I just finished reading 3 papers sent to me by Stephen Salter about geoengineering by brightening the albedo of clouds to buy us time fixing climate change. This is so far the best approach forward that I have seen so far.
Update: Stephen Salter gave permission to host the papers so other people could read them, Link to repository.
Thumbs up for this direction, and I encourage governments and corporations to immediate start investing in this research, not only because it could reduce the risks of human extinction significantly, but also because there is a potential billion dollar industry here!
Geoengineering sounds scary, and it is indeed dangerous when diving into such actions without wisdom. However, if you consider this a problem where you are not only studying how to reverse the effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and runaway methane processes, but also study our capabilities to improve our understanding about climate, then it seems like a good approach to invest your effort into systems that lets you iterate rapidly with feedback from the climate system itself, while providing the control to react quickly to an increasingly complex global siutation.
The basic idea is that since there are lower concentration of nuclei that help droplet formation in the clean air of open sea waters, it is possible to spray microscopic salt crystals from sea water into the air and regulate precipitation very sensitively. As a result you can control the brightness of clouds, and counter-act the average warming of the planet. Computer models shows that this can both increase and decrease precipitation in various regions around the world, so figuring out where to NOT do it is an important first step.
Cloud albedo control allows the use of coded modulation to measure with weather stations how spraying of salt nuklei affects weather patterns, and this can be made sensitive enough to collect information in real time without causing severe effects.
It will also provide valuable feedback for climate modelerers, which currently have a hard time to predict precipitation, something that could have important economic benefit such as earlier warning of flooding.
As a software engineer I recognize these good characteristics of the solution:
- Rapid iteration with real world feedback
- Low latency that gives quick response time when reacting to a changing situation
- Proven technology applied in a new way, which often leads to new markets and industries
Even if there somehow turned up a better solution, which is likely in the long term, we would regret not investing in a capability that lets us monitor and learn our limits safely with the technology we have today.
One particular worrysome issue is that we know very little about how increasing ice melting in the arctic areas will affect methane clathrates in shallow sea waters. Estimates indicate that there is much more carbon stored there than all the emitted greenhouse gases the past century. If we get a runaway methane situation, how do we plan to respond to it?
The obvious course of action is to deploy a research project immediately to control cloud albedo, so we have a method that we know something about, if the worst case scenario should happen. It is a question of collecting the information that engineers can use to design the appropriate system.
We can not do this with existing climate models, because they are not flexible enough. The things we see happening now was not expected in many years, and the data used for peer-reviewed science used by IPCC that politicians rely on, has a cycle of several years which is too slow when we see rapid climate changes, perhaps caused by positive feedback loops.
It is no longer a debate whether climate change is happening. Some people might disagree with scientists that human emissions are causing it. The problem we have now, is that if the methane in the arctic reaches the athmosphere in large amounts, we have a hundred times worse greenhouse gas to deal with than CO2, and a such effect could have played a role in earlier extinction events.
Remember that our actions will be judged by the coming generations, and there is no more time to fight about political stances. Imagine a future where droughts can be reduced and floods can be predicted earlier. One one hand we have the path to ignorance and destruction, on the other hand we have the path to knowledge and security.
We have the carrot and the wip, but how stubborn is the donkey?