social scientists, policy experts, environmentalists (Steve Hamburg of Environmental Defense Fund and David Goldston of NRDC) as well several leading researchers into geoengineering (David Keith of Harvard and the University of Calgary, Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution at Stanford and Granger Morgan of Carnegie Mellon).
As regular readers of this blog know, I’m fascinated by geoengineering. [See Suck It Up: an unorthodox climate solution and Is Geoengineering Ready for Prime Time?] I’ve got a story coming out soon in Fortune on technologies to capture CO2 from the air, and I’m writing a short e-book on the topic as well. Broadly speaking, there are two major categories of climate remediation: carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies that are aimed at removing CO2 from the atmosphere and solar radiation management (SRM) technologies that are designed to block the sun’s rays from hitting the earth, by, for example, seeding marine clouds or introducing very fine particles into the stratosphere to deflect radiation. The idea of SRM is based on natural processes; when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, injecting 20 million tons of SO2 into the atmosphere, global temperatures cooled by nearly 1 degree F over the next 15 months.
The technology, policy and ethical issues raised by geoengineering are vexing. If you are at all interested, I’d recommend you read the report, which is available for download here. It follows reports from the British Royal Academy of Sciences and the Government Accountability Office recommending geoengineering research.
No one, of course, is enthusiastic about the idea of deliberating messing with the earth’s atmospheric.
As the report says:
Most climate remediation concepts proposed to date involve some combination of risks, financial costs, and/or physical limitations that make them inappropriate to pursue except as complementary or emergency measures—for example, if the climate system reaches a “tipping point” and swift remedial action is required.
“If (climate remediation) is a very bad idea, the sooner we know that and take if off the table, the better off we’ll be,” said economist Thomas Schelling, a task force member.
But, task force members said, the technologies need to be better understood, if only so that the U.S. can respond to their deployment by others. Sovereign nations or even wealthy individuals, at least in theory could try geoengineering.
“Other countries or even the private sector might take steps, and we have no way of knowing what the impacts would be,” said the NRDC’s Goldston.
Whether the government will listen to the panel’s report and study geoengineering is, of course, very much unknown. The costs of research would be modest but, as Goldston noted, this “isn’t exactly a time of government largesse.”
The topic is also controversial. Just this week, a small scale British experiment to test the ability of a one-kilometer hose to spray water droplets into the air was postponed because of opposition from nonprofit groups, notably a Canadian organization called the ETC Group hat opposes geoengineering.
The task force’s debate over what to call the technologies arose, in part, from the belief that “geoengineering” implies, in a hubristic way, that humans can engineering manipulate and manage the planet. A majority preferred the term “climate remediation” to focus the conversation back on climate — which is, in the end, what geoengineering is all about.
Most Popular Articles of September: Sleepbox in Moscow, Spicy Raspberry Sangria, and More (Slideshow)Image: TreeHugger Two years ago, Lloyd wrote that he liked the idea of the Sleepbox, but wasn't convinced it would work, due to concerns about its...misuse. But now it's a big hit in a Moscow airport. We also have a delicious spicy raspberry and serrano sangria recipe, a car riding the subway, a storm trooper helmet made out of Adidas shoes, and more. Read the full story on TreeHugger
If you have been concerned about the rising energy costs in your area, it might be a good time to look at ways in which you can save money with solar energy. Various areas in the world run on different power sources, which most of these sources being problematic in some way. The main problem is that even energy sources that are renewable use some sort of oil power to maintain them. This automatically increases the costs associated with the energy source, which is then passed onto the consumer. The vast majority of people are prepared to pay whatever the oil companies see fit, but you do not have to be one of these people if you are able to harness the money saving power of solar energy.
One of the most common ways in which people use solar energy is through solar panels. While these panels are somewhat expensive to install, they save you money over the years because of their durability. When you purchase a panel, it can provide you with energy for about 30 years. There are no other sources of energy that can come close to matching that level of durability. In addition, since it is at a one-time cost, you will be supplied with free green energy for many of these years after your original purchase. If you are a homeowner, having free energy coming into your home really adds up in a short period of time.
Another way in which solar power saves you money is by creating an unlimited amount of power for you. If you are running on gas power, you can use as much energy as the gas company will provide for you. Eventually, the planet will run out of fossil fuels and the gas company will no longer be able to provide you with this energy. As these levels get lower, oil companies will charge an even higher premium, which will cost you even more money. Solar power, however, is infinite because it comes directly from the sun. Since no one owns the sun, you can never be charged for harnessing as much of this power as you wants.
While it might be a roundabout way to save money through solar energy, many locations will provide you with a tax break if you switch to solar power. It really depends on where you live, but some locations have made it very lucrative to switch over to alternative energy sources. In Australia, for example, the federal government supplies its citizens with an $8,000 grant for spending $16,000 on solar panels. When you factor in the monthly savings on your energy bill, it really makes sense to switch under those circumstances. As solar energy options become more readily available, we will likely see other countries jump on board with similar tax benefits.
Flexible Set Up
A common gripe with solar energy is that it costs so much to get started. This, however, does not have to be the case if you are smart about it. Your entire energy system does not have to be installed at once, as you can slowly add to it over the years. If you have enough money for one solar panel right now, you can install the first one and then wait to install a second. Having that first panel up will save you a little bit of money, as it can be used to store energy for when you need it. You can probably install these panels yourself as well, which saves money if you have to do it in multiple steps, since you will not have to hire someone each time.
As was mentioned before, you can store your solar energy for when you need it the most, as long as you have a capacitor. If you produce too much solar energy for your home, you can either release this energy into a pool, where others would be able to use it, or you can store it for yourself. If you store the energy, you can use it whenever you wish. This comes in particularly handy if you have a prolonged period without much sunlight, as you can continue to rely on solar power. It is also useful during a blackout, as you can keep your house powered while the rest of the neighborhood is dark. Storing energy prevents you from having to rely on gas when you are not producing enough solar energy, which saves you money each time a cloudy period hits.
Solar power can also help you save money in smaller ways throughout the year, as long as you are smart about it. If you use flashlights when camping, bring a solar powered version to save on the cost of batteries. You can usually find radios that run on solar power as well, saving you additional money. All you have to do is remember to put the light or radio out in the sun during the day and you can enjoy the power when it is needed.
A simple way to harness some solar power to save money is to use black sheets on your bed or black curtains on your windows. If you do this during the winter months, you will find that your bed or room is warmer when you get into bed at night. This is because these black items store solar power naturally, which can cut down on how much you have to spend on heating your home each month. With so many ways to use the power of the sun, you should be able to find a money saving method soon.
About the Author: M.H is sharing his knowledge and passion about renewable energy sources at Alternative Energy Geek.com.