Saturday, September 01, 2012

Stratospheric geoengineering: undoing global warming costs below $8 bn/year

Bits of Science, Revmodo, and Fars News talk about a new Aurora-Harvard-Carnegie paper in Environmental Research Letters
Cost analysis of stratospheric albedo modification delivery systems (fulltext PDF) by Justin McClellan, David W Keith, and Jay Apt
They quantify the aircraft- or rocket-related expenses needed to undo the global warming.

To make the story short, it was estimated in 2008 that to change the energy fluxes by a watt per square meter which is comparable to what you need to "undo 100 years of global warming", you need to increase the albedo by bringing approximately 1 million tons of \(SO_2\) to the stratosphere. It becomes \(H_2SO_4\) over there.

The authors consider various rocket- and aircraft-based paradigms to bring several millions of tons of aerosols to the stratosphere, about 10-18 kilometers above the surface. The key final result is that such maneuvers would never cost more than $8 billion per year, the ultimate upper bound.

The civilization is already wasting hundreds of billions of dollars every year for policies meant to reduce the production of \(CO_2\) – so far, thankfully and unsurprisingly, with no results whatsoever. To actually reduce \(CO_2\) emissions substantially, we would have to pay trillions of dollars per year.

So the albedo-geoengineering solution is approximately 1,000 times cheaper than attempts to lower the \(CO_2\) emissions. In other words, the proponents of carbon regulation are 1,000 times greater idiots than some people who think about the human effects somewhat more rationally.

This paper is just a proof of the notion that if the mankind needed to influence the temperatures in a measurable way, there would exist plausible ways to do it. However, if you ask me, I still think that it would be absolutely insane to start these geoengineering projects anytime soon simply because there isn't an infinitesimal glimpse of evidence that we are facing any problem arising from a hypothetical warming.

And \(H_2SO_4\) in the stratosphere could have some undesirable side-effects, e.g. when it comes to its interactions with the ozone. Of course, I do believe that even if it were the case, there would exist another acceptable compound that would do the same job safely. Chemists and others should do mostly theoretical or lab-confined research of such things. But I am personally against any attempts to change the global mean temperature and to solve the "climate problem", both totally insanely expensive attempts such as the attempts to regulate carbon as well as cheap attempts such as this one, simply because there isn't any problem.

And that's the memo.

Off-topic: One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower that will replace the Twin Towers, has a complete skeleton and it will be opened in 2014. There are glitches complicating the Three World Trade Center construction.


  1. This is perhaps the easiest of your blog posts to agree with yet. I think that geo-engineering is likely dangerous and unnecessary now. Really, nothing needs to be done other than to study the climate and adapt to changes along with avoiding despoiling things. IF the situation ever becomes apocalyptic (as Gore and Hansen and other profiteers and insane loons), then geo-engineering might be justified. The really insane meme that the IPCC, the Gores, etc have injected into the public consciousness is that any climate change is not only bad, but evil, morally reprehensible, to be fought regardless of the costs---ie a holy war.
    Well, any rational person knows that the climate constantly changes due to many, many causes, both natural and human. The trick is to determine just how harmful the change is, not to STOP any change, which, in any case, is impossible. The general attitude reminds me of an episode when my son was around
    4 years old. The sun was shining brightly in his eyes, so he told my wife to turn off the sun. These people want to turn off the climate.

  2. I subscribe to your words, too! ;-)

  3. This paper is just a proof of the notion that if the mankind needed to
    influence the temperatures in a measurable way, there would exist
    plausible ways to do it.
    I've long tended to believe that, though it's been on the unscientific basis of a tale by Murray Leinster, "Solar Constant" (1957), in which some man on a distant planet achieves it nearly single-handedly. The tale proves nothing, but leads one to consider whether the costs are the purpose of the kind of costly alternatives that some push today.

  4. Removing SO2 scrubbers from coal fired power stations would be a lot cheaper, but with the risk that people might realize that the scrubbers caused the warming in the first place.

    BTW, I think SO2 cooling is exaggerated by NASA, the models etc, as there is no evidence of significant cooling in places where SO2 emissions have increased.

  5. Dear Philip, I think that both of your comments completely miss one key technicality here: this geoengineering discussed here requires the SO2 to be pumped in the *stratosphere*. The ordinary emissions from chimney almost never go up to the stratosphere. That's why they fall rather quickly and end as acid rains soon, making them pretty much irrelevant for the temperature of Earth. But if they're in the stratosphere which doesn't circulate, they remain for a long time. Moreover, if the SO2 is too low, its warming/cooling effect is much more mixed because it importantly reflects radiation from both directions.

    So it's not true that this proposal depends on the chimneys' having a significant cooling effect; and it's not true that just by removing the scrubbers, you may replace this proposal.

  6. You haven't taken into account the loss of income of all the climate change alarmists. Much more than $8bn!

  7. I thought they were going to use mirrors to reflect the sunlight.

    Why couldn't they have used a more potent chemical like HFC23. that has a 25000x potential?

  8. Are you sure you're not talking about the "global warming potential" which is normally quoted as 11,700 for HFC23? That's an entirely different quantity that measures the absorption of infrared rays etc. To shield things, you need to reflect visible and UV rays.

  9. These loons just never give up. I don't think they'd get the general public to go along with them mucking up our nice blue skies.

  10. With the sun going into a quiet phase it would be folly to geo engineer the reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere. This could cause the cooling climate to fall into a more serious Maunder Minimum like state.

  11. Agreed. Bad thinking on my part. I actually meant SF6 with a high GWP. I think an industrialist should be able to blackmail a state or country out of global warming policies by threatening to unleash a hundred thousand tons of SF6 which would more than make up for the amount of CO2 saved by any plan.

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