Welcome Eli Kintisch, and Host Eric Pooley , author of The Climate War.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope – or Worst Nightmare – for Averting Climate Catastrophe

While the politicians in Washington D.C. were spending the past couple of years doing nothing to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global climate change, Science staff writer Eli Kintisch was diving into the warmer world that our collective inaction is creating. In Hack the Planet, he explores the once-heretical idea of deliberately re-engineering Earth’s climate system to stave of the worst effects of global warming.

Pumping millions of tons of sulfur pollution into the stratosphere. Brightening low-level sea clouds. Spraying a fine mist of water vapor over the Middle East. These proposals for geoengineering—or what Kintisch calls “hacking the planet”—seem like the stuff of science fiction. Yet respected scientists such as Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution are taking them seriously, because industrial society has so far proved unable or unwilling to make the serious emissions reductions needed to avoid potential catastrophe.

Eli Kintisch turns out to be the perfect guide for this journey into the frightening frontiers of climate science. A careful journalist who has also written for Slate, The American Prospect and The New Republic, he is fair-minded, lucid, and judicious, with no time for hype or hyperbole. He explains why planethacking may be necessary but he also shows why it is not a panacea, and why it should never be thought of as a substitute for emissions reduction.

The awful truth is this: It may already be too late to avoid some of the climate catastrophes—ice sheet collapse, megadroughts—that would ignite a public demand for the services of the planetary hackers. Since crises inevitably bring out profiteers, Hack the Planet profiles some of them, too — men such as Russ George of Planktos and Dan Whaley of Climos, for-profit rivals in the arcane field of “iron fertilization,” or dropping iron filings into the ocean to create algae “blooms” that suck carbon dioxide out of the sky.

Our warmer world, writes Kintisch, “will be full of budding geoengineers such as Russ George, persuasive to some and reckless to others.” Here’s hoping it will also be full of smart writers such as Eli Kintisch — we’ll need them keep an eye on these would-be entrepreneurs of planetary salvation.

65 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Eli Kintisch, Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope – or Worst Nightmare – for Averting Climate Catastrophe”

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Hi everyone — thanks for participating, and THANKS to Eric Pooley for moderating! Looking forward to a good discussion…

Eric Pooley August 22nd, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Hi Eli, and hello everyone — Let me kick things off with this question: Eli, how did you first get to thinking and reporting on geoengineering—when did you realize that this subject, which for years had been taboo among climate activists, could someday come to dominate the debate about climate change?

egregious August 22nd, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Welcome to Firedoglake Book Salon – so glad you could join us today!

BevW August 22nd, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Eli, Welcome to the Lake.

Eric, Thank you for Hosting this Book Salon.

Thank you both for returning to the salon.

TobyWollin August 22nd, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Welcome to Eric and Eli:
Eli – Why are we, at this point in time, still arguing over whether there is climate change? Who in the scientific community, which you would think would be of a fairly uniform opinion, is fighting the obvious and why?

dakine01 August 22nd, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Eli and Eric, welcome back to FDL this afternoon.

Eli, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but have to ask (and forgive me if you address this in the book) but based on Eric’s intro, don’t some of your proposals seem candidates for the “law of unintended side consequences”?

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:07 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 5

Great question. I would say any big consensus over a scientific topic is likely to attract a crowd (small, perhaps, or shrinking) of opposition, folks who disagree. See the way that a few geologists opposed plate tectonics for decades…until they didn’t. Climate change — and battling its effects, or slowing them — will affect whole industries, so its understandable that there would be opposition.

Some are professional spinners (Geologist Dan Schrag of harvard calls them “liars”) funded by fossil fuel industries; some are bloggers simply interested in the topic without a financial stake in the game. (Not to say that some bloggers who deny the science don’t have an ideological (or financial stake).

eCAHNomics August 22nd, 2010 at 2:10 pm

What are the things we don’t know about climate science?

Eric Pooley August 22nd, 2010 at 2:10 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 6

Unintended consequences loom very large — and these are not eli’s proposals, he is reporting on what others are debating and/or doing … but the U.C are scary indeed! I’m sure Eli will detail some of them, such as disrupting rainfall patterns…

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:10 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 6

I’d say half the book explores the unintended consequences — or the scarier ones — the “unk-unks” – -Unknown unknowns. Possibilities we won’t be able to quantify beforehand because we won’t know to expect them.

For example, eruptions from Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 cooled the planet by roughly a degree F; but it also reduced flows of streams around the world, by robbing the hydrological system of energy by blocking a fraction of the yearly sunlight that strikes the earth. So doing the “Pinatubo Option” could be dangerous, for sure…

Eric Pooley August 22nd, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Eli, Tell us about a few of the main geoengineering proposals. And who’s behind them?

PLovering August 22nd, 2010 at 2:12 pm

What is the purpose of chemtrails?

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:14 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 8

Whoa, that’s a biggie. I’d say it’s like following a trend — say, the continued failure of the Cubs to win the world series – but not knowing _every cause and effect_ of it. We might blame pitching, bad managing, poor hitting, certain players coming or going, an evil curse…and we may not know _everything_ about the trend or why it’s happening. But we know its happening.

We know the planet is warming, it’s very likely do to fossil fuel carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases, but there are plenty of questions. (What’s the role of clouds? Black carbon? Why is the arctic melting so fast? Why are the ice sheets losing mass so fast?) The failure so far of climate scientists to know the answer to every one shouldn’t take away from the most important _answer_ they have: that cutting our greenhouse pollution lowers the chances of various disasters in the future.

Eric Pooley August 22nd, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Geoengineering, or planet hacking, as you call it, is sometimes described as a silver bullet – we don’t need to reduce emissions, people say, because we can cool the planet through artificial means. For those who haven’t yet read your book, what’s your response to that claim?

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:20 pm
In response to Eric Pooley @ 11

Well for 18.94 on Amazong everyone can learn about them in an absorbing book :) !

A british cloud scientist named Latham needed a job in the early 1990′s at a new climate related lab in the UK, so he wrote a wild paper in which he suggested brightening low level clouds over the ocean to reverse global warming. Then he hooked up with a talented engineer named Salter to devise robotic ships that spray seawater in tiny drops up into the sky using only the power of the wind!

One new one that came out in the last year is creating zillions of tiny bubbles in lakes or oceans because whitewater reflects sunlight more than the dark-tinted water. That’s thanks to a harvard-affiliated genius named Seitz. But as far as I know it hasn’t been published in a peer reviewed journal yet…

EdwardTeller August 22nd, 2010 at 2:22 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 10

I must have flown about 65,000 miles in 1991. Between the Filipino volcano and the Gulf oil fires, I’d swear I had never seen so much crap in the upper atmosphere. I was afraid it wouldn’t go away, but it did.

Isn’t the planet’s climate already being hacked? By the energy producers, by the chemical fertilizer and pesticide industries? Hasn’t anyone asked themselves “Could these huge companies actually be doing all of this pollution on purpose to anti-Terraform Earth?”

Seems sort of Art Bellesque to bring it up, but it IS a possibility.

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:22 pm
In response to PLovering @ 12

I don’t believe the government or anyone else is spraying chemicals using airplanes or other means, on purpose, if that’s your question.

For the uninitiated: (Chemtrails is the conspiracty theory that that is happening, and that certain trails of white clouds in the sky are proof of it). I think its not true.

eCAHNomics August 22nd, 2010 at 2:23 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 13

Thanks. I asked because my (long ago) science training taught me that nothing is ever known in science; there are only hypothesis waiting to be disproved by additional evidence. Thinking about knowledge that way leads to a humble approach to solutions, especially ones that are radical. For example, reducing greenhouse gases might not be the right prescription because they might not be the cause. But there is little downside to reducing greenhouse gases. (Well, unless you make profits from selling carbon.) Perhaps why docs work with: first, do no harm.

With that in mind, what are some of the downside risks to some of your more creative solutions?

VMT August 22nd, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Welcome Eli. In many respects, I feel that the scientific community has failed the planet. Most scientists understand the consequences of inaction and, yet, their response to climate change has been fairly tepid. It just doesn’t feel like they have been sounding the alarms as loud as they can. Am I being unfair in that assessment?

PLovering August 22nd, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Which is the greater threat to our planet, carbon dioxide or fluorides?

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:27 pm
In response to Eric Pooley @ 14

Teller said as much in 1996 or so — in an oped in the Wall ST Journal in which he said the Pinatubo Option was a better option than the Kyoto protocol.

In terms of global geoengineering, in which you might block sunlight in various ways, a number of modeling studies show that if you allow carbon emissions to continue while you block the sun, stopping the geoengineering in the future would cause the planet’s temperature to spike by several degrees in a single continent. Geoengineering is more like an emergency Epipen for the planet’s climate — and it could have baaaad side effects.

Lately researchers are thinking of planet-hacks more regional in scale. For example, what if the cloud-brightening scheme could be deployed in the Arctic to save Greenland, at relatively little cost and with few side effects. Even if that was done, you’d still need to address the cause of global warming, the carbon emissions themselves.

EdwardTeller August 22nd, 2010 at 2:29 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 21

What would be the most practical way to hack down the CO2 levels in the oceans?

veganrevolution August 22nd, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Jeebus, has it come to that? Geoengineering? I guess we have no choice, in the end. It’s like a Star Trek episode. The one bad thing with this is that the evil corporatists will make money off this new “industry.” Can you imagine? Don’t put it past the amoral capitalists.

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:33 pm
In response to EdwardTeller @ 16

As University of Calgary’s David Keith likes to say, there’s a difference between geoENGINEERING and making a big mess. I’d say our carbon binge over the last century, and all sorts of environmental messes we’ve made before that, are making a mess. Trying to fix the messes directly may not work but it should be explored more thoroughly.

But your point is well taken; all sorts of environmental effects have been caused inadvertantly for centuries. Simply farming the land once covered in forests in europe, for example, is thought by some scientists to have caused big changes in european — or possibly global — climate.

Eric Pooley August 22nd, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Some of the “budding geoengineers” in your book, like Russ George of Planktos, who wants to drop iron filings into the ocean to create algae “blooms” that suck carbon dioxide out of the sky. come across as mysterious characters. The reader isn’t sure what to make of them. Is Russ George a charlatan, a climate profiteer, a guy who wants to help the planet, or all of the above? Is he still in business?

yellowsnapdragon August 22nd, 2010 at 2:40 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 24

Simply farming the land once covered in forests in europe, for example, is thought by some scientists to have caused big changes in european — or possibly global — climate.

I’ve been thinking about that lately…Since coffee crops are producing significantly less year over year (yes Brazil manipulates the market), studies are being done by the Norman Bourlag Institute to see how coffee plants can be engineered to grow in full sun at higher temperatures. Shouldn’t this type of agricultural pursuit be stopped immediately?

BevW August 22nd, 2010 at 2:40 pm

There is / was a Discovery Channel series about people who had ideas to engineer a fix for the climate, Discovery funded them. What are your thought on this series / approach?

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:41 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 18

Yes, win-win solutions would be best, of course. (Which is why some of the strange bedfellows in Eric Pooley’s book include national security hawks who believe in beofuels to reduce oil imports)

So some risks? Well, in the case of brightening sea clouds, you’re messing with one of the aspects of the global climate system scientists know the least about. In the case of hacking the oceans by growing massive blooms of algae so as to suck in lots of CO2, you could create ecosystems that emit methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. :/

There’s also a problem with “First, do no harm.” as your axiom. What if you don’t know exactly the calculated risk of doing your procedure vs doing nothing. We are starting to understand the risks of doing nothing (for example, warmer global temperatures make heat waves like the one striking Moscow more likely) and now its time to understand the risks of doing something like geoengineering…

veganrevolution August 22nd, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Actually, I got ahead of myself. Imagine a new Wall Street bubble using derivatives and fancy financial instruments to bet on the success or failure of geoengineering “projects.” Yeah, a geoengineering casino. Imagine!

Just like carbon cap…which is a fraud. There is no end to what the banksters could do to profit off global warming. It’d be an entirely new economy, replacing real estate as a speculative endeavor!

UncertaintyVicePrincipal August 22nd, 2010 at 2:43 pm

What was that Dr. Seuss book where the kingdom had a problem with mice and brought in cats which took care of the mice but then they were overrun with cats, so I think they brought dogs in, and it ended as I recall by having to chase out the elephants by bringing back the mice.

From what you say it sounds like the book deals with the whole side effects issue extensively. It’s just so clear that we’re nowhere near capable of controlling things precisely on a planetary scale, which is why it’s so tragic that we’re allowing the climate to be altered to such a degree, who knows what swinging out of control could occur once we start thinking we can actually hack it back into shape.

We may have to however, I’m starting to think. I wonder how long it will take before we’re putting co2 back in to chase out the elephants….

perris August 22nd, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I remember a while ago I made the reference, haven’t seen it since I made it a few years ago when the climate change deniers came out of the woodwork

anyway, here’s the analogy and it’s close

I am sure most people here at the lake have studied the krypton documentary, whence the scientists presented proof the planet was doomed but those in power saw too much political and economic expedience by denying the science

they sent their only son here to “guide us from the same destiny”

in the krypton documentary the child’s name was “kal-el”, they didn’t want to expose his true name “al-gore”…see the similarity there?

anyway, if you haven’t read any of the documentary they are available from the esteemed publishers, “dc”

excellent reading right there

anyway, here we are, for expedience sake the politicians are denying climate change, I suppose some of them actually believe their denial but there are certainly some who are doing it in spite of their personal belief and in spite that they are destroying chances of normal life for their kids

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:49 pm
In response to EdwardTeller @ 22

“EdwardTeller” (!) : A lot of my book deals with what I call scientists’ “Pursuit of Levers” . Much of the 20th century in climate science was devoted to identifying and quantifying how little changes in the global climate/earth system could have big effects. For example, it turns out that sea creatures breath out chemicals that make clouds brighter, which in turn, naturally, cools the planet by reflecting sunlight. Geoengineering simply seeks to find such levels and pull them manually.

BUT for the oceans turning more sour via dissolved CO2 — their pH dropping — we haven’t yet found a lever. The best way might be to create giant machines that suck CO2 out of the sky, perhaps what I call “Project Dustbust Earth.” We filter CO2 out of ambient air in spaceships and submarines, but its very very expensive. A few engineers are trying to make it cheap enough to be deployed widely…

e

TobyWollin August 22nd, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Eli: In the book, you talk about the political climate as well as earth’s climate. Who stands to lose the most if geoengineering (that is, the lowering of the earth’s temperatures through artificial means) takes place? And isn’t this another case of ‘haves’ versus ‘have nots’, with the haves possibly skewing what is done so that THEY are more comfy?

UncertaintyVicePrincipal August 22nd, 2010 at 2:53 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 32

So maybe flying saucers glimpsed over the years were really giant Roombas from more advanced planets who have dealt with all this already?

Makes sense.

August 22nd, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Hi all – sorry to be a bit late to the discussion.

Eli – isn’t there a big problem with communicating the actual problem? For instance:

For a time I grew up around the Colorado River where it’s the border between California and Arizona. During that time, we used to fish all the way down to the Sea of Cortez. Now, the river doesn’t flow all the way, and the delta is drying up, and becoming quite brackish.

It’s a mess.

veganrevolution August 22nd, 2010 at 2:56 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 32

All this stuff sounds like pure insanity! But hey this is America, man. I myself like the idea of a planetary shade (in orbit around the planet), which will drape or enclose the whole planet. We could calibrate weather and climate using computers, thus controlling Mother Nature so to speak.

It may come to this, man. Freaky stuff.

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:58 pm
In response to Eric Pooley @ 25

Some of the “budding geoengineers” in your book, like Russ George of Planktos, who wants to drop iron filings into the ocean to create algae “blooms” that suck carbon dioxide out of the sky. come across as mysterious characters. The reader isn’t sure what to make of them. Is Russ George a charlatan, a climate profiteer, a guy who wants to help the planet, or all of the above? Is he still in business?

Russ George, who came to geoengineering from the environmental world, had good intentions but was terrible from a PR standpoint. He was trying to do for-profit iron fertilization of the ocean. He openly defied the EPA, flaunted international regulations, and made pretty wild claims. (IE in 2006 or so he sold $5 credits for sucking a ton of co2 out of the sky with the algae scheme, and then set out on a crazy voyage I document in my book, which ended before he was able to do any “experiments”.) He was a terrible representative for this new field — and some advocates for research into geoeng. believe to this day he set the field back by years.

Last I spoke with George he had recreated his company, Planktos, as a nonprofit. I asked about funding and he said he wouldn’t give details about it. He felt his firm had been a scapegoat, that they were “swiftboated”…

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Sorry, I don’t know enough about this to answer…

Rayne August 22nd, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Want to thank Eli and Eric for being here, and confess I am still working on Eli’s book. For me it’s one of those texts where I pick it up, read a bit, get upset about the unlimited stupidity of humanity to date and the craziness we are entertaining to fix the accumulation of stupid. (Literally, that’s what we are doing with geoengineering…)

I’ve been fretting about geoengineering since I read an article, Out of the Energy Box in Foreign Affairs magazine (of all places!) back in 2004. Even then it sounded like we had too much faith in the wrong kinds of science, and when I look back at that article, I’m even more terrified than I was then. Here’s the first graf, you quickly see why:

THE HEAT IS ON

Only Richard Nixon could go to China. And maybe only oil industry CEOs can lead action on global climate change. Lord Browne, the head of BP, has stated in no uncertain terms that climate change is real, and he has made it BP’s responsibility to cut down on the greenhouse-gas emissions that are upsetting the earth’s climate.

Eric asked the question at comment (11) above which concerned me in 2004, and concerns me even more today. Who’s funding the research?

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:02 pm
In response to BevW @ 27

Hi Bev — Pretty good series, I thought, entertaining. There’s no getting around the fact that Sci-Fi type stuff like geoengineering is an attractive and flashy way to explore what can be stodgy topics in the environmental area.

A number of the scientists who were featured the Discovery series, however, felt it was either a waste of time or was innacurate. David Keith at Calgary, for example, had to post a statement fixing errors in the show on him, on his website. In my book I describe how British scientists who tried to brighten clouds over the S. Africa coast felt the data they got from the “experiments” were worthless. (Again that word in scare quotes!)

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:11 pm

It’s just so clear that we’re nowhere near capable of controlling things precisely on a planetary scale, which is why it’s so tragic that we’re allowing the climate to be altered to such a degree, who knows what swinging out of control could occur once we start thinking we can actually hack it back into shape.

We may have to however, I’m starting to think. I wonder how long it will take before we’re putting co2 back in to chase out the elephants….

Yep — and scary to think how the nations of the world will react when scientists propose various schemes in the future. We don’t tend to do well when faced with risk-risk decisions.

As for putting co2 purposefully in the atmosphere to warm the planet — 2 comments.

In 1908 Svante Arrhenius, one of the early pioneers of climate change, suggested doing such a thing to warm the planet, by burning fossil fuels! Speaking from an equally cold country, Soviet scientists in the midcentury proposed even more outlandish schemes — flying saturn-type rings to reflect light onto Siberia. So there’s a rich history of geoengineering concepts raised to _warm_ the planet.

Secondly, late in life Edward Teller (the physicist, not the FDL commenter :) ) said geoengineering might help us cool the planet…or, configured properly, WARM it if, as he suspected, the planet was going into an Ice Age…..#sheesh

Eric Pooley August 22nd, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Aside from the Discovery Channel series, one of the best known sources of information about geoengineering is ‘Superfreakonomics,’ a book that raises the possibility that the ‘Pinatubo Option’ could take away the need for emissions reduction. The authors were accused (by, um … me, among many others) of being woefully under-informed attention-seekers who misrepresented the views of climate scientist Ken Caldeira, someone who figures in your book. Please give us your take on Superfreakonomics’ discussion of geoengineering.

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:14 pm
In response to TobyWollin @ 33

Toby: Absolutely there will be winners and losers. I don’t know we’ll be able to accurately predict who will be who! IE, what if we could reduce melting in the Arctic…but a _possible_ side effect was less rain over the Sahel in Africa. It’s scary to think how existing international power structures might affect decisions about Planet-Hacking in the future…

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:17 pm
In response to Eric Pooley @ 42

Like many they screwed up the issue, i believe not for political reasons, but because they were trying to be provocative. A full chapter in my book documents how climate deniers are starting to misuse the idea of geoengineering in order to score political points.

They improperly connected climate change to merely “temperature” using geoengineering — discounting the role of CO2 (!!) — dissed various alternative energy efforts like solar cells with bad science — and made specious claims about the possible costs of limits on greenhouse gasses.

Scarecrow August 22nd, 2010 at 3:19 pm

When one watches the mindlessness of D.C.’s handling of climate change, I don’t know whether to fear their do nothing approach more or the thought of them having a debate about doing something, with lots of corporations weighing in on which strategies would be the most profitable. We don’t seem to have a political process for sorting out truth, let alone one for screening out the misconceptions with money rationales.

How do you view the political institutions’ ability to handle this debate.

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:19 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 35

Certainly the severity of the climate crisis has led many scientists to wonder why the public doesn’t view it as dire a problem as they do. Eric, any thoughts.

Maybe it’s not a communication problem. Maybe the public is getting the message…but they just don’t care.

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:20 pm

First chapter of my book is entitled “It’s Come to This” :)

druidity36 August 22nd, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Darn… sorry i’m late.

Just finished reading Climate Wars a couple of weeks ago. Had a couple of chapters toward the end that dealt with some of these scenarios. Wish i had been able to ask ELi about Perennial Cereal grain production crops and how research into those plants is coming. Apparently most of the worlds grain crops tolerate only a slim margin of temperature variation… any significant deviation decimates yields.

Would developing an entirely new palette of grain crops be considered Hacking/Geo-engineering?

Eric Pooley August 22nd, 2010 at 3:26 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 46

Many thoughts! A whole book’s worth, as a matter of fact. When I began work on The Climate War, in early 2007, I thought that if I tracked the story full-time for three years (which I did), I’d be able to write about how we FINALLY took the first step to curb emissions at the national level (which we didn’t.) My book became a whodunit — who killed climate action? — and there are plenty of culprits. The professional deniers. The Republicans. Bush, who cast doubt on the problem for 8 years. Many Democrats. The media. Some of Obama’s advisers, and ultimately, Obama himself, who chose not to lead the charge last year and again this year. And finally, the Great Recession, the reason many Americans don’t want to deal with this (they have enough to contend with!) and the reason Obama’s political team urged him to put off dealing with it too. So we keep kicking a very old can down a very long road.

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:26 pm
In response to Rayne @ 39

There’s not much geoeng research at all to speak of. I’d say barely $10 million a year. NSF has funded a few small modeling/white papers/ethics studies; years ago they paid for a few real-life iron fertilization experiments that weren’t very controversial, mostly because they were so small that they attracted little attention, and their goals were to understand ocean ecosystems, not hack them.

The EU is paying for some; the UK is interested in doing so as well. There is a study underway by the Bipartisan Policy Center to layout what a US federal research program would look like. I don’t expect the Obama administration to propose such a thing until something like that comes out. The National Academies in a report that came out a few months ago said they should do so. Congress could act first, of course…

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:32 pm
In response to druidity36 @ 48

I don’t think so — that to me sounds like traditional adaptation…i will say, however, that one of the most qualified scientists who turned from being _repulsed_ by the concept of hacking the planet to actually studying it, is David Battisti. (His conversion is the story of the first chapter of my book…) Battisti says the main reason he thinks we must think about the unthinkable when it comes to geoengineering is that warmer temperatures could _devastate_ grain yields around the world, causing massive famines…

UncertaintyVicePrincipal August 22nd, 2010 at 3:37 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 41

Interesting. And really just underscores the idea that what seems logical in one era (at least to some people) might seem completely insane just a few years later. All of which strikes me as further demonstration of the risks of all of this, but those risks include doing nothing at this point, since we’re “hacking” things already.

Have to go, thanks for coming Eli, Eric, et al, appreciate the discussion.

yellowsnapdragon August 22nd, 2010 at 3:38 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 51

Isn’t the argument against geoengineering that the Green Revolution that was started to secure more productive crops actually contributed to global warming? That was kind of my point above. Shouldn’t we fear that kind of tinkering with crops, even if the intention is to stave off starvation?

veganrevolution August 22nd, 2010 at 3:42 pm

It’s weird that someone as (putatively) smart as Barack Oilbummer would see the existential threat posed by global warming. Yet, this empty suit does nothing. Isn’t it insane that we are actually thinking about altering the climate through technology? Our political process is a sham! Oilbummer is useless, man.

This depresses me to no end!

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:44 pm
In response to EdwardTeller @ 16

Isn’t the planet’s climate already being hacked? By the energy producers, by the chemical fertilizer and pesticide industries? Hasn’t anyone asked themselves “Could these huge companies actually be doing all of this pollution on purpose to anti-Terraform Earth?”

Seems sort of Art Bellesque to bring it up, but it IS a possibility.

This whole topic IS Art Bellesque, by the way! I think it will only garner MORE conspiratorial attention in the future. The internet simply allows a lot of dissemination of ideas along crazy lines, and memes like “the government is hacking our atmosphere” can spread with great speed.

Think about how many americans believe Obama is muslim, or that the president of Iran believes the holocaust didn’t happen. Speculation about the possible effects, intentions, and science surrounding proposed global or even regional geoengineering schemes in the future will be RAMPANT. Talk about nutty chain emails or popular posts on facebook…

I have a full chapter on geopolitics in my book! It asks, essentially, if we can’t agree on free trade, islam, labor laws, monetary policy, israel/palestine, Iran Tibet etc etc etc…how on earth could the nations of the world agree on what the global thermostat should be, and who should set it!

Eric Pooley August 22nd, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Obama didn’t quite do *nothing* –EPA is moving ahead with GHG regulation, the stimulus package had $80 billion for clean energy, the Dept of Energy has 7,000 projects going. But on the most important and difficult thing — the cap — he totally ducked. And yeah, it’s a shame.

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Ah, yes I see. I’d say in general the more we learn about the planet the more we understand how interconnected things are. So yes, we have to better know the various possible effects of various interventions, be them better crops, or geoengineering.

After the US congress passed a law tho encourage the growth of corn for biofuels…there were riots over skyrocketing tortilla prices in Mexico City. Boy, if we can’t understand the implications of simple commodity stuff like that, anyone out there optimistic about our chances to predict how planet-hacking might play out?!

veganrevolution August 22nd, 2010 at 3:51 pm
In response to Eric Pooley @ 56

Oilbummer doesn’t care. That’s my take. Doesn’t care. He knows we are shit up a creek and yet he does nothing! Copenhagen is a prime example. He sabotaged the whole summit because he has NO political balls, man. We need leadership on this issue and we have NONE!

BevW August 22nd, 2010 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this interesting Book Salon,

Eli, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and discussing your new book and about hacking / geoengineering the planet.

Eric, Thank you for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:
Eli’s website
Eric’s website

Thanks all,
Have a great week.

Praedor August 22nd, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Just curious, but why is Russ George (iron fertilizers) considered hacks? Wouldn’t “hacking” the oceans in this way be considered right up there with sulfur dioxide spraying, water misting the ME, cloud generating in the oceans?

Eli Kintisch August 22nd, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Thanks to all, and to Eric, for an interesting discussion! Follow me on twitter at @elikint , and Eric at @ericpooley.

Cheers, Eli

Rayne August 22nd, 2010 at 3:58 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 61

Thanks again, Eli and Eric.

Sound like we have some work to do at our end as citizen activists — lots of research on this topic.

Look forward to reading more from both of you soon.

EdwardTeller August 22nd, 2010 at 3:58 pm
In response to Eli Kintisch @ 32

Had to go on an errand……

re the handle “Edward Teller:” I’m writing an opera about Project Chariot. When I started the project, I was corresponding with Teller, who knew he would not be the opera’s hero, but he encouraged me anyway. Part of why that’s my nom de blog.

The enormous price of scrubbing CO2 as being the main inhibitor for deploying it is exactly what I’d already heard. Hopefully, there is an elegant solution out there.

Eric Pooley August 22nd, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Thanks everyone! And thanks for the book, Eli! See you all next time.

yellowsnapdragon August 22nd, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Thanks!

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