If There Is Global Warming . . . Why The Aversion To A Technological Fix?

When all the airplanes were grounded on 9/11 there was a measurable change in average temperature. It doesn’t take something from Star Wars to affect climate. It would be conceivable to pay airliners a freight fee to carry a post engine-injected chemical that remains aloft as a dimming agent in conjunction with the contrails already produced.

Unless you want to discuss specific technological plans, this is the best answer.

Causing algae blooms, increasing acid rain, and screwing around with the earth’s mantle just strike a lot of people as really … arrogant. And stupid.

Look, technological remedies would depend on scientists and engineers.

Scientists tend to have a surprisingly narrow field of expertise.

Engineers tend to have a ‘Let’s see if this works’ attitude.

Neither group should be trying to deliberately affect the climate.

One doesn’t have to be a Neo-Luddite to consider technological ‘solutions’ and think, ‘DDT, DES, damming major rivers, forcing people into false sleep patterns (military), insulating house and preventing air flow … hmmm, maybe we shouldn’t screw around with things so much.’

Has science improve our lives? Well, hell, yes. Even more importantly, it is what we do. Homo sapiens is, IMO, defined by our science and technology.

But, do we have a history of seriously considering the consequences of each technological advance? Not since the Catholic Church ruled the European World, and, frankly, did a damned bad job at regulation.

There is no way in hell we know enough to implement practices to cause immediate changes in the climate.

Huerta88: I would say the biggest reasons for aversion to a technological fix along the lines of what is generally called “geo-engineering” is two-fold:

(1) We tend not to be very good at anticipating all of the problems caused by what we are doing (in this case, by increasing the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere). For example, while the focus with CO2 has been on climate change, there is growing awareness that ocean acidification may be quite a big problem too…although we don’t have a very good handle on this yet.

(2) We tend not to be very good at anticipating all the potential problems with the proposed fixes…And, in order to produce fixes that counteract the problem effectively, we have to understand the system much better than we would in order just to reduce the effects of our actions (by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions).

And, I would tend to turn your point around. In their response to geo-engineering solutions, you see what you think is an inconsistency in the position of those who advocate actions to mitigate AGW. However, I see inconsistencies in the position of those who are fighting against mitigation of AGW but embrace geoengineering solutions. After all, such people generally spend a lot of time arguing that we really don’t understand the climate that well and there are lots of unknowns and uncertainties. And yet, it seems to me that these “swallow the spider to catch the fly” approaches to dealing with AGW would rely on having a much much better understanding of the climate system than simply identifying our perturbation on the climate system as being significant and trying to reduce that perturbation!!

RealClimate has done a couple of pieces here and here and here discussing some of the potential problems that scientists have identified with these solutions.

By the way, as you have alluded to, if you define the notion of a technological fix more broadly, then I think you don’t see the same amount of concern about it. After all, hybrid cars are a technological fix that is embraced by environmental groups (e.g., the Sierra Club’s evolve campaign), as is wind and solar energy, not to mention the sort of high-tech conservation measures such as “smart windows” and CFLs / solid state lighting. I think that sequestration of CO2 has also met with at least some tepid support from environmental groups…with the tepidness again in this case being due to concerns about possible consequences of the storage method and how foolproof it can really be.

Actually, the supposed effect of the contrails that was seen was not really to significantly change the average temperature but rather to decrease the day-night temperature difference. (I.e., in the absence of the contrails, the day-night temperature difference increased.) And, since greenhouse gases also tend to lower the day-night difference, the two act in the same direction on this factor.

It is also worth noting that, as I understand it, the results of this are based on one study from one event. The study is an interesting one but I think one has to be careful in drawing too strong conclusions from it. In particular, there was a quite broad area of high pressure over the U.S. on 9/11, which would also tend to increase the day-night temperature difference. (I think the authors of the study feel that they have adequately ruled out this explanation but I am not sure others are as convinced.)

One irony in discussions of climate change is that those in the “skeptical” camp seem quite ready to embrace any one study that supports their point-of-view while ignoring the large number of studies that support the conclusions regarding AGW that they don’t like.

No, I can think for 2 seconds and see how dumb they are. Growing plankton to capture CO2 presents two obvious and fatal problems. (1) You need to continually increase the number of plankton in the ocean. We might be able to capture 5-10 years of carbon production, but we aren’t going to be able to capture 50-100. (2) When the plankton die and decompose (or are eaten), that carbon is going to be released back into the atmosphere. Blowing up volcanoes is obviously dumb because, well, you are talking about blowing up volcanoes. It’s going to take explosives on the order of nukes, and it’s going to be a completely unpredictable explosion. Not to mention that we don’t have the science nailed down to a necessary degree to predict the impact of exploding volcanoes.

I mean, that’s the answer. These ideas are being dismissed because they are really dumb, not because of any religion or neo-ludditism on the part of environmentalists. Come up with at least a slightly reasonable solution and you will see them at least consider it. It’s no surprise that they are dismissing retarded and unworkable solutions.

Personally, I think the only solution is an economic solution. Pollution is an externality. As education on GW increases, to some extent people can make more informed choices, but ultimately it is a sticky problem of information. To the extent that technology can help facilitate the collection of information and effect economic solutions, I am all for a technological fix. But growing algae as a carbon sink? Wouldn’t dream of it, unless all hope was lost. We simply don’t know enough to work out something like that. But we know enough to pick up our trash, eh?

Here’s an idea: compress the dead planckton until they turn into a gooey tarry substance. Then bury the goo underground in Alaska or under some middle-eastern desert or something.

To answer the OP, I think there’s a significant chunk of people who think — it’s probably more like a feeling than an intellectually iron-clad belief — that we have “messed with nature” too much.

More messing with nature would not be the solution to this.

To put this sentiment another way – if we dump a bunch of stuff into the atmosphere in an effort to “cancel out” global warming (as per the OP’s volcano scenario), and our calculations turn out to be not quite right, maybe we screw up the climate even worse.

I’d be more interested in a “technological fix” that involved either modifying our technology so that less CO2 is produced (including increasing reliance on alternative energies which don’t produce as much), or finding a way to remove extra CO2 from the atmosphere. (However the OP’s suggestion of dumping iron in the ocean to get more plants to grow strikes me as not very controllable and likely to have unintended side effects.)

Precisely. treis, clearly your two seconds thought was as insufficient and ineffectual as your original no-seconds thought. Dead plankton fall to the ocean’s floor, releasing no carbon, potentially eventually (albeit many years down the road) turning into useful energy sources.

That’s not how it works. Plankton may sink to the bottom of the ocean when they die, but they decompose when they get there, releasing the carbon back into the atmosphere. They don’t just magically turn into oil.

To back you up, since this is apparently not common knowledge, “In addition to nitrogen, however, decomposition also releases more carbon annually than fossil-fuel combustion, which over time may have a serious impact on the environment.” Cite.

That doesn’t back him up at all. That’s talking about terrestrial plants, not oceanic plankton. That some of them do sink to and remain on the bottom, without releasing their carbon, is evident from the historical formation of what we call “hydrocarbons.” All or almost all of which came from precipitated maritime life forms sequestering and concentrating their carbon content on the sea-floor.

There are abiogenic theories regarding the formation of at least some fossil-fuels. Regardless, the process you describe takes millions of years and specific geological processes. Secondly, the biogenic theory suggests that coal is the result of terrestrial decay, so you could somehow claim that my cite supports planting trees as a carbon sink so we could “get” coal, if you actually believe this algae idea. Thirdly, “Today’s oil formed from the preserved remains of prehistoric zooplankton and algae, which had settled to a sea or lake bottom in large quantities under anoxic conditions.” (Cite) Our oceans are not anoxic.

In order for oil to form the dead organisms need to be rapidly covered in order to prevent their decomposition. That’s not likely to happen on a wide scale over the entire ocean bed. Almost all of the plankton that dies will decompose and release it’s carbon back into the atmosphere.

Here’s an idea: Take our best knowledge of how climate and weather work, and use it to set up a simulation in a supercomputer. Run a scenario in which we put “stuff” into the atmosphere, and see if it the simulation predicts any problems. To avoid the possibility that the simulation is incorrect in some way, run 10 simulations on 10 different supercomputers and average the results.

Computer climate modeling is about as advanced as computer models of the human brain. We can draw some valid conclusions from it, but in no way can we get a “big picture” result of a complicated process. I had a good friend- a physicist with a PhD who spent his whole life working on climate modeling. He up and quit the whole thing one day, deciding it was a project tat could never be done and that the people he worked with had a religious-like zeal that make honest evaluation of what they were doing impossible.

Furthermore, there are non-climate related potential consequences- probably the most obvious being that dimming might throw some plants and animal out of whack and mess up ecosystems. Who knows!

Some of the aversion isn’t to technology as such, but to large-scale, corporate/governmental approaches - the “Small is good” mindset that would prefer everyone have a windmill (preferably home-made or at least small-craft-shop-made) next to the compost heap. An approach to GW that leaves Big Power in place, and Big Auto still in business, and Big Government taxing all of us, is just unpalatable to them, many of whom had their awareness shaped by the No Nukes rallies of the Eighties.

But I think you see less doctrinairism from that faction than you used to - some of the main anti-nuke activists from years past have publicly backed down and are willing to accept it now, even though they still would prefer small-scale, decentralized solar, wind, etc. power generation instead.

There’s no irony here. I pointed out that GW is not being addressed using science to stop it but rather using science to justify an economic debacle. What we have is chicken little Gore flying all over the world charging 6 figure fee’s to tell us not to drive RV’s. There’s no serious attempt at lowering the temperature.

GW is treated like a religion that requires absolution versus an environmental problem in need of a solution. Forgive me Father Gore for I have committed carbon. Go forth my son, and do the opposite of what I do. For the Earth shall blossom into the ideal temperature set forth by UN.

I realize you’ve invested a great amount of effort following the events of GW but don’t shove “skeptical camp” in my direction unless you’re willing to discuss the use of technology to directly lower the temperature. I’m not going to listen to a bunch of carbon footprint babble while China throws another tire on the fires of economic success.

Actually I have noticed such a tendency among many – but not all – people on both sides of the debate – to pay more attention to evidence/studies which support their position. In fact, I have noticed such a tendency in just about every debate.

It’s human nature, and unfortunately it interferes with critical thought.

The real irony here is that anyone would notice such a bias in the thinking of many people on the other side of the debate, while not appreciating the same kind of bias in people on their own side.

One other thing: In defense of many (but not all) skeptics, the position of many skeptics is not that CAGW is wrong, but that the science is not settled. For those people, it’s reasonable to pay more attention to publications which undermine CAGW.