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Can we engineer a cooler earth?

21 07 08 - 15:30 Can we engineer a cooler earth?




By Gregory M. Lamb




Launch myriad mirrors into space to deflect a fraction of sunlight from reaching Earth. Seed the stratosphere with sulfur or other particles to cut some of the sun's rays. Bioengineer trees to soak up huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air. Scatter unmanned self-powered ships to roam the world's oceans funneling sea spray high in the sky to help form protective clouds.

Thinkers have posed a number of creative ideas on how to protect the planet from global warming. But they've been dismissed by most environmentalists and many in the scientific community as science-fiction whimsy, at best. At worst, critics say, these schemes might have unexpected and potentially disastrous consequences or distract from the effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But today, attitudes show signs of shifting as meaningful efforts by governments to cut emissions have proved elusive. More and more scientists and environmentalists, despite their continuing reservations, are seeing "geo-engineering" projects as a necessary backup plan. In June, the top scientific academies in 13 countries, including the United States, joined in a call for more aggressive action against global warming, including serious consideration of geo-engineering.

At the same time, the Group of Eight leading economic powers meeting in Japan failed to set any near-term goals to reduce emissions. The group's soft, conditional goals for 2050 will be too little, too late, many environmentalists say.

"The reality is that de-carbonization is not happening fast enough," says Jamais Cascio, an environmentalist and futurist in northern California.

The need for geo-engineering is "almost certain," he says.

The attitude among tech-friendly environmentalists, sometimes called "Bright Greens," has been shifting in favor of geo-engineering, Mr. Cascio says. "This is by no means anyone's first choice, but it is better than the alternative," he says, which is unmitigated warming of the planet.

"I think that you'll see quite a few relatively desperate nation-states willing to try something like [geo-engineering] simply to avoid global disaster," Cascio says. Since such efforts are very likely, in his view, the role of environmentalists will be to "make sure we do it in the way that is most responsible," he says.

Opponents remain unpersuaded and point to a litany of potential problems with geo-engineering schemes. Chief among them is that efforts to engineer humanity's way out of the climate challenge are likely to distract from the hard work of mitigation: cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

"To me, that [argument] doesn't make sense," says Samuel Thernstrom, a resident fellow studying public policy and geoengineering at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington. No political leaders have said they would drop emission cuts in favor of geo­engineering, nor do opinion polls indicate the public supports that idea, he says. In fact, Mr. Thernstrom argues, geo-­engineering is more likely to have the opposite effect. If a US president says we've got to start thinking about blocking the sun to cool the earth, "People are going to start taking mitigation [emission cuts] really seriously," he says.

Geo-engineering faces legal hurdles. Would nations or private enterprises undertake the projects? Would an international agreement need to be reached? Might countries work at cross purposes?

"What if India wanted it a couple of degrees colder, and Russia didn't mind it a couple of degrees warmer?" asks Alan Robock, an environmental sciences professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Last spring, Dr. Robock published a paper entitled "20 reasons why geo-engineering may be a bad idea."

Such projects could also have military applications and as such could violate an existing global treaty that bans altering the climate for hostile purposes, he says. If the effects are salutary in one part of the world, but harmful in another, who decides what will be done? Any scheme also could bring with it unintended consequences and hard-to-quantify costs. Seeding the atmosphere with sulfur particles, for example, is likely to turn the sky whiter. "How do you quantify no more blue skies" as a cost, Robock asks. (One compensation: The number of fiery red and yellow sunsets would increase.)

A recent study using computer models showed that putting sun-deflecting mirrors in space would cool the Earth, but wouldn't return it to the way it was before human-generated global warming began.

"Some places get warmer, some places cool down ... some places get wetter, some places get drier," says lead author Dan Lunt, a climate modeler at Britain's University of Bristol. He calls the new climate that would emerge "Sunshade World," an Earth in which CO2 levels remain high but temperatures are moderated. The closest equivalent to that condition last occurred during the Cambrian period about 500 million years ago, the paper says.

The most talked about proposal would send sulfur or other fine particles high into earth's atmosphere using airplanes, balloons, or perhaps even artillery shells to block out a tiny fraction of the sunlight. "The aerosol idea frightens people a lot," Thernstrom says. Sulfur is a pollutant, and studies show it would slightly increase acid rain over the poles. The polar ozone holes would close more slowly, with some ill effects. "But compared to the effects of uncontrolled warming, that's not that big a concern," he says.

Blocking sunlight, adds futurist Cas­cio, "is at best a delay of the worst temperature-related consequences of global warming in order to give us more time for de-carbonization."

Any long-term approach to solving global warming, Thern­strom says, almost certainly will have three aspects: emissions reductions, geoengineering, and steps to adapt to an altered climate. "The question is, 'What is the ratio among those three pieces?' "

Schemes to slightly dim sunlight also wouldn't solve the problem of ocean acidification, caused by airborne CO2 entering seawater. More-acidic oceans would harm coral reefs and upset ocean ecology, with possible far-reaching effects. Ocean acidification is "at least as big" a problem as that of CO2 in the air, Cascio says.

Despite the new buzz around geoengineering, including a recent seminar at AEI, some opponents are adamant. Raymond Pierrehumbert, a professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, has proposed a 10-year moratorium on research into geoengineering, to ensure humanity isn't tempted to try this option.

But a new consensus seems to be forming around the idea of stepping up research, even as differences remain over when, if ever, to deploy such schemes. Robock, who maintains strong reservations, also favors research. "We have to know if it's reasonable or not, how long it might work, what the problems would be, how much it might cost," he says.

The US government now spends between $2 billion and $3 billion on global warming research, and will probably spend more under the next president. If just $100 million of that over five years were spent on geoengineering research, "We would learn an awful lot," Thernstrom says.

"The potential payoff is very large. If mitigation doesn't work, and we have every reason to believe it's not likely to [work] in the short term,... you kind of want to have a Plan B." Used tags: , , ,
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Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?

Saturday 16 July 2011 at 06:07 am Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?


By Pete Spotts


The images are stark: soot-grimed firefighters steering bulldozers or wielding shovels to clear underbrush; curtains of orange flame tracing the contours of summits; aircraft dumping chemicals to slow a fire's progress.

Between Jan. 1 and early July of 2011, slightly more than 38,000 wildfires charred the landscape in the United States at a record pace. So far this year, wildfires have consumed just under 4.9 million acres of forest and grassland, a cumulative expanse the size of New Jersey.

That's 1 million more acres than fires consumed during the same period in 2006, which saw a record 9.9 million acres burned for the entire year.

Beyond the numbers, this year's fires may provide the first large-scale tests of the effectiveness of projects undertaken over the past decade to help forests survive wildfires, several specialists say.

The West's forests are adapted to deal with certain types of wildfires, researchers note. But since the mid-1980s, they add, some of these forests have experienced an increasing number of fires to which they are not well adapted.

Many researchers trace this shift in part to climate change. more

Hybrid Moves Into Housing

Sunday 22 May 2011 at 01:14 am Hybrid Moves Into Housing


By Brenda Krueger Huffman

(Chicago) – Recycling - Check. Conserving energy - Check. Hybrid car - Next car, check. Hybrid home system - What? Yes, it’s here. Hybrid has seamlessly, successfully moved into housing.

Safety Power, Inc. was initially started to provide homes with back up power. The company quickly grew to include renewable energy options and advising commercial and industrial clients with electrical conservation. Recently the company has come full circle and began marketing a new more capable type of renewable energy system for homes.

The award winning firm was voted one of the “Top 5 Sustainable Product Companies in Illinois” and continues to grow its residential client base in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Safety Power also serves larger firms on the national level.

Robert Brazzale, President of Safety Power, a master electrician turned entrepreneur, began Safety Power in 2007. An avid member of Local First Chicago, Rob believes in assisting sustaining local economies with green collar jobs and belongs to many green orientated groups in Chicago and around the country. more

Are electric car makers missing the trick?

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 11:12 am Are electric car makers missing the trick?


by Martin Ott

I believe that electric car makers may be driving us all down the road that may result in the same sort of technology failures that we have seen in the past.
I'm not referring to the Sinclair scooter here but cast your mind back to the débâcle of Betamax v VHS home recording systems. The eventual winner was the technically inferior VHS but the battle was not resolved until innumerable consumers had paid out for worthless Betamax systems. Back in the 70's a similar conflict occurred over audio systems when America fell in love with the 8 track tape system that moved magnetic tape in a loop over the player head at a high speed resulting in a better sound. The world market finally dictated that the audio cassette was the way to go but not until millions of consumers had been lumbered with home and in-car systems that went down the technological cul de sac. more

Wind Turbine Manufacturer Acknowledges SGS´s Contribution towards Successful Project Completion

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 10:57 am by Suresh Varma

The Theni Wind Farm project was developed by CLP India Pvt. Ltd., one of the major wind farm project developers in India. Located in the south western part of Tamilnadu, a southern state of the country, the facility consists of 60 Vestas V82 geared wind turbines. As recognition of its contribution towards the successful execution of this wind power project SGS received Vestas award.

Each turbine at the wind farm has a capacity of 1.65 MW IEC Class IIB machine with a blade diameter of 82 m. After a six-month long completion period, the Theni Wind Farm was officially opened in May, 2010.

Acting as contract engineer during project execution, SGS was responsible for ensuring that all activities were carried out at the site by the contractor in line with the final agreement. In doing so, SGS supervised the quality of construction works, the fulfillment of the technical parameters and kept the project within the scheduled time and contracted price. more

E.ON uses PPC's Broadband Powerline technology in smart grid project

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 10:37 am E.ON uses PPC's Broadband Powerline technology in smart grid project

by Power Plus Communications

Mannheim - Power Plus Communications AG (PPC), the leading provider of Broadband Powerline Communication systems (BPL) for smart grids has taken on a key role within an E.ON smart grid project to facilitate an extension of Cisco's Connected Grid Solution.

E.ON Westfalen Weser AG is currently trialing smart grid technology within its network of 1.3 million inhabitants and PPC's proven medium voltage BPL solution has connected substations in the project using the existing power grid.

Using BPL technology, standard compliant and IP-based data transfer rates of 5-30 Mbit/s can easily be achieved via the medium voltage cable itself. Within E.ON’s smart grid project, PPC's medium voltage technology facilitated the extension of Cisco's Connected Grid Solution. The Cisco smart grid Router and Switches used in the project are highly compatible with BPL networks, providing a real cost advantage over fiber optic networks – which can be much more expensive where cables are not pre-existing.

By combining their technology at Westfalen Weser, PPC and Cisco have ensured the evolution of fast and efficient smart grids which are controlled on an IP basis. This increases the reliability of the power grid, fulfills regulations and drives down costs. At the same time this modern smart grids communications technology makes it possible to effectively integrate renewable energy into the grid. more

MIT Infrastructure "Life Cycle" Study is Progress Both Left & Right Can Embrace - Part 2, Fiscal Responsibility

Saturday 19 February 2011 at 09:02 am By Brenda Krueger Huffman


Chicago – Perhaps moving to the center is where we all need to be politically on the environment and effective spending compatibility. Not all green technology is crazy, and not all business profit or government expenditure is evil.

Even if you do not believe in man caused climate change, we can all agree leaving a cleaner planet and a more fiscally responsible government for the next generation is preferable to not doing so.

Perhaps green technology can be cost effective, and government fiscal responsibility may realistically include affordable green initiatives. Honest “life cycle analysis” and “life cycle cost analysis” study considerations should be a political compromise starting point both the left and the right can embrace. more

Global warming: Impact of receding snow and ice surprises scientists

Thursday 27 January 2011 at 11:05 am Global warming: Impact of receding snow and ice surprises scientists

By Pete Spotts


Washington - A long-term retreat in snow and ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere is weakening the ability of these seasonal cloaks of white to reflect sunlight back into space and cool global climate, according to a study published this week.

Indeed, over the past 30 years, the cooling effect from this so-called cryosphere – essentially areas covered by snow and ice at least part of the year – appears to have weakened at more than twice the pace projected by global climate models, the research team conducting the work estimates.

The study, which appeared online Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience, represents a first cut at trying to calculate from direct measurements the impact of climate change on the Northern Hemisphere's cryosphere. The study was conducted by a team of federal and university scientists who examined data gathered between 1979 and 2008. more

EPA presents plan on greenhouse gases

Wednesday 05 January 2011 at 10:38 pm By Mark Clayton


Washington - Setting the stage for a New Year battle royal between Congress and the White House over greenhouse gas emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency Thursday laid out a timetable for the nation's largest carbon emitters – power plants and refineries – to begin curbing those pollutants.

Republicans have said all year that they plan to pull out all the stops to keep the EPA from phasing in greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations beginning in 2011, saying they would damage the energy industry, raise prices, and cost jobs.

Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he opposes the regulations on greenhouse gases and indicated he would lead efforts to revoke EPA regulations in the next Congress. The new regulations, he says, will likely lead to the shut down of coal-fired power plants.

"To protect jobs and fortify our energy security, we should be working to bring more power online, not shutting plants down," Mr. Upton said in a statement. "We are woefully unprepared to meet our nation's growing energy demands, yet this administration's 'none of the above' energy policy will do nothing but cost jobs, make energy more expensive, and increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy."

Environmentalists lauded the EPA's move. more

Supreme Court takes global warming case that targets power companies

Monday 13 December 2010 at 03:21 am By Warren Richey,


Washington - The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to examine a major environmental lawsuit that seeks to force six electric power companies to cap and reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions to fight global warming.

The lawsuit - filed in 2004 by eight states, the City of New York, and three land trusts - targets what it claims are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States and among the largest in the world.

It seeks a judicial order declaring that the fossil-fueled power plants are a "public nuisance." It also seeks a judicial order capping the plants' greenhouse gas emissions and requiring the plants to adopt a schedule of reduced emissions in future years. more

Outside Cancun climate conference, Caribbean Sea testifies to global warming

Monday 13 December 2010 at 03:09 am By Ezra Fieser,


Bayahibe, Dominican Republic - This summer's extreme heat may seem like a distant memory as winter approaches the United States.

But the summer that broke heat records across the Northern Hemisphere is still being felt below the surface of the Caribbean Sea: 2010 will likely be one of the most deadly years on record for coral reefs.

If diplomats attending the two-week global climate change talks that opened Monday in Cancun, Mexico, want more evidence of the negative and potentially devastating affects of warming temperatures, they need look no further than the blue sea outside their hotels. Researchers say that throughout the Caribbean coral reefs are "bleaching," a condition that occurs when they are under extreme stress due to warmer-than-normal sea temperatures. more