Time to Geoengineer the Climate? Scientists Say We Should Get Prepared

Leading experts on climate change science and technology released a report recommending the US government begin considering radical alternatives to remediate Earth’s climate.

Techniques include scattering particles in the air to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes, stationing orbiting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, seeding the air with ocean water to form clouds, and literally vacuuming the carbon from the atmosphere using machines. 

The report emphasizes that it’s too early to deploy these technologies, but it’s time for a coordinated federal research program to explore their potential effectiveness, feasibility, and consequences in case "the climate system reaches a ‘tipping point’ and swift remedial action is required."

It also emphasizes that the highest priority is to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but political stalemate continues to prevent that.

The 18-member panel was convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a research organization founded by Democrats and Republicans – to offer policy advice to the government. Some of the panel members told the NY Times they hoped the mere discussion of such drastic steps would jolt policy makers into meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which they emphasize, are the highest priority.

"The report reflects a consensus view from experts in natural science, social science, science policy, foreign policy, national security, and the environment,"says Jason Grumet, President of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The panel offers two main reasons for the US to embark on a  several million dollar climate remediation research program:

  • The physical risks of climate change are real and growing.
  • The geopolitical and national security risks of deployment of climate remediation technologies by some other countries or actors are real.

"The United States needs to be able to judge whether particular climate remediation techniques could offer a meaningful response to the risks of climate change. But even if it decides not to deploy any climate remediation technology, the U.S. needs to evaluate steps others might take and be able to effectively participate in – and lead – the important international conversations that are likely to emerge around these issues and activities in the years ahead.

Research is underway in Britain, Germany and possibly other countries, and also in the private sector.

Stephen Rademaker, Task Force Co-Chair and Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, says "Some proposed climate remediation techniques, particularly solar radiation management, could be fast-acting, be deployed at very low cost, and have quite serious and uneven impacts – intended and unintended."

Many environmental groups call geoengineering misguided and potentially dangerous.

But we’re already geoengineering the environment by spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we’re just doing it accidentally, says Jane Long, associate director of  Lawrence Livermore National Lab and panel co-chair. 

Here’s the report:

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Comments on “Time to Geoengineer the Climate? Scientists Say We Should Get Prepared”

  1. LTG

    80% all electricity made with coal,when turned to dust & blown into furnace to make steam for turbine 66-80% energy lost up chimneys,33% lost to resistance in wires,…fuel cells would give back all the copper in the wires, stop all the coal burning, and are now easy to make, and a lot cheaper in toxic clean=up

  2. Rosalind Peterson

    Please note that the Bipartisan Policy Center has stated in both their webcast on October 4, 2011, and the new report that several countries and possibly private corporations or individuals are already engaged in Geoengineering.

    It should be noted that NCAR reported over 50 countries worldwide are currently engaged in weather modification programs, along with over 66 ongoing programs in the United States (UCAR & NASA documents). These experimental programs are so huge as to now be labeled as geoengineering or climate remediation projects.

    The IPCC and recently released Stanford University studies, along with NASA studies (under NASA’s Patrick Minnis), have admitted that aviation impacts are increasing global warming over the Arctic and Alaska through the aviation produced man-made clouds (water vapor is a byproduct of jet engine combustion and is a greenhouse gas). This aviation impact, which is worldwide, and which NASA studies show is changing our climate on an enormous scale should also be listed under geoeingineering projects as the jets produce ever-increasing man-made cloud cover.

    When we discuss solar radiation management it means reducing the amount of direct sunlight reaching the Earth. What happens when solar power panel production is reduced along with the photosynthesis needed for all plants to grow and produce crops? We all need Vitamin D from the sun to avoid the health effects, like rickets in children which is making a comeback (CDC, Universitity of California Berkeley, and Kaiser Permanente reports).

    The lack of direct sunlight reaching the Earth through increasing solar radiation management along with the toxic chemicals, particles (nano-particles), and gases proposed for use have the potential to pollute our air, water, soil, while causing acid rains which will destroy our trees and other aquatic life.

    Why aren’t we adddressing what these “risky” issues are and why they are “risky”, instead of just stating that geoengineering or climate remediation (their new term)is “risky”?

    The Bipartisan Policy Center Webcast also noted that climate remediation or geoengineering involves Solar Radiation Management (SRM), and this invovles using particles, chemicals, or gases released into the atmosphere. The Center uses the words “risky” over and over again when referring to geoengineering schemes but fails to identify what risks are involved in proposed geoengineering schemes. We wondered why the above article in Sustainable Business did not make a full report with emphasis on how risky and what types of experimentation are proposed by the Center?

    Isn’t it time that we have a full public debate on the consequences and risks of these programs before we initiate more of them. The Uk Parliament and the U.S. House Science & Technology Committee both held hearings in 2009-2010, and agree to work together on Global Geoengineer Governance as well as on geoengineering itself. Why didn’t these hearings include scientists from all fields instead of just hearing testimony from those that are promoting Geoengineering Schemes?

    We need more answers and more public debate on this issue.


    Rosalind Peterson
    Agriculture Defense Coalition
    (707) 485-7520
    Website: http://www.agriculturedefensecoalition.org/content/geoengineering-current-actions

  3. Maria

    Clouds do NOT reflect snulight, black or white. The individual water droplets or ice crystals refract or even diffract the snulight; but the solar spectrum Fresnel reflectance of H2O is quite small, about 2% for normal incidence and maybe 3% averaged ove all incidence angles.But a single refraction from a water droplet, can scatter snulight over 90 degrees or more, so it only takes two or three successive refractions to thoroughly homogenize the light, and render it effectively isotropic; in which case, the diffuse reflectance can hardly rise above 50%, in terms of snulight returned to space.And don’t forget, that those extra whitened clouds ALWAYS absorb a sizeable amount of incoming snulight and prevent it from reaching the surface to be propagated into the deep oceans. And the subsequent LWIR re-emissions from the warmed atmosphere (due to that absorption), is also isotropic, so only half of that reaches the surface as LWIR; and that is absorbed in the surface layer (10-50 microns) resulting in significant amounts of prompt evaporation of even more water. That of course removes a lot of latent heat from the ocean as well, as making more blocking clouds.Total lunacy believing you can tweak the climate with cloud engineering.


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