Like a lot of people I was alarmed to hear reports that methane was bubbling up in the Arctic Ocean. The initial reports were quite alarming. Boing Boing’s headline used the word “foaming” conjured up images of the arctic ocean turning into a freshly poured point of lager venting civilization ending methane. That emphasis is probably overdramatic but it’s nonetheless worrying especialy when you consider that none of this was supposed to start happening until the middle of the 21st century by many predictions just five years ago.
So when I heard news that researchers at the University of Calgary have announced a new technology for effeciently (energy wise, not financialy) extracting CO2 directly from the atmosphere I was interested. And when I heard that David Keith (who gave an excellent Ted Talk on the subject of Geogineering last year) was involved I grew more interested. And with a cameo in a big budget upcoming Discovery Channel programme Geoengineering’s profile seems set to climb even higher.
Alot of people have debated that we shouldn’t even think or talk about Geoengineering, not an unreasonable point of view considering the moral hazard involved. And just to emphasize this point The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (think Tar Sands) just loves it when the subject of Geoenigeering gets press. It’s clearly being used as a stalking horse by skeptics who are in the process of shifting from outright denial to promoting inaction. So I can understand why a lot of people are hostile to the idea of Geonengineering going so far as calling for tabling discussion and banning research on the subject.
I have a hard time taking this viewpoint seriously (how do you prevent people from talking about or conducting scientific research on subjects you don’t like anyway?). Environmentalists are shooting themselves in the foot by making Geoengineering a taboo subject. They’re simply creating the impression ( often accurate in my view) that they’re overly partisan and irrational.
However the funny thing about Geonengineering is that isn’t simply used as a stalking horse for deniers. It’s also popular with the We’re All Doomed crowd. These folks include people range from commentors on blogs mentioning that they’re stocking up on water and ammunition to respected scientists. But herein lies the second barrel of the moral hazard. According to this viewpoint there’s no point mitigating climate change ( unless you count moving to New Zealand and stocking up on guns and ammo a mitigating strategy). This too is self defeating and should be avoided.
Myself I’ve seesawed on this issue in the past but I’ve come to the conclusion that while I think it’s great that people are doing research on the subject of Geoengineering (and I’m sure that it will continue) there really isn’t any point in anyone except for a few researchers taking it into consideration at present. For starters we don’t have a viable Geoengineering technology ready to deploy and while Carbon capture sounds interesting it’s not likely to ever be less expensive than simply not emitting carbon in the first place.
The nightmare runaway feedback scenario can’t be discounted, but it’s a mistake to assume that the worst case scenario is true. You plan on the most probable case, focusing on do or die extreme measures doesn’t make for a rational response. The good thing about Climate Change is that it’s a slow motion disaster. Even in the worst case scenario we’ll have one or two decades before we go Mad Max, plenty of time for a World War Two style mobilization of resources and all kinds of desperate science fictionesque save the world gambits.
In the meantime with Solar getting foxier than ever and industry seems to be getting serious about investing in alternative energy now’s not the time to give up on rational optimism. As anyone whose run a marathon can attest it’s the last few miles that are the hardest but what gets you across the finish line is knowing that it’s there.