Geoengineering solutions to climate change

SuperFreakonomics was a good read and was my first ebook. I read it on the PC and iPhone using Amazon Kindle.

Their chapter on Global Warming had some interesting solutions from Intellectual Ventures on climate change. Here is the idea.

1. What is geoengineering?

“Geoengineering” describes how the earth’s systems can be influenced by engineering solutions. There are many historic examples of how humans have used technology to change geological systems. From using fire to drive game to building irrigation for agriculture, seeding clouds during droughts, reversing the Chicago River to building the Hoover dam, the term can encompass all sorts of ideas. Today, options discussed often include large-scale engineering of the environment in order to combat or counteract the adverse effects of human-induced changes in the atmosphere and climate.

2. Why is Intellectual Ventures researching geoengineering technologies?

Intellectual Ventures looks at hard problems facing the world and brainstorms ideas and technologies that can lead to better solutions. Global warming is a very significant problem, but it won’t be solved with old ideas and old technology alone. We believe that the solution to this crisis will involve new ideas and new technologies.

Intellectual Ventures recognizes that the process of bringing new global warming ideas to the surface can be challenging and controversial. But as an invention company, we believe research needs to be done now, rather than after the full complications of global warming are upon us.

3. What makes Intellectual Ventures’ approach to climate change different from the research that is already being done elsewhere?

Some people think that global warming can be solved purely by policy means: taxes, renewable requirements, or cap-and-trade systems. While such moves may be helpful, we are not convinced that they are sufficient for several reasons.

The first is that current climate science cannot say with certainty what level of CO2 can be tolerated by the climate system without severe consequences. Some scientists believe that even the current level of CO2 is dangerously high, while others are relatively comfortable with far higher levels. This matters because the more sensitive the climate is to CO2, the quicker and deeper cuts in emissions must be in order to avoid harmful environmental changes. We may be lucky, and the climate system may be relatively tolerant, or we may be unlucky and find that the necessary cuts must be deeper, or occur quicker, than the world can manage to do.

Second, there has been more talk than action. The world has made little progress in curbing large scale emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. In order to make meaningful cuts in CO2 emissions there would need to be comprehensive and effective international agreements in place. So far, these have proven elusive.

Third, the task of retooling our energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels is a massive task, which is going to take a long time to accomplish. Indeed most of the world has not even made a meaningful start. New technology will speed the transition to a carbon-free energy infrastructure, but it is hard to estimate or have confidence in that can be accomplished quickly.

Fourth, and perhaps the most important, by the time if we should discover that the factors above are not favorable – and serious environmental harm starts to occur, it will be too late for conventional approaches to work. Once there is too much CO2 in the atmosphere, even if you stop emissions entirely, you will have problems for many decades to come. It is possible that this unhappy situation will not occur, either because the climate can tolerate a lot more CO2, or because the world achieves very significant emission reductions. However, if we do find ourselves in a bad scenario, geoengineering is one of the few alternatives for reducing harm to both human society and the environment.


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