geoengineering

Climate Denier Lamar Smith Holds Rare Congressional Hearing on Geoengineering

Rep. Lamar Smith

Geoengineering, hailed in some circles as a potential technofix to the climate change crisis, has taken a step closer to going mainstream.  

The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a rare joint subcommittee hearing on November 8, only the second ever congressional hearing of its kind on the topic (the first was held in 2009). The committee invited expert witnesses to discuss the status of geoengineering research and development. Geoengineering is a broad term encompassing sophisticated scientific techniques meant to reverse the impacts of climate change or pull greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. 

Ironically, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is chaired by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith — a climate science denier who has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from ExxonMobil throughout his political career. In fact, Smith actually mentioned “climate change” in his opening remarks for the hearing, in discussing his interest in geoengineering.

Is Deploying Biochar as a Climate Geoengineering Tool Scientifically Premature?

Some of biochar's proponents say the substance will save us from climate change destruction, as we covered in Part 1.

At the very least, its proponents say it has great potential to simultaneously improve agricultural yields, produce clean energy, and mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon. Its most enthusiastic supporters have hailed it as “black gold.” 

But scientists call biochar a false climate change solution, leaving them with more questions than answers.

Biochar Lobby's Protocol Receives Blistering Peer Review, Casts Doubts on Serving as Climate Solution

For biochar's fiercest promoters, the sky's the limit for the seemingly mystical product — or at least that's been the pitch for years, ever since TIME Magazine referred to it as “black gold” in a December 2008 feature story. To some, it could do it all: pull carbon out of the atmosphere, enrich the soil, and be refined into a clean and green fuel source.

Yet a peer-reviewed study conducted by the American Carbon Registry (ACR) analyzing the science bolstering the biochar lobby's business plan calls all of these claims into question. Released in March 2015, the review concluded that “the scientific literature does not provide sufficient evidence of the stability of soil carbon sequestration in fields.”

Biochar: A Geoengineering 'Shock Doctrine'

Biochar may be many things, such as a crop yield improvement tool and reclamation device for damaged land. But a climate change panacea, DeSmog's investigation has shown, is probably not among them.

Despite a lack of scientific proof supporting biochar as a long-term solution to sequestering carbon, a niche but fervent group has continued to push the so-called “black gold” to combat today's ever-worsening climate change crisis. The push continued despite the American Carbon Registry rejecting the biochar lobby's carbon sequestration business protocol, after a peer review found its underlying science lacked sufficient rigor.

Upon failing the scientific peer review, funding levels dropped for the main biochar advocacy group, International Biochar Initiative (IBI). This means for now, on a macro-level, biochar has hit a stand still.

Study Dismisses Geoengineering Quick Fix For Global Warming

Politicians should not look to science and engineering for a relatively quick fix to effectively deal with climate change caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions, a new academic study has determined.

The only solution to global warming is a massive rejection of toxic fossil fuels, vastly improved energy efficiency and substantially altered human behavior, found the recently released study — An interdisciplinary assessment of climate engineering strategies.

In light of their limitations and risks, climate engineering approaches would best serve as a complement to — rather than replacement for — abatement, and the latter should remain a focus of climate-change policy for the foreseeable future,” said the study written by six academics in the U.S. and Canada.

How to Get a Liberal to Question Global Warming

Readers of my posts will know that I’ve often focused on the work of Yale’s Dan Kahan and his colleagues, who have published fascinating research on how our political and cultural views skew our perceptions of scientific reality. In particular, Kahan et al find that “hierarchical-individualists” (aka conservatives) have very different responses to a variety of facts than do “egalitarian-communitarians” (aka liberals), and that these responses spring not from objective assessments of the evidence, but rather, from deeply seated worldviews that color our perceptions of what is true.

Such research has often been interpreted in a way that has made conservatives look, well, kinda bad. In one Kahan study, for instance, hierarchical-individualists overwhelmingly rejected the very idea that a scientist could be considered a real and legitimate “expert” because of that scientist's opinion that global warming is real and caused by humans. This is not exactly what I would call open-minded behavior.

But the research coming out of the Kahan group is actually quite balanced and does not merely target conservatives. And since I myself am often drawing on these sort of studies to criticize the right, I think it’s only fair to discuss a new Kahan et al study that, if you look closely, appears to show liberals also reasoning in a biased fashion.

[Don’t worry: I still think conservatives have much more deeply rooted issues with science. But it’s a complicated world out there, and it isn’t like liberals and environmentalists are complete innocents all the time. In my view, if we're going to criticize our ideological opponents, we've also got to try hard to see our own blind spots.]

So how do you get liberals to behave in a manner that, at least to my mind, might be called ideologically biased?

David Schnare

David W. Schnare

Credentials

  • J.D., George Mason University School of Law (1999). [1], [2]
  • Ph.D., Environmental Management, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (1979). [1], [2]
  • M.Sc., Public Health-Environmental Science, University of North Carolina School of Public Health. [1], [2]
  • Bachelor's Degree (chemistry and math major), Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. [1], [2]

Andy Revkin Reviews Bjorn Lomborg's New Film 'Cool It'

Andy Revkin has posted an initial review on his Dot Earth blog about Bjorn Lomborg’s new film ‘Cool It.’

Head over to Dot Earth to read the whole thing, but here is an excerpt of important points and observations from Revkin about the film:

In “Cool It,” Lomborg breezily ticks down a laundry list of high-tech ways to engineer the atmosphere, for example, but punts on the tougher questions related to such planet-scale enterprises — such as the inevitable diplomatic dispute over who sets the planetary thermostat and how blocking the sun does nothing to stem the buildup of carbon dioxide, much of which will stay in the atmosphere for many centuries.

He proposes spending tens of billions of dollars (a bargain, he insists, compared to the hundreds of billions that would be spent on a cap-and-trade style approach), but he doesn’t say how he’d convince the United States or China to adopt the necessary carbon tax.

And he doesn’t deal with the full pipeline for innovation that is required to take a promising technology from idea to breakthrough. A greatly intensified research effort is a vital, but insufficient, facet of any plan to foster progress without disrupting the climate.

Its chiding tone in places is unlikely to build the sense of consensus and excitement around an energy quest that Lomborg seems to desire.

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