Testing Geoengineering Before It’s Needed

The SuperFreakonomics chapter on geoengineering solutions to global warming has generated plenty of heat, but scientific and political interest in the concept is on the rise. An article in Slate by Eli Kintisch discusses the current debate among scientists over how to test geoengineering: “So one group of scientists argues that by gradually increasing the size of our experiments, we can get as much data as possible with minimal risk. Another says that only a dangerous, full-scale deployment can shed light on the crucial issue of how effective a particular dose will be.” Kintisch wonders if all the debate, and the accompanying political complications, will rule out testing altogether, instead resulting in an emergency “full deployment, with little more than computer-based risk estimates to guide us.” Or, alternately, some freelance geoengineering by a single government. (HT: Daniel Lippman)[%comments]

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  1. Banty says:

    Interesting how testing, or at the least, deployment of the solution that we may need because there is too much skepticism regarding the results of complex computer models, is dependent on complex computer models.

    Something to bring up to combat the over-eagerness to embrace geoengineering as a silver bullet, saving us from difficult economic choices.

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  2. Brian says:

    Even though I am scared of geoengineering’s unintended consequences, I also feel it important to point out that we already are geoengineering the planet, though in a thoughtless and unplanned way.

    Known man made influences on the environment (putting asside greenhouse gasses) will continue to grow as the population continues to grow and demand a more consumer driven lifestyle.

    Urban heat effects, paved highways and suburban sprawl/expansion changing drainage and animal migration patterns are all geoengineering.

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  3. cbp says:

    I hope Nathan Myhrvold has his hard hat on – at the rate we’re going no scientist will be able to touch climate science without first being dragged through the streets by rabid lynch mobs; having decades personal correspondence dissected by legions of retirees; and every ‘t’ they haven’t crossed splashed across the Daily Mail frontpage as evidence of global conspiracy to commit genocide.
    I’m investing in a bomb-shelter with a large pentagram on the door.

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  4. Gary says:

    The problem with all these big ideas is that hubris is never adequately factored in. The effect was known by the Greek tragedy playwrites millennia ago, yet we still ignore it. Again, what’s the definition of stupidity?

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  5. Crust says:

    Did Myrhvold ever reply to objections from climate scientists (e.g. Gavin Schmidt) that he underestimates the amount of SO2 required by a factor of 200 or so? I don’t know if cost scales linearly with the amount of SO2 pumped but if so it may not look so radically cheap.

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  6. Eric M. Jones says:

    The main eruptions of Pinatubo occurred in only about 24 hours. During this time it ejected gas, aerosols, and lavas at a rate of about one million tonnes per second.

    Gives one pause….

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  7. Robert L. says:

    All the green house gas reduction plans are also proposed for “full deployment, with little more than computer-based risk estimates to guide us.” The Kyoto/Copenhagen approach involves remaking the entire global economy before any change/improvement could be seen.

    I find it interesting that, whenever we are talking about mean green left solutions to global warming, the climate is supposedly so completely understood and modeled that the global warming science is “done,” exact atmospheric carbon targets can be set (350) and we need to bet the global economy on computer models but suddenly when an alternative solution is proposed there is great uncertainty and computer models can’t be trusted and the law of unintended consequences suddenly rears its ugly head.

    The best test for telling whether someone is serious about climate change as a problem to be solved or whether they are simply using the idea of climate change as a means to enforce their political ideas about society is whether non “green-approved” solutions, like nuclear power and geo-engineering, are seriously considered or simply attacked and dismissed out of hand.

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  8. DaveW says:

    “The main eruptions of Pinatubo occurred in only about 24 hours. During this time it ejected gas, aerosols, and lavas at a rate of about one million tonnes per second.”

    That’s about 86 trillion tons. However, as you mentions that it includes the lavas it’s not really a very useful number in thinking about what may have been discharged into the upper atmosphere.

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