Climos mentioned in Time cover story

March 21st, 2008, by dan

Climos was mentioned in this week’s Time Magazine cover story “10 Ideas that are Changing the World” under a section (#6) on Geoengineering. While we generally refrain from using the term Geoengineering– since it’s a general catch-all for approaches that treat the symptoms (i.e. warming, as in Solar Radiation Management or SRM) as well as those that address the cause (greenhouse gasses, as in forms of biological sequestration such as OIF and some other chemical and mechanical approaches)– we applaud the generally thoughtful though simplistic tone of the piece which, in short, was “lets research some of these approaches and better understand what our options are.”

We should add that in drawing a distinction between SRM techniques and OIF and other carbon mitigation approaches we intend no slight. Both have their conceptual place and many of the same arguments and cautions apply to both.

Not everyone appreciated the article of course. It quickly drew negative comments from Bill Becker (Presidential Climate Action Partnership) at Joe Romm’s Climate Progress blog as well as none other than the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope at HuffPo.

We think both pose the same “false dilemma“, i.e. that to research, and potentially eventually to implement, these options implies that they will be used in place of emissions reductions. Clearly they should not be–and we have never heard any credible voice suggest that they should.

Thankfully there is finally a large and growing worldwide motivation to address emissions–even here in the US the momentum towards such legislation is unmistakeable. (Climos plays an active role in such efforts. For instance, you will find us at every California CARB AB 32 Scoping Plan meeting — the next one is April 4th in Sacramento– as well as involved in efforts at the national and international level. )

More specifically, there seems to be a clear and unsubstantiated assumption that adding tools to mitigate carbon will somehow lessen the motivation to address the underlying cause (emissions). Last year the UN organized the planting of 1 billion trees. This is large scale biological mitigation. We did not see any complaints that this would lessen the pressure on emitters–nor should there be. Lets hope the UN and others, perhaps incentivized by market mechanisms (planting trees costs money too), plant many more. Lest we forget: This problem is large and worsening quickly. We need more options, not fewer–let’s understand what they are.

Becker in particular uses selective quotation to support his argument. Citing cautious comments by Dan Schrag from an Eli Kintish  Science magazine interview of Schrag, Anderson, Chisholm and Victor after the recent geoengineering forum at Harvard University, Becker conveniently ignores other comments from Anderson and Victor and even Schrag himself that we need to understand these options.

Victor: I agree completely, and let me just add that, in addition to all those factors, this has to be viewed as part of a rational overall strategy for thinking about the problem. Because if the climate proves to be a lot more sensitive–the data on the sea ice I found terrifying, and the evidence keeps coming in–then we will need a quick-response option that you might deploy for a while. It would be truly outrageous if we didn’t think about that option and probably even do some more work on it, and test some elements of it, so we’re ready.”


Anderson: I think that’s right. In my mind, after transitioning from putting geoengineering in the category of an unacceptable approach, just a very few years ago, I think geoengineering will bring a focus to this debate that no other discussion can engender. And I think it’s a focus of our scientific knowledge–what we do and do not know. It’s a focus on the very intimate link between the energy issue and the climate issue. It brings focus on the political structure, and in particular [on] which political leaders bring the blueprint to the table that would actually lead to the negotiation of international treaties and so on.

When you look at all of them together, that’s when you realize that the rates of all these changes are out of control. Regaining control of the system–the global system, the energy structure, the political system–this is the challenge. And I think that’s why geoengineering carries with it the requirement to look at these things together.”

Even Eli’s title for the interview (visible in the browser title bar) characterizes the consensus of the interview differently: “CLIMATE CHANGE: Scientists Say Continued Warming Warrants Closer Look at Drastic Fixes”.

The Becker and Pope articles both also assume there is a substantial risk of catastrophic unintended consequences from these various approaches, while the truth is that a thoughtful evaluation reveals little evidence to support this– the most widely considered techniques (aerosols and OIF) simulate natural events that have happened relatively frequently in geologic time, and will surely happen again. As Anderson remarks in the Science Magazine interview:

“There’s a really clear mathematical formulation [that] tells you how that system responds to those perturbations. … Nature provides us with very large perturbations that we need to study very carefully, including the glacial ice system, including the ocean steps”

Furthermore, the credible scientific voices considering many of these techniques are only recommending that we contemplate or continue a process of small to moderate scale demonstrations, nothing more. These demonstrations should be done by the world’s top scientists, and the results subjected to peer-review. Environmental leaders should be an integral part of this process.

Several comments on the article were made at the Geoengineering groups forum here and here.

There was also a thoughtful article from David Schnare this week at Scripps News, though not directly related to the Time piece.

Care to comment?