July 17, 2014

NO, NO, NO to #geoengineering as main effort to "fight" climate change

I am getting more and more tired of techie types, especially ones with Internet 2.0 outlooks who are right-neolibs or even outright libertarian, promoting seeding the oceans with iron, or the sky with particulates, to either have plankton digest the rise in oceanic carbon dioxide, or have particulates block enough of the sun to keep temperatures from further rising, rather than putting more effort into more conventional adaptation or mitigation efforts first, or even better,

More effort into cutting carbon emissions first!

There's several problems here.

First, both of these approaches assume they're dealing with closed systems, when they're not.

Second, hasn't deliberately engineering our planet through deliberate introduction of invasive species taught us how clueless we are at things like this? Obviously not.

The story somewhat notes these concerns, or at least, the fact that people besides me have them:
Environmental activists stoked fears about unknown side effects. Some worried the iron could lead to a toxic algal bloom, like those that have poisoned sea lions and other sea life off the coast of California. Others floated the possibility that the experiment could lead to a dead zone, like the one created each summer by the algal bloom in the Gulf of Mexico, where the fertilisers that support Midwestern cornfields gush out of the Mississippi river’s mouth and into the ocean. When that algae dies, other microbes consume the corpses, using up all the available oxygen in the surrounding waters. When the oxygen shortages hit, fish flee, but slower-moving sea life such as crabs and worms suffocate and die in droves.
The story claims iron fertilization has been tested. Yeah? Well, one test in a small patch of the ocean does nothing to modify "closed loop" thinking, which the article doesn't even address, let alone test how likely such, or other, open loop side effects are to happen.

Third, I don't see a cost estimate on either of these examples of "salvific technologism," as I call it here. Expenses could be whopping, and, unless more is done to cut carbon emissions, this isn't a one-shot effort. Plus, per the idea that these efforts would NOT involve closed loops means that there's likely hidden costs that aren't even on the technologism folks' radar screens.

And, the story doesn't even address large scale costs.

Fourth, there's no carbon estimate on just how much in carbon emissions either of these would cause. That too is unaddressed in the story.

As one commenter put it:
No matter how seductive geo-engineering may appear, we have never exhibited the capacity to fully predict complex externalities, even in systems we do understand. Nor have we been able think outside whatever paradigm rules political and economic bureaucracies.

In fact these two problems perfectly explain why we have reached such a dangerous place where we need to dream up fantasies like geo-engineering in the first place.
Yep, this is an inside-the-box, or inside-the-paradigm, solution. It's tech-based, engineering-based, capitalism-based.

And, from one of the high priesthoods of science, the Royal Society, there's a much more in-depth smackdown of ideas like this.

The report is five years old, but, I still see nothing to contradict this statement in its introduction:
Far more detailed studywould be needed before any method could even be seriously considered for deployment on the requisite international scale. Moreover, it is already clear than none offers a ‘silver bullet’, and that some options are far more problematic than others.

Fifth, although iron is much more available than, say, gold, still, there's also no accounting for the general effort, besides price and carbon emissions, of a forced increase in iron mining.

Sixth, due to Jevons' paradox, to the degree this might actually work, many people might use it as an excuse to stop worrying about global warming.

This, at the end of the story, is halfway in line with that:
Back in Bremen, Smetacek told me that commerce might be the only way to motivate further research into iron fertilisation. Replenishing missing krill, and the whales it supports, could be the best route to broader acceptance of the practice.
Sure, and then Japan says we don't need to protect whales anymore.

As for where I saw this, on Facebook? I thought that a Bora Zivkovic was smarter than this. Well, no, that's not totally true. Four years ago, I might have thought that.

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