The Climate Engineers by abdelhamiid


Most eBook uploaders incluging myself almost always scan & upload full books and magazines. For a change, I have decided to upload scanned magazine articles in this post! Whenever I come across good articles, I usually scan them & share with my close friends who have similar likes. These articles have been taken from Indian editions of Popular Science, Geo amd BBC Knowledge. All are in PDF format with OCR. If you like them, please leave a comment so that in future I can share some more with you! 01. 2011 Invention Awards 02. African Masters, European Slaves 03. Awesome Labs 04. Big Science 05. Flesh and Blood 06. Moonstruck 07. No Pulse 07. The Ages of the Eternal City 09. The Climate Engineers 10. The Man Who Would Stop Time

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 All attempts to reduce the worldwide emission of greenhouse gases have failed—
 and the temperatures on earth continue to rise. Now scientists are exploring the
possibility of averting the planet's thermal collapse with technical interventions in
     its climate. A megalomaniacal idea or an unavoidable emergency strategy?

                        by Klaus Bachmann (text) and illuteam43 (illustrations)

                                                                 Playing with Clouds
                                                                 Plan 1: U n m a n n e d s h i p s travel across t h e o c e a n s a n d
                                                                 a t o m i s e seawater. T h e clouds f o r m e d f r o m t h e m i s t
                                                                 r e f l e c t t h e s u n l i g h t m o r e strongly.

                                                                 A s s e s s m e n t of t h e m e t h o d :
                                                                 COOLING POWER: * * *
                                                                 TIME AVAILABLE: © © ©
                                                                 COST: € € €
                                                                 - Can alter ocean currents and global precipitation patterns.
                                                                 - Does not help against ocean acidification if the carbon
                                                                   dioxide emissions continue.
                                                                | - Once begun, the coming generations must abide by it,
                                                                    otherwise the temperatures will rise steeply within a short
                                                                    period of time.
                                                                    Relatively cheap, so that individual states can apply the
                                                                    method on their own.

                                                                * $ & $ Ss very high - ® very low cooling power
                                                                © very s h o r t - © £ > © © © very long lead time
                                                                € very low - € € € € € very high costs
                                                   © Water condenses on the
                                                    salt crystals at the base of
                                                     pre-existing clouds. Tiny
                                                           droplets are formed.

                                                                                                     salt-induced droplets            normal droplets
                               0    The water
                      vaporises and the salts
                    dissolved in it crystallise.
                                                                                                                     Reflection of the sun's rays
                                                                                                      Size is the decisive factor. If the same volume of
                                                                                                        water forms many droplets as opposed to one
                                                                                                      large drop, the surface area is much greater and
                                                                                                      the cloud reflects more sunlight back into space.

               O The droplets
     coming from the rotors are
     so fine that they rise up on
                       their own.

          Flettner ships
Unmanned spray ships use a

          . -vimi acting upon
          rotating cylinders.


       The spraying system is
    installed in the rotors. In
      principle, the sea water
      would be sucked up and
atomised through extremely
  fine nozzles. However, it is
                                                                                nnae for satellite
    still unclear whether this
         would work in reality.
        s the remedy for swallowing       in space to provide a planetary          political scientists and ethicists are still taking the
        a fly to swallow a spider?       'sunshade' for our overheated             first tentative steps. They are struggling with several
        Do we now have to cool            home; or the large-scale dumping         questions: What side effects could occur if humans
        down the planet          with     of ferrous salts into the ocean in       tamper with the climate on a large scale? W h o should
        hazardous           scientific    order to encourage the growth of         decide when it is time to 'swallow the spider' and who
methods because we have been              plankton that will effectively capture   could supervise the operation? Should we have different
busily emitting greenhouse gases          h a r m f u l carbon dioxide f r o m     systems of evaluation for plans aimed at removing
into the atmosphere unchecked?            the atmosphere.                          carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and those that
Now that Plan A—the reduction                 However absurd these plans may       propose to shade the earth? Should researchers be
of emissions—is on the verge              sound, we cannot simply dismiss          studying these alternatives at all or should they keep
of failing, do we need to switch          them out of hand. Geo-engineering        their hands off? After all, the hubristic idea that anything
to Plan B—geo-engineering, or             is no longer the dirty word that it      can be accomplished by scientific or technical means
climate engineering, as some prefer       used to be. More and more scientists     is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place.
to call it: the technical manipulation    are turning their attention to these
of the earths climate systems?            and other controversial ideas in         THE PROTAGONIST
   "Absurd,          reprehensible,       several countries from the USA to        Delusional technocrat, irresponsible climate-tinkerer:
megalomaniacal!" is how most              China and India. Failed climate          such descriptions do not suit Ken Caldeira. Even if the
people react upon hearing these           summits, clear evidence of global        54-year-old, who likes to dress in jeans and polo shirts,
ideas for the first time. Ideas like      warming and the realisation that         and drives a yellow Honda 750 to work in Stanford,
pumping liquid sulphur dioxide            the temperatures will continue           California, is one of the most influential prophets of
into the atmosphere via hoses             to rise for a long time even if we       geo-engineering. Few people have spent as much time
hoisted up to a height of 30km by         stop all carbon dioxide emissions        studying computer simulations of what might happen if
giant balloons where the substance        immediately—all this has fuelled         we constructed a sunshade made of particles of sulphur
will scatter and shade the earth; or      the call for drastic measures.           dioxide droplets in the high atmosphere for 'sun ray
setting up millions of small mirrors          Climatologists, oceanographers,      management'. And probably no one else in the world

                                                                                        Steered by 'hat satellites', the discs swarm around the
                                                                                        Lagrange point, a location about 1.5 million km from the
                                                             satellites                 earth's surface where the gravitational forces of the
                                                                                        earth and the sun cancel each other out.



                         The discs, each measuring around
                         0.5m, will be fired into space in
                         packages of 800,000 each.
 has given as much thought to the pros and cons of         which 750,000 people assembled
'swallowing the spider.'                                   demanding the abolition of nuclear
    At present, Caldeira is rarely to be found in his      weapons. At the time, Caldeira
untidy office at the Carnegie Institution's Department     earned his living as a programmer
of Global Ecology in Washington. He often appears as       for banks, but soon he turned away
an expert before the US House of Representatives where     f r o m the sector in disgust and
he tries to convince the members how important it is       shifted to climatology.
to prepare for the consequences of global warming. He           In 1998, he crossed paths with
delivers lectures, attends conferences.                    one of the very people against
     While talking, Caldeira often breaks off in mid-      w h o m he had taken to the streets
sentence and commences again with better phrasing.         in the early 1980s: physicist Lowell
He is meticulous with words. For example, in describing    Wood. Wood was not only a protege
his position, he says that he is not a proponent of geo-   of Edward Teller, father of the
engineering, but simply an advocate of exploring           hydrogen bomb, but also worked on         Climate researcher Ken Caldeira
it further.                                                America's anti-missile system in one      t h o u g h t the idea of
                                                           of the nuclear armouries during the       manipulating the earth's
    Caldeiras reasoning is as follows: When, at some
                                                           Reagan era. It was his meeting with       atmosphere was preposterous
point of time, the crops all around the equator take a
                                                                                                     — u n t i l he tested it with a
massive tumble because of global warming, when there       Wood that led Caldeira to the field
                                                                                                     computer simulation.
are large-scale emissions of methane from the thawing      of climate engineering.
permafrost in Siberia or when Greenland's ice sheet            At a conference, Lowell Wood
melts, we would be in a situation where we might have      announced that he had a solution for
to manipulate the earth's climate quickly and radically.   climate change: shooting particles
And we need a plan for this emergency.                     into the atmosphere that would
    Caldeira does not see geo-engineering as an            reflect the sunlight back into space.
alternative to greenhouse gas reduction, but rather as     In the years following the eruption
a kind of emergency insurance. "People do not buy          of the Pinatubo volcano in the
an insurance against lire for their houses because they    Philippines in 1991, researchers had
assume their house will burn down. They think that it      been able to prove that the climate
will be money well spent if it can save them from ruin     really could be affected this way:
in the worst case."                                        clouds of sulphur from the volcano
   At the beginning of Caldeiras career, there was         brought global temperatures down
no indication that one day he would be studying            by 0.5°C. But could such an effect be
controversial climate interventions. His life has taken    artificially induced and regulated?
turns that still astound him. In 1982, the 25-year-old         It could not work, thought the
Caldeira had organised a huge demonstration in New         sceptical Caldeira. To prove his point,
York—one of the biggest in the history of the USA—in       he and a colleague constructed a
                                                           climate model to simulate the effects
                                                           of a global sunshade.' The result: a
                                                           reduction in the amount of solar
A Parasol in Space                                         energy reaching earth of 1.8 per cent.
Plan 2: Billions of ultra-fine discs form a giant
                                                               "My intention was actually to put
cloud in space that will shade the planet.
                                                            an end to all the talk about climate
Assessment of the method:                                   engineering," Caldeira reminisces.
COOLING POWER: * * * *                                     "But to our surprise, the strategy
AVAILABILITY OF TIME: © © © © ©                             worked much better than expected."
COST: € € € € €                                             In their computer model, even a
DISADVANTAGES:                                              relatively small shield offset the
- Astronomically high costs. A capsule containing
                                                            effects of a doubling of the carbon
  800,000 discs will have to be shot into space every
  minute for 38 years.                                      dioxide content in the atmosphere.
- Does not prevent ocean acidification.                      "However," Caldeira immediately
- Affects the water cycle on earth.
                                                           qualifies, "no one should assume
that sun ray management will be          International Atomic Energy Agency, the agency that
perfect." Greenhouse gases (which        controls nuclear weapons, he says. But the former peace
would remain) and sunlight (which        activist is deeply suspicious of governments. "If the
would decrease) heat up the earth        consequences of warming are bad enough," Caldeira is
in different ways. Carbon dioxide        certain "the governments will disregard the rules and
and other gases absorb thermal           do what they want." This scenario is also likely because
radiation in the middle layers of        a sulphur sunshade could be erected for just a few billion
the atmosphere. The sun's rays           euros per year—an amount that even smaller countries
primarily heat up the earths surface,    could manage on their own.
make liquids evaporate and thus             The scientific community agrees that there would
propel the planet's water cycle.         have to be an international regulatory framework for
If one blocked t h e m off for the       technical interventions in the climate. This would
purpose of cooling, the temperature
would fall, but at the same time the
climate machinery would produce          FINALLY, WE MAY
less rain. In a world shaded through
geo-engineering, one could perhaps       HAVE NO CHOICE
maintain the temperatures at their
present level—but precipitation          BUT TO INTERVENE.
patterns would necessarily change.
     So much for the global picture.     also provide the answer to several questions: Under
At the local level, the effects really   what circumstances would researchers be allowed to
begin to diverge. Climate engineers      test their ideas? W h o would assess the risk? Which
would never be able to do justice to     institution could approve field tests? In the case of an
all parts of the world with a global     extensive operation, who would ensure that the interests
intervention in the atmosphere;          of various countries are in equilibrium? Could Syria
there would always be winners            forbid Israel f r o m seeding the atmosphere with sulphur
and losers. A study that simulated       dioxide? A n d how could countries such as those in
thousands of scenarios provided          Africa—that are already practising agronomy under
examples: if a terrestrial sunshade is   almost impossible conditions and would be critically
erected, the summer in India would       affected by even the smallest changes—be assured of a
be one and a half degrees cooler
in 2070 than in 1990, but a little
more humid. In contrast, people in              Acid against the Sun
eastern China would have almost                 Plan 3: Sulphur dioxide mist in the stratosphere,
the same temperature as now, but                at a height of between 15 and 25km, will reduce
the climate would be much drier.                the sun's thermal radiation.

    There is an enormous potential               Assessment of the method:
for conflict in this unequal
                                                 COOLING POWER: * «fs $ *
distribution of effects, as Ken                  AVAILABILITY OF TIME: C      D
Caldeira is well aware. He imagines              COST: € €
a situation where China would want               DISADVANTAGES:
to dim the sun just a little, the USA            - Precipitation patterns shift, monsoon weakened.      m
                                                 - Does not prevent ocean acidification through carbon i
would like to reduce it a little more              dioxide.
and Europe would perhaps not want                - Destroys the ozone in the higher levels of the
to turn the thermostat knob at all.                atmosphere that protects the planet from harmful     1
                                                   UV rays.
Yet, each intervention would have
                                                 - Once we begin with the technology, we would be       m
consequences for all of them. "Who                 compelled to continue with it, unless carbon dioxide 1
should regulate it?" he wonders.                   emissions are not reduced in a parallel movement.     •
                                                   Otherwise global temperatures will escalate as soon   I
   He thinks for a m o m e n t .                   as the shading stops.
Perhaps an institution like the                  - No blue skies any more.
Transport by hose
Liquid sulphur dioxide is pumped into
the upper atmosphere through hose
pipes where nozzles atomise it. Gigantic
V-shaped balloons keep the conduit,
several kilometres long, floating.         Transport by aeroplane
                                           Cargo planes could deposit liquid sulphur
                                           dioxide or sulphuric acid in the stratosphere.
                                           25 fully loaded jumbo jets would have to
                                           take off every day in order to transport
                                           the required 1 million tonnes of aerosol
                                           per year into the air.
say in the matter? As of now, these            interventions. The conference was        him uneasy, he considers transparency to be key:
legal questions are unresolved.                meant to invoke the spirit of the        research should be public and all findings should be
      There are some legal precedents          legendary conference of 1975 at the      published in universally accessible journals. Therein
 that could be applicable, says Ralph          same venue when biologists had           lies Caldeiras conundrum. Deep down, he is basically
 Bodle, an expert at the international         laid down rules for the nascent field
 ecological think-tank Ecologic.               of genetic engineering to limit its
 Countries would not be allowed to             risks. All that emerged at the end       Fertiliser for the Sea
"cause any significant transnational           of Asilomar 2.0 was simply a non-       Plan 4: Ferrous salts stimulate the growth of
                                                                                       algae that eliminate large amounts of carbon
 damage to the environment." And               binding statement. The purport: the
                                                                                       dioxide from the atmosphere.
 they would have to conduct                    concept is risky. We do not know
 environmental tests, as stipulated            enough yet. We need more research.       Assessment of the method:
 by the International Court of Justice        Ken Caldeira kept his distance.           COOLING POWER: * * *
 in 2010. All in all, the application of "I did not want to lend my name to             AVAILABILITY OF TIME: © 0 0 ©
 these rules to geo-engineering is it," he says indignantly. According                  COST: € € €
 still unclear. "We are talking mainly to him, the organiser, Climate                   DISADVANTAGES:
                                                                                        - When the plankton sinks and decomposes, oxygen-
 about ideas and models," says Bodle. Response Fund, wanted to misuse
                                                                                          deficient or even anaerobic regions can emerge at
      In March 2010, 175 scientists the conference to attract investors                   greater depths: death zones for fish.
 met in California at the Asilomar for field experiments.                               - Nutrients can be drawn from neighbouring regions
                                                                                          because of the excessive plankton growth. This
 Conference     Grounds,      near                 Caldeira is convinced that such        affects the fish populations as well as fisherfolk.
 Monterey on the Pacific coast, in             critical experiments should be           - The ecosystem in the open waters changes.
 order to formulate guidelines for             funded from state-owned sources.         - The level of acidity rises more easily in the deeper
                                                                                          levels of the sea.
 research and testing in climate               But since governments also make

                                       plankton                            Iron is scarce in large regions of the oceans—the
                                                                           target area for ships releasing ferrous salts into
                                                                           the sea. Unicellular algae (phytoplankton)
                                                                           benefit the most from this fertilisation.

Dead phytoplankton sink to the bottom of
the sea. A part of the biomass is decomposed
by microbes in the lower levels and eaten up
by zooplankton.

                                                                           Part of the carbon which the phytoplankton bloom
                                                                           has absorbed—anywhere between 1 and 15 per
                                                                           cent—reaches the ocean floor and is sequestered
                                                                           there for a significant span of time.
IRON MEN                                                  with 40 tonnes of ferrous sulphate. The idea
                                                          was to study the growth of phytoplankton,
                                                                                                                                                 p r # i
Two marine scientists in a hurry                          especially diatoms, w h i c h in turn sustain
to save the world.                                        other forms of marine life, including krill on
                                                          which Blue whales feed.
                                                             Diatom      blooms     (and t h e life        they
VICTOR SMETACEK A N D WAJIH NAQVI                         sustain) take carbon out of the ocean, the
want to do w h a t t h e whales once d i d                deficit of which is balanced by absorbing
                                                          it f r o m t h e a t m o s p h e r e . Diatoms    are   Wajih Naqvi and Victor Smetacek
naturally: fertilise the ocean with iron. And
in ferrous sulphate, they see t h e most                  special in t h e protective glass casing of             get close to the Antarctic rim where the
effective g e o - e n g i n e e r i n g   solution   to   silica they b u i l d a r o u n d themselves. At        water is rich with silica. The Antarctic Treaty
mitigate climate change.                                  the end of their life cycle, the silica casing          and the fears of environmentalists meant
    Smetacek         is    a   marine       biologist     and the carbon debris sink to the b o t t o m           they had to restrict their experiments to the
specialising in p l a n k t o n at t h e        Alfred    of the ocean. This carbon, taken from the               outer rim of the Antarctic Ocean, where it
Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine                    atmosphere and deposited on the ocean                   meets the warmer waters, and where silica
Research in Germany. Naqvi is a chemist                   floor, feeds microbial life.                            supply is not plentiful for diatoms.
at the National Institute of Oceanography                    Doesn't this h a p p e n naturally?           Not       Naqvi and Smetacek recognise w h y
in Goa.                                                   enough, not these days, says Smetacek.The               environmentalists fear geo-engineering.
   Their     biochemistry          materialised      in   diatom blooms are patchy, w i t h more silica           They d o not w a n t mitigation efforts like
LOHAFEX (short for Loha                   Fertilisation   t h a n carbon to hold t h e m d o w n to t h e         iron fertilisation to take the focus away
Experiment), an Indo-German                  research     ocean floor. The upwelling of deep waters               from reducing carbon emissions. "It is like
programme to measure the potential of iron                around the Antarctic brings some of it up               there is a hole in the boat humankind finds
fertilisation in the Antarctic Ocean. In 2009,            again. "Which is why we need to study the               itself in. You cannot say you will not bail out
Smetacek and Naqvi took a research team                   viability of bigger blooms," Naqvi adds.                the water till the hole is plugged. You need
aboard the German vessel Polarstern, loaded                  For this, the LOHAFEX team needed t o                to do both," says Smetacek.      Sopan Joshi
'green: on the one hand, he rejects the involvement of          Gates' f u n d to check if the spraying
 companies, but on the other, he also administers—along         principle actually worked. "I called
 with fellow campaigner from the University of Calgary          up old friends who had worked
 in Canada, David Keith—the research funds allocated            with m e earlier," says Neukermans.
 by Bill Gates out of his private assets for geo-engineering.   He collected a group of scientists,
 In addition, Caldeira is keenly aware of a possible side       all of t h e m of retirement age like
 effect of his work: "If geo-engineering works, people will     him, w h o would be assisted by
 say, 'Hey, there is a quick technical fix, so why bother       younger colleagues. It was a team
 trying to reduce emissions?'"                                  of veteran researchers embarking
   The ball is firmly in the hands of the conservatives         on Mission Climate. It was rather
in the USA. Having spent years denying h u m a n                like the film Space Cowboys, where
responsibility for global warming, they now enthuse             a crew of aged astronauts in sent an
about the promise of climate engineering as simple,             out-of-control satellite armed with
cheap and effective.                                            nuclear missiles to the m o o n and       Armand Neukermans, physicist
                                                                saved the earth.                          and inventor, is working on a
                                                                    Though Neukermans and his             procedure to brighten the
                                                                                                          clouds above the oceans with
THE INVENTOR                                                    team remained on the ground, their
                                                                                                          ultra-fine droplets of sea water.
Oil magnates and the bosses of coal-fired power plants          aim, too, was to save the earth. Their
will certainly like this m a n and what he does, even           vision: an armada of ships cruising
though Armand Neukermans only sprays sea water.                 the oceans and sending myriads
However, the physicist, who was born in Belgium but             of unimaginably small droplets of
achieved fame and fortune as an inventor in California,         sea water into the air. The water
is also studying a method suggested as a remedy for the         would vaporise on its way to the
climate, namely, making the clouds whiter so that they          sky, leaving behind ultra-small
reflect more sunlight and help cool down the earth.             salt crystals on which some more
    It is not easy to find Neukermans' lab in Sunnyvale         droplets would form on reaching
in an impersonal complex, a flat-roofed building with           pre-existing clouds. The finer
tinted windows, a carbon copy of so many others in              these drops, the whiter the cloud,
Silicon Valley. Actually, it is just half a lab since the       and the bigger its albedo or the
researcher and his colleagues share the room with the           reflecting power.
company that occupies most of the building.                   Doubling the n u m b e r of
   "Three years ago, if someone had asked me what geo- droplets in all the clouds of a
engineering was, I would have said: 'something strange,'" certain type over the seas would
admits the powerfully built man with snow-white hair.     suffice to offset the heating effect
    It was only by coincidence that he discovered his of the carbon dioxide content in
new passion, explains Neukermans. A couple of years the atmosphere, which itself has
ago, he came across a cloud-spraying project led by doubled since pre-industrial times.
two British researchers—and offered his help on As per the calculations of the British
the spur of the moment. The researchers wanted to         researchers in the team, it would
produce cloud particles that would rise up, grow by the   require 45 tonnes of sea water to
collision and coalescence of droplets at high altitudes,  be atomised per second into tiny
and thus increase the density of existing clouds. And droplets a thousandth of a millilitre.
Neukermans probably knew more than anybody else This means 1,500 robot ships on all
about the creation of droplets: in the 1980s, he had      the oceans would be needed.
played a decisive part in the development of Hewlett-         However, N e u k e r m a n s and
Packard's inkjet printer.                                 his science veterans are already
    In 2009, he presented his ideas about extracting            struggling with limited resources in
cloud particles from sea water at a conference in               their preliminary research. Like in
Edinburgh. Among the audience in the auditorium                 every other start-up, improvisation
was Ken Caldeira, who was so taken by his presentation          is the order of the day. Whenever
that he granted Neukermans 300,000 dollars f r o m Bill         possible, the tinkerers organise
second-hand material, borrowing           spits out 100 billion cloud particles           the atmospheric researcher. He sits amidst magazines
a laser-measuring device to               per second. The tiny particles are              and books behind his desk on the second floor of
determine the size of the droplets;       just a h u n d r e d t h o u s a n d t h of a   the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz
taking the help of someone with           millimetre in size.                             (Germany). The 62-year-old has spent more than 30
access to an electron microscope              W h a t next, M r Neukermans? Is            years studying aerosols in the earth's atmosphere: how
who can magnify the cloud particles       the time ripe for tests on the sea?             they are produced in nature, above forests, above seas;
for them; getting another pal to help           "That is not my decision. We are          how humans are increasing the level of contaminants;
out when a tricky problem arises.          not advocates of the method. We                how sulphate and carbon black influence where, when
   The team has an ambitious               simply want to prove that cloud                and how much it rains. It is a complex field. And from
goal—they want to create such              particles can really be created                his experience, Andreae has drawn a conclusion: leave
small drops that only 100 to 200ml         t h r o u g h atomisation." With this,         the earth's thermostat alone.
would have to be sprayed for the           Neukermans stirs the old question                  In 2006, when his colleague Paul Crutzen pleaded
cloud effect, instead of 30 litres per     about the scientist's responsibility.          in favour of exploring solar protection through sulphur
ship and per second. This would            Can he fall back on the position of            aerosols and of carrying out experiments, Andreae
save a lot of energy.                     "I do the research: the application is          could not remain silent. At that time, Crutzen's foray
     One of their first test set-ups is    none of my business?"                          was a major step forward for geo-engineering. The
ready in a crammed, windowless                 Like Ken Caldeira, Neukermans              Nobel laureate lent the controversial method an aura
lab. It still seems improvised: they      also sees climate engineering                   of respectability.
have converted felt pen nibs into         as an emergency plan, not as a                     Andreae would have preferred to dissuade him from
sprayers, applied an electrical           substitute for the modification of              publishing. "We discussed it in detail," he says. "My
charge to it and vaporised water          our energy production methods.                  argument was that it would lead to false interpretations
with the help of the electrical           A n d personally, he sets greater               if Crutzen supported the exploration of climate
field. Though the demonstration           store by conventional measures for              engineering. It would quickly turn into 'Nobel Prize
provided usable cloud particles,          climate protection.                             winner has a solution for the greenhouse effect.'" And
upscaling it would take up far too            He was the driving force when               sure enough, headlines did appear along these lines.
much space.                               78 house owners in his c o m m u n i t y            So should we immediately stop every scientific
    "A few m o n t h s ago we h a d       of Portola Valley got together in               engagement with the topic? Andreae would not
 a new idea," says Neukermans,            2006 to install solar panels on all             go so far, but he does believe that "we should rather
"and it will make the whole thing         the roofs. He even says: "We cannot             use our research funds to figure out how we can
 much, m u c h cheaper." He does          depend on geo-engineering." He                  produce energy with less emissions and how we can
 not want to reveal the details.          would prefer a change in climate                adapt to life in a warmer world." The researcher has
 Patent protection—they could             policies, but believes that this                a long list of doubts about climate manipulation. For
 perhaps make m o n e y later while                                                                    example, if we cool down the earth but
 saving the earth. However, he does                                                                    do not reduce the high carbon dioxide
 disclose that they are working
 with 'supercritical' water that they
                                          ARE WE READY                                                 content in the air, the second disastrous
                                                                                                       effect of the gas will be accelerated:
 speed through extremely fine
 spray nozzles. A liquid becomes
                                          FOR TESTS IN                                                 ocean acidification.
                                                                                                           A n d what about the costs of such
 supercritical when the pressure
 and temperature are so high that
                                          THE SKY?                                                      experiments? They are obviously being
                                                                                                        underestimated significantly. At present,
 vapour and liquid can no longer be                                                                     only the operating costs for individual
 distinguished. Water reaches this        will only happen in the face of a               technologies are being taken into account, claims
 remarkable state beyond 374°C            tangible crisis.                                the latest comprehensive climate engineering study
 and 221 bar.                                                                             published in October 2011. Funds for research and
    The researchers have built            THE SCEPTIC                                     development have been overlooked in the present
a wooden box around the new               Meinrat Andreae has a similar                   estimates, as have the macroeconomic costs that will
apparatus. A tube leads into it and       point of view. Only a cataclysmic               accrue f r o m the side effects of climate experiments.
an aerosol emerges f r o m it. It is      aggravation, such as when extreme               All in all, the verdict of the 16 scientists analysing
so fine that the h u m a n eye cannot     drought will jeopardise food                    the international status quo from the most diverse
see it. However, the measuring            supply, would generate enough                   perspectives on behalf of the German Federal Ministry
devices are visible: each nozzle          political will for a rethinking, says           of Education and Research is sceptical.
   A field experiment planned by the University of                      Geo-engineering           would
Bristol (England) for autumn 2011 m a d e headlines:              allow us to continue wasting our
a helium balloon would pull a tube 1km above an                   fossil resources a n d passing on
abandoned military base in Sculthorpe in eastern                  the consequences to the coming
England. The tube would be used by the researchers                generations, says Andreae. In other
to spray saltwater—as a test for the next step using              words, s o m e o n e w h o follows this
sulphur dioxide.                                                  approach is "like a heroin addict
   Following protests, the British Engineering and                p l a n n i n g h o w they can steal
Physical Sciences Research Council postponed the                  better f r o m their children to feed
project, initially by 6 months, declaring that other              their addiction."
opinions would have to be sought—for example,                          Is it time for geo-engineering?
from environmental groups—before the experiment                   Some advocates of the m e t h o d
could start.                                                      immediately say yes, adding that                                  i
   "Experience shows that h u m a n interventions in              it is high time that we got started:              Atmospheric chemist Meinrat
natural systems almost always go w r o n g if the system          to prevent t h e icecap on t h e                  Andreae believes that w e risk
behaves in a complex m a n n e r or demonstrates a chaos          N o r t h Pole f r o m dwindling any              chaos with climate engineering.

dynamics that we have only partly understood," says               further, to ensure the survival of
Andreae. Ecology has several instances of this. For               polar bears, to introduce Plan B
example, the case of the Javan m o n g o o s e (Herpestes         to h u m a n k i n d . The m a j o r i t y of
javanicus), a cat-like predator that was introduced               researchers are m o r e cautious.
to islands like Hawaii to combat rat infestations (see            They engage in intense discussions
also the report on the following pages). It h a d limited         about fundamental questions,
success: the m o n g o o s e h u n t s during the day, but the    about t h e p r o a n d cons of a
prey that they were appointed to catch favours the                technical remedy for the climate.
night. Hence, the m o n g o o s e decimated
the indigenous bird, snake a n d lizard
populations instead of the rats. Mistakes
while playing with the climate can have
                                                    THERE IS NO
even more serious consequences.
     A n d r e a e outlines a scenario: Let us
                                                    TURNING BACK
assume that h u m a n k i n d starts d i m m i n g
the sun's rays. If it still continues getting
                                                    FROM HERE.
w a r m e r on earth, we would not be able to decide                  M e a n w h i l e , o n e t h i n g is
whether it was because of natural variations in                   certain. That with each conference
the average global t e m p e r a t u r e or d u e to t h e        that fails to set limits on t h e
anthropogenic greenhouse effect not yet adequately                emissions of g r e e n h o u s e gases,
offset by the shading. The engineers w o u l d then               with each year that passes by
probably r e c o m m e n d p u m p i n g even m o r e particles   without h u m a n k i n d m o d i f y i n g its
into the atmosphere. Things could soon b e c o m e                energy p r o d u c t i o n m e t h o d s , the
uncontrollable since there would be n o immediate                 prophets of d o o m will find m o r e
reaction; this is what can h a p p e n with complex               sympathetic            ears f o r         their
systems that are pushed too m u c h in one direction.             apparently glad tidings: that we
    And backing out of climate engineering would                  can control the situation with the
not be a simple matter once such solutions have                   help of technology.
been employed. Even after several years of artificially
cooling the atmosphere, the carbon dioxide would                  • • • GEO editor K L A U S B A C H M A N N
still be rising. If, one day, we stop d i m m i n g the            was impressed with Ken Caldeira's
sun's rays, the temperatures on the earth will rise                institute. The building, which produces
                                                                   70 per cent less carbon dioxide than other
significantly within a s h o r t time. Ecosystems
                                                                   similar structures, is comfortable even
would not have the t i m e to adapt, a n d they                    without an air-conditioner, a ubiquitous
would collapse.                                                   fixture everywhere else in California.

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