The Geoengineering Genie

Are scientists eager (frantic?) to uncork it? The Guardian puts its spin on a scoop:

Leaked documents ahead of key Lima meeting suggest UN body is looking to slow emissions with technological fixes rather than talks.

6 Responses to “The Geoengineering Genie”

  1. kdk33 says:

    As kids, when we left the front door open, Mom would yell, “stop air-conditioning the outdoors”.

    She was ahead of her time.

  2. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    Assessing geoengineering schemes makes sense. Research on geoengineering makes sense. These seem to be what the IPCC is asking for, according to the Guardian story. But it’s way too poorly understood to serve as the basis for policy planning at this point. Robock, Solomon, and other heavyweights have published extensively on the important unknowns around geoengineering. I’d highly recommend James R. Fleming’s book, Fixing the Sky as an introduction for anyone who wants a broad non-technical perspective on geoengineering and its discontents.
    One thing that’s worth considering from a policy perspective is the finding, reported in the Royal Society’s 2009 review of geoengineering, that “rather than presenting a “˜moral hazard’ issue, the prospect of geoengineering could galvanise people to act, and demand action, on greenhouse gas emission reductions. Although participants [in focus groups] were generally cautious, or even hostile, towards geoengineering proposals, several agreed that they would actually be more motivated to undertake mitigation actions themselves (such as reducing energy consumption) if they saw government and industry investing in geoengineering research or deployment. It was noteworthy that this reaction was most pronounced in the some of the more “˜climate-sceptical’ participants. There was also a general concern that geoengineering was not the right focus for action, and that low carbon technologies should be developed rather than climate intervention methods.” (p. 43).

  3. raypierre says:

    The only real point in assessing albedo-based geoengineering schemes is to understand what might go wrong if some rogue nation or corporation decides to go it alone.  We already know enough about the consequences of mismatch between time scales for stratospheric aerosols (a year or two) and time scales for CO2 effects (millennia) to know that trying to cancel the latter with the former is a moral abomination with regard to what you are saddling future generations with.  With regard to IPCC, I’m reserving judgment until I see what they actually do; I bowed out of this round of assessment, myself, so don’t have any more inside scoop than the Guardian.  But if the IPCC has mandated that modeling centers should do geoengineering runs, this would be a very unwelcome expansion of the IPCC’s write into dictating rather than assessing the practice of climate science. In essence, it would mandate that nations establish geoengineering research programs, whether or not they felt they are a good use of money, or morally defensible.

    Note, too, that one should distinguish shortwave from longwave geoengineering. The latter amounts to finding ways to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, and while farfetched, is a critical backup technology that merits intensive investigation.  However, there’s rather little that needs to be done with regard to climate modeling in support of that, so I would imagine that if the IPCC is running geoengineering scenarios, it would mostly be with regard to the albedo modification schemes.

  4. raypierre says:

    By the way, Keith, why do you speak of “scientists” as if we were some sot of monolithic block with uniform opinions?  At most, the Guardian article suggests that there are some number of scientists that are actively backing geoengineering schemes, perhaps some more that think that for various reasons research should be done.  I, for one, think that stratospheric sulfate injection is (charitably described) barking mad, and I know plenty of scientists who agree with me — though even some of those think research should be done in order to at least better understand the hazards.
    On the subject of hazards, I have very little confidence in the Royal Society’s blithe discounting of the moral hazard trap of geoengineering research.  If you think predicting climate is hard, it’s nothing compared to trying tp predict which way public opinion will turn in response to various actions.

  5. Keith Kloor says:


    Two things.

    1) I used “scientists” as shorthand, but I take your point. It would have been better to say “some scientists.”

    2) The intent of my short post was to highlight the twist the Guardian was putting on this story, as much as it was to draw attention to their scoop.

  6. Bill says:

    I cant see why they shouldnt be looking at geoengineering. The world is not going to cut CO2 emissions for at least 20 years – so why not have an emergency backup just in case those GCM models ever do work!

    It often really does seem that a return to the Stone Age is the only policy morally acceptable to people like Raypierre.

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