Tuesday, 10 December 2013

"Geoengineering's" profile rising (rapidly)

I note with a mixture of admiration, alarm and jealousy that David Keith got to speak on The Colbert Report last night. Google it, if you don't believe me. I'm not sure how it went to be honest. David's a smart guy but I suspect that this was a calculated risk and I don't know if it paid off - I can't currently bear to watch it, I'll check it out at some point. Back in academia climate engineering appears to be heading for the mainstream with several talks at AGU2013 speaking directly to the issue. I think this is a good thing, but I'm not completely sure. It's odd that the breaking of taboo fills me with some form of dread - academics can, on occasion, be very inward looking. 

GC11C-1014. A Multi-Model Examination of Climate Extremes in an Idealized Geoengineering Experiment
Charles Curry; Jana Sillmann; David Bronaugh

GC11D-1025. Solar Geoengineering: Questioning the “Winners and Losers” Paradigm (Invited)
Kate Ricke

GC21F-05. New Results from the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP)
Alan Robock; Ben Kravitz 

GC33A-1089. Impacts on Chinese Agriculture of Geoengineering and Smoke from Fires Ignited by Nuclear War
Lili Xia; Alan Robock

GC33C-1131. Microbially mediated carbon mineralization: Geoengineering a carbon-neutral mine 
Ian M. Power; Jenine McCutcheon; Anna L. Harrison; Siobhan A. Wilson; Gregory M. Dipple; Gordon Southam

In general I am not having that great a time at the moment; I've been overcome with melancholy. I suspect Christmas will do me good and provide me with a chance to relax and recover from what has been a pretty intense term.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Last, for now, in a series of media work on CE

I've not listened to the audio yet, but the transcript is how I remember the discussion going. Unlike the Indy article, I think I was able to capture some of the nuances about research and deployment.


The comments below the article (I know, I probably shouldn't read them) imply people still don't quite get that. I confess that I worry the research-deployment differentiation is at best difficult to convey and at worst an unrealistic personal construct - some sort of intellectual comfort blanket, or rose-coloured glasses, that allows me to rationalise my desire to research. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Independent on Sunday article

New article on CE/GE in the Independent on Sunday today. Framing is OK (except for playing God/ saving/destroying planet stuff) although my comments wholly negative on GE/CE which don't really capture the nuances of my position. It is hard to distinguish research from deployment, and there is no clear blue water either, but I think I was pretty clear on the need for research during discussions with Memphis (the author). It was quite an interesting interview, one of a number I've done in the last week or two. It irkes me slightly that, having battled to develop a clear personal framing, newspapers produce the most sensationalist of headlines sometimes. I guess that's the nature of the beast...


Monday, 14 October 2013

Article in the Sun online

Is here: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/5201259/best-ways-to-tackle-climate-change.html

I can't quote the piece in its entirety (and apologies it is behind the Sun's paywall) but, before anyone worries about the title (and selling the idea of geoengineering), here's what I wrote in summary...

"Using solar radiation management would be very difficult politically. 

Which country should control the technology, or decide where the aerosols should be released? 

Which country gets to decide how cold it is, and what happens if there are unintended consequences? 

If weather patterns are changed, there could be severe fallout for countries which are suddenly getting a lot more rain than usual - or, more likely, a lot less. 

None of these techniques are perfect and none should be considered a silver bullet.  None have been tested on a large enough scale to be certain they would work. They should be considered no better than an insurance policy. 

They might help out if your house catches fire, but it would be better to stop it catching fire in the first place. 

Of course, there is a better option. Stop pumping as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Almost all climate scientists believe that we have very little time to make this change before we will have to either adapt to climate change or engineer a solution. "

I also talked about CDR in very general terms, and the editor did a bit of scene setting. 

It was difficult to write and the editor and I went back and forth on the wording a lot but I hope it was worth it. My aim was to open up the debate and be as frank as possible without, in any way, advocating any other choice than conventional mitigation. I guess some (including Jack Stilgoe) would legitimately ask if this was normalisation. I hope not... 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Guardian piece

So, the Guardian piece was (I think) relatively well received. I've had extremely nice emails from colleagues, mostly around the idea that it was pleasing to see something thoughtful and balanced about climate engineering, which is nice. Some of the comments on the article were a bit odd, some were critical but one stood out -  they made the observation that the term 'climate engineering' was disingenuous. What they actually wrote was:

'Nice switch from "geoengineering" to "climate engineering". Makes it sound much more soft and cuddly.'
I'd probably not have paid too much attention to that but for the fact that (independent of the Guardian piece) my good friend Duncan McLaren (Friends of the Earth & Lancaster University) had made the same point at a meeting yesterday. Now, when Duncan speaks, I listen. He's a pretty serious thinker on this stuff and, whilst we don't always agree, his observations certainly affect me. He pointed out that there was some evidence 'climate engineering' was a term people were more comfortable with (he did not see that as a positive, neither do I). I chose to use climate engineering as I think it most accurately reflects the thing it is trying to describe. Geoengineering, to many, is building dams and culverts. Climate engineering is exactly what it says it is - the engineering of a large scale climate (natural) system. I need to ask Duncan where the evidence for his assertion is - I'm quite sure he has some. My feeling would be that the juxtaposition of something natural like 'climate' and the clearly anthropocentric term like 'engineering' (read mastery is some circumstances) is striking. Maybe I'm wrong on this one. Time will tell.

Friday, 27 September 2013

You can't have it both ways?

So, in case you've been under a rock all week the IPCC have released their fifth report. For the first time, the summary included a paragraph on climate engineering. Josh Horton at geoengineeringpolitics provides (as always) a decent and balanced piece with context here. I agree with Josh that the paragraph is neither supportive nor overly dismissive. The paragraph's inclusion has prompted a strong negative response from those worried about legitimising 'geoengineering' (really SRM and ocean fertilization) including predictable statements from both Clive Hamilton and etc group. They are pretty consistent with their opposition to SRM, and they have a right to be. Interestingly, Jack Stilgoe has waded into this space with a piece in the Guardian. That, in of itself is not particularly unusual - Jack is a salient commentator who has been working with (sometimes on) SPICE and with others thinking about climate engineering for some time. However, his position highlights a clear tension within the social scientist fraternity. Jack, and others, have spent the last years insisting that we engage with publics and broaden the debate. I think he's right. So, then, how is the inclusion of climate engineering (especially so heavily caveated) not addressing that aim? Surely the IPCC should be talking about climate engineering? I'm minded to agree that their cursory discussion in the SPM (Summary for Policy Makers, in case like me you had to look it up) is not useful or really appropriate BUT I also think that there is a danger here that social scientists aren't practising what they preach. Suddenly, discussion is promoting legitimacy. How to engage then? Surely not by leading the public to their world view? That's clearly profoundly unethical. I'm afraid that, if it is to be discussed openly, then bodies like the IPCC will (and should) be charged with presenting it.

To put it another way, how do you discuss something this controversial with stakeholders (i.e. everyone) without bias. My personal framing (thanks in part to Phil MacNaughten and Jack for encouraging me to think this way) is agnosticism (see various different previous posts). This is not a rhetorical trick - as a scientist and in the absence of evidence I must be agnostic. It is not, however, the complete picture. My instincts are to be alarmed by large-scale intervention because of unintended consequences, attribution and selfishness (and/or greed). But, you cannot have it both ways, right? If the public are engaged and informed and, fairly and without leading, come to the conclusion that climate engineering is a legitimate course of action to consider, then I'm afraid that is an outcome that those opposed to climate engineering have to accept. It appears to me that Jack's piece counters his position that rational debate is the most desirable outcome. In a quickly released statement, etc group have condemned the inclusion and got to the nub of the debate with this sentence....'The actual sentences about geoengineering in the IPCC report matter less than the fact that they are there at all.' I'm sorry, but that is also the problem I have with both Jack's piece (whom I almost always agree with) and etc's stance. If the IPCC had been really scathing of climate engineering neither would, I suspect, have complained. Therefore it is the content of the paragraph that has perturbed them. A careful look at the paragraph suggests it is neither encouraging nor positive, rather simply capturing a (slightly outdated) conventional wisdom. I don't think you can object to discussion around climate engineering unless you are vehemently opposed to all research and deployment as an ideology. In that sense, etc group are entirely consistent. I'm not sure Jack, in this instance, can say the same. I feel similarly confused about Clive Hamilton's stance - his two most recent books 'Requiem for a Species' and 'Earthmasters' feel similarly juxtaposed.

Monday, 8 July 2013

screams from no-mans-land

This will probably be a fairly short post as, unlike most entries, I don't really have a specific point to make. The title is me musing on the polemic that surrounds climate engineering, and the fact that it is amplifying all the time. The headline is, of course, a note to Michael Mann's book, titled 'The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Line'. I can honestly say I am not surprised by the lengths some will go to to discredit scientists, the following being one of a number of extreme examples from a distant scientific field.


Without trying to belittle those who have been on a real front line (OK, I admit the choice of analogy does make me squirm a bit Prof. Mann), I suspect this is how it feels to be vilified by one end of the spectrum in the AGW 'debate'. That got me thinking about climate engineering and those who research it. The point about the 'trenches' argument is that it is conventional, two adversarial groups squaring off (maybe the house of commons is a better analogy). Michael Mann no doubt has his compadres and must (I hope) take solace in their support. Climate engineering researchers however, you could argue, have it even worse. We are stuck, screaming, in no-mans-land (to push the analogy to breaking point) and taking fire from both sides. In fact, those with whom we typically identify are often more hostile that those with whom we normally vehemently disagree.

So, what now? Crawl back to the trenches and hope never to visit no-mans-land again, or stay there and face the flak.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Climate fatalism discussion

Fun discussion on Huffington Post Live channel yesterday, with three interesting and quite different climate activists. http://t.co/2bDiLBwyiC

Comments below amusing/flattering...!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Another polemic from the deep greens...

Worryingly inaccurate article from ecowatch. Problems as follows:
1. The 'Nature' framing is really misleading, ignore Keeling at your peril.
2. Ken Caldeira is very opposed to AMEG (they must know this)...
3. Their dissonance is alarming - climate change is profoundly serious and man-made BUT don't even think about potentially unpalatable solutions?
That said, I don't disagree with their alarm on a rush towards deployment! Interestingly, in a meeting with Peter Wadhams this week all he was calling for was urgent upscaling of the research effort. I wholly agree... 
By Rachel Smolker and Almuth Ernsting
Will declaring a “climate emergency” help to finally prompt radical action to address climate change? A growing number of campaigners as well as scientists think so and hope that a major wake up call about unfolding climate disasters will spur governments and people into action.
Whether a lack of scary-enough facts about climate change has been holding back real action is questionable. After all, it requires a fair amount of psychological denial to not be alarmed by the escalating heat waves, droughts, floods and destructive megastorms.
Studies about psychological responses to climate change suggest that messages built on fear can cause people to feel disempowered and less likely to take action at all. Still, constantly playing down the scale of the unfolding destruction of climate and other planetary life support systems so as not to be “alarmist” seems somewhat disempowering to me. Personally, we much prefer to hear climate scientist James Hansen speak of a “planetary emergency” (in view of last year’s record low Arctic sea ice cover) than to read excessively cautious comments about uncertainties and the need for more research before concluding what seems obvious, for example that Arctic sea ice is in rapid meltdown and that extreme weather events are already far worse and more frequent than scientists had predicted.
Yet, while the language of “climate emergency” may or may not spur more people to action, the crucial question is exactly what type of action is being advocated. James Hansen’s conclusion: “If we burn all the fossil fuels, we create certain disaster” should be beyond dispute. Action on climate change will be futile unless fossil fuels are left underground.
Unlike James Hansen, some academics and campaigners are calling for a very different type of “radical action” in response to the climate emergency. Amongst them is the small but vociferous Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG). AMEG does not mince words about the seriousness of the crisis:
Abrupt climate change is upon us. Farmers are in despair. Food prices will go through the roof. The government’s climate change policy is in tatters. The government should have acted years ago. Now it may be too late.
The abrupt climate change scenario put forward by AMEG is, briefly, as follows:
The rate of warming is greatest in the Arctic and the rate at which Arctic sea ice has been melting is accelerating. The loss of sea ice triggers different impacts which in turn make Arctic meltdown, global warming and extreme weather across the Northern Hemisphere even worse. One of those effects is the release of methane trapped in permafrost, Arctic peat and under the Arctic Ocean. This could release so much methane at once that it would greatly increase the rate of global warming and lead to “unstoppable runaway warming.”
The first part of this analysis should be beyond dispute. However, the prediction of an imminent abrupt and catastrophic methane release from the Arctic is much less widely accepted amongst climate scientists, many of whom predict a slower release, over thousands of years—one which will worsen climate change in the long run but (importantly) not surpass the impacts of our own carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  
One of the scientists challenging AMEG’s predictions is methane expert, Dr. David Archer who stresses:
The worst case scenario is “what CO2 will do, under business-as-usual, not in a wild blow-the-doors-off unpleasant surprise, but just in the absence of any pleasant surprises (like emission controls).”
Is he right? We have no idea how much of the methane in the Arctic will end up the atmosphere by when. Some recent climate change impacts and findings have turned out to be much worse than what scientists had previously predicted. For example, a recent New Scientist article observed:
We knew global warming was going to make the weather more extreme. But it’s becoming even more extreme than anyone predicted.
But the argument regarding AMEG’s claims is not just a speculative argument about what might happen in future. It is also—and primarily—an argument about how we think about climate change and what we want to do about it. In this respect, we unequivocally agree with Archer’s view: Business-as-usual will guarantee the worst possible climate disaster. Arguing about just how bad that worst-case scenario might be seems futile when we should be doing whatever we can to stop greenhouse gas emissions, including fossil fuel burning and ecosystem destruction. This, however, is very different from how AMEG views the climate disaster.
What AMEG most fears is not what humans are doing—it’s the (methane) monsters lurking in nature. Preserving most life on Earth, in their view, thus requires nature to be better controlled and its monsters to be tamed. As AMEG’s Strategic Plan puts it, the “common enemy” that’s to be fought, the underlying cause of abrupt climate change isn’t us, it isn’t the fossil fuel economy—it’s the “vicious cycle of Arctic Warming and sea ice retreat.”
They demand “something akin to a war room” and the war they want governments to fight is a war against nature—and specifically a war against the way in which nature responds when humans drastically alter the planet’s atmosphere by increasing its greenhouse gases. The tools for fighting this war that they suggest we use are a range of geoengineering strategies: Large amounts of sulphur aerosols which they want pumped into the lower stratosphere starting as soon as March/April 2014, the development of new reflective particles to be pumped into the stratosphere in future, marine cloud brightening, chemicals to destroy cirrus clouds, marine geoengineering, weather modification and more.  
Changing our own society and economy is ancillary to this quest. Here are the changes which AMEG’s demands in relation to our energy and transport sectors: Postpone drilling in the Arctic, reintroduce a ban on polar flights, relax requirements to clean up “bunker fuels” burnt in ships (because sulphur aerosols have a short-term cooling effect), scrub black carbon but not sulphur dioxide from coal power stations—and that’s it. Burning more coal and diesel is fine, in their view, as long as we emit lots of sulphur dioxide with it. Never mind the illnesses and acid rain caused by sulphur dioxide. Indeed, AMEG members are even, bizarrely, promoting Arctic methane hydrate mining for energy. One of the most widely cited AMEG members, British oceanographer Peter Wadhams, has been criticized by Greenpeace after praising Shell’s credentials for “safely” drilling in the Arctic in front of a Parliamentary Committee.
Not all AMEG members appear this unconcerned about ongoing fossil fuel emissions and some clearly do want to see real emissions reductions—in addition to geoengineering. AMEG is a very mixed group: Some supporters clearly have no financial interests in geoengineering and have joined AMEG purely out of the conviction that AMEG has the most credible answer to climate change. Some are academics who have gained a much greater public profile thanks to AMEG’s campaign—such as Peter Wadhams. And some have major financial interests in geoengineering—including Ken Caldeira. Caldeira, together with David Keith (not listed on AMEG’s website) has received more than $4.6 million from Bill Gates’ personal funds, around half of it for personal research on geoengineering, the other half to fund “research” by other geoengineering advocates. He is also listed as an inventor on a patent for a geoengineering device called StratoShield, held by Intellectual Ventures, a company linked to Gates.
All of them, however, are united in their faith that geoengineering can work and that humans can avert an even greater climate disaster by manipulating the planet’s atmosphere and biosphere. They do not appear concerned about what unilateral action taken by a government to deliberately manipulate planetary systems might mean for democracy and the rights of most of the world’s population. This is perhaps because they are convinced that geoengineering is the only way of keeping the planet habitable (at least for most humans). But this conviction is not derived from scientific knowledge—it is based on unwavering faith in human ability to master and control nature through engineering and technology.
The possibility that their proposals could possibly backfire and end up making climate change even worse, even faster has, it seems, not occurred to AMEG. Yet what the science confirms is that the full impacts of geoengineering on planetary and climate systems are by their nature unpredictable and that they might well render the climate yet more unstable. In a recent joint briefing by Biofuelwatch and EcoNexus, we summarized some of the highest risks of the types of geoengineering promoted by AMEG: Destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain, possible virtually instant and massive disruption of rainfall patterns, especially in the tropics and subtropics (which could mean a failure of the African and Asian monsoon), vegetation die-back which would release yet more carbon—and those are just some of the known risks.
If we want to have any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, we clearly need radical action—but that radical action must be aimed at stopping the burning fossil fuels and reversing the destruction of ecosystems (including soils). The very last thing we and the planet need is yet another “war room” and a new battle-front in the war against nature.

Friday, 17 May 2013

An attempt at balance...

OK - so, hopefully a calmer reflection on ETC's blog (as promised 'tomorrow' (hah) in the last piece)...

So, ignoring the nonsense (see last post if interested) there are some interesting ideas here.

Firstly, I'm not sure I completely buy the 'plowshares into swords' argument. Weren't the ambitions of Lyndon Johnson somewhat noble and altruistic? I'm sure we can all agree what followed was abhorrent but there are two separate issues here. By this logic, you could also argue ENMOD was a function of the first effort, which is a good thing, right? I worry that the inevitability of bad usage is too readily accepted. Or it could be that any intervention is perceived as bad, even with good intentions (I suppose the argument here is economic - how much more aid could have been given without attempts at weather modification?). I still think this is harder to argue for - as a member of Friends of the Earth once said, 'doing nothing is an ethical position'. To protect 'naturalness' to that extent (i.e. not intervening when you could) is perverse, and on a par with refusing your child a blood transfusion on religious grounds. It's simply disgusting. BUT, and it is a big but indeed, why should we trust people in power to do the right thing with climate engineering when they are failing so spectacularly on climate change? (a point raised by Peter Irving at a meeting in 2010). This is harder to knock down - you can point at the conspiracy theorists who claim geoengineering is already happening on a massive scale but, ignoring those loonies (as ETC now do I think) this question still alarms me. Peter, and others, are right - (1) governments regularly do appalling things in our name and (2) even well meaning efforts at SRM could worsen the situation, at least for some. It's also clear to most that nuclear power [paragraph 8] must play a role (at least in the short term) in reducing carbon dioxide emissions - swords into plowshares again ?

Secondly, of course, Jim is right. Plan A all the way. But, and it's a big but again, would it really work? Can you really plant your way out of food poverty in Northern Africa? I seriously doubt it, not with the amount of water stress and the increase in populations predicted over the next fifty years. If it were that easy, why hasn't it been done? Don't wheel out the old 'global powers' conspiracy theory nonsense again, please. Billions of dollars of aid have been pumped into the most needing parts of the world with very limited effect. If there was a solution as simple as ETC propose why wouldn't people just have done it? Answer, it's not that simple and it's an idealistic and unrealistic solution. A victory for idealism for pragmatism. By the way, I am all for idealism - if carbon dioxide levels start coming down, temperatures stabilise and global poverty is reduced/eliminated, those proposing climate engineering schemes look immensely stupid. Let me know when that happens....

Thirdly, thanks for the credit... Morton and the geoengineers might spare a little artificial intelligence to figure out what to do if a real or second “inevitable” volcanic eruption overlaps the manufactured kind. How would a triple-whammy of sulphates (a north injection, a south injection and then an unexpected volcanic addition) shift the climate. Would you need to double the artificial injection? How can you then scale back afterwards?'.  That's pretty much exactly what I've been working on. As a ball park estimate the odds of another Pinatubo-scale eruption over the next 50 years are (roughly) 1 in 3 (not quite inevitable). Those aren't good odds. As I've said in *many* meetings, including those attended by ETC, volcanoes may teach us much about climate engineering but may well turn out to be the greatest single uncertainty when considering such schemes.

Lastly, the normalisation of geoengineering and public acceptance is not something 'we' should covet. Make no mistake, if SRM is undertaken it will be the clearest indictation yet of our failure as a species. That should not be 'normal'...

Saturday, 6 April 2013

An inconvenient truth

Jim Thomas from ETC group has written a blog post on the Haywood paper: 


In the interests of fairness I should say there are some fascinating points in there. Maybe I'll come back tomorrow and try to go through the positives of this article - for now I'm a little irritated to do so. It's the first paragraph that really got my blood pressure up:

'Climate Drift: Geoengineers have a problem. Computer modeling suggests that blocking solar radiation in the temperate zone (to preserve Arctic ice or to forestall massive methane releases) could cool the Northern hemisphere but its impact could also drift South, creating severe climatic disruptions by dampening down Asia’s monsoon while drying out Africa’s Sahel. Not a popular proposition.

Now, geoengineers may hope they have a solution. A new study in Nature Climate Change[i] by the UK Government’s Meteorological Office suggests that some form of solar radiation management could mitigate the conventional vicissitudes of nature. According to the report, volcanic eruptions north of the equator in the 20th century either contributed to – or caused – droughts along the African equator and further South. The Met Office guys reason that if the North (home to most volcanoes) were to have another major (and, ultimately inevitable) eruption, drought might be prevented by unleashing counter (artificial) volcanoes below the equator.  The sulfuric blasts could even increase precipitation in sub-Saharan Africa, increase  biomass growth and benefit regional food security.'

Wow! So, who are these heroes? Those clever chaps with their computer models who have pointed out the problems with asymmetric deployment of sulfates? Hang on, oh no! You're not going to believe this, it's only the same people who wrote the Nature Climate Change paper, and, I know you're going to laugh, it's the same paper! Well, that is awkward. I tell you what, let's ignore that part, make the authors out to be 'geoengineers' and the cherry pick the bits we don't like. What we absolutely shouldn't do is given the authors any sort of credit for pointing out (yet more) problems with a dash towards deployment in the Northern Hemisphere.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

New article from Science reporter in the Guardian on Jim Haywood's recent paper...

From Ian Sample at the Guardian....

Controversial geoengineering projects that may be used to cool the planet must be approved by world governments to reduce the danger of catastrophic accidents, British scientists said.Met Office researchers have called for global oversight of the radical schemes after studies showed they could have huge and unintended impacts on some of the world's most vulnerable people.The dangers arose in projects that cooled the planet unevenly. In some cases these caused devastating droughts across Africa; in others they increased rainfall in the region but left huge areas of Brazil parched."The massive complexities associated with geoengineering, and the potential for winners and losers, means that some form of global governance is essential," said Jim Haywood at the Met Office's Hadley Centre in Exeter. The warning builds on work by scientists and engineers to agree a regulatory framework that would ban full-scale geoengineering projects, at least temporarily, but allow smaller research projects to go ahead.

Geoengineering comes in many flavours, but among the more plausible are "solar radiation management" (SRM) schemes that would spray huge amounts of sun-reflecting particles high into the atmosphere to simulate the cooling effects of volcanic eruptions.

Volcanoes can blast millions of tonnes of sulphate particles into the stratosphere, where they stay aloft for years and cool the planet by reflecting some of the sun's energy back out to space.

In 2009, a Royal Society report warned that geoengineering was not an alternative to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but conceded the technology might be needed in the event of a climate emergency. Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, Haywood and others show that moves to cool the climate by spraying sulphate particles into the atmosphere could go spectacularly wrong. They began by looking at the unexpected impacts of volcanic eruptions.

In 1912 and 1982, eruptions first at Katmai in Alaska and then at El Chichón in Mexico blasted millions of tonnes of sulphate into northern skies. These eruptions preceded major droughts in the Sahel region of Africa. When the scientists recreated the eruptions in climate models, rainfall across the Sahel all but stopped as moisture-carrying air currents were pushed south.

Having established a link between volcanic eruptions in the northern hemisphere and droughts in Africa, the scientists returned to their climate models to simulate SRM projects. The scientists took a typical project that would inject 5m tonnes of sulphate into the stratosphere every year from 2020 to 2070. That amount of sulphate injected into the northern hemisphere caused severe droughts in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Chad and Sudan, and an almost total loss of vegetation.

The same project had radically different consequences if run from the southern hemisphere. Rather than drying the Sahel, cooling the southern hemisphere brought rains to the Sahel and re-greened the region. But Africa's benefit came at the cost of slashing rainfall in north-eastern Brazil. The unintended consequences of SRM projects would probably be felt much farther afield. "We have only scratched the surface in looking at the Sahel. If hurricane frequencies changed, that could have an impact on the US," said Haywood.

Matthew Watson, who leads the Spice project at Bristol University, said the study revealed the "dramatic consequences" of uninformed geoengineering. "This paper tells us there are consequences for our actions whatever we do. There is no get-out-of-jail-free card," he told the Guardian. "Whatever we do is a compromise, and that compromise means there will be winners and losers. That opens massive ethical questions: who gets to decide how we even determine what is a good outcome for different people?

"How do you get a consensus with seven billion-plus stakeholders? If there was a decision to do geoengineering tomorrow, it would be done by white western men, and that isn't good," Watson said.

Monday, 14 January 2013


I'd been meaning to write something along these lines (sort of) about how we should be ignoring the 2% at either end of the climate debate when I stumbled across this. I am still laughing and I actually pulled a muscle while crying when I read it the first time...

The most depressing thing about the climate of endless, instant outrage isn't just the sheer futility of it all – because nothing actually changes apart from a few keys being bashed on the head by angry fingers – but that this very futility allows strange and frightening new creatures to thrive: weird specimens such as the "James Delingpole", which as far as I can tell is a sort of stick insect whose sole function is to irritate passing liberals. Their cries of dismay are his oxygen. Without them he will die. Consequently, there isn't a week that goes by without Delingpole causing some sort of kerfuffle, then running away laughing like a naughty boy who has just blown off through the headmaster's letterbox.
This is every day on Twitter, for ever. 9am: James Delingpole says trees are lesbians so we should saw their flat ugly tits off and fire them at Muslims using a petrol-powered catapult. 9.03am: An enraged section of Twitter spends nine hours ceaselessly promoting James Delingpole, to the delight of James Delingpole. 6pm: James Delingpole triumphantly closes his laptop and strolls away whistling, clicking his heels as a cartoon vignette closes around him.
Q: Who has won here? A: James Delingpole. Q: What's more offensive than that? A: Nothing.
Full article, by Charlie Brooker here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/13/django-unchained-jack-whitehall-james-delingpole

Friday, 11 January 2013

Mark Lynas - why all the fuss

Wow! Just wow! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a polemic. Some green-on-green! OK, it's related to GMO but clearly foreshadows the burgeoning debate on climate engineering. Most of you probably know about the punch up already: Mark Lynas (a 'neo-enviro') stood up in Oxford and admitted he had a Monbiotian conversion, had (shock) looked at some evidence and come out in favour of GMOs. This prompted a robust  response from the 'trads' especially eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, who's twitter rebuttal included an ill-timed (sickening, actually) comparison to encouraging rapists. I suspect several things have pissed off the old school, not least that he was one of their own. It's a bit like those poor folks who leave the scientologists and go public; everyone hates a splitter. The point is this - I'll embolden it for emphasis - they're on the same bloody side. Lynas's credentials as an environmentalist are clear. I'm quite sure Shiva's are too.

Neo's are characterized as traitors, shallow, quick-fixers, all too willing to embrace technology often associated with globalization and power. They see themselves as realists - pragmatists with solutions. Trad's are presented as 'fire and brimstone', pious, sanctimonious anti-science idealogues - out of touch, losing the fight and bereft of realistic ideas. They seem themselves as bastions (ahem, Guardians if you will), fighting the good fight, and the only real lovers/understanders of nature. If you think this schism is deep for GMO, imagine what CE will do. Lynas has already pinned his colours to the mast here, I suspect I could predict Shiva's! The current episode will look like a minor skirmish compared to what's ahead, I guarantee it. Why does this matter? Because we (yes, I count myself as an 'enviro', sorry) are in the minority here. Don't worry, so are those that do not value the environment and put their own greed above everything (we all know where they are), it's those that either don't understand or who don't care enough who make up the vast majority. When we do this to each other, we switch people off. We allow those that are wrong about climate change to flourish.

Environmentalists are incapable of admitting or embracing uncertainty - everything is black and white. Lynas's conversion was a complete one, from passionately opposed to worryingly advocative. I'm not calling for us to all kiss and make up, that would be pointless, unhelpful and impossible. I simply believe that basic standards of decency, thoughtfulness and objectivity should be applied to an evidence-based discussion.