[ExI] Global warming fights

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Tue Nov 24 14:42:52 UTC 2009

Geoengineering is big here in the UK. Institutes are being set up, people in Oxford discuss in, it has been mentioned here in Parliament today (this is written from inside the House of Lords) and there are actually copies of the Royal Society report lying in the window behind me. There is a joint UK-US commission looking at it. But as Jason Blackstock (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Centre for International Governance Innovation (Canada)) pointed out during a talk last week, there are serious practical and ethical issues with developing geoengineering. The science might be tricky, but it is testing that will be a devil. As a phase 2 trial you need to experimentally poke the system and measure the response. Think about the political liability issues there. He also pointed out that if people get desperate enough you can get unilatural "greenfingers" doing geoengineering - technically launching aerosols with howitzers can likely be done (it is the aerosolization that is hard) and the cost has been estimated as on the order of $100M/yr to $100B/yr to offset a doubled CO2.

  The greens did an own goal by forcing geonengineering out from  discussion and study in the 90s, when people didn't perceive climate as  a huge problem. If they had, then most likely most geoengineering  solutions would have been found to be unworkable, expensive or with  drawbacks. Now instead they are seen by many as necessary.
Jason also pointed out something potentially scary.  The uncertainty in CO2 warming forcing is not enormous, but we have a very big uncertainty in tropospheric aerosol cooling forcing. Now imagine people rapidly moving away from fossil fuels. The CO2 will remain for a century, the aerosols fall out after about a year. The aerosol forcing could be small, in which case we just get a slow decline of the current heating. But if it is large, then the current heating has been the sum of a big masking term and an almost equally large heating term - and now the full heating will come into play. In that scenario we would get nasty climate change as a result of reducing fossil emissions. Fortunately we would have the means by then to fix it, either by geoengineering or just burining more fuel while coming up with a workaround.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University 
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