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A Scary Solution
Can We Geoengineer Our Way Out of Climate Change?

Geoengineering sounds like something you’d expect a Bond villain to espouse, not America’s National Academy of Science, but it was the latter who this week suggested that it might be time to take deliberate climate tinkering seriously. The Guardian reports:

The scientists were categorical that geoengineering should not be deployed now, and was too risky to ever be considered an alternative to cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

But it was better to start research on such unproven technologies now – to learn more about their risks – than to be stampeded into climate-shifting experiments in an emergency, the scientists said.

With that, a once-fringe topic in climate science moved towards the mainstream – despite the repeated warnings from the committee that cutting carbon pollution remained the best hope for dealing with climate change.

The NAS was careful to qualify its announcement, as you’ll see any advocate of geoengineering do. That caution is understandable; any kind of fiddling with something so complicated and crucially important to human existence could have profound implications for, well, everyone. After all, time and time again we’ve seen our best climate models fail to accurately predict warming patterns. If we don’t fully grasp all the innumerable variables and feedback mechanisms of our planet’s climate, changing one aspect of that system in the hopes of averting catastrophic climate change could potentially end very badly.

That said, if the scope of the problem is as massive as many believe it is, then it’s worth researching solutions ambitious enough to meet the challenge.

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  • Frank Natoli

    “if the scope of the problem is as massive as many believe it is”
    It is very disappointing that the American Interest would write such words. Data has been intentionally “revised” upward to “prove” warming, never mind the cause. No models exist that accurately correlate increasing atmospheric CO2, which is happening, with level or lowering global temperatures, which is also happening. That must mean that the models, which lead many to believe the scope of the “problem” is massive, are WRONG.

    • Andrew Allison

      In defense of TAI, many people do, mistakenly, believe that AGW is a massive problem.

      • Frank Natoli

        Yes, many people do, but the exact phrasing that TAI uses allows for the possibility that it’s true, which it is not.

        So much science has become so intensely politicized that it is impossible to know what’s true or what’s false. Man-made climate change is so obviously wrong, so obviously sworn to by so many scientists [and I do not use scare quotes because they really are scientists albeit scientists with zero training in meteorology], that I’ve lost all faith in the profession. Can I believe anything “science” says about alcohol? Red wine good? One glass? Two? Are they limiting quantity because of actual physiological damage or because they’re afraid of MADD? Who’s to tell?

  • Pete

    Don’t even think of geo-engineering the climate. Take a lesson from Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein.’

  • Andrew Allison

    “Climate change has advanced so rapidly that the time has come to look at options for a planetary-scale intervention, the National Academy of Science said on Tuesday.” The fact that, depending upon whether you look at global temperature or extreme weather events, climate hasn’t changed for 17 years or over 100 speaks volumes about the integrity of the National Academy of Science. Which is not to say that the planet isn’t warming, just that nobody can explain what’s actually occurring. What we do know is that the long-term rate of increase in global temperature is very much lower than advertised and that it doesn’t seem to be having any measurable effect on extreme weather events.

    • JR

      Agreed. However, I think the point TAI is making is that we should start research into terraforming as early as possible. We are taking research that will take hundreds upon hundreds of years here. If you think humanity’s end game is leaving this star system, then learning how to terraform is essential.

      • Andrew Allison

        I agree. What disgusts me is the blatant misrepresentation of the facts on the part of rent-seekers like NAS. The argument for terraforming shouldn’t require the smokescreen of non-existent “rapid climate change”.

  • Rick Johnson

    What is this climate change that you speak of? Last time I looked, average global temperatures have barely changed for nearly twenty years, despite the average level of plant food in the air increasing by around 30 per cent.

    The science is settled. The climate change that the Greens speak of is a scam. It is a great big hoax foisted upon the world by a radical fringe who hate prosterity. It’s aim isn’t to save the planet. It’s aim is to de industrialise the planet.

    TAI is usually pretty sensible, but you really have been suckered in y this one. Open your eyes and have a look at the science. Real science, not Green propaganda masquerading as science.

    • PoohBear57

      Totally agree. And while you’re at it, why not try naming the problem accurately, instead of using a euphemism that obfuscates. ‘climate change’ happens every single day – that’s what climates do – and how that happens is what we don’t fully understand. The Greens used to call the problem ‘global warming’, but as that’s not what’s happening, they’ve just changed to another term that is more politically palatable to keep the argument going.
      Propaganda techniques at their best…. Wake up, sheeple!

      • iconoclast

        And even labeling it Climate Change implies that all climate change is caused by humans (as opposed to the factors that caused all the climate change over the last few hundred million years on this planet). AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) is a much more honest term, which does explain why the warmist fundamentalists refuse to use it any more.

        • Funkensteinz

          Home schooled?

  • LarryD

    They (NAS) just want in on the gravy train.

    If the rich people supporting environmentalism really believed AGW was a problem, they wouldn’t be flying to international meetings in nearly empty private jets, they’d at lest coordinate and ride share. And they’d cut down their own carbon footprint in many other ways as well. They’re all about telling other people to live poor, while they continue living rich.

    If you take a look at the atmospheric reconstructions, even taking the low side of the error bars, current carbon dioxide levels are unusually low, almost dangerously so (plant metabolism shuts down below 150 ppm). Levels in the past have been multiples of the “threshold” 450 ppm for hundreds of millions of years without any climate cataclysm. Since the Earth is currently between ice ages, the most likely climate problem we’re going to face is cooling. In fact, I remember back in the 1970s “the coming ice age” was all the fear.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Any effective world cooperation to stop any and all countries and/or individuals from attempting geoengineering experiments may be as hard to get as any effective world cooperation on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide.

  • stanbrown

    We can’t even figure out a way to get scientists to replicate the flawed studies of their contemporaries. if we cannot adopt a simple quality control measure like that, don’t bother trying to imagine scientists implementing quality control when they start screwing with the climate.

  • MartyH

    The hubris… it burns….

    Seriously. We have a complex, non-linear, chaotic, poorly understood climate system (the models for which do not come close to matching observed physical data even over short time frames). This system has gone into extended ice ages which then eventually end for no reason that we can explain, and they want to deliberately screw around with it? Are they out of their minds?

    • Frank Natoli

      Some years ago, the London Telegraph ran an article on some discoveries in the Black Sea. Radar soundings revealed buildings distant from the shore line, inarguable evidence that in antiquity the Black Sea had a much lower level. What happened was that the Bosphorus was a dam, and the Black Sea was a fresh water lake. Unusually snowfalls in the Alps coupled with unusual heating and melting of those snows resulting in the salted Mediterranean breaking through the Bosphorus, flooding the Black Sea, drowning all settlements on the then coast line. [Best time estimates are that they occurred at the time of Noah’s great flood.] HOW did such catastrophic climate change occur?

      • Curious Mayhem

        A high snowfall means somewhere and some time else, it was warmer than usual, to evaporate all that water into the air that later cooled and precipitated out as snow. There was stronger than usual warming somewhere else, then a stronger than usual cooling in the Alps — at least aloft, where clouds and snow form.

        I think that period was toward the end of the Hypsithermal (Holocene climatic optimum), the warmest period from the end of the last ice age until now. The world is somewhat cooler now than that period was. There are smaller variations in temperature, humdity, and precipitation as well that seem to be driven by changes in the solar magnetic cycle.

        There’s an interesting book about how this event supposedly is the history behind the Noah story, Ryan and Pitman’s Noah’s Flood. It was a regional, not a global, event and of course doesn’t mean the world is 10,000 years old. It also wasn’t unique, but a follow-on to the end of the last ice age (which itself ended with catastrophic floods at high latitudes), as many geologists in the nineteenth century had guessed. Such facts had a hard time getting accepted later in much of the twentieth century, when gradualism dominated geological and biological thinking. We know now that nineteenth century catastrophists were right about one thing: sudden pervasive changes do occasionally happen and decisively affect everything later.

        In Genesis, it’s not a scientific theory, but the background to a moralistic and theological point, “choosing one to the save the many,” that goes beyond the scope of natural science, at least as it’s understood and practiced today.

        P.S. Here’s an article I just discovered on a giant flood — of biblical proportions — in North America toward the end of the last ice age:

      • Andrew Allison

        CO2 emissions, of course [sarc]!

        • Curious Mayhem

          That’s why G-d decided to destroy everyone, except for Noah and his family, who were activists and bought their CO2 emission credits in time.

          Deep insight into scripture here — thanks 🙂

    • Curious Mayhem

      Yeah. The short answer is, no.

      The idea is a monstrous piece of nonsense out of the early days of modern weather forecasting, the 1950s and 60s, when it was seriously thought that the climate, loosely speaking, is linear and predictable and could even be controlled. The rise of chaos is the 1960s and 70s destroyed that hope and has left climatologists with a still-unresolved problem: what’s the difference between “weather” and “climate”? Does “climate” as a distinct concept even make sense? If so, how so? The averages that are used nowadays are a major intellectual regression (there’s no such thing a global temperature average) and show nothing but the price science is paying for the climate hysteria.

      The only “geoengineering” that any serious person should be thinking about is planting more trees and other plants..If the atmospheric CO2 concentration is up, that will happen on its own in some ways, because the extra CO2 is stimulative to plant growth (including sea plankton, etc.). Otherwise, plant trees. There are areas of the planet that could use some for other reasons.

    • Andrew Allison

      Would that it were hubris! It’s downright dishonesty.

  • DiogenesDespairs

    Perhaps the NAS, before it rails on about cutting carbon dioxide emissions, should take into account these crucial, verifiable facts – with citations – about human-generated carbon dioxide and its effect on global warming. The fact that it apparently does not is telling. (I recommend following the links in the citations; some of them are very educational.)

    The fact is, there has been global warming, but the contribution of human-generated carbon dioxide is necessarily so minuscule as to be nearly undetectable. Here’s why:

    Carbon dioxide, considered the main vector for human-caused global warming, is some 0.038% of the atmosphere[1]- a trace gas. Water vapor varies from 0% to 4%[2], and should easily average 1% or more[3] near the Earth’s surface, where the greenhouse effect would be most important, and is about three times more effective[4] a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So water vapor is at least 25 times more prevalent and three times more effective; that makes it at least 75 times more important to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide[5]. The TOTAL contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect is therefore 0.013 or less. The total human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the industrial revolution has been estimated at about 25%[6]. So humans’ carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is a quarter of 0.013, works out to about 0.00325. Total warming of the Earth by the greenhouse effect is widely accepted as about 33 degrees Centigrade, raising average temperature to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. So the contribution of anthropogenic carbon dioxide is less than 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or under 0.1 degree Centigrade. Global warming over the last century is thought by many to be about 0.6 degrees Centigrade.

    But that’s only the beginning. We’ve had global warming for more than 10,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age, and there is evidence temperatures were actually somewhat warmer 9,000 years ago and again 4,500 to 8,000 years ago than they are today[7]. Whatever caused that, it was not human activity. It was not all those power plants and factories and SUVs being operated by Stone Age cavemen while chipping arrowheads out of bits of flint. Whatever the cause was, it melted the glaciers that in North America once extended south to Long Island and parts of New York City[8] into virtually complete disappearance (except for a few mountain remnants). That’s one big greenhouse effect! If we are still having global warming – and I suppose we could presume we are, given this 10,000 year history – it seems highly likely that it is still the overwhelmingly primary cause of continued warming, rather than our piddling 0.00325 contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    Yet even that trend-continuation today needs to be proved. Evidence is that the Medieval Warm Period centered on the 1200s was somewhat warmer than we are now[9], and the climate was clearly colder in the Little Ice Age in the 1600s than it is now[10]. So we are within the range of normal up-and-down fluctuations without human greenhouse contributions that could be significant, or even measurable.

    The principal scientists arguing for human-caused global warming have been demonstrably disingenuous[11], and now you can see why. They have proved they should not be trusted.

    The idea that we should be spending hundreds of billions of dollars and hamstringing the economy of the entire world to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is beyond ludicrous in light of the facts above; it is insane. Furthermore, it sucks attention and resources from seeking the other sources of warming and from coping with climate change and its effects in realistic ways. The true motivation underlying the global warming movement is almost certainly ideological and political in nature, and I predict that anthropogenic Global Warming, as currently presented, will go down as the greatest fraud of all time. It makes Ponzi and Madoff look like pikers by comparison.

    [1] Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition

    by Michael Pidwirny Concentration varies slightly with the growing season in the northern hemisphere. HYPERLINK “”

    [2] ibid.

    [3] HALOE v2.0 Upper Tropospheric Water Vapor Climatology Claudette Ojo, Hampton University; et al.. HYPERLINK “” See p. 4.The 0 – 4% range is widely accepted among most sources. This source is listed for its good discussion of the phenomena determining that range. An examination of a globe will show that tropical oceans (near high end of range) are far more extensive than the sum of the earth’s arctic and antarctic regions and tropical-zone deserts (all near the low end). Temperate zone oceans are far more extensive than temperate-zone desert. This author’s guess of an average of 2% or more seems plausible. I have used “1% or more” in an effort to err on the side of understatement.

    [4 NIST Chemistry Webbook, Please compare the IR absorption spectra of water and carbon dioxide. ] HYPERLINK “”

    [5] Three quarters of the atmosphere and virtually all water vapor are in the troposphere. Including all the atmosphere would change the ratios to about 20 times more prevalent and 60 times more effective. However, the greenhouse effect of high-altitude carbon dioxide on lower-altitude weather and the earth’s surface seems likely to be small if not nil.

    [6] National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. HYPERLINK “” The estimated 90ppm increase in carbon dioxide, 30% above the base of 280 ppm, to a recent reading of 370 ppm, equates to just under 25% of present concentration, the relevant factor in estimating present contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    [7] Oak Ridge National Laboratory

    [8] New York Nature – The nature and natural history of the New York City region. Betsy McCully

    [9] Global Warming: A Geological Perspective John P. Bluemle HYPERLINK “” This article, published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, is drawn from a paper by the author in Environmental Geosciences, 1999, Volume 6, Number 2, pp. 63-75. Note particularly the chart on p.4.

    [10] Ibid.

    [11] Wikileaks: Climatic Research Unit emails, data, models, 1996-2009 HYPERLINK “,_data,_models,_1996-2009”,_data,_models,_1996-2009.

    See also HYPERLINK “” and

    HYPERLINK “” and, more diplomatically: HYPERLINK “” Et al.


    What initially troubled me was the aberrant behavior of the climate research unit at East Anglia University, which had been the main data source for AGW arguments. They initially refused (!) to reveal their algorithms and data on the grounds that they were proprietary(!!). They responded to critics with ad hominem attacks and efforts to block their publication in scientific journals. Now, as I am sure you know, this is not how one does honest science, in which you PUBLISH your data and methodology and invite critical comment to ferret out error or oversights. It took the now-famous Wikileaks “Climategate” to pry loose the data and expose their machinations. Yet despite the devastating blow these revelations should have to their credibility, the AGW “cause” has taken on a life of its own.

    Fundamentally, the argument seems to rest on a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this, therefore because of this. We see a rise in temperature and a rise in (principally) carbon dioxide, and therefore conclude one must have caused the other. It does not necessarily follow at all. There can be other causes entirely behind both phenomena, and as you see above, almost certainly there are. Beyond that, I have encountered numerous assertions of fact that cannot add up given the physical properties of water vapor and carbon dioxide that go unchallenged. One-sided arguments proliferate and people arguing the other side are frequently denounced as being employed by business interests rather than rebutted on the merits.

    In sum, I have not come lightly to the conclusion that the AGW argument as it applies to carbon dioxide is largely untrue and certainly does not account for more than a very small, nearly negligible part of the phenomena we are seeing. The implications of widespread assertions of and belief in such an untruth are staggering, and potentially enormously destructive. It is unwise indeed to let oneself be stampeded in this matter, and stampede is clearly what many have been and are trying to induce.

    I can understand politicians behaving this way; a carbon tax or carbon trading regime would allow enormous revenues to fall into their hands. I can understand “Progressive” ideologues; it logically leads to enormous expansion of government power over industry, the economy, and the daily life of individuals, which they regard as a good thing. I understand the environmentalists; they want to shrink the size and impact on the environment of modern civilization. But responsible citizens need to put aside such considerations.

    • iconoclast

      Very true. How Keith Briffa hid the Yamal Tree Ring series for years is an excellent example of the scientific misconduct that has characterized too much of climate research. Briffa repeatedly denied McIntyre access to the raw data used in his papers, particularly the paper presented in Science. Science, on it’s part, published the paper but did not release the data (which is even more disturbing). Finally when Briffa published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B McIntyre was able to begin to get the data because the Royal Society apparently has more integrity than Science. The importance of this data was that it was used by Mann and others to “hide the decline” using cherry-picked trees to create a fatally flawed temperature proxy.

      • Curious Mayhem

        Then there’s the fabrication or doctoring of surface temperature records, which seems be becoming more and more pervasive.

        The “global temperature” used now is a statistical index, built on a time series composite of many actual measured surface temperatures from around the world, and fit to some collection of functions consciously massaged to produce an anomalous jump in the index in the last 20 years. It’s the “endpoint” effect, where you’re trying to extrapolate from limited time series data. What they don’t tell you is that the endpoint index trend is consistent with a wide range of trends, from warming to cooling. And the actual measured temperatures have moderated or cooled so much in the last decade that even they can’t coax out the even more dramatic “warming” that they want. Not to mention the fact that there’s no “global” temperature — it’s a pseudoscientific concept. There’s temperature here and temperature there (and matter and radiation have different temperatures too) — temperature is a field in space. The globe is not a simple sphere in thermal equilibrium with itself.

        It’s a crazy, fraudulent, destructive cult and has done enormous damage to all the sciences related to climate.

    • nosmokewithout

      We have been busy cutting and pasting haven’t we!

      Never mind the quality feel the width.

      1. The contribution made by greenhouse gases is above normal by a figure currently measured as 2.9 Wm-2 and growing. Discussion of proportions is immaterial, discussion if insolation contribution is the important science.

      2. If there is argument over what is happening now is controversial, what happened over the last 1000 years or 10,000 years is even more difficult. But just to update you on the warming 10000 years ago.

      3. The Medieval Warm Period appears to have occurred as a regional phenomenon. To put this part of your argument in context.

      “Less confidence can be placed in large-scale surface temperature reconstructions
      for the period from A.D. 900 to 1600. Presently available proxy evidence indicates that
      temperatures at many, but not all, individual locations were higher during the past 25
      years than during any period of comparable length since A.D. 900. The uncertainties
      associated with reconstructing hemispheric mean or global mean temperatures from
      these data increase substantially backward in time through this period and are not yet
      fully quantified.”

      Your post seems old hat now. References are out of data, and quite a bit of the arguments seem old hat.

      You need to come back with more up to date science if you want to debate climate change.

      This gives a better indication of the contribution of CO2 gases to warming.

      Is more informative about the effect of Anthropomorphic GHG.

      On a general note, we are aware of the forcings which are natural, both in a positive and negative direction. Subtract those from the temperature record and you have the effect of the greenhouse gases.

      Summarises the work of Foster and Rahmstorf.

      Some of your references are dead links!

  • iconoclast

    “…the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.”

    Given that premise no geo-engineering is needed since the AGW hypothesis is far from proven. And, given the misconduct that has characterized too much research and too many researchers, the hypothesis has even farther to go to recover a lost political credibility.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The fact that this article is using the deceptive term “Climate Change” in place of the descriptive and easily falsifiable “Global Warming” is all you need to know that it is just more BS by warmist idiots.

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