Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Seaweed could be scrubbing more carbon from the atmosphere than expected (2017) (oceana.org)
338 points by propman 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 159 comments

Really interesting. Makes me think of Daisyworld and the Gaia Hypothesis.

Daisyworld is a model Earth covered in black and white daisies, that either absorb or reflect light. In the model, black daisies need less light because they absorb more, increasing the Earth's heat absorption. White daisies absorb less so need more light, but also reflect more light back, increasing the surface albedo of the planet and lowering its ambient temperature.

Because of this, there's a feedback loop were even if the sun gets a little hotter or colder, the successful daisy would spread and either warm or cool the Earth in response, effectively acting as a stabilizer. Gaia theory suggests that the world is full of these stabilizing systems.

Anyone who ever played SimEarth in the 90s, it was based on this theory and even had a Daisyworld simulation built in.

In this case, the paper is suggesting that seaweed grows much faster in response to raised CO2, and then sequesters some of that carbon underwater.

One question I have is how sequestered the undersea carbon really is and whether it will have other, unknown effects on the deep see ecosystem.

We know that there are a number of homeostatic (self-regulating) processes that affect the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere; if it wasn't homeostatic it would have drifted off to an extreme long ago. The key question is how well and how rapidly these mechanisms can respond to an increase in CO2 levels.

The homeostasis might work in a limited range under which the biological world evolved in the recent past. Exceeding that range could quickly turn to a runaway geological event of rapid climate change, a state transition in a complex and unpredictable system.

Take for example the great oxidation event happening 2.5 billion years ago. As oxygen excreting algae began to take over methane producing organisms, oxygen started to build up in the atmosphere - first slowly, as there were lots of stuff to oxidize, like methane and iron. Eventually, these naturals sinks were saturated and oxygen levels reached the critical toxic point for the other species, leading to a runaway die-off where more and more oxygen was released and methane - a strong green house gas - rapidly disappeared from the atmosphere. This shock was so massive it produced the 400 million year Huronian glaciation - a whole planet freeze unlike any since.

So I have full faith life on Earth will eventually restore the feedback loops and get the temperatures back in the sweet spot. I have less faith that this will happen soon, or that most species, humans included, can survive such a massive transition event.

> So I have full faith life on Earth will eventually restore the feedback loops and get the temperatures back in the sweet spot.

Or just broadly adapt to the new state of things, historical data suggests that atmospheric CO2 levels did reach ~1000PPM up to the Cretaceous, with complete lack of continental ice sheets and temperate forests at the poles.

The current sweet spot is a sweet spot for us and the ecosystems we grew up in as a species, it's not a life-wide sweet spot.

Yes, the comment you replied to seems to imply that the earth is an organism that seeks to maintain a particular balance. There may be homeostatic processes, but they're not part of a grand plan to preserve life on earth.

Agreed, homeostasis is something we observe in evolved organisms, not in planets whose inhabitant organisms became self aware and industrialized suddenly.

We are the grand plan. Let's just hope we fulfill our role.

If the role is "get the carbon, that was for hundreds of millions of yeas trapped in the crust, back to the atmosphere in just a hundred or so of years and perish," yes, we’re success up to now.

A recent comment of a recent article about who's the most responsible:


"Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world."

edited to say:

It's interesting that on a long enough time-line, all life on earth is destined for extinction, e.g. the sun expands and vaporizes the earth. So, in the long run, our technological prowess is likely the only hope for our furry (and not so furry) friends.

The Return to Cretaceous World” just doesn’t have the same cinematic draw to it.

I believe the "Cretaceous Greenhouse" would make quite a good movie, considering the massive inland seas that formed during the period over the continental shelf. The majority of people on Earth would have to move house to higher altitudes.

It's mind-boggling to consider that we increased the CO2 levels from 280 to 410 ppm during the industrial age. We went a quarter of the way to the Cretaceous super-greenhouse of 1000 ppm, with most of the change accumulating in recent decades. And we are accelerating.

It's hard to see how most complex ecosystems would survive that kind of change in just a century or so, evolution is simply not that rapid. Forget moving house, imagine a world where the only functional natural ecosystems are bacterial.

> I believe the "Cretaceous Greenhouse" would make quite a good movie, considering the massive inland seas that formed during the period over the continental shelf. The majority of people on Earth would have to move house to higher altitudes.

Many breadbasket lands are also fairly low-lying. The northern china plain is mostly under 50m. Even if it doesn't get covered in water, saline intrusion will seriously hurt it, as it's already starting to hurt countries with extensive coastlines and river deltas like Vietnam or Bangladesh.

I’m reading the three Wikipedia pages “Ice Age”, “Geologic Temperature Record”, and “Carbon Dioxide in Earth’s Atmosphere”. They are imo not tendentious at this time and give a fascinating introduction to the extremely complex geologic climate. For example, it’s remarked that the high temperatures in the Cretaceous were likely mostly due to the formation of Pangea and the resulting change in ocean circulation.

> I have less faith that this will happen soon, or that most species, humans included, can survive such a massive transition event.

This stuff doesn't happen in a year. And we have a bunch of ways of ego-engineering, what's missing is an acute need and the economics/political incentives, which again, an acute need would provide.

This is the most true typo ever.

> I have full faith life on Earth will eventually restore the feedback loops and get the temperatures back in the sweet spot.

Venusians thought that and look at where they are now.

Is 3deg C or 10deg F until 2100 that massive of a transition event?

The last ice age (ie a sheet of ice covering a large part of NA) was about 4ºC or 12ºF colder.

So yes, that is a pretty massive thing, especially happening over a lifetime.

The freezing point of water creates a discontinuity in the effects of temperature change. That is, a ten degree swing that results in water freezing (or melting) for most of the year is far different than than a ten degree swing in a range far above (or below) 32 degrees.

On the other hand, a positive 10 degree global increase will include regions where water freezes regularly. This will either completely change the climate of those regions, or would mean that temperature swings in the rest of the world will increase much higher to compensate.

The big cycle is caused by the reaction of magnesium silicate with carbon dioxide. Mg silicate is the chief component of Earth's mantle. As temperature increases, silicate rocks are worn away faster by rain and wind, and absorb more CO2. This CO2 eventually sinks down into the mantle as magnesium carbonate, where it is very slowly re-released by volcanoes (the majority of Earth's carbon is in the mantle). As CO2 is sequestered, the Earth cools, and the weathering of silicate rocks slows, especially when they are covered by glaciers. Then the release of CO2 by volcanoes starts to outpace the absorption by olivine, and the atmosphere warms up again.

Eventually as the Sun gets brighter, the equilibrium amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is expected to drop below the requirements for plant life, and the Earth will die. By heating the atmosphere, we hasten the arrival of the next glacial cycle, but we are (thankfully) at low risk of starving the biosphere.

Also it may be homeostatic with multiple attractors, push too hard from one and you pop over into the one next door.

This is actually not at all what the paper is saying.

It's saying that a natural carbon-sequestration process we already knew about is more effective than we thought. It says nothing about the way seaweed growth changes with increased carbon levels.

In other words, it sounds like the above commenter is suggesting that seaweed might unexpectedly save us. But the actual point is almost the opposite: this means we’ve been relying on something all along that we didn’t know we needed to protect.

I hadn't thought about it that way! Although I'm actually not sure in which direction it changes their priors - I'm not sure if this adds to the negative-carbon side of the scales in models taking this into account, or if this was already factored into some kind of separate measurement of total natural carbon sequestration and so the loss of seaweed now adds a bigger positive-carbon term.

> Gaia theory suggests that the world is full of these stabilizing systems.

Or stable feedback loops exist longer (because they are stable) and that's all there is to it. Life managed to almost kill itself a couple of times during Huronian glaciation.

>> Gaia theory suggests that the world is full of these stabilizing systems.

Earth may have tricks to save its ecosystem, one of them could be temporarily increase temperatures and sea levels, just enough to end humanity.

It is exceedingly unlikely that raised temperatures or sea levels would end humanity. Even if all ice melts there would still be a lot of land, and humans can and do currently survive in hot climates. The habitable zone will just shrink a bit, but it will also expand in other places. Siberia + 5 degrees is still cold.

No, this is very wrong. It’s not about having land to live on and being able to continue to breathe on it. Of course we would be able to do that.

The issue is all the parts of the ecosystem we have come to rely on. Animals, plants, insects... the entire global economy and our ways of live are tightly intertwined with everything else and even small disruptions can have enormous repercussions, especially on more vulnerable populations in the world.

This description is full of hyperbolic generalities. The available land example may or may not be comprehensive, but at least it's specific.

I think the biggest problem that I have about everything climate change / global warming is that we are making laws to force (don't forget that force means pointing guns at people regardless of the warm and fuzzy intentions used to sell it) entire populations and their economies in the absence of so much specific knowledge. That doesn't make me a denier because accept / deny is not really the issue. Just because I accept the general premise doesn't mean that I trust the depth of the understanding to the point that I am willing to turn a gun on my neighbor to either reduce their liberty and / or confiscate their personal property in the name of said premise.

> (don't forget that force means pointing guns at people

I'd love to know where this comes from, because it's clearly fucking bollocks but is trotted out in many threads.

Ultimately though, the state derives its power from a legitimate monopoly on violence.

If an entity continues to defy the laws and softer enforcement doesn't work (fines levied, assets frozen, etc.), eventually the state must use physical force to maintain the rule of law.

It comes from a very explicit reading of Ayn Rand, who frequently likens law and regulation to the explicit use of force. To be fair, it's true but the literal statement of the fact misses a lot of the nuance of living in a civil society.

Of course it's true, no need for your generosity of fairness. Just don't obey the law and see what happens. Continue to do so and eventually you'll be looking down the barrel of a gun. Pointing this out is not Randian. It's just reality.

There are no nuances of living in a civil society when solutions are implemented by law. If it's by law, then it's by gun. I don't know of any law that works otherwise.

I think the nuance you're referring to is when people's minds are (actually) changed such that they work together on a common goal. There becomes a natural supply and demand of a certain behavior. But most of the effort that I see is not convincing people to support a certain shared goal per se, but rather to join a tribe to crowd source the passage of laws.

The more important thing to me - and the point I meant to make, though I didn't fully articulate it - is that pointing a gun at someone (or indeed entire sectors of an economy) should be reserved for situations in which there is a very high bar of confidence in the detailed facts and predictions of the outcomes. While we may all agree that global warming causes climate change and even that it is anthropomorphic, it doesn't appear to me that we have a level of specific knowledge to say that "a reduction of carbon emission by x will result in a climate of y in the year z". If we don't have that, then I question both the morality and practicality of what appears to be a witch hunt in the form of policy making.

Even in a fully laizes fair community you would sooner or later be “looking down the barrel of a gun” for some reason or other. Laws at least makes it a bit easier to predict what reasons that would be.

But regarding the need for knowing exactly how things works and who should have rights to do what. I could equally argue that your contribution to raising the CO2 concentration of our shared resource, the atmosphere, is not sanctioned by me. So why is it not you that should prove it is safe before asking me to just accept your doing so?

> I could equally argue that your contribution to raising the CO2 concentration of our shared resource, the atmosphere, is not sanctioned by me.

Then I suppose you should do us all a favor and stop breathing because your breathing is not sanctioned by me. (Just kidding, it is :))

Seriously though, that's just the way it's always been. We're born into the world and we act w/out permission to survive. I don't have to prove to anyone that the next step I take is safe. But if it harms you in some way, then yes, I'm liable.

I guess there is a fundamental difference in how we see the commons. I take the view that it is not simply “there” as a first come first serve basis, but rather something we have an equal right to, the basis from which private property must be derived. Locke started here.

But I think the breathing thing is actually a good retort. Where do the principles meet...

I guess in the case the differenence is between drinking from the well and pissing in it. It might very well be safe, but certainly not nice

> I take the view that it is not simply “there” as a first come first serve basis, but rather something we have an equal right to, the basis from which private property must be derived. Locke started here.

I think I'm with you there. I don't have a problem paying property tax because as a person born on this earth, you're also entitled to my land. I'm paying a tax for the privilege of it being mine.

What if your neighbor was dumping liquid radioactive waste on your land, right outside your house? Greenhouse gases should be considered harmful pollution, and because they eliminate vast swathes of habitable land they should be treated similarly to other forms of toxic waste.

I understand your general comparison to toxic waste. The problem is not the comparison, it's the level of specificity. If someone is dumping an amount of say Parathion on my lawn, it is well within our ability to accurately determine the nature and amount of damage to me and my property given the amount and frequency of the dumping. And given that, it's a short step to monetizing the damage. In terms of accuracy, can we say the same for carbon? I don't believe we can. So while there may be a valid comparison at a high level, when it gets to actually determining damages to individuals or society, we just aren't there imo.

I realize the simulations we're using to extrapolate the potential damage are just that -- extrapolations. However, we've been using the actual effects of the existing warming to improve those simulations. These simulations are increasingly indicating that we will raise sea levels by several meters, and that vast swathes of temperate land will become uninhabitable. While we don't know for certain this will happen, the hazards posed in the event that it does happen mean we need to take steps now.

If it could be reasonably expected the dumper knew Parathion were toxic at certain levels in the groundwater and they continued to increase those amounts, it would be reasonable to sanction them before the levels become unsafe. If you only apply sanctions after the damage is done, the sanctions don't really do anything. The best thing to do is to try to mitigate the risk rather than waiting for more information.

I agree 100%. For some reason environmental discussions always have to include the "cost" to business in the decision whether we do anything about it.

I imagine if I told my neighbor that I felt it was cost prohibitive to pay for trash pickup service, so I was just going to dump my trash in their yard, they'd have a problem with that. Why do we allow companies to pollute water, land and air that doesn't belong to them?

That it would hurt vulnerable populations who live in a region that becomes uninhabitable is undoubtedly true and I didn't argue against that, but that is not the end of humanity, which is what you claimed.

Maybe, but none of those things necessarily end humanity.

The earth is not a superorganism or entity that prefers one state to another.

It’s always funny to me when people say “we’re killing the planet!” Uh no, we’re just making it uninhabitable for ourselves and some other species. Earth doesn’t give a damn either way

Like a fever :)

The Great Filter in effect.

This is surely the case. Nobody really thinks humans have the ability to wipe out all life on Earth do they? We might be able to destroy ourselves, but life will probably continue at least until the Sun turns into a red giant. Life on Earth has survived far more catastrophic events than anything we can manage.

>Nobody really thinks humans have the ability to wipe out all life on Earth do they?

'all life on earth' as in down to microorganisms, amoeba etc? No, I would hope not. Short of wiping out the atmosphere in it's entirety, PLUS destroying the surface of the entire earth do an as-yet-unknown depth sufficient to reach every existing colony of microorganisms etc, humanity's destructive abilities don't extend that far, yet.

But do humans have the ability to wipe out all sophisticated life on earth i.e. all plants, mammals, fish, and so on such to turn the clock back on a few billion years of evolution? Yeah I certainly believe that's within our abilities, and indeed likely if current activities continue uninterrupted.

Any large system can be undermined by a small actor imposing a miniscule change. It just depends on which component of the system is disrupted.

Granted your options dwindle as the disparity grows, but so long as a component is accessible to an actor, the system can be impacted.

Can you prove that? I don't believe it.

Are there any theories supporting the end of all life on Earth?

Something I think of often when people say things like "we need to stop climate change and save the world!" The world will be fine, it's not going anywhere: humans and the species we like on the other hand...

"The world" is a synecdoche in that context. These people don't literally think we're going to make the earth disappear.

Are you George Carlin?

Ah, yes, that's where I first heard that thought! Thanks, just a bit of cryptomnesia.


Side note: something I've never seen before on that Youtube video: it links the Wikipedia page for climate change right under the video. An attempt to battle misleading videos perhaps?

The Wikipedia links are a new initiative Google is doing to combat fake news and misleading information [0].

0: https://youtube.googleblog.com/2018/07/building-better-news-...

Humans will be fine. Dumb humans on the other hand...

> Because of this, there's a feedback loop were even if the sun gets a little hotter or colder, the successful daisy would spread and either warm or cool the Earth in response, effectively acting as a stabilizer. Gaia theory suggests that the world is full of these stabilizing systems.

There are several mechanisms in place on earth to stabilize changes in atmospheric composition and temperature (otherwise an sporadic eruption of a volcano or glacial eras would have thrown things out of whack long time ago). I don't think this is an hypothesis. We have seen some of them in action in recent years, like the advanced rate of reforestation due to larger levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The problem is we don't know what would happen if we push these to the limit or what their limit really is. And they are very complex in the way the interact. For example. Warmer oceans and larger levels of CO2 will make phytoplankton grow faster, absorbing more CO2 in return, but it will also accelerate the growth of zooplankton, that feeds on it. This creates a bottleneck.

So TL;DR: yeah, it's cool we have these mechanisms around but the goal should still be to keep things as close to the baseline as possible (and we have been really bad about it in the last century)

> close to the baseline

More like don't do one of these on accident... :-)

"One of the major questions is whether the Siberian Traps eruptions were directly responsible for the Permian–Triassic mass extinction 250 million years ago.

A recent hypothesis put forward is that the volcanism triggered the growth of Methanosarcina, a microbe that spewed enormous amounts of methane... altering the Earth's carbon cycle.

This extinction event, also called the Great Dying, affected all life on Earth, and is estimated to have killed about 95% of all species living at the time"


What specific baseline do you pick, and why? are there multiple variables involved in that "baseline"? have these variables changed over the 10k years preceding the Industrial Revolution? together or separately? what about these same variables over the last 200k years?

Good questions. You also have to consider the variables that have changed since the Industrial Revolution. There are more people on earth to feed and provide a modern standard of living. We should work to reduce the costs on the planet for these things, but we can't eschew the progress we've made in order to return to some arbitrary baseline.

See: ecomodernism

Yes, one would most likely have followup questions once the baseline and its variables are made explicit.

> One question I have is how sequestered the undersea carbon really is

Depends on how you interpret "sequestered". In the sense that it's locked away somewhere for a long time, like organic matter frozen into tundra, it's not very sequestered. But as long as there's lots of seaweed there'll be a lot of carbon taken up. Even though individual plants may die and release their carbon on a relatively short timeline, new growth will take up carbon.

> In this case, the paper is suggesting that seaweed grows much faster in response to raised CO2, and then sequesters some of that carbon underwater.

Makes you wonder about news like this seaweed deluge in the Caribbean and how it's related to an increase in CO2

"In 2011 it was the first time we'd seen it...says Professor Hazel Oxenford, an expert in fisheries biology and management at the University of the West Indies...It came as a complete shock and no-one had a clue what to do with it."

"For us, the worst year we had for sargassum still remains 2015'..says Carla Daniel of Barbados Sea Turtle Project"

"Now it is happening again and everything suggests 2018 could be the worst year yet."



Also reminds me of Richard Lindzen's Iris hypothesis, which suggest that temperature increases in the tropics will reduce cirrus clouds and thus let more heat escape from the atmosphere.

Lindzen and his theories are controversial, but I do think there may not have been enough focus on possible negative feedback mechanisms like this.

But that would also mean that much more sunlight would hit the surface of the earth and not be reflected by those clouds.

> Gaia theory suggests that the world is full of these stabilizing systems

Doesn’t it go considerably further, into almost suggesting the Earth is a spiritual or conscious entity?



If it did, then it wouldn't be a theory, it would just be a religious belief.

Although, I would agree that many of the people working on the theory, would privately believe something like that.

Also relevant: Feeding dairy cows seaweed mitigates the amount of methane they pass. Irish famers are beginning to do this because seaweed is easy to come by in Ireland.


The name of the game in that case is overgrazing or at least a bad case of abusing the soil for entire generations.

Fires eliminate the shrubs leading to more pastures. After a cycle of repeating the process, all the fertile soil ends in the sea... And then your grandsons have a big problem.

This would be a great win-win! But wouldn't the sequestered CO2 get released back into the environment and potentially the atmosphere?

Methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2.

For a shorter period of time [1]

> The lifetime in the air of CO2, the most significant man-made greenhouse gas, is probably the most difficult to determine, because there are several processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Between 65% and 80% of CO2 released into the air dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20–200 years. The rest is removed by slower processes that take up to several hundreds of thousands of years, including chemical weathering and rock formation. This means that once in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can continue to affect climate for thousands of years.

> Methane, by contrast, is mostly removed from the atmosphere by chemical reaction, persisting for about 12 years. Thus although methane is a potent greenhouse gas, its effect is relatively short-lived.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jan/16/greenhou...

My understanding is that the majority of Methane molecules end up as CO2 anyway (Methane -> CH3 radical -> Formaldehyde -> CO2): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_methane#Removal_pr...

So the underlying CO2 ~100 Yr+ effect is still there, but you also get a 500x benefit from Methane while it is persistent in the environment.

Even then, it's worse by weight over most timescales.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_potential: "In the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane has a lifetime of 12.4 years and with climate-carbon feedbacks a global warming potential of 86 over 20 years and 34 over 100 years in response to emissions."

(CO2, being the baseline, has a GWP of 1.)

Yes, if you want to "permanently" (i.e. a thousand years at least) sequester carbon from biomass sources you have to burn them to charcoal and bury that.

You can also pump CO2 into deep coal seams, displacing CH4 which is then burned in a closed capture system. The CO2 released from burning the CH4 is also sequestered resulting in a net gain since CO2 preferentially adsorbs to coal at a roughly 3:1 ratio to CH4. Economically viable coal seams are widespread globally, and exist within 50 km of most coal burning power plants in the United States.

If you bury it deep, millions of years easily.

On a different note, i recently read that adding charcoal to the feed may help as well...

Hackernews loves these articles that give some kind of hope for a magical solution to climate change. It's easier than the thought that it will require a huge concerted effort across the world and changing the habits of millions

It's not individuals exercising bad habits that causes climate change. It's the fact that the current political, economic, and ecological landscape incentivizes behaviors that cause climate change.

The deterrent of trying to give people a guilt trip for driving in a hurry or for eating beef is not sufficient to counteract the tremendous tragedy of the commons that makes those behaviors happen. Regulations that associate financial costs with the ecological costs that people and businesses are currently free to ignore are the answer, along with technologies that use those funds to reverse the needs that remain.

Get your priorities straight: When the half gallon used while people brush their teeth is the most important waste of water, then address it! But when the farm down the road pays next to nothing to pour out three feet of water on its entire land area, any expenditure on toothbrushing habits is wasteful.

I'd even say that the focus on personal responsibility for climate change is creating unnecessary resistance.

I live in a conservative area, and I've been trying to be more proactive about trying to understand the viewpoints that cause people to be skeptical of things like climate change.

I recently had a conversation with someone who was skeptical of climate change - but had an education with a scientific background and the tools that should help him land on the side of clear science.

What it came down to is that he feels personally attacked by many of the personal recommendations for reducing CO2 emissions.

For example, when someone says that we need stricter emissions regulations for vehicles, what he hears is "you're a bad person for driving your old truck." In reality, if we could get people like him to emissions regulations for new vehicles and stop guilting them about driving classic cars, we'd be doing great things for the planet.

My impression is that there's a significant number of people who aren't opposed to the actual large scale changes that would make the biggest positive difference in the fight against climate change, but are put off by the "only you can stop climate change by switching your gas lawnmower to electric" style rhetoric that does more damage than good.

I believe the opposite: the easy thought/magical solution is “Huge concerted efforts across the world and changing the habits of millions”.

Yeah I was thinking the chances of tech solutions like solar wind and batteries getting better helping are quite high, the chances human nature and habits changing are a bit lower.

We could already do this if we wanted. The technology exists. And it's cheap too, if you factor in the costs and subsidies oil gets.

Well some hope is good. Cows are a bigger deal than you might think see eg. "Cow 'emissions' more damaging to planet than CO2 from cars" https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/cow...

I agree that livestock is a huge problem, but I think this kind of article is a false hope that prevents people grasping the true problem. It's like playing the lottery - something inneffective that still gives us a warm feeling nonetheless.

I don't see anyone claiming the existence of or holding their breath for a magic solution. All I see is people sharing discoveries that might contribute towards a solution. Reducing the emissions caused by cattle can be a part of the "huge concentrated effort across the world" you mentioned.

Sure, but there is a solution that is orders of magnitude more effective: don't buy meat, thereby allowing cow farming to end.

Not eating meat is however seen as too 'inconvenient' a solution, so instead someone is trying to sell seaweed fed cows as a "partial solution" where it is really more of a gimmick.

Statements like "don't buy meat" are much more of a gimmick than tinkering with cattle feed. The latter is a realistic option -- which might not make a huge difference, but it will make a difference. The former is a pipe dream. Humans have been eating meat since before they were human. Good luck changing that in the timeframe we have before climate change becomes very painful.

Not buying meat might be to hard to attain, but not eating lamb or beef, and only eating chicken is a step in the right direction.


However, to be fair, if you remove all pastures all together, there are probably other bad consequences on ecosystems (including people!).

(Disclaimer: I am still eating beef, but less that I used to, which in the grand scheme of things is probably useless)

Do you think people ate as much meat then as now? The mass farming of animals is an incredibly new phenomenon in comparison to how long humans have been around. And what about driving? By your argument it should be easy to give up considering we only started it recently.

These solutions are simple, but not easy. Therefore people are looking for a complex solution that's also easy and I think we'll be looking for it as the water rises above our necks.

Sorry, it's not a gimmick. There are plenty of cultures which eat far less meat and are very healthy. In my opinion the difference is they know how to cook other food well. Of course I don't expect everybody to stop eating meat entirely, but why isn't it part of the answer to climate change?

Getting farmers to change their ways will be a huge concerted effort that will change the habits of millions.

It'd be a lot easier to convince society if we could convince a relatively few major business leaders of the world to change their company processes. Especially since industrial processes are a major contributing factor to climate change.

There is a term for this 'solution based optimism, often of a technocratic nature': Solutionism.

"A thousand goals have there been hitherto, for a thousand peoples have there been. Only the fetter for the thousand necks is still lacking; there is lacking one goal. As yet humanity hath not a goal."

Especially if some believe the exact opposite and prefer "drill, baby, drill".

The solution isn't magical. The mechanism is explained in the article.

Also, it doesn't promise to solve climate change, only to limit the output of methane pursuant to California regulation.

Solutions like this are preferable than complete upending of our quality of life and economic systems. The anti-capitalists would prefer “huge concerted effort” as opposed to simpler, less economically disruptive solutions. I often feel like people on the far left actually don’t want simple, market-based solutions and would prefer instead to use fears of catastrophe as a means to enact their social and economic agendas. It’s no different than 1984 where the perpetual war with Eurasia (or was it Eastasia?) is used to hide totalitarian aims.

I bet it’s the chlorophyll

Most of what I've read lately seems to indicate climate change can't be mitigated through societal restraint at this point. I think we need to seriously approach an engineered solution akin to terraforming. I'd love to know what efforts are being made in this direction.

They've studied SO2 injection in the atmosphere but I'm not sure it's a good idea. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratospheric_aerosol_injectio...

A less dramatic thing to try would be a carbon tax of say $50/ton combined with a similar credit for sequestration efforts like seaweed farming.

>we need to seriously approach an engineered solution

We haven't tried the political solution yet. Since limiting carbon emissions is the cheapest and easiest solution to climate change, it would be a good start to have politicans serve the people's interest instead of the fossil fuel ones, don't you think?

What are the people's interests here? Selfishly, I happen to like driving my car. Cheap gasoline is in my interest. What needs to be served to tackle climate change politically is the global greater good. We don't have a great track record with global anything in politics, nor do we have a great track record on serving the greater good, so I don't like those odds.

What do you care about more, cheap gas or the types of lives your grandchildren or great grandchildren will be living?

Regulations solved the ozone issue, leaded gasoline, etc. It has also failed many times. It's tricky, I get it. But it can be possible to create effective regulations. Sometimes situations demand we try -- this looks like one to me.

Can we bio-engineer seaweed which doesn't decompose and can't be eaten?

Its not a joke - these were the circumstances of early Earth, before microbes evolved to digest lignin and cellulose. Trees would fall and not decompose, eventually being compressed into coal.


It would probably be dangerous to engineer an organism that doesn't break down. Imagine a living, growing plastic. Except not a Dr. Who villain.

This classic novel explores that scenario.


Well presumably we could still collect, dry and burn what accumulates on the shore, and the rest would fall to the seabed. If the alternative is a hothouse Earth, with large sections of the planet rendered uninhabitable, geoengineering schemes like this are going to be necessary. We can start with iron fertilisation experiments - Australia has a lot of it, and is near oceans.

Wouldn’t burning it defeat the carbon sequestration purpose?

That would be a desperate attempt to reverse a runaway process, if it turns out to be too successful.

You risk creating a locust-like scenario, where it's impossible to fully control areas with specimen outbreaks.

> the rest would fall to the seabed

And kill a ton of sea life?

What sea life will be left after a few more decades of acidification?

>>Well presumably we could still collect, dry and burn what accumulates on the shore, and the rest would fall to the seabed.

Immortal plastic organism will eventually evolve to a lot more that 'trap carbon' work. Human's barely live for 60 years, and yet we can transfer all our knowledge generations one after the other. Imagine what an organism that can never die could do.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biochar production is one approach to this that is low-tech and doesn't require organism engineering. It's kinda counter intuitive that burning a rich source of carbon would keep it out of the atmosphere, but turning organic material into charcoal stabilises it and renders it inedible and insoluble, and it's really useful as a soil amendment in a lot of places, and it's very likely safe to dump in deep ocean if we ever run short of places to put it.

Farmed seaweed and algae > biochar is a very promising sequestration approach, I think.

Wouldn't this biochar be the charcoal mines of tomorrow?

What I'm saying, is that if it's cheaper than regular coal people will buy this to burn. So you still need an incentive to not burn fossil fuels.

Biochar is unlikely to be cheaper than coal, ever. Optimistic long-term estimates are $100 per ton [1].

[1] http://biomassmagazine.com/articles/4080/beyond--the--hype

There's nothing wrong with burning a renewable resource. You're still at net 0 carbon emissions.

Stupid question incoming. Does it really help us to trap even more CO2 under the surface? If something exposes that CO2 again, it will be back up in the atmosphere right? So it feels like this would be a "solution" like storing used uranium underground in lead containers - eventually it will become a problem. Or am I completely wrong here?

The carbon being released now used to be stored underground in oil and coal, or in trees and soil. We're not creating any more carbon. We're just releasing what was stored, and the solution is to put it back in storage.

"We're not creating any more carbon" Exactly.

"The law implies that mass can neither be created nor destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, or the entities associated with it may be changed in form"


Your question isn't stupid.

Right now though, we are storing our CO2 in the atmosphere. This causes problems. To solve those problems, we need to store the CO2 somewhere else.

It can be released again, but lets hope that the massive effort required to yank the CO2 out of our atmosphere causes the sunk cost fallacy to kick in until we've completely moved past fossile fuels.

I do not expect that we will be able to move past fossil fuels in the next 100 years.

There is simply no other source of energy with as much density and as convenient as oil. The only think we know that can rival oil is nuclear energy but it has problems of its own.

All chemical energy available through coal and oil stored in the earth is the product of a massive amount of highly ineffecient capture of energy from sunlight. [0]

All wind is caused directly by unequal warming of our planet through sunlight. The average hurricane individually releases more energy than entire world population has exhausted, since the dawn of time. [1]

Sunlight is plenty enough. The problem is cheap, clean storage.

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthesis

[1] - https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/energ...

Another problem is energy density as I said. How much solar energy can you harvest from one square kilometer? I am so surprised that people just handwave this basic fundamental limits away and don't realize that we would have to build solar panels on an enormous percentage of planet for it to be able to replace fossil fuels.

Also managing the lifecycle and production of these panels is another issue. And don't forget that you still need to grow crops somewhere.

Currently only less than 2 % of the energy we use comes from solar energy and 87 % comes from fossil fuels. The cost of replacing the infrastructure is enormous and there is not much incentive to do it as long as we have plenty of cheap oil (which is going to stay with us for at least another century according to estimates).

Why is it so unimaginable that we will still be using oil in 100 years? It might not be 87 % as it is today, it might be 30 % but I am very sceptical that we will be able to completely replace the infrastructure we have build in the last 200 years.

> Another problem is energy density as I said. How much solar energy can you harvest from one square kilometer? I am so surprised that people just handwave this basic fundamental limits away and don't realize that we would have to build solar panels on an enormous percentage of planet for it to be able to replace fossil fuels.

What are you talking about? From Elon Musk's TED talk, this is the area of solar panels required to power all of the US.


A single solar farm of 1km sq can provide enough power for several ten thousand homes, and we have several million square miles of unusuable land lying around in the countries that receive the most sunlight, so land isn't the issue.

That doesn't include solar panels that could actually be installed on the homes. A single roof entirely covered by solar panels can power a LEED-certified home when used in conjunction with battery storage. (Most solar panel setups do not cover the entire rough but still provide sufficient power for all but the most intensive uses, like refrigerators and A/C.)

Farmland, by and large, isn't the best land for solar panels anyway, so the two would generally not come into conflict.

The Mojave Desert. It’s 48,000 square miles and almost uninhabited. We need 2% of that for almost 1000 sq miles. The Trump admin has approved that land for solar but the environmentalists are fighting hard against it, making bidding companies wary that it won’t be worth it. The location is perfect to supply Vegas, Phoenix, LA, and Texas easy. And can also do NorCal and more. It’ll get you 167GW capacity of solar. More than our current wind and solar combined and almost 10% of electricity generation of the country. Rooftop solar on the 30 biggest businesses in America would also yield a ton of solar, read a study the other day on that.

But...you do have a point even though the first part was wrong. Honestly, anything above 50% solar and wind is useless. Need to make up that cost via hydro, nuclear, or storage.

Honestly, there's a lot of stuff I'm skeptical about what will happen in the next 100 years. I don't think that fossil fuels will be a thing in 100 years though. I think we'll have something smarter figured out. Think about how much time has passed since 1918 and what we achieved in that time frame.

Exactly, we haven't achieved that much actually. Most of the technology we use for harvesting energy is not much further from what people could imagine in 19th century. Turbine was invented in the 19th century.

I really suggest watching this talk by Smil https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5guXaWwQpe4 and if you are interested reading some books from him about energy and oil. Really insightful.

I don't believe there is enough fossil fuel that can be economically used for that long at rates close to the current.

There is no pretense that a non-fossil fuel vehicle must have an energy density >= oil for it to be a viable alternative. A bicycle doesn't carry any energy at all and yet many people use them in place of a car.

I am still waiting for flying bicycles.

Also, why do you mention only vehicles? 87 % of ALL the energy we use comes from fossil fuels (coal + gas + oil).

Storing used uranium is actually pretty effective in the long term. The other byproducts wear themselves out, and the uranium itself is semi-safe.

I don’t think it can truly use seaweed to sequester carbon unless we harvest the seaweed and entomb it underground - but it has to be somewhere the decomposition won’t leak carbon into the atmosphere.

The (early) findings of the study is that is sequestered from leaking into the atmosphere. From the article: "The study estimated that about 11 percent of total seaweed production may be sequestered, most of it after it sinks down into the deep sea."

I don't think carbon is that volatile.

There is a lot of the word "seaweed" repeated in the article, but they are talking about brown macroalgae. A group comprising a few families inside the huge diversity of extant algae.

Pointing this can seem pedantic, but the detail is important. Brown macroalgae evolved to live in cold waters. In the limit of their distribution you raise the minimum water temperature two degrees and the plant is unable to reproduce anymore. As they have short lives, at 25 celsius degrees they went locally extinct very fast. Is their kryptonite.

Moreover, they are adapted to live in a permanent state of guerrilla quiting warm areas on years with "The Niño" event, and massively recolonizing the area in the next year. This is the reason for their famous superfast growth.

In extensive areas of the south of Europe, entire submarine forests of the "european Kelp" Laminaria and Saccorhiza (comprising a huge biomass) went in an accelerate decay and are totally gone in the last few decades. They can't return because the local average temperature raised a few degrees in the coastal areas. We need to keep this in mind if we count in this creatures to store our excess of carbon.

Didn't Freeman Dyson talk about this idea?


I believe in climate change (and Dyson does too, he just doesn't like the alarmism) but Dyson is a very interesting person and clearly should be taken seriously.

At least one good news

Maybe we should look into farming seaweed (and other algae)

From the article:

> All in all, super-powered seaweeds could sequester around 173 million metric tons (190 million tons) of carbon each year, about as much as the annual emissions of the state of New York.

It's not that much in comparison to the emissions of the entire industrialized world.

Every bit helps of course, but it's not a magical solution to our problems.

That's how much is happening naturally, with a low percentage of seaweed sinking to the depths. Large-scale farming operations could do a lot more.

Intensive farming only happens when the material is used in a profitable way. Growing things only to dump them in the oceans is only profitable with subsidies or carbon taxes.

Extensive farming would likely have the natural rate of sequestration.

They've been farming seaweed in places like Japan since the 1600's/1700's and is a $2 billion industry. They also farm it all through south-east asia :)

It's happening in the US as well, though currently on a smaller scale: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-seaweed-farming-and-...


There's some really cool stuff happening in this field. IIRC some farming designs have been open sourced, too.

All you really need is a few hundred metres of rope and some seed spools.

There are already significant seaweed farms in Japan, and farms exist in China, Korea, Fiji, Zanzibar, and even the UK.

Also see northseafarm.org

Make me wonder if we could grow seaweed and turn it into oil...

Not seaweed exactly, but some algae produces a significant amount of oil: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algae_fuel

Does this mean that, like barbecue, it should be eaten in moderation because of cancer risks?

Unlikely. The carcinigens you worry about in barbecue are compounds formed in the extreme heat of cooking by that method, not formed inside living organisms.

By contrast reddit's front page is trending a Vice article with the opposite sentiment

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact