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Live Blogging From RGS Geoengineering Debate In London

I am at the Royal Geographical Society debate on geoengineering, with Paul Johnston from Greenpeace and Prof. David Keith, one of the world’s authorities on geoengineering as a way to counteract climate change.

So far Johnston has expressed a heavy does of skepticism on any technology for intervening in the climate. Keith is not making a strong case against the list of issues working against geoengineering, such as the possibility that will be used independently or even as some sort of weapon.

Update: Keith is now moving towards asking to know even if nobody will do any intervention immediately. Johnston replies that money is limited and geoengineering may take it away from “real solutions”

Update 2: Tom Clarke, chair, comes to the rescue asking if there is any alternative given the lack of prospect for any emission reduction. Johnstone says that geoengineering may bring instability when things will be going very badly.

Update 3: Time for questions. First is about the problem of definition of geoengineering. Keith says there are two kinds, solar radiation management and CO2 removal, they are different things.

Update 4: Question on CO2 extraction. Keith is working about it. Scrubbing from the air or from the power plant? First option means you can build it where it is cheaper to build.

Update 5: What is the solution if Greenpeace is so against geoengineering? Johnston wants a much more thorough understanding of the way the atmosphere will react before going the geoengineering route.

Update 6: Keith says if we were really serious on cutting emissions we would be cutting it more aggressively. It is a moral choice, if we cannot cut geoengineering the way forward. Keith affirms he has big concerns too and talks about them,

Update 7: Scientists says he’s terrified about methane in the Arctic: is Greenpeace willing to live with that risk? Other question: geoengineering looks often like a local intervention like seeding clouds: we should expect to be struggling with the difficulty of understanding it all. Johnston talks about huge uncertainties, “at the moment is a gamble”. Keith on intractability: it’s a hard problem. Some of the schemes may be harder. Must start with little interventions and then proceed with the understanding.

Update 8: Keith mentions how after 9/11 we have learned about the effects of airplanes as we had them all grounded over the USA. Yes it is hard, but we cannot do much on the emissions side. We need to do some research on geoengineering.

Clarke asks Johnston if Greenpeace would agree on “free” and “cheap” experiments in geoengineering. Answer is that they need assurance that it will not prevent “the full deployment of an alternative energy [generation] system”

Update 9: Johnston doesn’t want to see commercial interests involved as in the ocean fertilization debacle. Keith agrees.

Final two questions: since we cannot predict what can happen, can we use the 200+ volcanic eruptions to understand better? Also large-scale or small-scale projects, such as improving cooking stoves at community level?

Keith talks about the possibility of biofuels (?) especially in the tropics. Johnston says they had been interested about it for years, and that they want to more about it before investing in large-scale interventions. Doesn’t want to see it as a way to deal with biological waste.

Update 9: Final final two questions. Won’t the politicians think short term and choose geoengineering to avoid having to deal with cutting emissions? Don’t we need research just to start an informed debate about geoengineering, instead of having to deal over and over with uncertainties that never go away? Isn’t much of the technology already available right now? Can we use geoengineering as the “nasty medicine” to scare the politicians into doing something about emissions?

Johnston doesn’t think it would work as a “stick”. He says we need a good reason and guidelines for carrying out geoengineering research and “throwing money” at it. Talks about avoiding unjustified optimism.

Update 10: Johnston suggests to go for research without immediate commercial exploitability. It’s now Keith’s turn: nobody is doing anything serious about emissions, even in high-rhetoric Europe. He says that not enough people have been convinced. He doesn’t “know why”, doesn’t “get it”. “We just haven’t made the sale” to the politicians so they are not serious about global warming.

Keith continues saying GM food are a not-so-serious problem for the experts but the public is very worried about it. For climate change, it’s the other way around.

Johnston thinks it’s difficult to people to conceive the scale of global warming, so they become despondent. Politicians have contributed to the perception that climate change is unavoidable, by doing nothing. People are already starting to adapt.

End of the debate – some more details and considerations will be posted later

I Will Be At The London RGS Climate Engineering Event

14 May at 7pm, London (UK) SW7 2AR

Details: “Engineering Our Climate” (Royal Geographical Society)

Cost: £10

I will be there.

And I am not suggesting to wear a white armband as a sign of protest against lunatic geo-engineering ideas.