Climate Change Policy and The Super-Hero Syndrome

Jeremy Thompson/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0
Jeremy Thompson/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

by Roger Boyd (Resilience)

There is a genre of Hollywood “feel-good” disaster movie, where everything seems nearly hopeless until the end, and then suddenly, many times against all hope, the super-hero (or super-heroes) saves the day. Whether it be human heroes that blow up the Earth-killing asteroid just in the nick of time; good mutants that defeat the bad mutants just in time; bad mutants turned good mutants that destroy the stayed-bad mutants just in time; future humans and non-human allies that save the Galaxy from the Empire. Anyway, you get the general storyline. The bad people/organisms /things win for the first 95% of the movie then the good people/organisms/things win against all the odds in the last 5%.

The United Nations Climate Change bureaucracy, which tends to be full of economists, engineers and enviro-managers rather than actual climate scientists and ecologists, seems to have been watching too many of these feel-good disaster movies. Seems we need to make them watch the “feel bad” disaster movies instead, like the one where the Sun eats up the Earth, or perhaps a steady diet of the unlimited supply of zombie apocalypse movies. They need something a lot darker, where super-heroes don’t save the day. Then again, maybe they should just grow up and accept that super-heroes only exist in movies. Or maybe they should just listen to the scientists and ecologists a lot more.

The United Nation’s main super-hero is called BECCS (Bio-Energy Carbon Capture & Storage). I know, not exactly as catchy as Superman, Thor, Cat Woman, or Wolverine, but what would you expect from a bunch of climate bureaucrats? BECCS is a true super-hero. The Bad Carbon will continue spewing itself into our atmosphere for decades to come, threatening to remove the ecological basis for modern human civilization. BECCS’s friends, Energy Efficiency and Clean Power, will have held back Bad Carbon a bit, but could not stop BC in time! Then at the last minute, just before human civilization melts down, BECCS sucks up BC and deposits it deep in the Earth never to return (well at least for a few thousand years hopefully).

The problem is that BECCS is not real; it’s a bunch of hopes and a religious belief in technology wrapped together. It assumes that we can set aside about a third of the current arable land on the planet to grow energy crops, instead of food. Then we can burn all those energy crops to help power our modern civilization, and can store all of the resulting carbon dioxide (billions of tons of the stuff) underground safely for thousands of years. That’s a lot of carbon dioxide per year, needing an infrastructure equivalent to the current oil & gas industry to transport it and pump it into the ground. What tiny-scale testing of the CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) part of BECCS that has been carried out so far could most politely be described as “deeply disappointing”.  Ignoring this, the U.N. people assume that BECCS will start riding to the rescue on a major scale within 20 years or less.

What if BECCS isn’t up to the task? Other eco-technocrats have an army of super-heroes ready to help. These eco-techies seem to be into super-hero ensemble movies – maybe we should call them “The C-Men”. If EE, CP and BECCS cant beat the deadly BC, there is always – wait for it, drum roll please… DAC!!!! (Direct Air Capture) will save the day! BECCS couldn’t suck up enough of the highly concentrated carbon dioxide at the power plant exhaust, but DAC can get enough of it after it has become highly diffuse in the air! If that doesn’t work there is EW (Enhanced Weathering: dig up truly colossal amounts of a certain type of rock, turn it into powder and spread it over the Earth), OF (Ocean Fertilization: fertilize carbon capturing organisms in the ocean), and SRaM (Solar Radiation Management: block/reflect the Sun’s energy to cool the planet).

Why do we need all these super-heroes? Because without these super-heroes we would have to accept that large-scale government intervention will be required to fundamentally change our societies to use a lot less energy. A lot like a war-style economy. A lot less belief in “free markets”, perhaps no economic growth for a while, a ton of pressure for a more equitable sharing of income and wealth, and a lot less use of fossil fuels. Not a reality that the powers-that-be want to deal with. So we get the mythical super-heroes instead.

Those that consider a Trump presidency to be a disaster do not understand that we are already in the disaster. Trump may speed up the disaster a little and is certainly more “in your face”, but he is just a symptom of a larger problem. In a way, you could say he is being a bit more truthful about his version of reality-denial. The problem is the inability of even the “progressives” among the powerful to accept the reality that the time for small measures is gone, and that drastic action is required now. In the early 1990’s, those actions may have been relatively mild. Now, they are much bigger and the longer we wait, the bigger and riskier they get. Only denial, facilitated by mythical technocratic future super-heroes, can keep us from this truth.

Radical Realism About Climate Change

UniversityBlogSpot/Flickr CC by Lili Fuhr (Project Syndicate)

BERLIN – Mainstream politics, by definition, is ill equipped to imagine fundamental change. But last December in Paris, 196 governments agreed on the need to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – an objective that holds the promise of delivering precisely such a transformation. Achieving it will require overcoming serious political challenges, reflected in the fact that some are advocating solutions that will end up doing more harm than good.

One strategy that has gained a lot of momentum focuses on the need to develop large-scale technological interventions to control the global thermostat. Proponents of geo-engineering technologies argue that conventional adaptation and mitigation measures are simply not reducing emissions fast enough to prevent dangerous warming. Technologies such as “carbon capture and storage” (CCS), they argue, are necessary to limit damage and human suffering.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change seems to agree. In its fifth assessment report, it builds its scenarios for meeting the Paris climate goals around the concept of “negative emissions” – that is, the ability to suck excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

But this approach ignores serious problems with the development and deployment of geo-engineering technologies. Consider CCS, which is the process of capturing waste CO2 from large sources like fossil-fuel power plants and depositing it in, say, an underground geological formation, thereby preventing it from entering the atmosphere.

It sounds good. But what makes it economical is that it enables enhanced oil recovery. In other words, the only way to make CCS cost-effective is to use it to exacerbate the problem it is supposed to address.

The supposed savior technology – bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – is not much better. BECCS begins by producing large amounts of biomass from, say, fast-growing trees which naturally capture CO2; those plants are then converted into fuel via burning or refining, with the resulting carbon emissions being captured and sequestered.

But bioenergy is not carbon neutral, and the surge in European demand for biomass has led to rising food commodity prices and land grabs in developing countries. These realities helped persuade the scientists Kevin Anderson and Glen Peters recently to call carbon removal an “unjust and high-stakes gamble.”

What about other geo-engineering proposals? Solar Radiation Management (SRM) aims to control the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth, essentially mimicking the effect of a volcano eruption. This may be achieved by pumping sulphates into the stratosphere or through “marine cloud brightening,” which would cause clouds to reflect more sunlight back into space.

But blasting sulphates into the stratosphere does not reduce CO2 concentrations; it merely delays the impact for as long as the spraying continues. Moreover, sulphate injections in the northern hemisphere could cause serious drought in the Africa’s Sahel region, owing to dramatic reductions in precipitation, while some African countries would experience more precipitation. The effect on the Asian monsoon system could be even more pronounced. In short, SRM could severely damage the livelihoods of millions of people.

If geo-engineering can’t save us, what can? In fact, there are a number of steps that can be taken right now. They would be messier and more politically challenging than geo-engineering. But they would work.

The first step would be a moratorium on new coal mines. If all currently planned coal-fired power plants are built and operated over their normal service life of 40 years, they alone would emit 240 billion tons of CO2 – more than the remaining carbon budget. If that investment were re-allocated to decentralized renewable-energy production, the benefits would be enormous.

Moreover, with only 10% of the global population responsible for almost 50% of global CO2 emissions, there is a strong case to be made for implementing strategies that target the biggest emitters. For example, it makes little sense that airlines – which actually serve just 7% of the global population – are exempt from paying fuel taxes, especially at a time when ticket prices are at an historic low.

Changes to land use are also needed. The 2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development charts the way to a transformed agricultural system – with benefits that extend far beyond climate policy. We must apply this knowledge around the world.

In Europe, the waste sector could make a significant contribution to a low-carbon economy. Recent research, commissioned by Zero Waste Europe, found that optimal implementation of the European Commission’s “circular economy package” waste targets could save the European Union 190 million tons of CO2 per year. That is the equivalent of the annual emissions of the Netherlands!

Available measures in the transport sector include strengthening public transportation, encouraging the use of railways for freight traffic, building bike paths, and subsidizing delivery bicycles. In Germany, intelligent action on transport could reduce the sector’s emissions by up to 95% by 2050.

Another powerful measure would be to protect and restore natural ecosystems, which could result in the storage of 220-330 gigatons of CO2 worldwide .

None of these solutions is a silver bullet; but, together, they could change the world for the better. Geo-engineering solutions are not the only alternatives. They are a response to the inability of mainstream economics and politics to address the climate challenge. Instead of trying to devise ways to maintain business as usual – an impossible and destructive goal – we must prove our ability to imagine and achieve radical change.

If we fail, we should not be surprised if, just a few years from now, the planetary thermostat is under the control of a handful of states or military and scientific interests. As world leaders convene for the 22nd United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to bring the Paris agreement into force, they should repudiate geo-engineering quick fixes – and demonstrate a commitment to real solutions.

The 2-degree goal and the question of geoengineering

NASA via FlickrDisclaimer: This article is broadly pro-geoengineering, but alarmingly the authors say it would take 160 years of sulphate injections to keep global temperature increases to under 2 degrees!

by Atmos News

How much geoengineering would be necessary to hit temperature target?

Sept. 7, 2016 | With world leaders agreeing to try to limit the increase in global temperatures, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are taking a look at whether geoengineering the climate could counter enough warming to help meet that goal.

In a new study, the scientists found that if society doesn’t make steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the next couple of decades, injections of planet-cooling sulfates into the atmosphere could theoretically limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. But such geoengineeing would mean a sustained effort stretching over more than a century and a half, and it would fail to prevent certain aspects of climate change.

“One thing that surprised me about this study is how much geoengineering it would take to stay within 2 degrees if we don’t start reducing greenhouse gases soon,” said NCAR scientist Simone Tilmes, the lead author.

For the study, the research team focused on the potential impacts of geoengineering on temperatures, the drying of land surfaces, and Arctic sea ice. They did not examine possible adverse environmental consequences such as potential damage to the ozone layer. The sulfate injections also would not alleviate the impact of carbon dioxide emissions on ocean acidification.

The research was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Meeting an ambitious target

Representatives of 195 nations negotiated last fall’s Paris Agreement, which sets an ambitious target of capping global warming at no more than 2 degrees. Scientists have found, however, that such a target will be extremely difficult to achieve. It would require society to begin dramatically reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases within a few years. Efforts to develop new technologies that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would also be needed to succeed.

A volcano erupts in Alaska in 2006
Volcanic eruptions spew sulfates into the air, which can block incoming sunlight and have a cooling effect on the planet. One type of proposed geoengineering would rely on a similar method: injecting sulfates high in the atmopshere to try to cool the Earth. (Image courtesy of USGS.)

The new study examined a scenario in which emissions continue growing at current rates until about 2040, when warming would reach 2 degrees. The authors found that, even if society then adopted an aggressive approach to reducing emissions and was able to begin drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, warming would reach 3 degrees by the end of the century.

So they explored an additional possibility: injecting sulfate particles, like those emitted during volcanic eruptions, into the stratosphere. This approach to geoengineering, which is untested but has generated discussion for several years, would theoretically counter global warming because the sulfates would block incoming sunlight and shade the planet. This is why large volcanic eruptions can have a planet-cooling effect.

The research team estimated that society would need to keep injecting sulfates for 160 years to stay within the target of 2 degrees. This would require a peak rate of 18 megatons of sulfur dioxide per year, or about 1.5 times the amount emitted by the massive eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1992.

A different climate

Even so, the climate would be noticeably altered under this scenario. Extreme hot days with geoengineering would be about twice as frequent in North America and other regions compared to present-day conditions. (In comparison, they would be about five to six times more frequent without geoengineering.) Summertime Arctic sea ice would retreat significantly with geoengineering, whereas it would disappear altogether if society relied solely on reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere after 2040. Precipitation patterns would also change with geoengineering, causing drying in some regions.

“If society doesn’t act quickly on emissions, we may be facing more uncertain methods like geoengineering to keep temperatures from going over the 2-degree target,” Tilmes said. “But even with geoengineering, we’d still be looking at a climate that’s different than today’s.

For the study, Tilmes and her colleagues used a pair of computer models: the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model and the Integrated Science Assessment Model at the University of Illinois. These enabled the authors to simulate climate conditions with different levels of greenhouse gases as well as stratospheric sulfates.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

Will Developing Nations Hack the Climate?

Study evaluates geo-engineering to reduce global warming by increasing aerosol levels

by Christine Lepisto (treehugger)

For those who lower their stress levels with the hope that we will be able to geo-engineer our way out of any impending global warming crises, here is another bit of sobering news.

The suggestion has been made that increasing aerosol levels in the atmosphere cools the earth. It does work: for example, after a volcanic eruption, the aerosol particles in the stratosphere reflect solar radiation back into space. In the troposphere, aerosols promote cloud formation and whiter clouds, which also reflect more solar warmth away from the planet. The unfortunate events following the attacks of 9-11 gave scientists a unique opportunity to improve modeling of the effects of contrails, by comparing the before (normal trans-Atlantic air traffic) and after (reduced flight frequencies) situations.

This has led people to suggest options like increasing the levels of sulfur compounds in jet fuels, so that the air transport industry would cool the globe while circling it. The possibility drives chemtrail conspiracy theories, although there is no evidence that anyone has taken these suggestions seriously so far.

Now a study by Anton Laakso of the Finnish Meteorological Institute proves that even if a proposal so wrought with potential unintended consequences could get approved, it can’t fix our global warming problem. The more aerosols added to the atmosphere, the less effective the cooling.

So yet another extreme alternative bites the dust. We have to go back to plan A: reduce climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Read the full study here: Modelling radiative and climate effects of aerosols: from Anthropogenic emissions to geoengineering

Firing lasers at clouds to change the Earth’s albedo

A recent paper in the “Science Advances” journal describes research that has been conducted into the possibility of firing lasers at clouds to change their albedo, and hence reflect more light away from the Earth.

Here’s an explanation of the science behind it, from an article by Neel V. Patel in Inverse:

…the study shows how the research team built a lab-controlled environment that recreated clouds formed in high-atmosphere conditions (a.k.a. cirrus clouds). Then they zapped those clouds with powerful blasts of lasers.

Here’s where things get really interesting: when the frozen ice particles hanging in those clouds are hit with lasers, an extremely hot plasma forms at the center, crushing into a shockwave that ripples through and breaks the ice particle up. Whatever water vapor is left quickly freezes into smaller ice particles.

Smaller ice particles can populate more of the surface area of clouds in a way that allows them to collectively reflect more sunlight than heavier particles can.

It sounds like a crazy idea and part of that reason is because we don’t have the laser technology to actually shoot powerful lasers up into the sky and blow frozen crystals in the clouds into smaller fragments.

This is probably one of the least sensible climate mitigation suggestions we’ve come across, in case you were wondering!

Sulphur sunshade is a stupid pollution solution

'Problem' pollution is overrun by 'solution' pollution. Cartoon by Greg Foyster

by Greg Foyster (Eureka Street)

It’s a credo of consumer capitalism: never address the cause when you can create an industry treating the symptoms.

This is the logic behind many profitable businesses, from cholesterol-lowering pills that compensate for poor diet and lack of exercise to factories that recycle unnecessary packaging.

Now there’s a new technofix on the table, and it’s called geoengineering. Geoengineering means intervening in the Earth’s climate to counter, or offset, global warming. It’s hacking the planet on a monumental scale.

Some proposals sound like pure science fiction. Building ‘artificial trees’ to suck in carbon dioxide. Fertilising entire oceans with iron, trigging carbon-sequestering algal blooms. Launching a fleet of ships to patrol the ocean, pumping seawater into the air to ‘brighten’ marine clouds.

The most ambitious and widely studied is spraying sulphate particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight, cooling the planet.

The idea comes from huge volcanic eruptions, which can blast millions of tonnes of sulphur into the stratosphere, creating a kind of chemical sunshade. When Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in 1991, the Earth cooled by about half a degrees Celsius over the next year.

After decades of being taboo, this outlandish scheme, called ‘solar radiation management’, is now being taken seriously. It’s been explored through scientific papers in major journals, reports of the UK’s Royal Society, hearings in the US Congress, and a recent report of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Some environmentalists and climate scientists say it may be a ‘necessary evil’ to avoid catastrophic climate tipping points. Controversially, the most recent IPCC Assessment Report mentioned geoengineering in the prominent final paragraph of its Summary for Policymakers.

 

“Dimming the sun wouldn’t solve the other problems caused by carbon pollution. Dissolved carbon dioxide would still acidify our oceans. The climate would still change.”

 

There are deep pockets behind it too. Techno-philanthropist Bill Gates is a leading financer. Venture capitalists are circling, and some proposals have already been patented.

A firm called Intellectual Ventures owns the intellectual property for the ‘StratoShield‘, an invention to deliver sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere through a 30-km-long hose supported by balloons. A professor at Harvard, David Keith, is pushing for more research and testing.

Neoconservative think tanks have leapt at the technology, arguing it’s a cheaper solution to global warming than cutting emissions and restructuring the economy. Once the post-Paris Agreement buzz wears off and governments realise the hard work ahead of them, they might find this line seductive.

As a thought experiment to highlight the warped logic behind geoengineering, I’m proposing my own climate-hacking invention. It’s called The Problem-Solution Generator, and it has two parts.

The ‘Problem’ is a dirty coal power station that spews carbon dioxide into the lower atmosphere, overheating the planet. Burning coal also releases other forms of air pollution — sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, soot particles and mercury — responsible for millions of deaths worldwide.

The ‘Solution’ is a 30-km-high smoke stack which separates the sulphur dioxide emissions and pumps them into the stratosphere, where they won’t make people sick and should cool the planet. Thus a single machine generates a problem and then solves it — The Problem-Solution Generator!

Of course, we could shut down coal power stations and not create the problem in the first place. But that would address the cause — rising carbon emissions — which isn’t what technofixes like geoengineering are about. So let’s continue the thought experiment, using some of the same arguments as for other sulphur-spraying ideas.

Advocates of solar radiation management say that, unlike other responses to global warming, it doesn’t upset the economic or political status quo. It’s as if the current composition of society is more permanent and fixed than the composition of the entire upper atmosphere.

The Problem-Solution Generator shares this assumption. Fossil fuel companies could continue making money off heating the planet, while also making money off cooling the planet. It’s a win-win!

There are a few concerns. Previous large volcanic eruptions have been associated with lower global rainfall and famine. Climate modelling indicates solar radiation management might dry the Amazon and disrupt the Asian and African monsoons. The sulphur particles could damage the ozone layer.

The biggest fear is switching the off button. Carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for centuries, but sulphur particles only stick around the stratosphere for a few years, so if we suddenly stop pumping the stuff up there, the temperature could spike abruptly. The faster the rate of warming, the less time plants and animals have to adapt, risking widespread ecosystem collapse.

But in the spirit of Silicon Valley techno-optimism, let’s look at these as opportunities. Lower global rainfall? That’s an opportunity for a spin-off industry in cloud-seeding drones. Disrupted monsoons? They’ll mostly affect poor African and Asian subsistence farmers, so the cost to the global economy will be small. Dangerous to stop once we start? That just shows what a great business model it is!

Dimming the sun wouldn’t solve the other problems caused by increased carbon pollution. Dissolved carbon dioxide would still acidify our oceans. The climate would still change, just differently. We might still see mass extinctions and so forth. But our clever minds will soon solve these problems too. The important thing is that we maintain our faith in human progress.

Sound crazy? This kind of thinking is actually conventional. The underlying assumption of Western industrial society is that nature is a resource for our exclusive use. Geoengineering just takes this domination of the natural world to its logical extreme. In one sense, complete control of the planet is where our civilisation has been heading for centuries.

In Earthmasters, Clive Hamilton writes that geoengineering proposals ‘entail building a vast industrial infrastructure in order to counter the damage done by another vast industrial infrastructure’. If the Problem-Solution Generator seems colossally stupid, it’s only because it makes the stupidity of geoengineering technofixes utterly transparent.

 


Greg Foyster is an environment journalist, an alumni of Centre for Sustainability Leadership, and the author of the book Changing Gears.

Cartoon by Greg Foyster

 

Using ship wakes to fight climate change? Time to anchor climate research to common sense

Jenni Konrad CC BY-NC 2.0An article published in January by the Journal of Geophysical Research and covered briefly in Nature describes how brightening and extending the lives of ship wakes can be used to alter the albedo of the oceans, and cool global temperatures. It adds ship wakes to a growing list of Solar Radiation Management techniques.

The theory is based on extending the lives of the microbubbles generated by ship movements from the minutes that they currently last, to days. These bubbles are created by “surfactants”, and their lifetimes in sea water “are strongly dependent on the amount of natural surfactant (surface-active carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids often derived from phytoplankton) and amphiphilic nanoparticles which help stabilize microbubbles.”

Therefore, the study suggests, to achieve global cooling on the scale and scope required, extra surfactants would need to be added to ship wakes, and additional shipping movements would need to account for the fact that there are far more wakes in the Northern Hemisphere, than the Southern.

The most obvious flaw is that the study doesn’t mention what these surfactants could be, or what their effect on the oceans would be. The “assessment of the amount or type of surfactant required is beyond the scope of this study, as is the assessment of undesirable side effects from the addition of surfactant.” However, this is tempered by the statement that the surfactants would need to be benign, and not harmful ecologically as, otherwise, “surfactants may be microbially and photochemically processed with undesirable impacts on ecosystems”.

Granted, this study was just a modelling exercise, playing with changes to sea surface albedo. On the face of it, perhaps it’s a good idea to look into making seemingly small tweaks to already global phenomena, to counteract global temperature rises. The fundamental problem though is that ideas such as this one are being taken increasingly seriously by policy-makers, and encouraged by corporations wanting to maintain the status quo.

This kind of study could well inform policy decisions, despite the glaring omissions from it. For example, without knowing what the surfactants would be, or what volumes would be required, or indeed what the impacts of substantially increasing shipping in the southern hemisphere would be, studies like this should not be taken seriously. Natural surfactants may be derived from phytoplankton and marine processes, but they can also be highly toxic, and indeed carbon intensive in their production. Likewise, the contribution of shipping to global anthropogenic CO2 emissions is close to becoming the largest single source after cars, housing, agriculture and industry.

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a case in point. The oil dispersant BP used was a mixture of two surfactants. BP of course claimed that the chemicals were safe, and the EPA didn’t even require any safety testing prior to its use. A record 1.8 million gallons were used to disperse the oil, and it potentially killed more sea life than the oil would have destroyed by itself. This is an example of what “technofixes” of this kind could mean in practice, especially if put in the hands of irresponsible companies, or unscrupulous government agencies.

Sign-on letter: No to 1.5°C with geoengineering!

contaminacionParis, 11 December 2015

Seemingly out of the blue (or rather, out of the black smog of the UNFCCC process), some of the largest historical culprits for climate change, countries including the United States, Canada and the European Union, have decided to back an “ambitious goal” of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. To achieve this, radical emissions cuts would be needed from now, but in the case of these countries, that’s not their real intention.

Instead, behind the smokescreen of a more ambitious goal, there is a set of Trojan Horse technologies being proposed, collectively called “geoengineering”.

The new proponents of the 1.5°C goal include also the largest oil companies. (*) They tell us that they can continue to burn fossil carbon and protect their assets because they are inventing something called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) that will eventually capture CO2 emissions and store them “safely” in deep geological formations.

And, further still, they say that they can develop bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), a so-called “negative emissions” technology that will burn carbon that is locked up in the soils and forests, and bury this underground too. These are false “solutions” proposed by the oil industry, that will allow it to keep polluting in the false hope that future technological innovation can bring down emissions at a later date.

These phantom technologies won’t function, but they will bring vast new subsidies to the industry, and allow it to access even more oil through Enhanced Oil Recovery, where CO2 is pumped into aging oil fields to squeeze even more out of them. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) was called Enhanced Oil Recovery before, but it has been renamed as a “climate technology”.

The expansion of large scale plantations for bioenergy will be devastating for ecosystems, and displace forest and peasant communities from their territories. This will destroy many of the real alternatives to climate crisis, alternatives that really cool the planet.

In a few years, when efforts to reduce emissions and the technological quick-fixes have failed, with the temperature continuing to rise, industry and government will tell us that the only way out is “solar radiation management”, an even more dangerous geoengineering technology.

The terminology underpinning this cover-up is changing rapidly: from “net zero” to “climate neutrality”, to “net GHG contributions” and now in the latest COP21 draft to “greenhouse gas emissions neutrality”. They are all the same trap designed to open the door to false climate solutions and geoengineering.

 

No to 1.5°C with geoengineering!

No to the lie of “GHG neutrality”!

 

(*) See Shell’s position on 1.5°C and geoengineering at COP21: http://blogs.shell.com/climatechange/category/paris-cop21/

 

International Organizations

ETC Group

Biofuelwatch

Corporate Europe Observatory

Focus on the Global South

Food and Water Watch

GRAIN

Grasroots Global Justice Alliance

Heinrich Böll Foundation

Transnational Institute

Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF)

Women’s earth and climate action network (WECAN)

World Rainforest Movement

 

National organizations
Acción Ecológica, Ecuador

ATTAC, France

Centro Ecológico, Brasil

Ecologistas en Acción, Spain

Fairwatch, Italy

Friends of the Siberian Forests, Russia

Fundación Solon, Bolivia

Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria

NoGeoingegneria, Italy

Plataforma Freskiemos el ambiente, Colombia

Polaris Institute, Canada

The Corner House, UK

 

To add your signature, please send a message to silvia@etcgroup.org

The Paris Climate-Change Spectacular

by Neth Daño and Pat Mooney (Project Syndicate)

OTTAWA – The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December will feature all the tightly choreographed production values of a Hollywood blockbuster. The cast will be huge: presidents and prime ministers at center stage, supported by thousands of extras, including protesters, riot police, and busloads of media. The script may still be under wraps, but the plot has already leaked: This time, in sharp contrast to the failed negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, the planet is going to win.

It is a seductive plot, but one that does not quite hold together. Goodwill and hard bargaining, the world will be told, paid off. Governments have agreed to voluntary reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions that will prevent the planet from heating more than 2° Celsius. Then, in a stunning deus ex machina, it will be revealed that the world’s largest fossil-fuel companies – the so-called supermajors – have agreed to bring net emissions to zero by 2100, by capturing carbon at the source, sucking it out of the atmosphere, and storing it underground. The planet will have been saved, and the economy will be free to flourish. Cue the music and roll the credits.

The trouble is that the script is fiction, not documentary. The technology required has yet to be invented, and bringing net emissions to zero simply is not possible. And, like a Hollywood production, the Paris conference’s message will have been heavily influenced by those who have the most money.

The math is not difficult to follow. The world’s energy infrastructure – finely tooled for the use of fossil fuels – is worth $55 trillion. The paper value of the fossil-fuel reserves – most of them owned by the supermajors – is some $28 trillion.

The fossil-fuel industry’s influence is evident in the fact that governments worldwide are expected to spend some $5.3 trillion this year subsidizing it, including the massive outlays necessary to counteract its adverse health and environmental effects. In other words, the governments meeting in Paris spend more subsidizing the causes of climate change than they do on global health care or, for that matter, on climate-change mitigation and adaptation.

But that will not be part of the story in Paris. There, the global public will be presented with a narrative premised on two unproven forms of “geoengineering,” proponents of which seek to manipulate the planetary system. The effort that will receive the greatest amount of attention is bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). In May, the United States Department of Energy convened a private meeting to discuss this technology, which will be the fig leaf used by the supermajors to protect their assets.

Deploying BECCS, however, would require the world to maintain an area 1.5 times the size of India, full of fields or forests capable of absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide, while still providing enough food for a global population that is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050. By then, the technology’s advocates promise, biological sequestration will be joined by programs that capture emissions as they are released or pull them out of the air to be pumped into deep subterranean shafts – out of sight and out of mind.

Fossil-fuel producers promote carbon capture to allow them to keep their mines open and pumps flowing. Unfortunately for the planet, many scientists consider it technically impossible and financially backbreaking – especially if such technology is to be deployed in time to avert chaotic climate change.

Preventing temperatures from rising out of control will require a second geoengineering fix, known as solar radiation management. The idea is to mimic the natural cooling action of a volcanic eruption, by using techniques like the deployment of hoses to pump sulfates 30 kilometers into the stratosphere to block sunlight.

The United Kingdom’s Royal Society believes that the need for such technology may be unavoidable, and it has been working with counterparts in other countries to explore ways in which its use should be governed. Earlier this year, the US National Academies of Science gave the technique a tepid endorsement, and the Chinese government announced a major investment in weather modification, which could include solar radiation management. Russia is already at work developing the technology.

Unlike carbon capture, obstructing sunlight actually has the potential to lower global temperatures. In theory, the technology is simple, cheap, and capable of being deployed by a single country or a small group of collaborators; no UN consensus is required.

But solar radiation management does not remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. It only masks their effects. If the hoses shut down, the planet’s temperature will soar. The technology could buy time, but it surrenders control of the planetary thermostat to those who hold the hoses. Even the technology’s advocates concede that their computer models predict that it will have a strong negative impact on tropical and subtropical regions. Climate change is bad, but geoengineering has the potential to make it worse.

The story that the Paris conference’s producers will ask viewers to believe relies on technologies that are no more effective than smoke and mirrors. It is important that we learn to see past them. The curtain will rise on a set of false promises, and it will close with policies that can lead only to mayhem – unless the audience gets into the act.