My evaluation (for the Global Climate Change Situation Room, GCCSR)
of a proposal to handle climate change..
First, the proposal:
On Oct 19, 2010, at 10:44 PM, Jerome C. Glenn wrote:
Check out Solutions' new feature article: "Geoengineering: The Inescapable
Truth of Getting to 350" by Charles H. Greene, Bruce C. Monger, and Mark
While geoengineering may be one of the most controversial solutions
proposed for getting to 350ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, the authors argue
that it will be essential to reaching this goal by the end of this
The authors believe that one technology in particular has great promise,
paired with an aggressive emissions-reduction plan.
Read it here: http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/771
Most of us would be very interested in the important question this article
what does it take to keep CO2 from rising above 350 ppm?
Systems people might prefer a slightly sharper version of the question: how
can we minimize the cost and maximize the probability
of CO2 not rising above 350 OR of getting the environmental damage which a
CO2 above 350 would imply?
Real optimizers usually would want to fine tune almost any strategy, to try
to do a little
better. In that spirit, here are some comments on how to tune or interpret
(or implement) what this article offers...
in addressing that question.
First two sections:
The article begins by discussing how serious the problem may be. I won't
focus on that, since that's not the question
posed above. But it's interesting that they discuss the risk that sea level
might rise by EIGHTY meters. Peter Ward
of U. Washington will be discussing similar issues at NSF in a few days. (I
can't go due to other commitments.) IPCC
people were estimating a 5-20% probability of a 20 meter sea level rise,
under business as usual and what was known a few years ago.
That's already risky to human species survival, if one accounts for all the
downstream things which might follow.
When I tracked these issues last year from an office in the Senate, this
flooding risk was by far the most important
worst-case risk from rising CO2 levels.
"Averting Catastrophic Climate change."
The authors say that there is little chance that we could reduce CO2 enough
in time by emission reductions alone.
That's only a half truth. In the US, at least, petroleum is the fuel which
accounts for the most emissions.
On a technology level, best guess is that it would only take 20 to 25 years
for the US to become
100% independent from fossil oil, at little or no net overall cost to the
**IF** we took the right action. (In all fairness, I would claim to know the
integrated picture of this better than anyone else on earth. See
www.werbos.com/oil.htm. For example, IEEE has gotten me access to the
engineers on the front lines
of this technology, to the folks at Toyota leading their efforts, and to key
battery manufacturers in China. NSF efforts on nonfuel biofuels have also
a crucial start.) The biggest single emissions SECTOR is electric power
(which I now handle at NSF).
There have been impressive breakthroughs in Carbon Capture and Reuse (CCR)
which could be deployed rather widely
within 20 years, with the right incentives, and CO2 prices no greater than
$30/ton at most.
HOWEVER -- due to lack of will and action (and coherent thinking in the
policy world), I have to agree that the chances are looking pretty dismal.
Thus as a matter of rationality, and of hedging our bets, it is very
sensible for folks at the R&D level to find ways to
prepare for a high probability of continued failure to deploy emission
reduction technology fast enough. The kinds of actions endorsed in the
article are important
at this point.
The article recommends a mixed portfolio, a combination of two kinds of
action, above and beyond continued efforts
aimed at emissions control:
1. Solar Radiation Management (SRM)
2. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)
I agree with that.
With SRM they mention three key options -- sulfate aerosols, seawater
droplets or other cloud condensation nuclei, and mirrors in space.
The article does not sound so excited about exploring these three, because
they are unproven and because costs may be high.
But I would not be so negative. The whole point of the geoengineering
options is to try use R&D (a mostly lower cost activity)
to hedge our bets against the failure of policy by the folks who dispose of
bigger sums of money. And the whole point of R&D is to explore what we do
not yet know. Some of that is positive and some of that is negative. (I
actually have a book chapter in press on strategic thinking for
leadership in S&T which elaborates on such things.) The risk of
acidification of the ocean is not nearly so great as I would have thought
before studying it more closely last year. The worst case risk they are
talking about (according to a deep balanced assessment report from the
Congressional Research Service) is that ocean pH might go down from 8.0 to
7.7 by 2100. That's not nice, but it's nowhere near as large as
other risks we are trading off here. Still, the sulfate cycle can become
lethal under some circumstances (see Ward's book, Under a Green Sky);
we really need to know a lot more about that cycle, and about the ecology
and potential variability of archaea in general,
from atmosphere to deep under the ocean floor and to deep reservoirs under
the land. With water and nucleation, we need to follow up on recent
breakthrough discoveries at NASA regarding the rapid movement of water
vapor. (From the folks watching asteroids, not from the climate models!)
The cost of large space based mirrors might well be made much lower than it
is today; if only I could find a way to get key decision makers to follow up
unmet technical opportunities to get access to space about three orders of
magnitude cheaper than its present cost,
and an order of magnitude cheaper than what I'd expect form the new X37B
technology!! The option is there, and is economically justified by
other benefits ... but no one is doing the key enabling work, which could be
done at a cost as low as $35 million! Would be happy to say more.
ALL of these things really ought to be pushed as hard as we can, to minimize
the chances of catastrophe. Life itself is worth the investment.
It's all about RISK REDUCTION... and that does require doing some high risk
stuff at times. When the bullets are flying at us, we can't afford to wait
For CDR, they rightly stress the great potential of algae as a way to get
low cost removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Having 10 minutes left right now, before my next meeting (ironically on
climate satellites under our GEO people)... must be too brief.
wwww.aurorabiofeuls.com is one of many good sources. They say they could
convert CO2 to 60% fish food and 40% liquid fuel,
at $60 per barrel crude oil price, if environment permits... after some
demos. The bill I posted at www.werbos.com/oil.htm
would provide an effective mechanism to move this along faster. Not only
algae but other microbes would qualify,
and have promise. Sustainability rules are part of the proposed legislation.
But R&D on cutting the cost of
other approaches is also indicated. The long-term economics of extracting
CO2 form flue gas versus atmosphere are
simply not known, and policy should not assume that it is known. The
challenges are to improve the economics of BOTH routes
(especially by more effective R&D) and make sure there are correct
incentives (and kill the market failures) which inhibit both.
This is, again, an urgent matter of life and death, and I thank Jerry for
moving us ahead on it...
Best of luck to us all,