August 08, 2009

Global Warming: Lomborg's "Idea" is Not New

After the American Century

Denmark's Radio once again has failed to do a background check on a story. In this case, they report that "1900 unmanned ships should said around the world's oceans and spray saltwater up in the air. This is Bjørn Lomborg's latest idea." ( "1900 ubemandede skibe skal sejle rundt på verdens have og spraye saltvand op i luften. Sådan lyder Bjørn Lomborg seneste ide.") Nonsense, this is not his idea, nor is it new. Last autumn newspapers outside Denmark reported the same idea, attributed to a 69 year-old inventor in Maryland, USA, named Ron Ace. He has filed for a patent on precisely this idea.

Whether this particular kind of geo-engineering (or any other kind) will work is not easy to say, but it will cost a good deal of money. Before endorsing this "solution" to global warming, I urged my students to consider some of the other ideas that have been advanced. Last spring I gave a seminar on eleven of these, notably,

Eleven Technological Fixes for Global Warming

1. Carbon sequestration, i.e. pump liquid CO2 underground and hope it does not resurface later.

2. Add tons of iron filings to the oceans, stimulating algae to grow. Dead algae falls to the ocean flood, taking CO2 with it. This is being tested in the Pacific Ocean as I write.

3. Create a ring of tiny particles around the earth, using satellites to "shepherd them" thereby reducing sunlight. Cost estimate a mere $6.5 trillion. However, how much would it cost to remove these particles if they cool the earth too much?

4. Pipe water from the ocean deeps, bringing more nutrients to the surface, which will stimulate plankton to grow and remove more CO2. This would also cool the ocean surface. What would it do to fish and other ocean creatures?

5. Bury massive amounts of charcoal, taking this carbon out of the system.

6. Launch 16 trillion small reflective disks into space. These will act as "high-tech" parasols. Would take 25 years to do this, and not clear how one would remove them if they caused problems.

7. "Fake volcano" irruptions, injecting suffer dioxide int the atmosphere. This would create a cloud of droplets that block sunlight. The claim is that we would need to launch 5 million tons each year for four years, to stop global warming.

8. Create 500,000 giant artificial trees, the size of windmills, equipped with special filters that remove CO2. There is no prototype.

9. Grind up a cube of volcanic rock ten km across. Grind small, and dissolve in the sea, making it less acidic. CO2 will then be absorbed, returning sea's alkalinity to where it was 60 million years ago.

10. Change the diet of cows, which produce 100+ liters of methane a day, mostly form belching. Making cattle and sheep feed more digestible will cut back on global warming,

11. Spay sea water into the air from a fleet of unmanned wind-powered ships - the idea mistakenly attributed to Lomborg.

All of these ideas have been proposed by responsible persons, some at universities such as Harvard, Columbia, or Arizona. However, I do not endorse any of these ideas, and in fact have some aversion to the very idea that the "solution" to global warming is a technological fix. At root, all of these ideas say: "No need to change human behavior. Use just as much energy as before, and let scientists monkey around with the atmosphere, the oceans, or outer space, without a definite idea of what might happen." No thanks, whether the idea comes from a publicity seeker with no scientific credentials such as Lomborg or a real scientist.