Geoengineering down under: Is Stratospheric Sulphate Injection Completely Reversible?

This guest post is by Simon Terry, Executive Director of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand. The risk rating on stratospheric sulphate injection went up another notch on the basis of material presented at a recent geoengineering symposium in Australia organised by the Australian Academy of Science, while the existing climate change risks did not get any better. The event made a useful contribution to the understanding down under of so called ‘geoengineering’ and delivered some perspectives that will be useful internationally, including a review of sulphate injection that raised a new issue: is it completely reversible? More on that below.

While not exactly the “southern hemisphere perspective” that was billed (as the contributors barely exceeded Australia’s borders), it nonetheless delivered strong presentations and discussion — partly as a result of most speakers being specialists in the field related to each technique reviewed but not technique proponents themselves.

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Geoengineering on the table


John Holdren, recently confirmed as President Obama’s science adviser, has said in an interview that discussions at the White House include looking at geoengineering options to reduce the effects of global warming. He stressed that it would be a last resort, but can’t be ruled out of discussion if the failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions continues. He is concerned that several tipping points could be fast approaching, with chances of “really intolerable consequences”, instancing the possible loss of Arctic summer sea ice within six years, the release of frozen methane from thawing permafrost in Siberia, and more and bigger wildfires worldwide. He would much prefer to see the problem solved by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, but global warming is happening so fast that geoengineering has to be looked at. “We don’t have the luxury … of ruling any approach off the table.”

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More than dreaming

My review of Broecker and Kunzig’s book Fixing Climate drew attention to the work of Klaus Lackner, a physicist at Columbia University who has been working on ways of scrubbing CO2 out of the atmosphere for sequestration. Lackner considers sequestration the harder problem of the two and believes that the only method adequate in the long-term is mineral sequestration, achieved by hurrying along the natural process geochemical weathering whereby rocks react with CO2, removing it from the air to form limestone and other carbonates.

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Solar wind sculptures

windturbine.gif Time to nail my colours to the tall thing. Submissions on Mainpower’s Mt Cass windfarm consent application close on August 1st, and I’m running out of time to get one in (being busy, and all that). The opposition is getting itself organised, with a web site to co-ordinate dissenters, including a very nice gallery of pictures. I know (and love) this sort of landscape. I live in it.

I have some sympathy for the guys running the site, because I organised/designed/published the “Dump The Dump” web site for opponents of the Kate Valley landfill scheme. We lost, despite generating a record number of opposing submissions. I even did a presentation to the consent hearing, and got a mention in the final judgement. I still think we could have defeated the dump if we’d taken the issue to Christchurch, rather than kept it local and “played by the rules”…

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Mrs O’Leary’s Cow

homer.jpg Did you know that all cows are carbon neutral? That all the fuss about forcing farmers into an emissions trading scheme is stuff and nonsense? You do now, thanks to the sterling efforts of the Carbon Sense Coalition, an Australian organisation. They issued a press release yesterday, news of which reached me via the Royal Society‘s daily news alert:

News release: Farm lobbies abandon farmers. The Carbon Sense Coalition today accused the big farming lobby groups, government departments, politicians and Ministers representing agriculture of ignoring science and abandoning farmers to unjustified carbon taxation.

Ignoring science, eh? I went in search of what they might be on about…

[Warning: do not read while drinking – extreme beverage/screen interface risk]

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