Friday, March 14, 2008

GeoEngineeing. Solution or Risk?

The first time I ever thought about geoengineering I was about 11. It was 1984. It was science class and carbon dioxide was the topic.
"How should we clean the air?" was the question.
My response was to put large filters in the sky, suck air in, clean it and put it back out. I had a grand vision of a large square filter on two legs standing 100's of feet in the air.
"How about planting tress? the teacher responds.
Damn, stymied.

Now it is 2008. and Climate change is all the rage in the scientific community and geoengineering plans are not just being developed but experimentation is underway. At the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website and search for 'geoengineering' I was able to find two pdf documents (1, 2) with Alan Carlin is the author to both papers. Below are the abstracts to the report as I think they are the best and most fair snapshot I could give:

If, as argued elsewhere, geoengineering represents the most efficient and effective first steptowards a solution of the global climate change problem, it is important to analyze how such a geoengineering effort might best be organized. A number of possible organizations are discussed and criteria are proposed for judging between them. The paper concludes that since different phases of the program can be carried on by different organizations, involving one or a possibly only a few countries would appear to offer advantages for the early and less politically sensitive research and plan development while international organizations would appear to offer important advantages for the later implementation and maintenance phases. An important question is whether the international organization should be very broadly representative of all nations, such as the United Nations, or have a narrower membership, say of developed countries willing to contribute resources towards actually implementing a plan once it has been agreed to.
and the second;
Proponents of greenhouse gas emissions reductions have long assumed that such reductions are the best approach to global climate change control and sometimes argued that they are the least risky approach. It is now generally understood that to be effective such reductions would have to involve most of the world and be very extensive and rapidly implemented. This paper examines the question of whether it is feasible to use only this approach to control dangerous global climate changes, the most critical of the climate change control objectives. I show that in one of two critical cases analyzed recent papers provide evidence that such an approach is not a feasible single approach to avoiding the dangerous climate changes predicted by a very prominent group of US climate change researchers. In the other case using a widely accepted international standard I show that such an approach appears to be very risky and much more expensive than previously thought. These conclusions further reinforce previous research that
emissions reductions alone do not appear to be an effective and efficient single strategy for climate change control. So although emissions reductions can play a useful role in climate change control, other approaches would appear to be needed if dangerous climate changes are to be avoided. This conclusion suggests that the current proposals in a number of Western European countries and the United States to use emissions reductions as the sole means to control global warming may be doomed to failure in terms of avoiding such dangerous changes. An alternative approach is briefly discussed that would be more effective and efficient, and could avoid the perilous risks and high costs inherent in an emissions reduction only approach.
So Carlin is laying out the thought processes of environmental remediation (ill call it). This is good and necessary as the planet struggles with the anthropogenic (20$ college boy word) effects to our planet.

But the question I know have, even after reading Carlins papers is:
Is this the right thing to do?

I end this post with that question. As there is too much information for anyone to choke down in one go, my self included.
I will not try to answer this question directly but attempt to think it through for my self and any readers that I may have.
If any readers have links to sites, reports, or anything else I should take into consideration please leave a comment and link.


  1. I don't think there's any ONE best approach. We need all approaches. Call me a pessimist, but I don't think there's much we can do this late in the game. Even if we manage to curb emissions (and such), the global population is going out-of-sight. What good is it if you cut your carbon footprint in half, only to have more people roaming the world consuming more resources. Something has to give eventually. Prepare! ;-)

  2. Multiple approaches and global unification is part of what Carlin talks about in his papers.

    Are we smart enough to conquer it all?