Can we reverse climate change? Should we?

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Image credit A. Goodson https://www.agoodson.com/andy-potts-illustrating-complex-scientific-concepts-for-bbc-focus/

In the past few posts (four of them in the series Forest for the Trees), I discussed low-tech ways that we can assist nature in fixing climate change.  Most of these posts dealt with ways to prevent the loss of trees – for example, doing a better job of policing illegal logging -  as well as an a better understanding of – and use of – symbiosis between tree roots and mycorrhiza.

 In this brief post, I go to the other extreme and discuss much higher-tech, proactive steps that some scientists are considering to take action on climate change.

Some of this may be of higher urgency based on a recent report. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/148cb0_a1406e0143ac4c469196d3003bc1e687.pdf

If you are thinking this is from a radical organization such as Greenpeace, you’re quite wrong.  One of the authors, Ian Dunlop, was senior Executive of Royal Dutch Shell for many years and chaired the Australian Coal Associations (1987-88). See his profile here: https://www.clubofrome.org/member/ian-t-dunlop/

I’ll likely blog about this report – and the reaction to it - in June so stay tuned.  But now, back to the idea of fixing climate change.  This article on the BBC News homepage, and this one from TechCrunch also caught my attention.  Below is a good abstract from the BBC News story:

Scientists in Cambridge plan to set up a research centre to develop new ways to repair the Earth's climate. It will investigate radical approaches such as refreezing the Earth's poles and removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The centre is being created because of fears that current approaches will not on their own stop dangerous and irreversible damage to the planet.  The initiative is the first of its kind in the world and could lead to dramatic reductions in carbon emissions.

The to-be-established “Centre for Climate Repair” – the establishment of which certainly constitutes a project, one which immediately drew detractors.  BusinessGreen magazine says: “some environmental campaigners remain fiercely opposed to the concept and today attacked the new centre's focus on unproven geoengineering fixes, arguing they distract from the urgent necessity to enact the social, technological, and political change necessary to cut carbon emissions.”

Greenpeace is indeed one of those voices.  To read their objections to the ideas (and even the rationale), go here.

That said, let’s have a look at what this new Centre would be researching as programs and projects.  I’m going to mainly do this with pictures (credit to the BBC News site referenced above, of course), because, as you know, a picture is worth a whole bunch of words.

Refreezing the poles

The idea is to pump seawater up to tall masts through very fine nozzles (creating a mist) using purpose-built ‘drone’ ships  This misting action produces tiny particles of salt which, when they reach the clouds, ‘strengthens’ the cloud cover, making it more reflective, and increasing its ability to cool the areas below them.

 

Recycling CO2

This is mainly about CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), a topic on which I’ve blogged previously.

Ocean Greening

This is mainly about fertilizing the sea with iron salts (rusts) which promote the growth of plankton.

Your thoughts?

If you put your project management hat on, and think about secondary risk. Do these activities pose a threat, in terms of what they may do to the environment beyond the intended result?  I personally think there is nothing wrong with researching these ideas (with secondary risk in mind) and in parallel looking at ways to reduce the production of greenhouse gasses and pollutants.

What do you think?

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: June 08, 2019 05:58 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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We need to find a way to reverse it.
Thank you for forsharing your thoughts on this.

Richard,

We are good at implementing false good idea. I not saying the idée is not good, how can we test it and make sure it doesn’t have side effect that are worst then what we are trying to fix. Lab test in a close environnement and short term is no garanties. Some of those attempts give us confidence that we are fixing it, and let us lower our guards.

Hello Richard: Another very interesting article you have posted. I'm a little nervous, to be honest, about possible risks with trying to "fix" climate change in these ways. I'm with Vincent - sometimes a fix creates other side effects.

I like that you put these ideas in terms of project risk. That's exactly what I was thinking when I read them, and I'm thinking of PMI's definition of risk as "uncertainty." There are a great many ideas out there about eco-engineering (the ideas shared here are not nearly the most extreme that I've seen), and they all involve a fairly high degree of uncertainty because they've never been done before. The actual risk level is even higher than the degree of uncertainty, because we don't have a backup planet (unknown probability vs very high impact).

I think it's only natural that we approach these ideas with a degree of skepticism, given the number of times "experts" have tried to solve one ecological problem only to create more problems.

As project managers, we might best apply our experience in risk management to these sorts of problems. How do we safely reduce the levels of uncertainty? How to we test these propositions in a meaningful way that proves their efficacy and safety without putting even more people at risk? What indicators can we put in place to distinguish natural climate fluctuation from human influenced climate change? (Or do we even care to draw a distinction?)

I agree - research them but let's not jump on them too quickly. We are well aware of unintended consequences.

On the other hand, if we are too risk averse we may act too late (if we aren't already).

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