One thing we have learnt this week – climate fix research

beech treesA new institute for climate fix research has just been announced today based at Cambridge University.  Its mission – to investigate the unthinkable.  That is geoengineering solutions to climate change.  Before moving on to briefly look at some of the suggested solutions its important to say this is an act of desperation.  The best climate fix is to stop producing CO2.  The scientists led by the former chief scientific advisor Sir David King are obviously pessimistic about our chances of doing so.  A variety of climate fix(s) have been suggested.  These include;

Coating the Arctic in light coloured plastic.  As you should know dark materials absorb for infra red than light ones.  With all the problems with plastic this is a non-starter.  It would shred in winter storms.  Its probably not practical to do anyway. The area of plastic required would be huge.

Spraying salt water into the atmosphere above the poles.  This is a variation on spraying water into the atmosphere, world wide.  A solution I’ve heard of before.  The idea is that the salt water increases the cloud cover.  This reflects light back and causes the Arctic to freeze.  The advantage of this method is that the increased snow and ice cover could cause a virtuous circle, reflecting more light and therefore heat back into space.  This is the opposite to what is happening at the moment, where any rock liberated of ice absorbs more heat.  The idea is to used unmanned drone ships powered by the wind.  Still very difficult to envisage on the scale required.

Carbon capture and storage.  In general I don’t approve of the idea of filling old oil or gas wells with CO2.  It smacks to much of hiding dirt under the carpet, whilst producing a lot more dirt.  However there is a variation on this theme.  To turn the CO2 into fuel by combining it with hydrogen.  This has the advantage that you would by tying a lot of CO2 up in stored fuel (think how much petrol or diesel you have in the tank of your car alone).  One major problem we looked in our book was where the hydrogen comes from.  Another disadvantage is that for other reasons we want to stop using carbon fuels and there is a big push on electric cars.  It could allow people to fly, but there are other good reasons for stopping airport expansion.  One area where it does interest me is in making methane for the gas grid.  This would allow us to use our existing boilers when renewable heat is such a problem.

Ocean greening.  The next two solutions in my view are more benign although this solution still has its critics. If you add iron to the seas then it encourages the growth of phytoplankton.  That is plankton that are photosynthetic.  They enter the food chain and end up the bottom of the ocean where the sediment is a huge carbon sink.  Its been tried on a small scale with mixed results.  Again critics think it could harm the eco systems, it also needs to be done on a vast scale.  Interestingly enough NASA research shows that a decline in phytoplankton that was happening has now reversed (at least in shallow coastal waters).  There is also a question as to whether the sequestration is permanent.

Planting trees.  Agriculture is a relatively easy win as far as cutting emissions is concerned.  The Committee on Climate Change suggested planting 1.5 billion trees in the UK.  National forests in Scotland and Wales are underway but progress on both is far too slow.  This is the most benign solution of the lot.  Very few people will object to tree planting.  If the wood is used in building then the CO2 can be sequestrated  The problems are can it mop enough in time?  And the trees must be protected.  There are plenty of upland areas in the UK that could be used and indeed used to be forested.

All of this is one huge danger.  That governments will assume that new CO2 emissions don’t need to be cut.  The above is for emergency use only.  Not a get out jail card.

Neil

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