a current climate chaos compendium: Part II: geoengineering

subtitled: They have apps for that! 

(part I is here (café version), (c99% version))

Our Climate is Changing Rapidly; It’s Time to Talk about Geoengineering’, futurism.com, Jan. 12, 2018.  The author discusses several high-tech methods afoot, deconstructs most of them as to the dangers of unintended consequences, costs, and what the actual bio-chemical science of some of the ‘solutions’ would wreak. To save quoting extensively, I’ll borrow their graphics, then bring a few lines from a 2017 piece at the Guardian as explanations.

“Indeed, utterances from people in or close to the Trump administration – most notably GE proponent secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who has referred to climate change as “just an engineering problem” – make it clear they either tacitly or directly support the idea of climate engineering.

Earlier this year, Keith, a professor of applied physics at Harvard announced plans to conduct an outdoor trial into stratospheric aerosol injection, involving launching a high-altitude balloon that will spray a small quantity of reflective particles into the stratosphere. Keith believes the experiment may help to measure the feasibility and risks involved in GE, an umbrella term for a range of techniques to deliberately adjust the climate in an effort to mitigate global warming.

They include reflecting sunlight from space, adding huge quantities of lime or iron to the oceans, pumping deep cold nutrient-rich waters to the surface of oceans and irrigating vast swaths of desert to grow trees.


“Supporters of research into geoengineering argue that its techniques – roughly-speaking divided into carbon dioxide removal (CDR, or negative emission technologies) which removes greenhouse gases, and solar-radiation management (SRM or solar geoengineering) which reduces the amount of solar energy warming the planet – could help to lessen some of the consequences of climate change. However, the common consensus is that the techniques should be used in addition to reductions in CO2 emissions.

This week’s conference drew attention to the huge risks involved.

“All the techniques being proposed have potentially severe environmental impacts,” said Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group, leading campaign monitors of new technologies and their possible impact on the world’s poorest.

“They also ignore the question as to why there’s not enough political will to have done more to tackle climate change until now and they in turn serve to justify the inaction,” she added.”

You may remember that I’d featured ETC group’s warnings on CRISPR gene-drive technology in an earlier diary. More on negative carbon emission projects like BECCS in a bit.  But let’s head to the ETC group now and read:

US Attempting to Move Forward with Geoengineering; Open-air experiments defy global moratorium, could help lock in ‘big bad fix’ for climate’, etcgroup.org May 4, 2018

“Although 196 countries have agreed to a moratorium on geoengineering activities through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, a defiant United States is hosting three attempts to hack the skies and manipulate oceans to cool the planet. ETC Group and GeoengineeringMonitor.org (a collaboration with Heinrich Boell Foundation and Biofuelwatch) have published briefings on each project:

  • AIR: Stratospheric Injection in Arizona
    David Keith’s SCoPEx project is planning to spray various chemicals into the stratosphere to develop techniques to reflect sunlight away from the Earth near Tucson, starting in 2018 — Read the SCoPEx briefing
  • SEA: Saltwater Clouds in California
    The Marine Cloud Brightening Project (MCBP) is planning to begin real-world tests to develop a technique for brightening clouds with saltwater spray in California’s Moss Landing, also starting in 2018 — Read the MCBP briefing
  • ICE: Glass Spheres in Alaska
    Ice911 is a plan to cover Arctic ice with tiny glass spheres, also aiming to reflect sunlight.  Organizers have already conducted tests near Utqiaġvik, Alaska, and are planning more extensive experiments — Read the Ice 911 briefing

“The push to establish ‘facts in the air’ and normalize geoengineering experiments are coming from a small clique backed by a smaller number of billionaires,” said Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group’s  Latin America Director. “It’s hard to find another case where so few people put themselves in a position to have such a potentially massive geophysical impact on humanity and the planet.”

 While oil companies have long been enthusiastic about geoengineering because it represents a “fix” for climate change that allows them to continue polluting the planet, most geoengineers have avoided direct association with the fossil fuel industry, accepting funding from Bill Gates and other billionaires instead.

 “Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, and now a few billionaires are trying to make a pathway for oil companies to keep extracting,” said Neth Daño, Co-Executive Director of ETC Group. “Geoengineering has to be stopped so that resources can flow into what everyone knows is necessary and urgent: changing our production and consumption patterns and transitioning away from fossil fuels.”

Media Advisory: New fact sheets reveal status of geoengineering technology development’, 14 June 2018

“To help navigate fact and fiction on geoengineering, today Geoengineering Monitor, a civil society information hub run by ETC Group, Heinrich Böll Foundation and Biofuelwatch, has released fourteen fact sheets that give up-to-date information on the status, key players, and potential impacts of some of most prominent geoengineering technologies:  

Now the above link to ‘Bioenergy w/ carbon capture is BECCS, a few quotes:

“A large body of peer-reviewed literature indicates that many bioenergy processes result in even more CO2 emissions than burning the fossil fuels they are meant to replace – it is certainly not carbon neutral.10 This is due to emissions from (but not limited to): converting land into energy crop production which sometimes results in the displacement of food production, biodiverse ecosystems such as forests, or other land uses (indirect land use change); the degradation and overharvesting of forests; and emissions from soil disturbance, harvesting and transport.

Because BECCS needs fast-growing energy crops, its deployment could also require more than doubling fertilizer inputs, requiring as much as 75% of global annual nitrogen production. This would seriously exacerbate environmental degradation and emissions associated with fertilizers and agrochemicals, which currently cause large-scale anoxia in oceans and eutrophication of streams and rivers, for example.11

A study looking at what would be required to sequester 1 gigaton of carbon annually using BECCS, equivalent to around a fiftieth of global annual emissions, concluded that between 218 and 990 million hectares of land would be needed to grow the biomass (this is 14-65 times as much land as the US uses to grow corn for ethanol).14 More recent studies calculate that the biomass required for BECCS would take up between 25 and 80% of current global cropland.15

Land conversion on such a scale would result in severe competition with food production, depletion of freshwater resources, vastly increased demand for fertilizer and agrochemicals, and loss of biodiversity, among other problems.16 Indeed, one study concluded that large-scale deployment of BECCS could result in a greater loss of terrestrial species than temperature increases of 2.8°C.17

While various biomass fuels, either grown to burn, or by burning plant ‘waste’ such as cornstocks after harvesting the corn are posited, such as this mega lulz one:

Stanford researchers find carbon capture a financial opportunity for U.S. biofuels, with recent tax credits and other policies, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it underground is not only possible but profitable for U.S. biofuel refineries’, stanford.edu, April 23, 2018

James Dyke at theconversation.com, August 8, 2017 in his ‘Climate change is running a $535 trillion debt’ parses his title for us.

“These are the main findings of new research published in Earth System Dynamics, conducted by an international team led by US climate scientist James Hansen, previously the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.”

Putting carbon back in the ground

“The most promising negative emissions technology is BECCS – bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration. It involves growing crops which are then burnt in power stations to generate electricity. The carbon dioxide produced is captured from the power station chimneys, compressed, and piped deep down into the Earth’s crust where it will be stored for many thousands of years. This scheme would allow us to both generate electricity and reduce the amount of CO₂ in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Hansen team estimate how much it will cost to extract excess CO₂ with BECCS. They conclude that it would be possible to move back to 350ppm mainly with reforestation and improving soils, leaving around 50 billion tonnes of CO₂ to be mopped up with negative emissions technologies (the plants grown for BECCS take in the CO₂, which is then sequestered when burned).

But that’s only if we make significant reductions in rates of emissions right now. If we delay, then future generations would need to extract over ten times more CO₂ beyond the end of this century.

They estimate costs between US$150-350 for each tonne of carbon removed via negative emissions technologies. If global emissions are reduced by 6% each year – a very challenging but not impossible scenario – then bringing CO₂ concentrations back to 350ppm would cost US$8-18.5 trillion, spread over 80 years at US$100-230 billion a year.

If emissions remain flat or increase at 2% a year, then total cost balloons to at least US $89 trillion and potentially as much as US$535 trillion. That’s US$1.1 to US$6.7 trillion every year for eight decades.”

Myself, I find this dubious at best, craptastic at worst. : ‘They conclude that it would be possible to move back to 350ppm mainly with reforestation and improving soils’, especially as Hansen advocated for more nuclear power and carbon taxing.

Regarding bio-char, ETG group’s geoengineering monitor link above includes these tidbits:

“Shell has been involved in the International Biochar Initiative and their chief Lobbyist, David Hone, is evangelical about “negative emissions.”2 Expanding biochar research has since been funded by ExxonMobil, Chevron and Encana. Corporate support has mainly come from the Canadian tar sands industry. Cenovus is planning a tar sands “waste-to-biochar” reclamation project, co-owned by Conoco Philipps,3 who have been promoting biochar among a wider range of ‘carbon sequestration’ geoengineering approaches as one way of ‘greening’ the image of one of the world’s most destructive industries.

Biochar is also being promoted by geoengineering proponents such as the Gates Foundation and Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room. Small biochar projects in the Global South continue to multiply. Few of them are accompanied by scientific studies and many appear to serve mainly to try and attract greater investment for biochar.”

It all seems a worse and destructive con as one reads, including this key reality check:

“Biochar proponents also insist that they won’t cut forests or convert ecosystems to provide burnable biomass. Just like the biomass electricity industry, they prefer to talk about burning “wastes and residues.” But there is no such thing as “waste” in a forest ecosystem – everything is recycled, via decay, to support regeneration and regrowth. In many places, definitions of waste have been expanded to include virtually any wood that is not valued as saw logs, so timber harvests are more intense and destructive. In agriculture, there are often better options for residues, such as compost, mulch, animal fodder, and bedding. Industrial forestry and agriculture practices have already wreaked havoc on ecosystems; creating a market for the waste products of unsustainable practices is not a step in the right direction.”

I’d been trying to find a simple way to expose the hell of REDD program (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) as part of cap-and-trade policy for what and who it effects most.  At the link concerning Gov. no-longer-Moonbeam in CA it’s called racist, no bones about it.  But it suddenly occurred to me that biochar would be an intergral part of it, and whooosh, was I on the money, so to speak.  Just in case you need more to read…j/k:

Via Campesina rejects REDD and carbon trading’, redd-monitor.org, Sept. 2010

Guest Post: “Slash and burn”, biochar and REDD in DR Congo and Cameroon’, redd-monitor.org, Dec. 2011

Part III will feature water, and I guaran-damntee you’ll hate reading it.  As in ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’?  likely.

(cross-posted from Café Babylon)

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Cassiodorus's picture

If global emissions are reduced by 6% each year – a very challenging but not impossible scenario

Um, no. A serious plan would involve, at the beginning, increased "global emissions" as a plan to prohibit carbon extraction altogether is put into place.

For the crux of the problem see Moreno et al.:

Instead of changing our economic system to make it fit within the natural limits of the planet, we are redefining nature so that it fits within the economic system.

The key explanation:

At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, a ‘silver bullet’ was found to tackle climate change: reducing CO2 emissions. Accordingly, the goal was to make cars and household appliances, power plants and entire industries more efficient. This ‘end of pipe’ approach (by which contaminants are removed at the end of a process) deflected political attention away from the causes of climate change and allowed policy makers to deal only with the symptoms in the form of emissions.

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"The sustainable and just civilization that we hope to create... cannot be built using a capitalist economy" - Kim Stanley Robinson

wendy davis's picture


but how that is...is beyond my ken. 'efficiency', grrrr. more fuel efficient cars to keep the oil and biofuels ethanol flowing.

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Cassiodorus's picture

@wendy davis Lying appears endemic in this era of capitalist politics. Perhaps the Democrats lie more than the Republicans because the Republicans can rest on the simple notion that the electorate is composed of idiots whereas the Democrats do not feel as if they can risk such a luxury.

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"The sustainable and just civilization that we hope to create... cannot be built using a capitalist economy" - Kim Stanley Robinson

wendy davis's picture


add a p.s. on edit: unless what you mean is more by way of another rent-seeking capitalist long con as they whistle past the (plantetary) graveyard.

bu mega-lulz on your R v D lying; thanks for the chortles & guffaws; i needed that.

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mhagle's picture

Really rich guys being so arrogant as to think they can fix this by themselves through geoengineering.

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"Make dirt, not war." eyo

wendy davis's picture


that are killing the planet, and what did the one etc group piece say: 'they distance themselves and pay gates and other billionaires to fund it'. yanno, philanthro-capitalists as 'greenwashers'. much like the GMO 'green revolution'. 'we can feed the world!!!!' but at what price? well, we're learning what the price is.

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know as much as Mr. Hansen but nuclear, really? Sure, you'll reduce the carbon in the short term, but what about the godamned waste? I remember arguing repeatedly with my own mother on that little unfortunate fact while she worked for Bechtel Power as a secretary to the people who built plants all over the world. She was real proud of that and bitched endlessly about the NRC in this country being too stringent. I wish she was alive to see Fukushima but I would not get through to her willfully ignorant ass with that either. This is a finite planet for fuck's sake!

As for the other horrible things they want to do all I can think is unintended consequences which we all know our "leaders" are too damned dumb to even consider.

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wendy davis's picture


stewart brand as well (remember poring over the Whole Earth Catalog back in the day)? it as practically our bible. so i went a-bingling and found: ‘The Garden State Should Double Down on Nuclear Power’ realclearenergy.org (swear to the gods), June 15, 2018

“Following weeks of deliberation amid much controversy and criticism, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy did the right thing on May 23. He signed legislation to provide modest and tightly monitored subsidies to keep three New Jersey nuclear facilities operating.

James Hansen, a former NASA climate scientist and leader in the fight against climate change, has said it would be “crazy” not to use nuclear power to address this challenge. That is especially the case in the Garden State, where losing nuclear power means an emissions spike.

While Governor Murphy has been kicked around by Alec Baldwin, the Sierra Club, and other environmental zealots, a prestigious and growing number of environmentalists strongly support nuclear power. This includes Patrick Moore co-founder of Greenpeace, Stewart Brand, founder of Whole Earth Catalog, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Michael Shellenberger, president of Environmental Progress.”

“Nuclear power produces very few lifecycle carbon emissions. It also faces substantial economic challenges, and carries significant human health and environmental risks. UCS (the union of concerned scientists) strongly supports policies and measures to strengthen the safety and security of nuclear power.”

and oy: from the union of concerned scientists:

"Yet limiting the worst effects of climate change may also require other low- or no-carbon energy solutions, including nuclear power.

Nuclear power produces very few lifecycle carbon emissions. It also faces substantial economic challenges, and carries significant human health and environmental risks. UCS strongly supports policies and measures to strengthen the safety and security of nuclear power."

the hanford nuclear reservation 'disposal site' in eastern washington is still leaking, no end in sight, into the columbia and on to the ocean, will never be 'cleaned up'.

and helen caldicot reminds us about WIPP:

"But the long-term storage of radioactive waste continues to pose a problem. The US Congress in 1987 chose Yucca Mountain in Nevada, 150km northwest of Las Vegas, as a repository for America’s high-level waste. But Yucca Mountain has subsequently been found to be unsuitable for the long-term storage of high-level waste because it is a volcanic mountain made of permeable pumice stone and it is transected by 32 earthquake faults. Last week a congressional committee discovered fabricated data about water infiltration and cask corrosion in Yucca Mountain that had been produced by personnel in the US Geological Survey. These startling revelations, according to most experts, have almost disqualified Yucca Mountain as a waste repository, meaning that the US now has nowhere to deposit its expanding nuclear waste inventory."

shoot, fukushima's still leaking, and iirc one core has dropped to the floor of the ocean. during 'cleanup' they tossed all the radioactive material into the sea.

8 users have voted.

@wendy davis about nuclear power really started when they were building Diablo Canyon. And we lived in Southern California and had experienced a few earthquakes. The absolute stupidity and arrogance to build a nuke on a fault line just floored my then 20 something year old self. And then there's the waste, which as you point out is not going away and we can't deal with what we already have in that area apparently. Hanford, ah yes, a friend lives out in that area, for now. It just seems like a no brainer that nuclear isn't the answer but there's big bucks to be made and Idiot America will continue on ignoring reality until it is too late, if it already isn't.

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wendy davis's picture


yes, i see what you knew that the builders and permitters didn't allow themselves to know. i just bingled it, and it's still online. after san onofre shut down, it's the only nuclear power station left in CA. how did we miss diablo when we were in san luis obispo, i wonder?

we have a friend who grew up near hanford, and has gone thru some hellish surgeries for prostate cancer. we've wondered if radioactivity in the air, water, soil...might not have been the cause. reading caldicot on radioactivity and cancers is chilling, although george monbiot 'disagrees w/ her vociferously'; beats me.

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WoodsDweller's picture

We are Clint Eastwood, on the set of a spaghetti Western, squinting into the camera. In our left hand is a Hollywood bundle of dynamite with a long fuse. Clint takes the nasty cigar out of his mouth and lights the fuse.
The fuse represents anthropogenic global warming, the flame represents industrial civilization, and each stick of dynamite represents a natural reservoir of carbon such as topsoils, forests, permafrost, peat bogs, or methane hydrates. They could also represent other forms of positive feedbacks such as albedo changes. It doesn't really matter which stick goes off first, they will all go off nearly together.
Each of us benefits from industrial civilization, some much more so than others, and we want to keep that fuse burning as long as possible. Our man Clint is in control, he can snuff out the flame at any time, but there is always some reason to let it burn just a little longer.
Maybe we can find a way to keep it burning without the fuse being consumed. Maybe the fuse is much longer than originally thought. Maybe there is no dynamite after all, it's just a conspiracy by bunch of commie scientists who don't know nuthin'. Clearly what is needed is more study, preferably supervised by responsible fossil fuel interests.
Once the fuse burns into the bundle of dynamite, Clint is no longer in control. There is nothing left for him to do but wait for the Earth-shattering kaboom.

The sort of solutions being described in the original post reflect a lack of awareness about the dynamite. If the only issue was the burning of the fuse itself, they might be enough, and there might be enough time. Maybe.
There isn't any mention of positive feedbacks (item number two in the essay I haven't written yet), much less the fact that the fuse burned into the bundle of dynamite years ago (item number five) and any control we think we have is a dangerous illusion.
Maybe people aren't aware. Maybe they lose their jobs if they speak out, leaving that job for the greybeards. Maybe they think they can geoengineer the fuse longer, faster than it's burning. Maybe they think they can wish the dynamite away, that the world really runs on magic after all.

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I like this world. It's not perfect, but everything I love is in it.

wendy davis's picture


"Maybe there is no dynamite after all, it's just a conspiracy by bunch of commie scientists who don't know nuthin'."/s

i'd had to look up albedo effect, yes to this "any control we think we have is a dangerous illusion"...if you mean at this point in time well on our way to the Sixth Extinction. part I made note of the faster and sooner feedback loops (unless i'm misunderstanding you), although no one can say when, which species first, save for earthlings at sea level have already fled inland, and nuclear power plants on the coast are in insane jeopardy at not far above sea level.

as to your theory on the greybeards: not buyin' it myself. plenty of them are still speaking their own truth to power. but NOT the ones funded by ford, rockefeller, soros, and gates foundations, lol.

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convincing everyone that scientists are wrong about climate change, are big on telling everyone that scientists will get us out of this. And make a profit, too. I'm in.

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wendy davis's picture


but i'd distill it to: 'high tech solutions will save the earth from a total sixth extinction!' funded by faux-lanthropic billionaire foundations and friends.

from my favorite tankie on twitter, smile:

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