February 15, 2007
Cheap Climate Engineering Against Global Warming

UC Irvine physics professor and science fiction writer Gregory Benford says climate engineering to prevent global warming would be cheap to do and could be done by private parties.

Benford has a proposal that possesses the advantages of being both one of the simplest planet-cooling technologies so far suggested and being initially testable in a local context. He suggests suspension of tiny, harmless particles (sized at one-third of a micron) at about 80,000 feet up in the stratosphere. These particles could be composed of diatomaceous earth. "That's silicon dioxide, which is chemically inert, cheap as earth, and readily crushable to the size we want," Benford says. This could initially be tested, he says, over the Arctic, where warming is already considerable and where few human beings live. Arctic atmospheric circulation patterns would mostly confine the deployed particles around the North Pole. An initial experiment could occur north of 70 degrees latitude, over the Arctic Sea and outside national boundaries. "The fact that such an experiment is reversible is just as important as the fact that it's regional," says Benford.

Benford says treating the Arctic would cost only $100 million per year.

"Anybody who thinks governments are suddenly going to leap into action is dreaming." Benford says that one of the advantages of his scheme is that it could be implemented unilaterally by private parties. "Applying these technologies in the Arctic zone or even over the whole planet would be so cheap that many private parties could do it on their own. That's really a dangerous idea because it suggests the primary actor in this drama will not be the nation-state anymore. You could do this for a hundred million bucks a year. You could do the whole planet for a couple of billion. That's amazingly cheap."

This proposal illustrates a larger pattern: Nation-states are becoming less important for major undertakings because scientists and engineers can find cheap ways to accomplish changes. For interventions whose bases of operations are easy to spot and stop this trend does not disempower nation-states. The governments will retain veto power. But for interventions that are harder to trace back to their perpetrators the loss of accountability could become very problematic for the human race.

Suppose the world heats up a few degrees Celsius and scientific knoweldge about climate advances to the point where scientists can state with certainty that human burning of fossil fuels is the major cause of this change. Then suppose some private group with enough money (or even a single rich guy) wants to put silicon dioxide over the Arctic or Antarctic in order to prevent gradual melting and rising sea levels. Would you support or oppose such a move?

Well, Danish climate scientist Henrik Svensmark argues that cosmic rays and not carbon dioxide build-up is the biggest cause of global warming.

Figure 5 takes the climate record back 300 years, using rates of beryllium-10 production in the atmosphere as long-accepted proxies for cosmic-ray intensities. The high level at AD 1700 corresponds with the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715) when sunspots were extremely scarce and the solar magnetic field was exceptionally weak. This coincided with the coldest phase of what historians of climate call the Little Ice Age (Eddy 1976). Also plain is the Dalton Minimum of the early 19th century, another cold phase. The wobbles and the overall trend seen in figure 5, between cold 1700 and warm 2000, are just a high-resolution view of a climate-related switch between high and low cosmic-ray counts, of a kind that has occurred repeatedly in the past.

Iciness in the North Atlantic, as registered by grit dropped on the ocean floor from drifting and melting ice, is a good example of the climate data now available. Gerard Bond of Columbia University and his colleagues showed that, over the past 12 000 years, there were many icy intervals like the Little Ice Age - eight to ten, depending on how you count the wiggles in the density of ice-rafted debris. These alternated with warm phases, of which the most recent were the Medieval Warm Period (roughly AD 900-1300) and the Modern Warm Period (since 1900). A comparison with variations in carbon-14 and beryllium-10 production showed excellent matches between high cosmic rays and cold climates, and low cosmic rays and the warm intervals (Bond et al. 2001).

Suppose scientists eventually confirm that increased cosmic rays from the sun increase cloud cover and cause cooling and that less cosmic rays are causing the world's current warming trend. Would you be any more or less inclined to support climate engineering to reverse natural warming caused by changes in the Sun's output?

In other words, if nature causes climate changes (whether cooling or warming) are we more or less justified in intervening in the climate than if we cause climate changes?

Suppose climate researchers discover 30 years hence that due to natural cycles the world is going to go through a long term cooling that will last centuries. Would you argue for generation of more green houses gases to counteract the cooling? Or would you argue that we shouldn't intervene in natural processes on such a large scale for our own benefit?

Update: I'm asking two underlying questions here:

  • Do we have a greater moral obligation to stop climate change if the change is caused by human activity than if it is caused by natural processes?
  • If we can stop human-caused climate change more easily by treating the symptoms than by addressing the underlying causes is it morally acceptable to treat the symptoms?

I do not know whether the world will warm by much in the 21st century. I do not know whether we are experiencing more climate change due to human intervention or due to natural phenomena. I'm not trying to argue the global warming skeptic or the global warming believer position. I'm trying to find out how much of the support for a reduction in CO2 emissions is due to the known (clearly human) causes of those emissions or the theorized effects of those emissions.

Update II: For those who do not read me regularly, here are several things I believe about the future of energy technology and climate:

  • Suppose the global warming problem is real. If we do nothing about global warming an acceleration of the rate of advance of a wide range of energy technologies will probably cause a phasing out of fossil fuels use as photovoltaics, batteries, nuclear power, geothermal and other non-fossil fuels energy technologies become cheaper than oil and natural gas.
  • But we should greatly accelerate the development of non-fossil fuels energy technologies because, global warming aside, cheaper non-fossil fuels energy sources would bring us many benefits (e.g. cleaner air, lower costs, less money flowing to Jihadists).
  • Since global warming might turn into a big problem it seems imprudent to do nothing about it even if one is uncertain as to the costs of the effects it will bring. One does not have to be a total believer in the worst global warming scenarios to think it imprudent to do nothing about it.
  • Populaces are going to continue to oppose high carbon taxes or regulations that cause a big reduction in fossil fuels use. Therefore those who are concerned about global warming should press for acceleration of energy research and development rather than a global regulatory and tax system for fossil fuels.
  • While a high tax approach to carbon emissions reduction would retard economic growth funding and prizes for the development of cheaper solar, nuclear, wind, and geothermal would lower costs and therefore increase rates of economic growth.

My guess is that if global warming becomes a big problem we will use cheap ways to cool down at least parts of the planet. The good news is that if we reach that point the cooling down will be cheap to do. So the nightmare scenarios for warming are unlikely to ever happen.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 February 15 10:22 PM  Climate Engineering


Comments
John S Bolton said at February 16, 2007 12:39 AM:

I would like to see some experimentation of this kind done in either case.
At least there can be found out what sort of particles are best for such a purpose.
Ideally, there would be found a type which would be cheap enough for a group of utilities to suspend for a summer season, in order to avoid the cost of increasing peak capacity.

Ned said at February 16, 2007 5:49 AM:

Treat the Arctic if you like, but don't bother treating the Antarctic - it's already getting much cooler than climate models predicted (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-02/osu-atd021207.php). Better buy some SUV's for the penguins.

David Mathews said at February 16, 2007 5:53 AM:

"Suppose the world heats up a few degrees Celsius and scientific knoweldge about climate advances to the point where scientists can state with certainty that human burning of fossil fuels is the major cause of this change. Then suppose some private group with enough money (or even a single rich guy) wants to put silicon dioxide over the Arctic or Antarctic in order to prevent gradual melting and rising sea levels. Would you support or oppose such a move?"

I would oppose the move. Homo sapiens have already made enough of a mess of the Earth. At some point, the globe-polluting primate will have no choice except to stop polluting. Covering the Arctic and Antarctic in the above-described fashion is a perfect illustration of the insanity of the world's dominant primate.

Americans are so addicted to oil that restraining consumption is considered impossible. Oil companies are so addicted to profits that they will fight anti-pollution legislation until the oceans conquer the coasts.

What is especially odd is that the author of the above post displays tremendous cognitive dissonance in the following sense:

1. He proposed a technological solution to the global warming problem.
2. He then claims that cosmic rays, not pollution, generate global warming.
3. Finally, he proposes to use greenhouse gasses in order to fight against global cooling.

So, let's see if I understand this correctly: Greenhouse gasses can effectively fight against global warming but they cannot generate global warming?

David Mathews said at February 16, 2007 6:16 AM:

Edit the last sentence:

> So, let's see if I understand this correctly: Greenhouse gasses can effectively fight against global warming but they cannot generate global warming?

should read ...

> So, let's see if I understand this correctly: Greenhouse gasses can effectively fight against global cooling but they cannot generate global warming?

Inspired by the paragraph:

"Suppose climate discover 30 years hence that due to natural cycles the world is going to go through a long term cooling that will last centuries. Would you argue for generation of more green houses gases to counteract the cooling? Or would you argue that we shouldn't intervene in natural processes on such a scale for our own benefit?"

That last question is really odd, too, in the sense that humans are presently intervening in natural processes on a global scale as humans are transforming the entire Earth into humankind's sewer. We should stop, but we will not, so humankind will suffer an apocalypse.


daniel duffy said at February 16, 2007 6:22 AM:

This approach (or the dumping of iron sulfates in the ocean to stimulate plankton growth which results in CO2 sequestration in the oceans, or some other macro engineering proposal) would make a great weapon for a James Bond villain:

"You see Mr. Bond, my Dirt Rocket will cover the stratosphere with reflective clay particles that will not only prevent Global Warming - but start a new Ice Age! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!"

Paul Dietz said at February 16, 2007 9:03 AM:

I'd view that cosmic ray stuff with several grains of salt. There are lots of gaps in the idea, the treatment of cosmic ray data appears to be inconsistent (for example, the surface neutron measurement is taken as a measure of GCR (galactic cosmic ray) intensity only when it supports the hypothesis; when it doesn't (as in, no trend in the neutron data for the last several decades even has temperatures have steadily climbed) the proponent says 'no, it's the muons that can reach the lower atmosphere that are actually important'). See www.realclimate.org for other technical criticism.

However, if it were shown to be real, then an obvious solution is ... orbiting accelerators to provide radiation to make up the deficit. The total power in cosmic rays (particularly the more energetic ones that produce deeply penetrating muons) is not all that high.

I'll add that the GCR level is modulated by the local interstellar environment. When the solar system passes through a denser gas cloud, the heliopause is pushed back toward the sun, and more GCRs get through. As I understand it, this is predicted to increase the GCR intensity by up to a factor of 3 (with the change occuring more at lower energies than at higher.)

carl said at February 16, 2007 9:07 AM:

David, try re-reading the post but this time assume it was written by someone asking interesting questions rather than someone trying to indoctrinate you into his ideology.

Jim said at February 16, 2007 9:16 AM:

Randall-
thanks for showing the intellectual honesty of pointing out that global warming is not proven to be caused by human activity. in fact, the earth's climate is an immensely complex system with many unknowns (such as the first ~99.999% of the earth's existence) and unknown unknowns, and any theories are impossible to back-test in a controlled, scientific manner..... thereby greatly increasing the uncertainty of any proposed theories. based on measured C02 levels in ice cores, the best atmospheric scientists can say is there is a likely correlation.

my point is that I know you are a strong supporter of alternative energies, and it would be easy to pretend (like many others do) that C02-caused global warming IS a 100% known fact thereby supporting your alternative energy ambitions (which I strongly share). thanks


David A. Young said at February 16, 2007 9:21 AM:

On the larger question: Yes, we should feel free to alter climate to suit our needs, to the degree that we genuinely understand the consequences of our interventions (which would certainly not be the case at the moment). Every critter alters its environment to fit its needs, to the degree that it's able. We have that right as much as any other critter. And in the really long run, we're the only chance nature has of spreading out beyond this one planet, and thereby ensuring the long-term survival of large parts of the eco-system. Therefore, doing whatever we have to do to maintain our technological civilization is in all of nature's long term interests. (Yes, there may be lots of other life out there in the universe -- intelligent or not -- but we don't KNOW that. For all we KNOW -- we're IT. Consequently, we have a responsibility to survive and spread out.)

rsilvetz said at February 16, 2007 9:37 AM:

Two seperate issues:

One issue raised by Randall is whether or not humans should intervene in the climate -- if we had good predictive models, of course we should. Controlling climate, say by lowering the number of hurricanes, or irrigating the deserts, etc, is a good thing. Avoiding another ice-age, which regardless of the GCR research, is still a side-effect of the perturbation of the Earth's orbit and precession,nutation effects, is paramount for the long-term survival of the human race. But the models are presently poor and attempting to act on such poor science is nothing less than criminal.

The second issue is that the global warming fiasco is a UN-based farce. Putting all the science aside, I have to concur with my political scientist friends, that this is a deliberate move to create a global problem requiring solution by the global body -- the UN -- to create a legal hook for global.gov. The poor UN has been dissed on having taxing authority and a standing army. If they get the legal hook, they can go anywhere on their own authority. This speculation, casts a long shadow on the veracity and interpretation of any global warming data. The recent bit in the UK Telegraph, showing how the UN tosses any data contradicting its official stance, should give us all pause as to their intentions.

dave tweed said at February 16, 2007 9:56 AM:

Your questions seems to be approaching things from a weird angle: apart from those who believe in relgious/mystical "rightness" of nature, why on a philosophical nature should the cause of environmental changes affect what one is prepared to do to cope with them? The question that I think is more important is how we best analyse the uncertainties in our understanding of the problems and what effects our "solutions" would have. So, if the best understanding were to show that non-human generated factors would push the world into a dramatically colder climate, would I support doing _something_ about it? Yes. Would I support super-generation of greenhouse gases "to counteract this"? Well, by the hypothesis we've found out all the climatolgical models we believe are accurate which show how greenhouse gases cause warming are in fact very wrong. So in this hypothesised case we really don't know what greenhouse gases would do. So I'd look very, very hard to see if there was anything else with more well-understood results we could do. Also note that the cases aren't symmetrical: assuming climate change _isn't_ human fueled, does anyone believe we'd be drastically changing the climactic conditions if we capped carbon emissions, etc?

That's one of my pet peeves with some "anti-climate change" spokespeople (not Randall, btw): they seem to hyper-stress uncertainty in "climate change caused by humans" research but don't seem to acknowledge any uncertainty in their ideas. Me: I'm not at all convinced climate change is happening, but I can't see any downsides, beyond the loss of "9-minute wonder & throwaway society", to instituting "carbon caps".

K said at February 16, 2007 12:26 PM:

Of course we should attempt to counteract climate changes that we do not desire. That is not the problem.

We need to be very sure of how climate changes produce feedback. And the influence of sources we cannot control such as solar activity.
Otherwise we will create programs that do not work or actually worsen thing.

The strongest criticism of AGW is that the CO2 rise, known to reduce heat radiated into space, will not by itself cause much of a problem. So there would be little concern if CO2 acted alone.

The AGW contention is that the slight temperature increase from CO2 causes an increase in water vapor. And together the water and the CO2 become significant. And worse, they argue for a postitive feedback that increases water vapor even more. They see no negative feedbacks of consequence.

I am firmly undecided and sense it is too complex and the available data is not adequate. That will change with time. Meanwhile it looks prudent to end this 200 year binge with fossil fuel. Alternatives are available.

Paul Dietz said at February 16, 2007 12:53 PM:

The strongest criticism of AGW is that the CO2 rise, known to reduce heat radiated into space, will not by itself cause much of a problem.

CO2 rise does not reduce radiation to space. The radiation to space is always, in equilibrium, 100% of the energy hitting the earth (plus the heat generated internally).

What increase in greenhouse gases does it increase the temperature needed to achieve this level of radiation to space, and change where (geographically, vertically) and when (seasonally, diurnally) the radiation is coming from.

BTW, CO2 has serious effects aside from the thermal one. Chemical changes in the oceans could be devastating -- the ocean pH excursion could be the largest in millions of years, if I understand correctly.

K said at February 16, 2007 1:36 PM:

Paul: This is a sincere question.

If there is always equilibrium how can the earth warm or cool at all? Or does it? Perhaps the climate changes at different places but the overall heat doesn't change?

Or did you mean higher radiation to space eventually will end temperature increases by restoring equilibrium?

Kurt9 said at February 16, 2007 4:00 PM:

If global warming is real and, IF it is due to our industry, and IF it is a problem to be avoided; then Gregory Benford's suggestions make far more sense than the liberal-lefty desire to turn the economy up side down to deal with the problem.

Randall Parker said at February 16, 2007 8:04 PM:

Paul Dietz,

Suppose Gregory Benford comes up with a cheap way to reverse the effect on the acidity of the ocean. In short, suppose we can find ways to reverse every harmful effect of global warming and that we could do this more cheaply than by restricting fossil fuels use or by requiring carbon sequestration. Would you go for the cheaper way to handle the problem?

Randall Parker said at February 16, 2007 8:36 PM:

Jim,

I do not know whether everyone above is a regular reader. So thanks for the reminder to those who might not know that, yes, I'm a big fan of obsolescing fossil fuels. I believe we should be making a massive effort to develop cheaper non-fossil fuels energy sources. I do not need the threat of global warming to convince me of this. I'm not trying to argue for a longer life for fossil fuels.

dave tweed,

But people who do not believe in the mystical rightness of natural need to know when they are hearing arguments that are motivated by a belief in the mystical rightness of natural. Some of those motivated by a belief in a sort of natural religion cloak their motives. I think we are better off knowing to what extent a person takes a position due to value judgements versus due to scientific knowledge.

David A. Young,

But we run into an immediate problem as soon as we attempt to suit our needs by modifying the climate: Our needs conflict. The Russians have very different needs than the Bangladeshis for example. What is good for Norway is not the same as what is good for Nigeria.

One of the things that highly accurate global climate models will bring is far more detailed understanding of how our needs and desires conflict. We'll know that a climate change that increases rain in a dry area also makes some other area too dry to maintain crops, rivers, water supplies. We'll know that a change that makes Alberta more comfortable in winter makes more of Bangladesh flood. So I'm not saying there's a technological solution that is mutually satisfactory to all.

John S Bolton said at February 16, 2007 10:42 PM:

All the pressure will tend towards maintenance of climate and sea levels just as they are today,
even though natural systems fluctuate.
Nature-worship can mean wipeout for those with least margin for error; indeed it will cause exactly that result.
At the same time this earth-goddess, if she is the same one as formerly, looks now as she did ages ago; like a welfare woman.
So the goddess of compassion, etc. would tell us let nature take its course on those vulnerables, who are otherwise relentlessly offered as special objects of compassion.
Contradictions piling up as high as all that, are a warning that it is not the stated objectives which actually motivate in the global warming activists' outreach for power, but more likely the power-greed itself.

Bob Badour said at February 17, 2007 10:25 AM:

It's a wonder that the 'big oil' paranoia crowd haven't reached the obvious conclusion: As soon as we replace fossil fuels for transportation, the big oil companies will have to use airborne dirt to make colder winters to drive up the demand for heating oil.

David Mathews said at February 17, 2007 11:26 AM:

Hello David A. Young,

> "On the larger question: Yes, we should feel free to alter climate to suit our needs, to the degree that we genuinely understand the consequences of our interventions (which would certainly not be the case at the moment). Every critter alters its environment to fit its needs, to the degree that it's able. We have that right as much as any other critter. And in the really long run, we're the only chance nature has of spreading out beyond this one planet, and thereby ensuring the long-term survival of large parts of the eco-system. Therefore, doing whatever we have to do to maintain our technological civilization is in all of nature's long term interests."

The theory that "every critter alters its environment to fits its needs" is absurd. Animals adapt to their environment. You won't find any alligators using heaters during the winter nor any ducks using air conditioners during the hot summer.

Of all the animals of the Earth, there is only one animal which is so weak as to massively modify its personal environment and thereby damage the entire Earth: The Homo sapiens.

Just one example of the insanity of this particular primate species. The same animal spends nearly $1 trillion a year building weapons to kill each other.

Do you Nature wants this particular primate to leave the Earth and conquer space? Well, Nature certainly has plenty of good reasons for wanting humankind to leave the Earth. But space is a harsh environment incompatible with human life. Humans won't conquer space: Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Humans are just barely capable of leaving and returning to the Earth safely, as the Space Shuttle has proven.

Technological civilization has a long in common with the Space Shuttle: The flame of civilization shines brightly and then runs out of fuel and is lost forever. Technological civilization cannot possibly endure on the Earth because humans are consuming the fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) at ever-increasing rates and are therefore depleting these resources. A day will come when humans will have no choice except to face Nature without the technological crutch.

Humankind needs to learn a little humility because all of our closest relatives are already extinct. Homo sapiens are the last of its kind and our species, can, and will, go extinct.

By messing with the atmosphere, destroying the environment, and transforming the Earth into humankind's sewer we are accelerating humankind's extinction. All those nuclear weapons don't help, either.

Homo sapiens present every appearance of a species afflicted with suicidal tendencies. Humans have consumed the entire Earth and now (some) humans are dreaming of the stars. Humankind won't reach the stars, and humans will lose the Earth. Homo sapiens will go extinct and Nature will go on very well without us.

David Mathews said at February 17, 2007 11:35 AM:

Hello John S. Bolten,

> "At the same time this earth-goddess, if she is the same one as formerly, looks now as she did ages ago; like a welfare woman."

You are seriously mistaken, John. Homo sapiens are the recipients of Nature's welfare. All that oil, coal and natural gas wasn't placed in the rocks for humankind's consumption. The sun doesn't shine on humankind's behalf. God did not create the Earth for the sake of a violent primate.

Nature is four billion years old. Homo sapiens have only existed for a little over 100,000 years. Civilization has only existed for ten thousand years. Energy-intensive technological civilization is only a little over two centuries old.

Nature did very well without Homo sapiens for billions of years. After humankind has driven itself to extinction, Nature will do fine for billions of years after we are gone.

Humans are destroying humankind's future with all of this technology, pollution, and the weapons of warfare. Nature doesn't care whether Homo sapiens survive or not. Billions of species have already gone extinct. All of humankind's closest relatives have already gone extinct.

Nor does God care whether Homo sapiens survive or go extinct. God has not guaranteed the survival of technology, capitalism, obese consumerism, or humankind.

Nature remains in control over the Earth. Nature will dispense with Homo sapiens in her own time. Nature's harsh judgments will extinguish the human fire.

Randall Parker said at February 17, 2007 12:11 PM:

David Mathews,

Other species have greatly modified the climate. For example, the first mutations that allowed carbon fixation pulled lots of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. That probably caused a cooling. Other mutations that caused the opposite effect probably caused a warming. Mutations that led to plants that can run roots deep under ground brought up more water and changed the moisture level in the atmosphere. Mutations have literally caused warming and cooling of the planet at various periods in distant history.

Today the level of growth of algae effects emissions by algae that cause cloud cover to form. Other plants and animals exert other changes on the atmosphere and climate. My guess is human influences are still smaller than algal influences on climate.

Humans gained a series of mutations that allowed them to become smart enough to develop technology. Now humans are modifying the environment just as other species have before us.

I think you resent that consciously aware minds modify the environment but are comfortable with letting unconscious random processes modify the environment.

rsilvetz said at February 17, 2007 12:47 PM:

Randall is too polite.

David Mathews is categorically wrong.

But for all the technology and capitalism, there would not be 6 billion humans thriving on the planet. Technology is the most important factor in driving raising standards of living when it is coupled to free-markets. This whole "humans are destroying the planet" mythos has been so thoroughly debunked that to see it here on FuturePundit is a shame.

For those that doubt -- look up Julian Simon's works, such as The Ultimate Resource.

For those that still doubt -- read the extensive materials provided by George Reisman's Capitalism or in his blog on debunking the environmental movement.

David Mathews said at February 17, 2007 1:34 PM:

Hello Randall Parker,

> "Other species have greatly modified the climate."

You are mistaken, Randall. What I had specifically in mind was the modification of the *personal* climate which is used by humans specifically as a means of escaping any need to adapt to the environment. For that reason, (for example) Americans rely on heaters in the North and air conditioners in the South. None of the other animals utilize these tools to avoid adapting to their own local climate.

As to the question of modifying the global climate: While it is true that other species have modified the Earth's climate, humankind is reckless in supposing that it can perform a similar feat without suffering horrendous consequences. Humankind is placing a bet upon its own survival with all of this pollution and environmental degradation. If humankind loses the bet the species will go extinct.

Such is life. Survival of the fittests. Extinction is a proper fate for an excessively violent primate which performs a reckless experiment in climate change on the only planet hospitable to human life in the entire Universe.

Humankind is behaving in a violent, destructive and reckless manner on the Earth. Such behaviors are not commonly associated with a species which has any desire to survive for a great length of time in the Universe.

David Mathews said at February 17, 2007 1:45 PM:

Hello rsilvetz,

> "But for all the technology and capitalism, there would not be 6 billion humans thriving on the planet. Technology is the most important factor in driving raising standards of living when it is coupled to free-markets. This whole "humans are destroying the planet" mythos has been so thoroughly debunked that to see it here on FuturePundit is a shame.'

I agree, sir, that technology and capitalism is responsible for humankind's present overpopulation problem. 6.5 billion humans increasing by mid-century to 9 billion. Needless to say, the present population of the Earth is unsustainable, and it is absolutely impossible for the human population to increase forever.

There are examples in Nature in which a population increases in the above fashion and these all lead inevitably to population collapse. Simply stated: A species experiencing exponential population growth will soon consume all of those resources which made the exponential population growth possible. Once these resources are exhausted the population wll fall in a dramatic fashion. In the species sufficiently destroys its environment it is altogether that the population can fall to zero, i.e. the species can go extinct.

Technology and capitalism are destroying the Earth. The evidence on behalf of this accusation is abundant: the smog in the atmosphere, the asphalt on the ground, the plastic debris floating in the ocean, the forests which no longer exists, the species which have already been driven to extinction, the eradicated ecosystems, and a climate which is changing in a dramatic and dangerous fashion. Humankind's outlook is bleak.

Homo sapiens are not God. The species is not immortal. Technology does not render our species omnipotent and omniscient.

Capitalism succeeds in the short term because it consumes the Earth's resources efficiently and swifty. When capitalism fails -- and it will fail -- those on the other side will inherit a hellish existence on a degraded, depleted and polluted Earth. Billions of humans will die because of the excesses of modern technological civilization. Such is the ultimate price that humankind will pay for its technology.

Nor is capitalism such a healthy thing for the individual capitalist. Have you ever visited a mall and observed the American hyperconsumers? Americans are obese, unfit, stressed out, deprived of sleep, angry, and potentially violent. Not a pretty picture for those who portray capitalism as God's gift to humankind.

Humans are transforming the Earth into humankind's sewer. Humankind will suffer the consequences and it will feel very much like the apocalypse.

Loki on the run said at February 17, 2007 2:14 PM:

Since RealClimate has been mentioned, it would seem that ClimatAudit should as well.

Doug said at February 17, 2007 8:03 PM:

We need to look at geoengineering in the context of other remediation efforts. I believe it will be far more cost-effective to reverse the warming than to try and deal with the consequences, especially sea-level rise. That opinion would be the same no matter what fraction of the warming is due to human activity. It would be the same if we were entering one of Earth's periodic ice ages, too. Geoengineering measures should not be taken as reasons to continue business as usual with respect to CO2. We have to find a better way to power our civilisation, if for no other reason than that fossil energy sources will be depleted before the century's out.

Unfortunately, I've seen other netizens articulate David Mathews's hopeless view of mankind's future, and I could not disagree with it more. I've rarely seen anyone with that meme articulate a credible alternative way forward, and David doesn't offer one, either. Dude, seriously, get professional help.

Engineer-Poet said at February 17, 2007 9:10 PM:

FYI:  Mr. Mathews is a doomer troll over at The Oil Drum, and may not have an account there for much longer.

rsilvetz writes:

The second issue is that the global warming fiasco is a UN-based farce. Putting all the science aside, I have to concur with my political scientist friends, that this is a deliberate move to create a global problem requiring solution by the global body -- the UN -- to create a legal hook for global.gov.

The first part of this is false, and the second is a non-sequitur post-hoc fallacy.  The UN is not flying the satellites and balloons and measuring temperature on the ground.  The UN did not break off the Larsen B ice shelf, nor double the speed of the glaciers in Greenland.

The apparatchiks of the UN may be trying to use the GW issue to arrogate power to themselves.  This is a surprise?  The Bush administration used 9/11 to arrogate power to itself, but only a delusional paranoid would take that to mean the WTC didn't fall down.  A host of different people use inner-city murder rates as a means to arrogate power to themselves.  Only a paranoid would claim that the murders are faked.  The problem is in the attempted arrogation of power beyond the minimum required to solve the problem (which isn't all that much), and not in the data.

Loki on the run said at February 17, 2007 11:09 PM:

Doug says:

I believe it will be far more cost-effective to reverse the warming than to try and deal with the consequences, especially sea-level rise.

Could you provide some evidence that any sea-level rise warrants doing something about? The rise seems to be less than about three millimeters per year and has been slowing down for something like the last 20 or so years ... indeed it might be cyclic. You can get plenty of discussion about the actual data at ClimateAudit

Ken said at February 18, 2007 2:43 AM:

Climate Science appears to be sound, even without the absolute and perfect knowledge we may like. The science continues to back the AGW scenario with little credible science showing otherwise - if it's all natural causes those causes aren't the simple "every scientist so far has overlooked" types. Hubris to imagine humanity can significantly alter the proportions of atmospheric gases and there be no consequences. The UN/Environmentalist conspiracy theory just doesn't hold water. There's been ample opportunity for credible alternative interpretations of the growing body of data to emerge and plenty of powerful people and organisations with vested interest to be sure they aren't overlooked - it hasn't happened.
Even in the unlikely event the predictions come in on the low side, better energy technologies that don't pump huge amounts of waste into the atmosphere have to be worth pursuing and I doubt we're going to be impoverished by doing so.

Paul Dietz said at February 18, 2007 2:45 AM:

Responding to two different posts:

Suppose Gregory Benford comes up with a cheap way to reverse the effect on the acidity of the ocean.

This would have to involve either removing carbonic acid from the ocean, or adding compensating alkalinity. Come up with an extremely cheap way of making alkali and you'll be set. Unfortunately the quantities involved are staggering (the world could emit a mass of CO2 in the 21st century on par with the mass of water in Lake Michigan.) About the only scheme I can imagine that might do it cheaply would be large scale use of nuclear explosives to vaporize/disperse/recondense many gigatons of olivine into microscopic particles small enough to quickly react with seawater. This scheme has several obvious problems.

Paul: This is a sincere question. [...] If there is always equilibrium how can the earth warm or cool at all?

Um, it can cool or warm by being at a different temperature. Why do you imagine that the surface temperature is uniquely determined by the rate at which radiation escapes from the planet, and not by anything else (such as, the resistance of the atmosphere sitting above the surface to the flow of thermal energy)?

Engineer-Poet said at February 18, 2007 6:13 AM:

I think the problem is that this premise:

If there is always equilibrium...
... is currently false.  There is no equilibrium in the sense the author means.

Insolation - radiation = storage.  Storage equals heat capacity times rate of change.  There are some mighty big thermal buffers on Earth, and the biggest is the oceans.  These buffers are now absorbing a net heat imbalance of about 0.85 W/m^2.  We won't achieve equilibrium again until the temperature has risen enough to boost radiation by that much... and if the warming itself releases methane and other GHG's, the point of equibrium will have moved even further upward.

David Mathews said at February 18, 2007 6:26 AM:

Hello Engineer-Poet,

FYI: Mr. Mathews is a doomer troll over at The Oil Drum, and may not have an account there for much longer.

Odd that I would meet you here, Engineer-Poet. At least you noticed my presence on The Oil Drum. I haven't noticed your presence there. Maybe you should write in a more compelling manner ...

Anyhow, Engineer Poet, the truth is harsh and unpleasant and certainly unpopular. No one wants to hear that they are suffering from terminal cancer or AIDS but doctors have no choice but to speak honestly to their patients.

Homo sapiens are suffering from a terminal illness which is a combination of several illnesses: Overpopulation, overconsumption, pollution, resource depletion, environmental degradation, perpetual warfare and climate change. The outlook for humankind is bleak because the species appears intent upon suicide.

How else to explain all these thousands of nuclear bombs stockpiled by the world's military powers?

Technology cannot save humankind from extinction. Technology is accelerating humankind along the path to certain extinction.

Those who believe otherwise are either deluded or lying. Ray Kurzweil might dream of immortality but he isn't immortal. Humankind might dream of conquering space but that is never going to happen.

Technology-introxication makes people believe that humans have attained Divine powers. But Homo sapiens are just a primate, nothing more and nothing less. Humankind's violence and destructiveness will certainly doom humankind to extinction.

Randall Parker said at February 18, 2007 10:20 AM:

David Mathews,

You are mistaken, Randall. What I had specifically in mind was the modification of the *personal* climate which is used by humans specifically as a means of escaping any need to adapt to the environment. For that reason, (for example) Americans rely on heaters in the North and air conditioners in the South. None of the other animals utilize these tools to avoid adapting to their own local climate.

Beavers and bears modify their personal climate and so do many other species. Beavers dam up creeks and create living quarters. Bears create chambers to hibernate in that reduce their exposure to outside temperatures. Prairie dogs and other species create underground dens. Still other species create living quarters that protect them from extremes of temperature, rain, and predators.

While I'm at it: Other species create tools too.

David Mathews said at February 18, 2007 10:38 AM:

Hello Randall Parker,

Beavers and bears modify their personal climate and so do many other species. Beavers dam up creeks and create living quarters. Bears create chambers to hibernate in that reduce their exposure to outside temperatures. Prairie dogs and other species create underground dens. Still other species create living quarters that protect them from extremes of temperature, rain, and predators.

We are here comparing apples with oranges. There is a distinct difference between the beaver's impact upon a creek and humankind's destruction of said creek. There is a distinct difference between a bear's chamber and an obese Americans 6000 sq. foot house heated by natural gas and cooled by air conditioning.

The beavers, bears, prarie dogs and all the other animals behave in an environmentally friendly fashion. Humans, on the other hand, handle the entire globe as if the Earth was created to serve as humankind's own special sewer.

There is another difference too: The animals are all, essentially, solar powered. Humans, on the other hand, rely upon polluting and quickly depleting fossil fuel resources. Needless to say, the sun has remained a reliable source of power for over four billion years. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, won't last for a thousand years.

What happens when the fossil fuels runs out? Humans are going to suffer an apocalypse.

What happens when the climate changes dramatically? Humans are going to suffer an apocalypse.

What happens when the Earth has nine billion humans but food enough only for eight billion? Humans are going to suffer an apocalypse.

What happens the next time a nuclear bomb explodes in anger? Humans are going to suffer an apocalypse.

You see, there are plenty of ways to die ... so the odds are against humankind's survival. Technological civilization is already as-good-as-dead because it is eroding away under our own feet.

Humankind values technology, luxury and comfort over the long-term surival of the species. For that reason extinction has become inevitable.

Too bad for humankind, but a blessing for Nature.

Engineer-Poet said at February 18, 2007 1:01 PM:
Odd that I would meet you here, Engineer-Poet.
It seems odd to you because you don't see what's right in front of you.
At least you noticed my presence on The Oil Drum. I haven't noticed your presence there.
Because you didn't look at the right sidebar, maybe?  My most comprehensive analysis of energy issues to date was published there not even 3 months ago.

I can see why you'd want to ignore it, though.  The analysis disproves your assertions.

the truth is harsh and unpleasant and certainly unpopular.
Indeed, the fact that the USA needs to move our transport systems away from burning petroleum meets great resistance and denial.  This is true even when speaking to people who believe that the Islamic countries are using oil money to finance terrorism.  They don't want to think about it; electric cars are for lefties and Greens!

Your claims, however, do not resemble truth in the least.  We're not running out of energy.  Total human energy use is ~400 quads/year (raw input), but wind power alone can supply over 2000 quads/year (electric output, equivalent to about 6000 quads of fuel).  The Sun supplies 400 quads of energy to the Earth in about 40 minutes.  The sunlight falling on a 1/5 acre lot in mid-Kansas (about 1550 kWh/m^2/yr), converted to energy at 31% efficiency, would supply all the energy needs for a family of 4 at the average US level of consumption (and that doesn't include the waste heat from the converters).  That includes industrial energy too.

I don't expect this recitation of facts to affect your millenialist religious convictions one whit, but the contrast is important for other readers.

The outlook for humankind is bleak because the species appears intent upon suicide.

How else to explain all these thousands of nuclear bombs stockpiled by the world's military powers?
How do you explain the fact that those stockpiles not only were not used, they have been seriously reduced?
Those who believe otherwise are either deluded or lying.
I have to give this to you; you are nothing if not ironic.

David Mathews said at February 18, 2007 1:16 PM:

Hello Engineer-Poet,

You have written for The Oil Drum? That's remarkable. I pay close attention to the website but I must have overlooked your contributions. I suspect that is because said contributions did not impress me so very much.

And now I have stumbled upon your comments here and again they do not impress me in the least. Do you sense any sort of pattern here?

Engineer-Poet (if that is your name, God bless your mother!), I believe that you are a very religious person:

You have faith in the techno-God and hope for techno-salvation.

Needless to say, the techno-religion does not appeal to me. I observe the Earth and notice that the techno-religion has already destroyed much of life and polluted all of the rest. The techno-God has transformed living land into desolate lifeless asphalt wasteland.

The techno-God isn't going to save humankind. The techno-God will drive humankind to extinction. Not today, not tomorrow, but ultimately.

You quote:

Your claims, however, do not resemble truth in the least. We're not running out of energy. Total human energy use is ~400 quads/year (raw input), but wind power alone can supply over 2000 quads/year (electric output, equivalent to about 6000 quads of fuel). The Sun supplies 400 quads of energy to the Earth in about 40 minutes. The sunlight falling on a 1/5 acre lot in mid-Kansas (about 1550 kWh/m^2/yr), converted to energy at 31% efficiency, would supply all the energy needs for a family of 4 at the average US level of consumption (and that doesn't include the waste heat from the converters). That includes industrial energy too.

I say: You are approaching this problem from a nationalistic sense and yet are still very wrong in your expectations. To begin with: There are 6.5 billion humans on this Earth and a tremendous number of these are impoverished and deprived and dying. Secondarily: If these alternative techniques could supply America's power needs undoubtedly they would be doing so already. Only an insane business person would allow the Muslims to collect $billions in profit while he/she could become wealthy instead in Kansas.

Americans are addicted to oil and electricity. The future that you dream about is a hallucination derived from the oil drug. The future that you dream of will never come. Humankind is going to get an apocalypse instead.

K said at February 18, 2007 3:27 PM:

Paul D. and E-p:

We begin with my question, followed by Paul's reply.

' If there is always equilibrium how can the earth warm or cool at all?'

Um, it can cool or warm by being at a different temperature. Why do you imagine that the surface temperature is uniquely determined by the rate at which radiation escapes from the planet, and not by anything else (such as, the resistance of the atmosphere sitting above the surface to the flow of thermal energy)?

Paul, I never imagined 'that the surface temperature....... etc.' I never wrote it and I never implied it. Frankly I am puzzled by your reply.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
E-P. I found your reply a little unclear because I couldn't tell if you thought it was me who said there was always equilibrium or Paul. It was Paul.

What I said was that CO2 was known to reduce heat radiated into space. And Paul disputed that explicitly.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Engineer-Poet said at February 18, 2007 3:41 PM:

If that's what Paul meant (and it's certainly what he said), he's grossly mistaken.

Paul Dietz said at February 18, 2007 4:35 PM:

If that's what Paul meant (and it's certainly what he said), he's grossly mistaken.

Please explain. I was not claiming the earth would be in equilibrium, but considering that state (averaged over time) is useful for understanding global warming. Here, 'equilibrium' would mean the average steady state after the transients from adding CO2 had died out; it does not mean 'thermodynamic equilibrium'.

Bob Badour said at February 18, 2007 5:13 PM:

David,

Malthus was wrong then. He is wrong now, and he will continue to be wrong in the future.

David Mathews said at February 18, 2007 5:28 PM:

Hello Bob,

> Malthus was wrong then. He is wrong now, and he will continue to be wrong in the future.

You are a man of faith. A man of tremendous faith.

We are going to have 9,000,000,000 humans on this planet within fifty years. I suppose that Malthus will receive his ultimate test at that time.

If Malthus was wrong, good; but is Malthus turns out to be right the scale of human suffering will be immense, awesome, apocalyptic.

Are you prepared to watch billions of humans die if your faith in technology proves to be wrong?

David Mathews said at February 18, 2007 5:29 PM:

Hello Engineer (not a) Poet:

> If that's what Paul meant (and it's certainly what he said), he's grossly mistaken.

I noticed that you posted on The Oil Drum today. I can see why I have failed to notice your existence in the past.

Those who have little to say might as well say nothing.

Randall Parker said at February 18, 2007 5:36 PM:

Bob,

Not so fast. As UC Davis economics professor Gregory Johnson correctly argues, Africa is caught in a Malthusian trap. I'd say Yemen (about 8 babies per woman) is too. Maybe some other countries are as well. Afghanistan?

As I've previously argued, the rest of the human race will eventually return to the Malthusian trap too if natural selection is allowed to select for higher female fertility in humans. This selective pressure is currently at work around the world. It is going to eventually reverse the decline in fertility unless governments mandate offspring genetic engineering to reduce the instinct to reproduce.

The development of rejuvenation therapies will accelerate the development of a world wide Malthusian trap because it will restore fertility to billions of older women. Again, we can prevent the world wide Malthusian trap. But I am skeptical that popularly elected democratic governments will make the moves necessary to do so. Voters will be governed by their own instincts and democratically elected governments probably won't challenge the popular will on reproduction.

David Mathews said at February 18, 2007 7:43 PM:

Where is (I'm an) Engineer (not a) Poet?

I was hoping to have a little argument with him about the future of humankind here but he seems to have stopped talking.

I would like to know why he feels so confident about the future of humankind, and what sorts of technologies he imagines will save humankind from the Peak Oil Malthusian trap?

I would also appreciate a description of the world (as he sees it) circa 2107 A.D.

If he has some sort of rosy picture of humankind's future I'd love to hear it.

Thanks.

Engineer-Poet said at February 18, 2007 8:17 PM:

Post-clarification, the comment about equilibrium is certainly correct.  It might help to be more clear the next time. ^_-

Bob Badour said at February 19, 2007 5:28 AM:

"Those who have little to say might as well say nothing."

Why do you keep posting, then?

David Mathews said at February 19, 2007 5:33 AM:

Hello Bob,

Good question. Why do you?

All I can say for certain is that humans have made a terrible mess of this Earth and for that reason humans will pay a terrible price. Technology will not serve as humankind's "Get Out of Jail Free" card, there is an apocalypse coming and the scale of suffering is truly immense. Civilization is a temporary thing, technology will fail, scientific knowledge will become forgotten, and ultimately the Homo sapiens will become extinct and leave a legacy of only fossils in the sedimentary rocks.

Larry said at February 19, 2007 5:47 AM:

David Matthews,

You seem to think that animals don't choose to alter their person space with modern technology ... the reality is that they don't have the capability. I submit to you that if they could, they would. My dog loves to lay on her manufactured pad next to a man-made heater in the winter. She chooses to sleep there rather than outside in the non-modified cold.

Human beings are part of nature. We're not a plague.

David Mathews said at February 19, 2007 7:01 AM:

Hello Larry,

Instincts prevent animals from behaving like suicidal fools. Homo sapiens are a primate which have lost its instincts. Therefore our behaviors serve to drive our species (and most of Nature) to extinction.

Humans are not a plague. Humans are something much worse than a plague.

Homo sapiens are a biological global catastrophe whose damage to Nature is comparable to as asteroid impact.

Humans are also a self-extinguishing fire: Homo sapiens will certainly go extinct. That's the end of the human story. A tragedy for humankind but a blessing for Nature and a long-awaited relief for God Himself.

Paul Dietz said at February 19, 2007 8:18 AM:

Instincts prevent animals from behaving like suicidal fools.

This is obviously false, except insofar as it is meaningless ('fools'?). Animals by the billions engage in actions that lead to their deaths, often without reproducing.

Anyway, the whole debate is silly, conflating evolutionary biology with human social policy. Entirely different categories, folks.

David Mathews said at February 19, 2007 8:45 AM:

Hello Paul,

What is silly is that certain humans imagine that technology and human wit are enough to exempt our species from the harshness of evolutionary biology.

These animals have survived and prospered on the Earth for millions of years. Human civilization and human technology will not survive for even 1% of that time.

Homo sapiens are a primate species with certain suicidal tendencies which is currently driving itself and many other species to extinction by virtue of the species' destructive, world-polluting habits.

Technology won't save humankind. The techno-God is dying. Civilization will collapse. Science will fail. Humankind will suffer its own self-generated apocalypse.

So much for humankind. But Nature will survive.

Loki on the run said at February 19, 2007 11:07 AM:
We are here comparing apples with oranges. There is a distinct difference between the beaver's impact upon a creek and humankind's destruction of said creek. There is a distinct difference between a bear's chamber and an obese Americans 6000 sq. foot house heated by natural gas and cooled by air conditioning.

The beavers, bears, prarie dogs and all the other animals behave in an environmentally friendly fashion.

A luddite who does not recognize the difference between environmentally constrained and environmentally friendly is not really worth debating.

Bob Badour said at February 19, 2007 4:59 PM:

"All I can say for certain is that humans have made a terrible mess of this Earth and for that reason humans will pay a terrible price."

Bullshit. You can assert absurd nonsense all you want, but that won't make a thing you say true, relevant or interesting.

Randall Parker said at February 19, 2007 6:16 PM:

David Mathews states a myth:

Homo sapiens are a primate which have lost its instincts.

Women who use IVF to have babies are women who are acting on a strong instinct to reproduce.

Men who join gangs and kill are acting on strong instincts.

People who try to make large amounts of money and gain fame are acting on instincts to acquire and to have high status. People who run for elected offices are pursuing status and power. These are instinctive drives.

The areas of the brain that carry out higher reasoning have not escaped from instinctive drives. More often than not the higher reasoning areas get used to satisfy deeply instinctual desires.

To those who are trading insults: You are satisfying your instinctive desires to strike out at enemies. But you are not doing anything productive.

David Mathews said at February 19, 2007 7:41 PM:

Hello Loki,

> A luddite who does not recognize the difference between environmentally constrained and environmentally friendly is not really worth debating.

I am not particularly concerned about satisfying your criteria, Loki. I don't recognize any difference. All I can see is a world in which humankind has tranformed the living Earth into humankind's desolate sewer.

Hello Bob,

> You can assert absurd nonsense all you want, but that won't make a thing you say true, relevant or interesting.

Are you claiming that the Earth has become a better place because of humankind's ecological destruction, pollution, and eradication of species?

David Mathews said at February 19, 2007 7:46 PM:

Hello Randall,

> These are instinctive drives.

There are substantial differences between instinctive drives and the animals whose lifestyles and behaviors are dictated by instincts.

Homo sapiens are an animal but we are unlike any other animal that has ever inhabited the Earth.

The differences which separate humankind from the other animals have allowed our species to conquer the Earth and walk on the moon, but they are also inevitably leading to humankind's extinction. Such is the price that humankind will pay for its excesses, wastefulness, violent destructiveness, and foolishness.

Randall Parker said at February 19, 2007 10:11 PM:

David Mathews,

Enough with the insults. Enough with trying to digress off onto Islam and other topics way off thread. This is a warning from the guy who can delete posts.

Randall Parker said at February 20, 2007 7:01 PM:

I've ended the exchange between E-P, Bob, and David Mathews. Just deleted several posts.

Engineer-Poet said at February 20, 2007 7:55 PM:

FYI:  Dave Mathews has been banned from The Oil Drum.  The sudden lack of trolling was immediately obvious, and later the staff confirmed it.

Bob Jenkins said at February 28, 2007 3:13 PM:

If global warming is caused by humans, then the underlying cause is that we have a whole lot of humans on this planet. I vote that it's morally acceptable to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying cause.

mathew said at April 26, 2009 12:01 AM:

Do we have a greater moral obligation to stop climate change if the change is caused by human activity than if it is caused by natural processes?
I think yes,we should do something.

Kevin said at October 13, 2009 10:37 AM:

CO2 warming is one thing. Increasing acidity of the oceans by CO2 is another. We are making dangerous chemical changes to oceans and their ecosystems. If they collapse, well, I think us puny land based humans might have a miserable time of it...

brett said at November 21, 2009 6:45 AM:

cosmic rays do not make sense to me since 'global dimming' has been confirmed. The pollutants in the atmosphere have already caused significant solar dimming since the 1950s. check out the BBC's article on global dimming at www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/dimming_trans.shtml

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