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The Dawn of the Age of Geoengineering (elidourado.com)
66 points by barry-cotter on Aug 17, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 28 comments

> Let’s run some numbers assuming the $9.04/ton figure based on Project Vesta’s estimates. Say we wanted to offset 40 gigatons of CO₂, close to the average global annual level of CO₂ emissions. Per Project Vesta’s at-scale model, that would cost around $360 billion. That is a lot of money, but it’s less than, say, US annual defense expenditures, around one tenth of what the US pays for healthcare annually, or 0.4% of global GDP (which is around $88T and growing).

That's quite affordable. I find that I can distinguish between serious environmentalists and fashionable environmentalists by seeing how they approach techniques like geoengineering and nuclear power. If you seriously believe that rising carbon levels constitute a catastrophic (or even existential) threat, then you should be open to these approaches. If you dismiss them out of hand (and I find that these dismissals typically have an emotional and sanctimonious undertones), then I'm going to have to conclude that you don't want to solve the problem you profess to care about.

>If you seriously believe that rising carbon levels constitute a catastrophic (or even existential) threat, then you should be open to these approaches.

My feeling is that a lot of environmentalists see climate change on the same way that fundamentalists see sexually transmitted diseases: as God (or nature’s) punishment for our immoral ways. Thus the solution is always change your behavior and stop doing the things that you like to do( for example have sex or live in too big of a house or eat meat or have too many kids). I think a lot of environmentalists would be disappointed if we could come up with a technical solution to global warming that allowed us to continue our lifestyle pretty much unchanged, just like a lot of fundamentalists were disappointed that condoms, antibiotics, and birth control allowed people to have sex without a lot of the consequences they had been warning people about.

Many also see it as a way to use government to control peoples’ lifestyles. That’s why politics and laws get so much emphasis over technological solutions. That’s why the “Green New Deal” is primarily a jobs program rather than a carbon recapture Manhattan Project. You don’t need world government if the US invents practical carbon recapture technology.

Right. I feel like some people will accept nothing less than rolling back industrial civilization.

My gut feeling is that geoengineering has to happen. It's like trying to get rich by saving pennies here and there (cutting emissions) vs investing in a successful business (geoengineering).

I mean, we can cut and cut emissions but doesn't that just delay the inevitable (assuming continued population growth)? Plus getting everyone to change their behaviour is a nice goal but at some point we'll need to admit it probably isn't possible to create the behaviour changes needed to stop a catastrophe (human nature and long-term thinking being what it is).

That’s a good analogy. Similarly some who fight abortion can simultaneously fight contraceptives or sex ed, despite one reducing the other.

Geoengineering can be practical and have positive return on investment. E.g. China restoring vast amounts of land in the Loess plateau has had positive economic benefits. The land is productive again, people got out of poverty, and it reduced silt pollution in the yellow river. Also, it captured enormous amounts of carbon, which was not even a primary goal for this project: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loess_Plateau

There are many examples of smaller and larger projects that capture carbon, restore land and deliver economic value one way or another. IMHO this is the way forward for geoengineering. Having a lot of oysters in the NY harbors sounds awesome. Clean water, natural defenses against storm, and you get nice oysters. And it probably doesn't take billions to do it. As soon as you are talking about investments and returns on investment, it's a lot easier to get buy in from citizens, companies, and governments.

Dumping sand on beaches is economically useless even if it does have the useful side effect of capturing a lot of CO2. That makes it more of a tax than an investment. That's always going to be a hard sell. Much easier if there's an economic upside.

I dismiss nuclear on economic grounds. It's already one of the most expensive forms of energy and in a market where energy cost is decreasing due to the dropping cost of renewable energy that's a problem. And there are other 'hidden' cost related to e.g. enforcing non proliferation treaties and securing facilities accordingly, or the pesky problem of transporting and storing nuclear waste. If somebody figures out an order of magnitude cost reduction it just might keep up with renewables for a while. But that's pretty much what is needed. Two orders to be on the safe side long term. This might happen but likely not in the near future.

Making suboptimal investments is also a tax of a sort. Presumably the carbon capture projects that are optimal deployments of capital are already happening. If you want other “investments” to happen, you’re going to need to subsidize them.

So I think the question is: “is the subsidy required to trigger the investment <= $9/ton of CO2 removed”. If the answer is no, we’re still better off deploying capital dumping sand on beaches and otherwise letting investments happen via standard market mechanisms.

In a hypothetical world where you can convince people that spending a few trillion like that is a great idea, yes. In the real world, stuff like this goes a lot smoother if there's a plan to get some form of ROI. An investment without a economical return is more of an expense than an investment. I'd say other geoengineering projects have a better chance of getting funded because there's an obvious ROI.

I think there will have to be a market for removing CO2 from the atmosphere. I honestly don't have hope that humanity is smart enough to estimate the consequences of global warming and act optimally. The biggest problem is that the richest countries will suffer the least from warming and some will even benefit.

More likely, I think a 3rd world country will realize how cheap and easy it is to pump sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Sulfur dioxide cools the planet at a ridiculously low cost but then you get things like irritated lungs and acid rain. For some country, the costs of warming will outweigh the costs of using such a harmful approach and this country will be able to act unilaterally.

The threat from using sulfur dioxide may be enough to push countries who only marginally suffer from global warming to actually do something. I don't think it's possible to combat climate change without immediate and present danger.

If that scenario ever comes to pass, I think the only thing it will push richer countries to do is to invade the third world country culpable and kill anyone poisoning the atmosphere. Problem solved, cheaply.

I think you'd have to anticipate it to stop it. To start the pollution you'd basically just need a giant fire. It'd be really hard to put out. It'd be similar to when the oil wells were set ablaze when the US invaded Iraq.

> If you dismiss them out of hand (and I find that these dismissals typically have an emotional and sanctimonious undertones), then I'm going to have to conclude that you don't want to solve the problem you profess to care about.

Do you see any irony in you dismissing out of hand anyone who disagrees with you, by saying the above?

There are very good reasons to oppose the expansion of nuclear power based on reasonable and well-founded understanding of the technologies, economics, and impacts.

To dismiss those who disagree is just zealotry of another kind.

Pleistocene Park seems like great idea, but unfortunately they do not have plans to use it for meat production, which could dramatically increase the speed of conversion of the tundra to grassland, and save the tropical forests.

And this seems to be the problem with other suggestions too, they are not ambitious enough!

At this level of CO2, reducing it is not a very pressing goal to most of the people.

But there is another issue: weather is bad over most of the earth without any climate change, and fixing it would provide immediate benefits to larger number of people, and fix climate change as a side effect, because if we can restore the deserts to a moderately green state, their biosphere would consume all of the CO2 that we have released so far.

A very promising way to build weather controlling machine is building large number of autonomous hot air balloons, which can be used to change the local temperature in several ways: if covered with reflective material they can create shadow; if covered with dark material they can significantly increase the temperature above the cloud potentially dispersing the cloud; if combined into a structure similar to a solar updraft tower, they can transport dust and humidity to the height where they would not be transported by natural winds and by that either condensate the water or create new clouds.

With a large enough number of devices like this it should be possible to guide humid air to deserts, or to prevent hurricanes by removing convective available potential energy on their path.

And unlike sunshade in the space proposals, these would not require huge effort by the whole planet to become useful, for instance relatively small installations, affordable to the local population, can be used to create more sunny days in Amsterdam, or more clouds in Dubai.

< At this level of CO2, reducing it is not a very pressing goal to most of the people.

If it takes 30 years for 'this level of CO2' to stop climbing, it will be a very pressing goal with no non-drastic solutions.

Given that we still can't all agree that we've already f'd it up severely (derp) I see see no reason to think that people will feel secure with 'fooling around with Mother Nature'. The potential for these experiments to go wrong is real, unlike our confidence in our wisdom. Doesn't seem like an opportune time to potentially create more ways to screw ourselves.

On one hand you have confidence in our wisdom (computational models) to predict climate 30 years forward, on the other hand you do not trust the same models to predict the effect of our modifications applied in a controllable manner?

I agree that many people who use climate change as religion (see the insightful comment at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20726497) would be vehemently opposed to climate engineering, but luckily most people care about real issues, that's why i expect the "don't eat meat, don't fly, don't have children" crowd to fail, and drastic solutions like geoengineering to be applied eventually.

I don't trust any models (too much science background). But I don't need a weatherman to see the obvious result of careless, self-serving philosophies.

And I expect more than you do from the human race, and that the rest of the world will shame our selfish willfully ignorant US into doing its share.

> The world’s governments might not coordinate to stop climate change.

A bit frustrating to read coming from an American. Every government in the world is into it. Except America's.

In the 90s climate change was concerning but everybody thought such an obviously international issue would create unanimity for collaboration, maybe with just some rogue nations disagreeing on the margin.

It turned into a real scare when GWB came with cowboy boots and decided this was all an hoax and God promised coal for Americans.

And despite this, OECD's emissions have plateaued and start decreasing: http://www.energytrendsinsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/0...

It may not be fast enough but the direction is correct. Governments ARE coordinating. And this graph is from 2013. China, who is the biggest non-OECD emittor is now plateauing as well: https://insideclimatenews.org/sites/default/files/styles/amp...

I know Americans love to dismiss the idea that governments may be competent at something, but so far, with the exception of theirs, governments of the world have coordinated far better than, say, corporate interests have in order to save climate.

>> The world’s governments might not coordinate to stop climate change.

> A bit frustrating to read coming from an American. Every government in the world is into it. Except America's.

Yeah, India, Pakistan, China, Indonesia, they’re going to tell their citizens that they’re sorry but they’ll never have cars, meat on the table every day or an international vacation every two years. Their consumption must be held to 1950s US prosperity for climate change, where the middle class worried about the price of basic food stuffs.

There will be no political solutions to climate change, only technological ones. The clearest example is carbon taxes, they fail to pass or are repealed in Australia, Canada, Washington, France.

“We’re going to make you poorer, for the environment!”

is not a vote winner.

> There will be no political solutions to climate change, only technological ones. The clearest example is carbon taxes, they fail to pass or are repealed in Australia, Canada, Washington, France.

This is flat-out wrong in the case of Canada. Carbon taxes exist in 6 provinces of Canada currently (one by choice, 5 provinces had a federal carbon tax imposed as they did not have provincial legislation with comparable effect). Two provinces challenged the tax in court and lost.

In the case of British Columbia, their carbon tax was by choice, and their economy has grown (faster than Canada) while their emissions dropped [1]. Carbon taxes are a political solution that works.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Columbia_carbon_tax

In western nations there seems to be a consensus into thinking that CO2 and GDP are bolted together and that industries can't become more efficient. Interestingly, that is totally and utterly wrong.

Since the 90, we emit about 50% less CO2 per dollar of GDP produced (PPP, so inflation-adjusted): https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PP.GD

Chinese citizens have cars, but they pay extra if it is not electric. Go visit Shenzhen one day to see the result: all the cheap vehicles are electric-powered tricyle, bikes or small truck.

The technological solution is there. It is a combination of clean energy (which includes nuclear, something that needs to be hammered on) and electric vehicles. We have these solutions now. The reason why it is not adopted worldwide is political. And countries like China who subsidize EV and tax thermal vehicles are showing the way.

Seriously: look at the energy mix of France, look at how fast their electrical production became mostly nuclear and produced very low emissions. The whole world needs to make a similar nuclear plant production run and switch to electric vehicles. There is nothing to solve in terms of technology,

We'll make the batteries a bit better, a bit cheaper but even that would be totally unnecessary with a strong political will.

It’s going to be hard. Game theory would suggest that governments will defect and do what’s best individually. So developing countries are going to burn coal to develop, after all they have the most to gain and the least to lose relative to developed countries.

Australia is probably doing the least and if anything, promoting the use of fossil fuel to support its flawed, coal export dependent economy.

we are already doing a massive project in geoengineering by pumping out huge amounts of CO2. There is a lot of controversy about the effects of this project. How could we ever agree on a other project considering that the feedback loops are very slow and very complex.

BeCCS at scale is relatively straightforward:

- ferrous ocean seeding... not much is needed

- Caribbean and Atlantic are already saturated with fertilizer and organics runoff

- kelp harvesting.. Mexico's prime tourist beaches are covered in many hundreds of tons of kelp per day from just passive growth

- Partial closed-cycle incineration

- liquify and pump carbon oxides very deep underground

Unrelated to the article, but related to the title: I'm a firm believer that there's real geoengineering which I think is a valiant effort and could be beneficial, and then there's the capitalist geoengineering which I think will have huge negative effects.

What's the difference? What I'm referring to as the capitalist is you take a model that scientists have created, you apply as the contractor for a geoengineering solution using these studies to back a real approach, then after getting the deal there's revision after revision made where corners are cut, things are done half-assed, and plans aren't fully followed, which can include anything from (for example with artificial clouds) changing the particulate substance to one that wasn't recommended/studied, patenting a particulate/procedure so nobody else can implement this, reducing or increasing particulate amounts deviating away from the recommendation, incorrect particulate dispersion timing, incorrect particulate dispersion weather, etc, etc. Not to mention overcharging and bureaucratic nonsense that will delay implementations and potentially throw off results/effectiveness.

That's an argument against literally anything. Any argument that can be used against anything is too general and proves nothing.

Actually it describes fracking to a T.

And just any major construction project in the USA today.

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