September 23, 2007
On The Non-Inevitability Of Global Warming

An Associated Press story quotes a scientist who claims ocean rise due to global warming is inevitable.

Few of the more than two dozen climate experts interviewed disagree with the one-meter projection. Some believe it could happen in 50 years, others say 100, and still others say 150.

Sea level rise is "the thing that I'm most concerned about as a scientist," says Benjamin Santer, a climate physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

"We're going to get a meter and there's nothing we can do about it," said University of Victoria climatologist Andrew Weaver, a lead author of the February report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Paris. "It's going to happen no matter what - the question is when."

If you click through to the article you'll see what would get submerged along the US East and Gulf coasts by a 1 meter risk in the level of the ocean. But this claim by Andrew Weaver is a little annoying. We have the capability to put the entire planet into an Ice Age for cheap. There's nothing inevitable about global warming or the melting of glaciers on Greenland and the Antarctic continent.

Using either silicon dioxide or iron dumped in the ocean to produce dimethyl sulfide (DMS) we can make the Earth so cold that we bring on a new ice age. This can be done for a yearly cost of less than the United States wastes to subsidize corn ethanol production. For a few billion dollars per year we can turn much of the planet into an ice cube. For a smaller figure we could cancel out the amount of warming that might be caused by CO2 build-up.

One problem with this scheme: If we want to cancel out the effects of CO2 emissions then we have the problem of not really knowing how much an effect the CO2 is actually having. We do not know what the average global temperature would be in a given year minus the CO2 effect (or minus the effect of nitrous oxide or methane or other gases released by humans into the atmosphere). Still, presumably climate models will get better and in 20 or 30 years climate scientists create realistic simulations of Earth's climate with the ability to measure the effects of human intervention. Or we could just intervene by however much is necessary to ensure sea levels do not rise.

Suppose that the amount of CO2 already released into the air is already enough to raise temperatures at the poles enough to cause lots of water to flow into the oceans and raise water levels and flood low lying regions. Is that outcome so terrible that we should do climate engineering to prevent it from happening?

Should we do climate engineering to prevent the flooding Miami? Should we do climate engineering to prevent massive dislocations of humans in Bangladesh? Should we do climate engineering to prevent lots of high priced choice ocean front property from being destroyed by the waves and tides?

I'm thinking the world is going to run out of oil before some of the more pessimistic projections of carbon dioxide build-up can happen. So if we have a warming problem that'll cost us a lot of choice real estate (though while making colder places more livable and valuable to humans) then we could deal with that transitory trend toward warming by using climate engineering. On the other hand, we could instead opt to make the weather of Northern Europe, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, Minnesota and Maine more livable.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 September 23 11:24 AM  Climate Engineering


Comments
Ranjit Mathoda said at September 23, 2007 3:19 PM:

You may be interested in the perspective of famed physicist Freeman Dyson:

http://www.mathoda.com/archives/125

David Weisman said at September 23, 2007 6:26 PM:

In terms of running out of oil, work on coal liquification is still going forward. When you take into account both the greenhouse gasses of the process itself, and the Co2 produced by using the fuel, it seems to be worse than gasoline. Also, you know all those economists who make fun of the peak oil people? I'm not convinced they are right, but the higher the price, the higher the incentive for using marginal fields, exploring for oil, and developing new technology.

Benford himself only suggests we should study the idea of silicon dioxide in the area where negative consequences are least likely to be harmful. I believe you are the only one already convinced it is certain to work, and not to have major negative consequences.

I think people have already written about the potential problems (discovered in small scale tests, not just imagined) of dumping iron. First you overestimate the effect - when iron is the bottleneck to the growth of certain organisms, adding a little iron makes them grow much faster. Then some other resource becomes the bottleneck, and additional iron has less marginal use. Of course, we don't know where that point will be. We also don't know the effect this will have on other ocean organisms, some of which we use, and others which may directly or indirectly effect greenhouse gasses.

Randall Parker said at September 23, 2007 7:42 PM:

David Weisman,

Coal liquification: Sure, that'll happen once it becomes clear that oil production really has peaked. Yes, coal liquification produces much more CO2. But I'm expecting there won't be enough coal to delay a total liquid fuels peak for all that long. The scenarios about how we have enough coal left to reach into some later century are based on assuming that we continue to use coal at a rate similar to our current rate of consumption. But a shift to coal liquification will burn thru it a lot more quickly.

Also, see my post American Coal Reserves Not So Big and also see my post Limited Hydrocarbons Mean Little Global Warming? for information on limits to coal reserves.

Negative consequences to climate engineering: Likely there will be some. For instance, cooling will shorten growing seasons. But my point is that this scientist is wrong to argue that the melting is inevitable. But will the negative consequences outweigh the positive consequences? There's not a single answer to that question because one has to add "for who?" to the end of such questions.

Bottlenecks: Oliver Wingenter thinks only a small part of the total ocean is needed for the iron/DMS approach. He's already got the SOFeX data to demonstrate this.

David Weisman said at September 24, 2007 4:19 PM:

Even peak oil is not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt - you should have a few debates with the people who feel the concept is a figment of the imagination of liberals who don't understand capitalism. I side with you, but would not base an argument on the unstated assumption.

Peak coal before global warming floods coastal cities and causes serious food shortages in many places is highly speculative. Nobody has found more coal because nobody is looking for it. Coal is dirt cheap. When the price goes up we will see what exploration and research on extraction technologies can do. You don't even mention China and their coal reserves.

Randall Parker said at September 24, 2007 6:49 PM:

David Weisman,

First off, I stated the assumption about the world running out of oil and even provided a link to an article about oil production trends.

In the 1980s and 1990s the only times when oil production dipped or stopped growing was when recessions lowered demand and prices. We are really in an unprecedented situation. Oil production is not rising after several years of rising prices. The price of oil has been rising since 1998. At first the industry was reluctant to invest in new production once oil recovered to $20 per barrel. Back in those more naive days some US Senators (2001, 2002) were calling for release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to get prices back down (which is why they worked as Senators rather than Wall Street traders). Well, oil has quadrupled in price since 2001. The price keeps going up. Production has remained flat the last couple of years.

This doesn't fit the model of some economists who claim there's nothing to worry about. It does fit the models of the Peak Oilers.

At some point these high prices might lead to lower prices just because of a big shift toward more fuel efficient cars and capital equipment. Surely the world economy is already growing faster than oil consumption (since oil consumption isn't rising). I'd like to know whether the world economy is growing faster than total fossil fuels consumption measured in BTUs. Hmmmm.... Good question for The Oil Drum bloggers.

David Friedman said at September 29, 2007 11:18 PM:

"Peak coal before global warming floods coastal cities and causes serious food shortages in many places is highly speculative."

The people quoted at the beginning of the article are talking about a rise of a meter; the current IPCC estimates are about half of that. Neither half a meter nor a meter is going to flood very much in the way of coastal cities, especially if it happens over the next 93 years (IPCC estimate is for the end of the century).

Nor is it clear that global warming will cause food shortages. CO2 is an input to photosynthesis, so increasing it should tend, ceteris paribus, to increase plant growth. Warming will reduce the usability of some parts of the world, increase that of others.

Randall Parker said at September 30, 2007 8:36 AM:

David Friedman,

I see a few (potential) big problems from global warming:

1) Acidification of oceans as CO2 dissolves into oceans. It gets less written about. But it strikes me as potentially more of a problem than the warming.

2) Sea level rise.

3) Shift in rain patterns.

The first problem might lead to large species reductions in the oceans. I do not know enough to say.

The second and third problems are more interesting because they pose ethical problems having to do with unequal impacts. Some would benefit from more rains in their areas. While others would be harmed by less rains in their areas and getting their lands flooded. This happens between countries, religions, ethnicities, etc. This would lead to resentments on a global scale. Even if you could show that the total effect would be a higher GDP for the world those who get flooded and find themselves living in deserts that used to have regular rains would not find the arguments of economists about world GDP to be persuasive.

Looking at a bigger picture, the general trend of scientific advance will be toward the identification and measurement of more external costs. For this reason people in general will find more reasons to be unhappy with the behavior of their fellow human beings.

what the hell are you on about said at March 5, 2008 1:53 AM:

what the hell are you on about? weirdos

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