Highly decentralized solar geoengineering

Nonstate actors appear to have increasing power, in part due to new technologies that alter actors’ capacities and incentives. Although solar geoengineering is typically conceived of as centralized and state-deployed, we explore highly decentralized solar geoengineering. Done perhaps through numerous small high-altitude balloons, it could be provided by nonstate actors such as environmentally motivated nongovernmental organizations or individuals. Conceivably tolerated or even covertly sponsored by states, highly decentralized solar geoengineering could move presumed action from the state arena to that of direct intervention by nonstate actors, which could in turn, disrupt international politics and pose novel challenges for technology and environmental policy. We conclude that this method appears technically possible, economically feasible, and potentially politically disruptive. Decentralization could, in principle, make control by states difficult, perhaps even rendering such control prohibitively costly and complex.

That is from Jesse L. Reynolds & Gernot Wagner, and injecting fine aerosols into the air, as if to mimic some features of volcanic eruptions, seems to be one of the major possible approaches.  I am not able to judge the scientific merits of their claims, but it has long seemed to me evident that some version of this idea would prove possible.

Solve for the equilibrium!  What is it?  Too much enthusiasm for correction and thus disastrous climate cooling?  Preemptive government regulation?  It requires government subsidy?  It becomes controlled by concerned philanthropists?  It starts a climate war between America/Vietnam and Russia/Greenland?  Goldilocks?  I wonder if we will get to find out.

Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.


Likely outcome: concerns shift from temperature change (which would now be "solved") to ocean acidification and the like. And we continue to be concerned about burning of fossil fuels.

'And we continue to be concerned about burning of fossil fuels.'

So, the effects of releasing multiple gigatons of previously sequestered carbon annually over decades actually has more than a single effect?

Ones that can be measured using empirical methods?

Fancy that.

How hard would it be to raise the PH on the oceans?

More than the current total amount of mining occurring in the world. But it might be easier to filter the ocean through Australia's limestone Nullarbor Plain (No tree plain). Easier still to stop burning coal and reduce oil use.


Killing 50,000 coal mining jobs and replacing them with 250,000 solar/wind/storage jobs costs too much, destroys wealth, and will cause a loss of one million jobs!

With fossil fuel profits of zero, stock prices will crash and the Trump's of real estate will have no 1% to build resorts for, maintained by a million illegal workers!

I assumed the question was if it was possible to reduce heat using aerosols and then lower the PH of the oceans. The answer is it's not at all easy. Much easier to stop burning coal.

You are aware that 100% of the solar energy alternatives are 100% manufactured and maintained by fossil fuel energy??? All of the current solar energy alternatives are not cost effective, i.e. they use more energy from fossil fuels to build and maintain than they can ever produce from solar. It is all a scam on the public and the taxpayers.

Shorter Anon: "Get a horse!"

"All of the current solar energy alternatives are not cost effective, i.e. they use more energy from fossil fuels to build and maintain than they can ever produce from solar. "

No, that hasn't been true in over a decade. The cost of solar energy has plummeted over the last 15 years.

Reference: https://blog.aee.net/the-numbers-are-in-and-renewables-are-winning-on-price-alone

Looking at the graph, there are some caveats. One, the price of coal is for construction of a new plant. However, that being said, the price of both new solar and wind power dropped below the price of new coal construction in 2013. Indeed, in the last few years the price has dropped enough that new solar and wind are cost competitive with existing coal plants. Which is why a lot of legacy coal plants are being closed down.

I wish it were true. I have always liked the solar cell technology. I got my first small solar cell in 1955 and have followed the solar industry all those years since. They have always been predicting that lower prices and higher efficiencies were right around the next corner. And we did get somewhat lower prices and marginally higher efficiencies. But still solar costs more than it can produce. And it has a fatal flaw in that it only produces energy while the sun shines on it. Which means that there must be additional costs to either store energy or provide backup conventional energy for when the sun don't shine. It is and may well be a failure commercially.

When you look at the costs especially from government or energy companies be aware that they hide the subsidies. So while they may show electricity from solar being only 4-8 times more expensive then from conventional fossil or hydro they are hiding the subsidies and the real numbers are that solar generated electricity is 10-20 times more expensive than from conventional power plants. In other words they lied to you. The real clue for any thinking person is that there are subsidies. If solar power were sustainable or competitive it would not need subsidies.

You can buy solar panels for 24 cents a watt at the factory gate. Where I am a single watt of solar will produce around 1.5 kilowatt-hours a year in a solar farm. The wholesale price of electricity is around 4 cents. I presume you can see what I am getting at here.

What a deal. $48 for A 200 watt solar panel. Send me all you can buy and I'll send you $48 apiece for them.

What does it cost to install a commercial sized solar farm? To maintain it? to build a fossil fuel fired conventional plant to back it up? etc.

So you understand that you were wrong now and solar panels obviously require less energy than they can produce if they are being sold for 26 cents a watt? And as a result of this knowledge you promise to never repeat that incorrect information now you know it's wrong?

One question is how much energy is consumed I'm the manufacture of solar panels and how much energy will the solar panel produce over their lifetime, among other questions.

Here are some things to ponder.

1. China is the largest producer of solar panels.

2. The three largest solar panel manufacturers in the world are JinkoSolar, JA Solar, and Trina Solar - all are Chinese companies.

3. China was building about 1 new coal plant per week. That might be old data. Here's some new data:


4. China has the 3rd largest coal reserves in the world (1. US, 2.India, 4. Australia)

They have a resource and they are going to use it.

5. Australia exports 24% of it's coal to China (36% to Japan).

So, bottom line, China is going to burn it's own coal and a lot of Australia's to produce solar panels they will sell to foolish western countries.

Personally, I would like us to stop.burning coal, which is happening in the US now. It is very dirty. Nat gas has much less carbon and we have lots of it. We should go to nuclear via Nat Gas asap, for lots of reasons.

I watched a Bill Gates preso via YouTube where he made a similar pitch. He talked about am actual blackout in NYC. Solar and storage would not have helped. The power density of solar just isn't there and it can't provide power at night. Once the storage is depleted you're hosed.

I can't believe the stupidity on this issue. I think innumeracy is one problem, magical thinking another.

Short (<2 min) Bill Gates comment on energy:


Yes, innumeracy is a problem. Like saying China will burn all its coal reserves while also pointing out it imports huge amounts of coal from Australia without seeing the contradiction. If all their coal reserves are all economical to extract, why are they importing from Australia?

Just because coal exists doesn't mean it makes sense to use it. South Australia has 6 billion tonnes of coal reserves and another 14 billion tonnes inferred and none of it is being used because its not economical. Australia -- the world's largest exporter of coal -- will never build another coal power station because it is not economical compared to solar and wind firmed solar and wind.

And if you look at Chinese coal consumption you'll see it peaked around 2012:


They have coal and, more importantly, coal plants. Those plants will be used and they will be burning a lot of coal for a long time. They are not going to throw away those investments in coal fired plants.

Solar is fun, a cool thing for rich people to play with, but it doesn't have the power density or the availability to power our economies.

You search through the text of my message and try to split hairs and you can just plain make sh*t up, like saying I said something I didn't actually say, but it won't change a thing.

You are a moron and a troll, and I bet your side lost in the election.


Australia has coal too. Our last coal power station was built in 2009. Since 2012 we've shut down 13 coal power stations. That was 22% of the nation's coal capacity.

If you are 50 YO or younger you will live to see the day that Australia again build coal fired power plants. The "green" alternatives are unsustainable and any appearance of being practical is the result of existing fossil fuel energy sources that cover for their failure and huge subsidies to make the "green" alternatives appear legitimate. Sooner or later this bubble will burst and be proved to be a fraud.

It would be nice if large scale renewable generation received subsidies in Australia or, better yet, if there was a carbon price. But there is no carbon price and Australia's Renewable Energy Target has been met so revenue from that is rapidly falling. Despite this, Australia is expected to have around 50% renewable generation by 2030. I hope it will be more than this, but hope is not a plan.

You really believe that large scale renewable generation does not receive subsidies in Australia ???? Do you believe in Santa Claus too?

The sole purpose of alternative energy is to harvest subsidies from government. They could not build and maintain an alternative energy plant without massive subsidies and forced subscription. It is not profitable and not sustainable. It has one redeeming quality; it is heavily subsidized and with political help can be used to make a few people very rich. That's it!!

As I understand it, things won't be too different for wind power in the United States once the wind production credit ends in 17 months.

So, my side would be the conservative side then? Since I am against changing the radiative balance of the atmosphere away from what it has been traditionally.

I can see what you're getting at.

You can spend 24 cents, plus install costs, plus maintenance costs, to make 6c a year of return assuming the wholesale price is available to you.

In many industries the cost of install and other infrastructure would be the same as the raw asset. So let's assume 48c per watt installed on land, connected to the grid, billing systems etc. And again in many industries the operational cost p.a. would be about 20% of the install cost. So we have 48c to install, 9.6c p.a. costs, and 6c revenue p.a. I presume you can see what I'm getting at here.

Next, can you really get 4c per unit? In a climate with a lot of air conditioning, then yes. Peak power usage will be exactly when your solar farm is producing peak power. In a climate with a lot of heating, no. Peak power usage will be when your solar farm is producing minimal or no power. Further, you need to consider solar as a percentage of the grid. When it's about 10-20% of the power, sure, you'll get the 4c. But as it goes higher, other producers are peaking at the same time as you. I'm sure you've seen reports of negative power prices in some areas, usually driven by overproduction from solar. Your economics are even worse if you have to pay people to take your power.

Of course, there are probably much better numbers out there than my assumptions. But the great thing about a market economy is that we don't actually have to argue about this. Since we're not centrally planning the thing, it's fine if you and I disagree. In fact, it's exactly what a market economy needs. You should just keep quiet about how awesome solar is, and go and put your own money into a solar farm. If you're right, you'll make a fortune. And if you're not, you'll lose your money. For me, my assumption is that if you were right there'd be a rush of people in the industry putting their money in solar. But there's not. So that tells me something.

Around 100 gigawatts of solar PV modules were produced last year. That's 15 times more than 10 years ago in 2008. My state generates about 10% of electricity from solar with around one-third of homes having at least a small rooftop solar system. So there are a considerably number of people putting money into solar.

Ratios and percentages are always very flattering from a small base. After all that massive increase, still only 10%. And the first 10% is the easy 10%. Again, this isn't something that opinions matter on - in a market economy if it genuinely has grid parity - particularly in Australia where you appear to be from and is one of the sunniest places on earth with lots of inexpensive land.....well, it will rapidly come to dominate the electricity market. That it hasn't tells us something.

It tells you that the cost of new solar is not less than the marginal cost of coal from existing power stations in Australia. Solar is not dominating the market because of its expense. Wind was cheaper than large scale solar and so that is now generates around 40% of the electricity produced in South Australia. Most of the state's solar is rooftop, which has a better return. But now large scale solar is becoming cheaper than wind it is expanding. In Queensland, which has less wind and more sun in its inhabited areas, large scale solar is already starting to out generate rooftop solar. It is cheap enough to make new coal power stations uneconomical, but it's still not cheaper than generating electricity from coal at an existing coal power station.

As a scientist, the first lesson is tanstaafl (the moon is a harsh mistress), so you are arguing it costs more than a million dollars in fossil fuels to make a million dollars in solar panel, plus another $300,000 in tax credits to pay labor costs to make solar panels.

Given Saudi Aramco can produce a million dollars in fossil fuels for about $200,000, $300,000 max, it should be making solar panels to put Saudis to work in high skill science, engineering, and clean room robotics technicians jobs, paid for by US tax credits, eliminating the welfare costs of Saudis discontent and thus becoming playboys or jihadists reacting against playboy decadence that offends Islam.

Plus, with all its sun, it could use solar panels to produce pure silicon needed for most solar panel production.

Thinking that you can predict the effect of meddling in a complex nonlinear system like climate is the height of hubris.

Thinking you can solve for the equilibrium of the social and political effects of such meddling is even worse.

Instead of balloons and aerosols spend the money on a large battery in a coal heavy grid. Provide grid ancillary services as a source of revenue but discharge the bulk of stored energy in a way that most inconveniences the highest marginal cost coal power station forcing it to exit the market. Repeat the process for the new highest marginal cost coal power station until coal is driven from the market.

The Chinese burn (by far) the most coal, but I doubt they will allow you to do this.

With state control of the electricity sector, I'd say you are right that they wouldn't allow it. But China is -- as these things go -- rapidly changing its generation mix and coal is now under 60%. It would probably be better to try it in Australia or coal heavy states in the US because Freedom! But I don't know which US states have the Freedom! to build merchant generators (and presumably merchant batteries) and which don't.

Merchant batteries would be the same as generators in this case, I think. The problem is that they would be competing with nat gas peaker ( minutes to ramp up) plants, not baseload ( hours to ramp up) coal.

Plus battery capacity is just so small. Note it’s usually spec’d for 4 hours of power.

+1, yes most of the solar + battery projects have been for 4 hours of battery capacity. Battery costs are declining, but they are still high enough to prevent a fully renewable grid at current costs.

The lowest cost providers in those areas are almost certainly legacy coal plants. And batteries are a net loss on the grid. Your plan would probably prolong the usage of coal by years.

The battery is built to provide ancillary services. This removes a source of revenue for coal power. Since it is built by a lunatic with balloon money it gets in before the competition. It can also provide electricity arbitrage. Normal arbitrage reduces the profitability of coal power but since you have balloon money you time it so it has the worst impact on the highest marginal cost coal power station. This may require some real time information on that coal power plant that may not be publicly available, but that can be obtained from one infrared camera at a great distance from the coal power station.

Since the goal is to end coal power rather than make money the balloon money battery doesn't discharge when solar is producing significant amounts of power, but only when it is not significant or zero such as during the evening peak. It draws power when solar output is high improving prices for solar. So coal power gets hit by lower electricity prices during the day from solar and lowered prices in the evening from the battery while the battery raises the price of electricity received by solar encouraging its spread.

Note this is just spitballing, not a carefully thought out plan.

Geoengineering is certainly possible, and it's unfortunate that it is not discussed more. Oliver Morton's "The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World" is a wonderful book about this. He makes the case, among other things, that doing small-scale geoengineering studies now would minimize the chances of disaster from hastily designed large-scale geoengineering activities performed decades in the future, when we're desperate.

Why would we be desperate decades in the future?

I asked a geophysicist about geoengineering, and he said that it could plummet the world into an ice age as Tyler wondered. I said it could be done incrementally, maybe starting from the 2030s or 2040 when there would be a much better idea of what might be needed if there was a problem, but he stuck with the risk of being sent into an ice age. As with Princeton physicist William Happer, he insists more carbon dioxide will be good for life.

There's this idea that climate change is on a scale that will dramatically affect human lives immediately. It's stupid; this stuff is rapid on geologic scales, but we're still talking no more than 10 cm/year sea level rise. The only way for people to be desperate is if they stupidly ignore the fact that the beach is moving further inland. As for temperature increases, worst-case scenarios (I only include those with a shred of scientific credibility; "The planet is on f-ing fire" does not rise to that level) indicate that cities in the Northern USA will experience summertime temperatures similar to those of the Southern USA over the next few decades.

The most catastrophic thing would be increased severe weather events: hurricanes and snow storms (if you're not sure why snow would increase due to warming, look at gyres and atmospheric circulation). But again, these would be a gradual increase in severity over a few decades. Ample time to revamp our infrastructure to deal with them. We should be doing that anyway; Katrina demonstrated how crappy our infrastructure is (and geologists had been warning about it for decades, so it's not like it was a surprise when it happened).

Even the IPCCC data doesn't support a truly catastrophic event. The projections of catastrophy are based on abysmal statistical assumptions and the idea that humans are too stupid to adjust to increased temperatures by purchasing air conditioners (which have a lower carbon footprint than heaters in many cases, ironically enough!).

Right. I just thought there might be a possibility some geoengineering may be desirable at some point.

Is there actually evidence that extreme weather events are increasing or will increase?

Not really. Not when you look at significant lengths of time. For example, the hurricane that hit New York was hailed as proof of climate change--but when you look at the barrier islands (which record hurricanes as distinct geologic events) it shows that similar hurricanes occur about once every five hundred years.

Time scale is the biggest issue here. Looking at the past decade doesn't tell you about 100 year storms or 500 year storms, despite those being a part of the climate.

CNN, The NY Times and all of the Democratic candidates say extreme weather events are obviously increasing while the IPCC says they are mostly not. The exception is heat waves where the IPCC says there is a 66% chance that the increase in temperature has had an influence.

The IPCC has stated that it is likely that the strength of hurricanes will increase by between 2% to 20% sometime after 2060 or 2070.

A 10 cm increase in sea levels a year? Townsville is 45 centimeters above high tide. A lot of coastal cities that are going to be lost very quickly. You sure it wouldn't be easier to install a few solar panels? Put up a wind turbine or two?

Aerosols clear out of the atmosphere fairly quickly. The volcanic-caused Year Without A Summer did not turn into the Millennium Without A Sumner. If things started getting too cold we could stop injecting the aerosols.

how easy would it be for leviathan states to "neutralize" these balloons?
this seems like a contemporary version of goethe's sorcerer's apprentice to me...there is no arrogance greater than homo sapiens

Or a good lightning storm.

Discussions like this are signs of increasing maturity. Geoengineering is going to happen, one way or another. It’s at the discussion level now, but action will follow as the pain increases. The next sign of maturity will be new love for nuclear energy. Watch for it.

What if it reflects a "maturity" beyond our ability?

A commitment to do things we just screw up.

Unexplained Radiation Leak Traced to Russian Nuclear Facility

Meanwhile coal is killing hundreds of thousands of people every year. But a harmless release of a small amount of radiation once every decade rules out nuclear for the very serious people.

New coal power isn't economical to build in Australia compared to using firmed solar and wind. So I don't seen how nuclear can compete with the renewable competition.

" I am not able to judge the scientific merits of their claims"

Why not? Are we not men of science, scholarship, and advanced learnings? Oh no, wait, we're just econ nerds. We do no such things.

It's either aerosol injection or mass open ocean fertilization (using iron and other limiting nutrients). Either could be done by non-state actors, although the former would be more expensive to do in a meaningful way.

If ocean fertilization has a beneficial effect on fisheries then it may be able to pay for itself. At the moment other methods of sequestering carbon look cheaper.

This is my attempt to solve the equilibrium.
Cost of maintenance and repair will keep going up at a rate higher than inflation and transform all these decentralized energy production solutions into financial bottomless pits.
The cost of maintenance and repair of well defined and controlled power plants has already gone to the roof. So I can't imagine for these high altitude baloons.

I'm afraid there might just be a major extinction event 200-300 years from now, with environmental services in taters, and humans not quite smart enough to put them back together again.

Remember who is president. Not a coincidence that doubters of this scenario also think the guy is doing great "deregulation."

Any idea what technology will look like in 2300 or 2400?

There has never been a rule that technology gives us what we want p, or need. We get some neat stuff, and then in a kind of wish-survivor bias decide it was all we really wanted. Cell phones for everyone.

Take cancer as an example of a harder nut. We've made progress, but not compared to 1960s dreams of a "cure." Treatment is still messy, painful, expensive, and results are spotty.

There is no reason to think there will be a major extinction event 200 to 300 years from now but you are assuming very little technological change out to 2400, which doesn't make sense.

We didn't just get cell phones for everyone. That small device in you pocket is a computer that does things a laptop couldn't do 20 years ago.

The U.S. mortality rate from cancer peaked in 1991 at 215 per 100,000 and is at 145 per 100,000. (40% of that decline is due to fewer smokers.) This progress will accelerate in the 2020s.

Peter Ward has some interesting things to say about the possibility of a mass extinction. See "Future Evolution". Quick and dirty summary: Because humans volitionally change our environment, and because we can manipulate genetics to the extent we can, it's going to be really, really hard to get rid of us. Extinctions may actually be a thing of the past. That's not, however, to say that life will be comfortable--we're still experimenting with genetics, and we perpetuate vermin as much as anything else. He is particularly impressed by the diversification of snakes over the past few thousand years.

'we explore highly decentralized solar geoengineering'

So, someone is rigorously looking at various driveway/roof surfaces?

'and injecting fine aerosols into the air, as if to mimic some features of volcanic eruptions, seems to be one of the major possible approaches'

Aren't most industrial facilities that involve combustion already privately owned, recognizing that China in particular makes state and private particularly hard to separate.

A carbon tax would not benefit these kinds of projects I think, even though they might be the marginal best source of mitigation against AGW. So one downside of the carbon tax. Presumably though they would be just funded as a philanthropic activity.

One aspect of the climate change debate that I don't think get's enough respect - what actually is the optimum climate (and CO2 level) for humans? It is always very well to say we should stop changing the climate but we know that there have been drastic climate changes in the past without any human interference. And many of those changes resulted in a world significantly colder than today's world, with pretty devastating consequences. So eventually one of these events will start to happen again. So we do need to learn perhaps how to "steer" the climate. But if we are going to steer - in what direction should we steer? It seems to me that the previous 150 years of global warming (since the low in 18C) have been totally benign for the human race - at least the human condition has vastly improved over that time and also the number of humans. So would further warming actually also improve the world?

Warming climates have already extended the ranges of insects and arachnids bearing all kinds of foul, exotic, incapacitating, and lethal diseases for us. Viruses on land and in our oceans may be thriving more than we, mutating faster than we, becoming much more deadly than we: apex predators make such conspicuous targets, after all.

My impression is that large areas of the world have eliminated malarial mosquitoes in the last 150 years. Certainly mortality rates for insect borne diseases have fallen dramatically.

> Decentralization could, in principle, make control by states difficult

I'm reminded of John Perry Barlow's "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace", which sounds almost comical a couple of decades later: "You have no sovereignty where we gather." The internet, too, was supposed to be beyond the control of nation states.

Of course these geoengineering schemes, if they ever come about at all, will be controlled and regulated heavily by governments. Are people going to manufacture high-altitude balloons and aerosols in their basements with 3D printers or something? They'll be made in factories by a small number of manufacturers. Wherever something relies on specialized physical infrastructure, that is where world governments exercise their control.

Can geoengineering become tomorrow's Uber, DoorDash, and the rest of tech startups that have enormous valuations in the absence of a model that will ever produce profits? If so, then capital will flow to geoengineering and the miracle of markets will happen. If not, forget it. So the question: why do investors place such enormous valuations on these so-called tech companies (I suppose tech is any business that originates from a smart phone)? Does Cowen have an answer? We could ask Rene Girard but he isn't available.

DoorDash has agreed to pay $410 million for Caviar, a rival food delivery service. It wouldn't take many Caviars in geoengineering to make the world a better place (climate-wise, that is). [Will autonomous cars, Uber, DoorDash, and the rest mitigate climate change or exacerbate climate change? If they exacerbate climate change, an investment in geoengineering would complement an investment in autonomous cars, etc. the latter increasing demand for (and the flow of capital to) the former. The magic of markets, indeed.]

On the Econtalk podcast a few weeks ago, Bjorn Lomborg mentioned the idea of stirring up the ocean as one form of geoengineering. Apparently it would impact cloud cover and thus cool the planet, or something like that...

What could possibly go wrong

Of the various geoengineering approaches to climate change, this is the worst and one of the most dangerous. The problem with aerosols is that they do not distribute themselves uniformly in the atmosphere. It doesn't just reduce the light everywhere by some fixed fraction. Models show that this has dramatic regional effects on climate.

Unfortunately, aerosols are also cheap. What happens when some group panics and decides to release the aerosols to combat climate change, and then dramatically changes the weather of some other country resulting in famine?

Carbon capture technology is advancing and would avoid all these consequences. If that technology can be made efficient enough that a reasonable carbon tax could cover the cost, that would be a much better geoengineering solution.

I find these discussions silly at this point.

First, balloons would never be cost effective at reducing solar influx. The energy cost of maintaining them will almost certainly exceed the net energy cost of building either the equivalent solar cell or wind turbine. There's no blimp industry today, because large lighter than air structures don't handle storms well.

Second, the cost of solar and wind power is already the lowest marginal cost of power. The introduction of cheap power storage means that the whole conversation is irrelevant.


Do tell: geoengineering has already played its part in the advent of Technogenic Climate Change.

The advent of Technogenic Climate Change suggests first and foremost that "non-engineering solutions" merit our attention before we even think of consulting the applied science and applied tech communities whose generations of work and careful study GAVE US Technogenic Climate Change.

"Rational solutions" did much more to give us a fouled atmosphere and fouled oceans over the past two centuries than our scientists and technologists seem willing to concede.

Maybe before we let these geniuses tackle any pending problems we can first arrive at a "rational epistemology" that works--otherwise, why continue to trust our "rational lunatics"? (Their industrial processes helped give the world the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but to this day we have no technology deployed cleaning it up: there it sits while it rots.)

This is insane.

First, humans have a HORRIBLE record for this sort of thing. Look at Australia, Florida, the Great Planes, and....well, literally anywhere we've tried it. Every time we've attempted to geoengineer our way out of a problem we've made things several orders of magnitude worse.

Second, we do not understand how ecosystems work. Full stop. We have NEVER directly studied a stable ecosystem. First, the mammal megafauna extinction was 12,000 years ago and the idea that we've recovered by now is laughable. Second, dental wear patterns demonstrate that literally every ecosystem on Earth right now is lacking in predators, which has major ecological implications. So we're not good at geoengineering, and we don't understand the system we're trying to manipulate anyway. The end result can only be good by blind, random chance.

Third, people don't seem to understand how important sunlight is to the ecosystem. The K/Pg Extinction wasn't caused by the asteroid hitting us, not directly--it was caused by the massive dust cloud that blocked the sun long enough to cut the base out from under the biosphere. (No, I'm not willing to entertain the ideas of Gerta Keller and her apostles; I've studied the K/Pg event, and can tell you that her trick is to focus only on the data that support her conclusion, ignoring the vast majority of other data available.) Anyone talking about cutting incidental solar radiation as a way to combat global warming should be considered on the same level as a terrorist planning to build a dirty bomb--only more so, because while the terrorist would devastate a city, the folks who want to block sunlight will shut down global ecology. We're already in a mass extinction (12,000 years is not sufficient time to recover from one), and folks want to do one of the few things we know for a fact will make things worse! Completely and utterly insane.

"... while the terrorist would devastate a city, the folks who want to block sunlight will shut down global ecology."

Actually, a dirty bomb would do almost no damage to a city but some people would die due to the panic it would cause.

Agreed--the bomb itself wouldn't be the issue, the panic would. But the results would be pretty horrible for a city. I merely used it to give a sense of scale to the amount of destruction blocking sunlight can cause.

Maybe nuclear war would be a better one. We could blow up every nuclear weapon in existence and not reach the magnitude of ecological destruction caused by the K/Pg impact. Blocking sunlight to combat global warming is on the K/Pg scale, not the nuclear war scale. It would be BETTER for the plant to have an all-out nuclear war than to block sunlight as proposed.

This is nonsense. Where would all the dust, aerosols etc come from to darken the skies to the extent that the Permian event did? You just said yourself even all our nukes couldn't get us within an order of magnitude of that. I'd be surprised if we could as achieve much more than the Tambora eruption did, and that cleared up after a couple years.

"Where would all the dust, aerosols etc come from to darken the skies to the extent that the Permian event did?"

For my part, I'm not convinced that darkening the skies played a significant role in the Permian mass extinction. My interpretation is that a whole series of issues occurred, all of which contributed but none of which was sufficient to cause the ecological shutdown at that time.

"You just said yourself even all our nukes couldn't get us within an order of magnitude of that."

It's actually worse. I've read (from Alvarez, so caveat emptar and all) that the K/Pg impact was larger than the total combined force that would be unleashed if we detonated all of our weapons of war--nukes, MOABs, missiles, down to the bullets--at the same time.

We're talking astronomical scales here. The amount of power unleashed by being smacked upside the head with a rock that size is inconceivable to a human mind; we have nothing to compare it to. Then there's the secondary effects of localized vaporization of the crust--the mantle is under pressure, and releasing that pressure is necessarily going to have dramatic consequences.

The issue is fine particulates in the upper atmosphere. Those stuck around for a long time. Most eruptions and the like simply don't put that much fine particulates that high up; smacking the Earth with a giant rock, then having the skin of the planet rip open, is another matter entirely.

I stopped at the name Alvarez.

Be quiet you hysterical bigot. We can therefore we must.

Here's Alex highlighting a mad scientist who literally wants to inject sulfuric acid into the atmosphere.


"Now, there will be some direct risks, for sure. If you put sulfuric acid in the atmosphere, some people could die from the extra air pollution. That’s a serious issue, and not one to take lightly. There’s an ethical aspect to taking action that results in harm.

But it seems clear that the net impacts would be hugely positive. And that seems to me to be true from essentially all climate models. Other people might come to different conclusions."

Yeah, when I find myself saying something that the villain from a Shrek movie has said ("Some of you may die, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make"), I usually figure I've done something horribly wrong.

Ah come on, he's not a villain. He's just a devout Utilitarian.

There's a difference?

Hell yeah! You can't avoid property taxes on your Fortress of Doom, but the Utilitarian Chapel to the Greater Good is completely exempt.

Human economic activity causes warming and generates carbon emissions. If you want less warming and carbon, you have to cut down on either the number of humans or their level of economic activity. So far as I can see, the most humane way to go about this would be to reduce the central bank footprint in the economy.

I wish someone would try to cool the earth by cooling Florida in the summer. Might even save on air conditioning.

The greatest climate change mitigation technology will be biochar (pyrolysis carbon capture and storage). This delivers productivity benefits such as in agriculture and bioremediation benefits, before becoming permanent carbon storage. Albert Bates and Kathleen Draper's book Burn is essential reading. Other carbon capture technologies are all cost with no offsetting economic benefits.

I you want to look at this in depth try the Ithaka Institute, International Biochar network or flick me an email.

The lowest cost methods of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it appear to be reforestation and afforestation, ocean or cold lake dumping of agricultural wastes/biomass (wanna be sure those cold lakes are gonna stay cold), and biochar soil admendment. Which is best can depend on location.

Preserving estuaries and sea grass is vital as they are powerful natural carbon sinks. If we can get some synergy going where dumping of biomass encourages sea grass growth that might be great. If we can get sea grass growing on currently bare continental shelf at low cost that could also be very helpful and may improve fish stocks.

Great display of amateur engineering - propose the solution before the problem is understood.

Many more years of quality science and pilot programs are needed. Hopefully we will have a pro-science administration one day.

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