mad science compared, in chart form

The dozens of ways that scientists, as well as crackpots, have proposed to geoengineer the world's climate won't all be equally effective. In fact, some of them, particularly the ones that rely on sucking up carbon dioxide instead of blocking out solar radiation, will hardly have any impact at all, a new study in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics found.

"By 2050, only stratospheric aerosol injections or sunshades in space have the potential to cool the climate back toward its pre-industrial state," earth scientists Tim Lenton and Naomi Vaughan of East Anglia University in England write.

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29 Responses:

  1. dmlaenker says:

    Somehow I'm imagining the Shield Corporation.

    But that's not possible, because Highlander 2 never existed.


  2. ciphergoth says:

    Thank goodness there's an approach to the problem that does not require that humanity show some collective thought for the future.

    I like the Angel fleet myself.

  3. gfish says:

    Reduction insolation seems like a very narrow view of the problem. We need that sunlight for other things, like growing crops.

  4. You miss the point. None of these will solve the problem on its own. Each might make a contribution. The problem also won't be solved by one of electic cars, new nukes, or replacing coal with gas. It can be solved by using several of these approaches. Here's one of the definitive references on this - "Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem. for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies"

    The likelihood of each being used depends firstly on the cost-benefit ratio. Low risk approaches, with low cost and other benefits, are at the head of the queue to be rolled out. Biochar can give you better soil structure, better land productivity, and more drought resistance, as well as sucking up carbon at a pretty low price. Yes, some of the ideas here are wacko. That doesn't mean we're doomed.

    • pmb7777 says:

      So what you're saying is logic and careful analysis will lead us to invest carefully in a wide array of solutions, instead of ignorantly throwing tons of money at a single flashy, cleverly named quick fix?

      Yeah, we're doomed.

  5. ioerror says:

    It's like that highlander film. Only it's real and we're fucked.

  6. strspn says:

    Hmm. Where are the error bars on these methods? I've been reading about biochar in the past few days, and it's very much not a one-size solution. If done right it could sequester gigatons of carbon as fertile terra preta soil, which is known to last for thousands of years. Who drew that graph and how did they figure biochar could only mitigate half a Watt per square meter?

    If you click through to the actual research paper, it says, "Strong mitigation, i.e. large reductions in CO2 emissions, combined with global-scale air capture and storage, afforestation, and bio-char production, i.e. enhanced CO2 sinks, might be able to bring CO2 back to its pre-industrial level by 2100, thus removing the need for other geoengineering. Alternatively, strong mitigation stabilising CO2 at 500 ppm, combined with geoengineered increases in the albedo of marine stratiform clouds, grasslands, croplands and human settlements might achieve a patchy cancellation of radiative forcing."

    That's not "doomed," as long as we pick the right items from the mitigation smörgåsbord.

  7. curgoth says:

    ... But we do know that it was us who burned the skies.

  8. ryanlrussell says:


    You mean you bastards who made us stop with the hairspray because the ozone hole was going to kill us all are now saying we have an inadequate amount, and global warming is going to kill us all? Screw you, I'm out of here.

  9. giles says:

    Probably the dinosaurs had charts like this too. If only they'd stopped fiddling about with Excel and woven some warm jackets out of palm fronds and trilobites. But then David Icke would be out of a job.

  10. gryazi says: the time we get around to installing the sunshades or setting up the sootstacks, we'll already have killed the oceans!

  11. kou says:

    >> sunshades in space

    Why waste perfectly good geostationary orbital slots and solar radiation energy? If shade's what you need, Silicon Valley, the veritable capital of all crazy ideas, has got you "covered"!

    Google Space® + Google Launch Services® = Google SpySatTMbeta

    Spying-as-a-Service (SaaS) cloud computing technology. All your data in the literal cloud. and FedEx
    Amazon® + Virgin GalacticTM + FedEx® = Instant Space DeliveryTM Re-entry Vehicle sends DVDs, Books, Movies and more right to your door, precision "drop-shipped" directly to any latitude and longitude within the coverage radius. Comes with real-time radar tracking from NORAD.

  12. relaxing says:

    Option #3: More deserts. We're looking at you, Sub-Saharan Africa.

    Say, what's the figure for Albedo increase: country-size array of photovoltaics?

    • gryazi says:

      It's a decrease (meaning more warming). The more efficient your solar cells are, the more energy they absorb, so the more energy is eventually released as heat. Even when inefficient electrically, they're somewhat dark and absorbent thermally. Google finds many nerds seriously considering this problem.

      A now-old ('90s?) story in Analog dealt with the idea of radiating heat back into space by running old solar-thermal collectors in reverse (and somehow tuning the emission to one of the bands passed by the atmosphere). The idea there was to create just enough of a local cooling to let clouds condense and make rain (with some added mojo about tugging the jet stream back into place via the lowered pressure), but if we had extremely efficient collectors (which would probably also imply extremely efficient waste-heat conversion), pumping it all back into space with a giant laser would be pretty awesome. At least, except for any birds flying through it, or anyone looking directly at it.

      • waider says:

        WARNING! Do not look into laser with remaining eye!

      • strspn says:

        That is why ten gigawatts of wind would be like about 350 ppm CO2. Solar, not so much, but as long as electricity comes more than a certain percentage from coal, gas, and petroleum, solar is great.

        I can't wait for the filli-fucking-buster-proof majority in the Senate. Although watching half of the remaining Republicans turn on single states' sets of earmarks would be fine with me, too.

      • strspn says:

        Wait a second, which of the bars in the graph contains "directly extracting energy from the atmosphere with windmills"?

  13. gwynjudd says:

    I can't believe I'm the first person to mention "Who shot Mr Burns"