UN Climate Delegates Agree on Something: Geo-engineering Is No Solution

The UN's annual climate meetings wrap up in Doha today, and though the feckless agreements are a “delight to no one,” there is one silver lining. Geo-engineering, that grand, scary global experiment of last resort, won “scant enthusiasm” from the vast majority of participants.

“Let's face it, geo-engineering has a lot of unknowns,” Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.'s panel of climate scientists, told Reuters.

Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, agreed, emphasizing the need to focus on actual greenhouse gas emissions reductions and mitigation strategies first. “Let's first use what we know,” said Figueres. “There are so many proven technologies we know exist that are tried and true that have not been used to their maximum potential,” she told Reuters. “To begin with, the simplest is energy efficiency.”

Advocates of geo-engineering strategies – which range from tinkering with the planet, the oceans or the atmosphere itself to force cooling in an effort to combat climate change – claimed a breakthrough in the international negations arena in the Cancun climate talks back in 2010. “The taboo is broken,” Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric scientist who has published on geo-engineering, then told The Associated Press.

That enthusiasm from 2010 seems to be on the wane as opponents of these strategies – including those at the highest levels of leadership in the U.N.'s climate bodies – highlight just how unproven all of these concepts are. Many advocates of real climate change mitigation are also wary of how rich nations could implement these massive, world-changing engineering efforts, the impacts of which are entirely beyond prediction.

“It's absolutely inappropriate for a handful of governments in industrialised countries to make a decision to try geo-engineering without the approval of all the world's support,” Pat Mooney, from Canada-headquartered advocacy organisation ETC Group, told Reuters at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meetings in Japan in October 2010.

This isn't to say that geo-engineering is totally off the table in the international negotiations.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N.'s panel of climate scientists, will be including a detailed section on geo-engineering for the first time in its major “assessment report,” the fifth of which is due to be released in late 2013.

It remains to be seen whether that report will close the door on geo-engineering forever, or keep some hope alive for this scary, ill-defined concept that should, at most, be considered an avenue of absolute last resort.

Some proposed geo-engineering projects include:

  • Ocean fertilization: Sprinkling iron or other nutrients across large swaths of the oceans to artificially spur growth of phytoplankton, which soak up carbon dioxide. Could also trigger harmful algal blooms, soak up nutrients and kill fish and other animals.
  • Fake clouds: Spraying seawater into the atmosphere to increase the reflectivity and condensation of clouds so they bounce more sunlight back into space.
  • Sunshades: Floating trillions of tiny solar reflectors in space to cut the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth.
  • Artificial volcanoes: Releasing tiny sulphate particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight, simulating the effect of a major volcanic eruption.
  • Carbon capture and storage: Considered by some to be geo-engineering, which itself is curious since the carbon dioxide sequestered is being released by human activities.  

To that last point, writing for OnEarth earlier this week, science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, famous for his novels about the “terraforming” (in essence, a type of geo-engineering) of Mars, notes that by releasing such drastic amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we are already geo-engineering the planet. In his thoughtful and eloquent essay, Robinson argues that rather than “try any of the more dangerous experiments we now think of when we come across that word,” we should think of geo-engineering the planet by changing our behaviors and economies to reverse the ways in which we've already manipulated the planet.


I expect that promoting energy efficiency and downplaying geoengineering will go down like lead balloons with those who are funding the AGW denial propaganda.  Their neoliberal agenda is to extract the maximum profit from fossil fuels for as long as possible, before switching horses to maximising profits from geoengineering to clean up their mess.  Sociopaths, the lot of them!

IMHO, opponents of geoengineering are unrealistic. As temperatures will grow beyond 4 deg C due to our collective inability to mitigate, and impacts will be threatening societies worldwide, desperate geoengineering attempts are very likely to be made. Better research them now to have some idea of their effectiveness and disavantages than to discard them alltogether.

If methane seepage from tundra and calthrates turns out to be really bad, I don't see any way that piddly cuts in the amount of increase in CO2 emisions can help. I think geoengineering might be able to target the arctic region.

We're not trying to reduce CO2 emmissions.

We're trying to reduce Green House Gases. CO2 is merely the unit of measure.  You understand that, right?

I believe that geoengineering is a bad idea.  I have enough experience with complex systems to know that it just won't work.  And I can't believe that I'm hearing it from the likes of you.  Seriously… You deniers have spent 30 years saying its not happening at all.

Now you are trying to redirect attention to using geo-engineering to solve a problem you could never accept is real?

What's Up With That?

Here's a geoengineering solution….  It costs $250 per ton to remove CO2.


Here it is working…


“We're trying to reduce Green House Gases. CO2 is merely the unit of measure.  You understand that, right?”

If that statement is not a typo, I don't understand it.

1. - Reduce emissions in every way possible. 

1. - At least triple global science investments on alternative energy. That includes battery research. If batteries can gain a 5x improvement, then solar becomes that much efficient. 

1. Mitigate, migitage, mitigate. Plant trees, paint roofs white …

2. Geoengineering. You only use this method when it's clear that you really will be using your seat cushion as a flotation device, assuming you survive the crash. 


Here's the ted talk;


Here's the company producing the batteries;


What's also interesting is that all the money we dump into fossil fuel power plants is of course to supply our peak demand.  Batteries would dampen the need to build more power plants.

Batteries can also be brought to bear to deal with unforseen load spikes.