Climate Change

Published on June 2nd, 2014 | by GBE FACTS


Reducing Emissions the Primary Way to Fight Climate Change Reports UCLA-Led Study

climate change cosmic time shutterstock_97131779

Climate engineering won’t sufficiently stem global warming

Forget about positioning giant mirrors in space to reduce the amount of sunlight being trapped in the earth’s atmosphere or seeding clouds to reduce the amount of light entering earth’s atmosphere. Those approaches to climate engineering aren’t likely to be effective or practical in slowing global warming.

A new report by professors from UCLA and five other universities concludes that there’s no way around it: We have to cut down the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere. The interdisciplinary team looked at a range of possible approaches to dissipating greenhouse gases and reducing warming.

“We found that climate engineering doesn’t offer a perfect option,” said Daniela Cusack, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of geography in UCLA’s College of Letters and Science. “The perfect option is reducing emissions. We have to cut down the amount of emissions we’re putting into the atmosphere if, in the future, we want to have anything like the Earth we have now.”

Still, the study concluded, some approaches to climate engineering are more promising than others, and they should be used to augment efforts to reduce the 9 gigatons of carbon dioxide being released each year by human activity. (A gigaton is 1 billion tons.)

The first scholarly attempt to rank a wide range of approaches to minimizing climate change in terms of their feasibility, cost-effectiveness, risk, public acceptance, governability and ethics, the study appears in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The authors hope the information will help the public and decision-makers invest in the approaches with the largest payoffs and the fewest disadvantages. At stake, the study emphasizes, are the futures of food production, our climate and water security.

Cusack, an authority on forest and soil ecology, teamed up with experts in oceanography, political science, sociology, economics and ethics. Working under the auspices of the National Science Foundation, the team spent two years evaluating more than 100 studies that addressed the various implications of climate engineering and their anticipated effects on greenhouse gases.

Ultimately, the group focused its investigation on the five strategies that appear to hold the most promise: reducing emissions, sequestering carbon through biological means on land and in the ocean, storing carbon dioxide in a liquefied form in underground geological formations and wells, increasing the Earth’s cloud cover and solar reflection.

Of those approaches, none came close to reducing emissions as much as conservation, increased energy efficiency and low-carbon fuels would. Technology that is already available could reduce the amount of carbon being added to the atmosphere by some 7 gigatons per year, the team found.

“We have the technology, and we know how to do it,” Cusack said. “It’s just that there doesn’t seem to be political support for reducing emissions.”

Of the five options the group evaluated, sequestering carbon through biological means — or converting atmospheric carbon into solid sources of carbon like plants — holds the most promise. One source, curbing the destruction of forests and promoting growth of new forests, could tie up as much as 1.3 gigatons of carbon in plant material annually, the team calculated. Deforestation now is responsible for adding 1 gigaton of carbon each year to the atmosphere.

Improving soil management is another biological means of carbon sequestration that holds considerable promise because soils can trap plant materials that have already converted atmospheric carbon dioxide into a solid form as well as any carbon dioxide that the solids give off as they decompose. Since the dawn of agriculture, tilling land has led to the loss of about half (55 to 78 gigatons) of the carbon ever sequestered in soil, the team reports. But such simple steps as leaving slash — the plant waste left over after crop production — on fields after harvests, so it could be incorporated into the soil, could reintroduce between 0.4 and 1.1 gigatons of carbon annually to soil, the study says. The approach would also improve soil’s ability to retain nutrients and water, making it beneficial for additional reasons.

“Improved soil management is not very controversial,” Cusack said. “It’s just a matter of supporting farmers to do it.”

The study also advocates a less familiar form of biological sequestration: the burial of biochar. The process, which uses high temperatures and high pressure to turn plants into charcoal, releases little carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Under normal conditions, decaying plant life inevitably decomposes, a process that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But charred plant material takes significantly longer — sometimes centuries — to decompose. So the approach can work to keep carbon that has become bound up in plant life from decaying and respiring as carbon dioxide. And like working slash into the soil, adding biochar to soil can improve its fertility and water retention.

“Charcoal has been used as an agricultural amendment for centuries, but scientists are only now starting to appreciate its potential for tying up greenhouse gases,” Cusack said.

But not all biological sequestration would be so beneficial. The researchers evaluated the idea of adding iron to oceans in order to stimulate the growth of algae, which sequesters carbon. The approach ranked as the study’s least viable strategy, in part because less than a quarter of the algae could be expected to eventually sink to the bottom of the ocean, which would be the only way that carbon would be sequestered for a long period of time. The study predicted that the rest would be expected to be consumed by other sea life that respire carbon dioxide, which would end up back in the atmosphere. Additionally, increasing the algae blooms would likely wreak havoc by decreasing the oxygen available for other marine life.

The study’s second most promising climate engineering strategy, after carbon sequestration, was carbon capture and storage, particularly when the technique is used near where fuels are being refined. CCS turns carbon dioxide into a liquid form of carbon, which oil and coal extraction companies then pump into underground geological formations and wells and cap; millions of tons of carbon are already being stored this way each year. And the approach has the potential to store more than 1 gigaton permanently each year — and up to 546 gigatons of carbon over time — the study says.

However, a liquid carbon leak could be fatal to humans and other animals, and the risk – while minimal – may stand in the way of public acceptance.

“With CCS we’re taking advantage of an approach that already exists, and big companies pay for the work out of their own pockets,” Cusack said. “The hurdle is public perception. No one wants to live next to a huge underground pool of carbon dioxide that might suffocate them and their children – no matter how small the risk.”

Reducing the amount of sunlight that is heating up the atmosphere through measures such as artificially increasing the earth’s cloud cover or putting reflectors in outer space ranked as the study’s second least viable approach. While cloud seeding is cheap and potentially as effective as improving forestry practices, the approach and its potential impacts are not well enough understood for widespread use, the team concluded.

“Cloud seeding sounds simple,” Cusack said. “But we really don’t understand what would happen to the climate if we started making more clouds.”

Source: AAAS EurekAlert

Image: Cosmic time: Global Warming & Climate Change from Shutterstock

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  • time for real climate change

    the number one way to reduce the effects of climate change is to reduce the human population of the world. it is time for the world to force the third world nations to reduce their populations by any means necessary. obama encourages this idea.

  • Bubba Nicholson

    Lifting reflective balloons into earth orbit and increasing the reflectivity of satellites to reflect away solar heating would work well, and certainly more cheaply than reducing human population. Large satellites should be encouraged, small satellites discouraged.
    Of course, if we do nothing at all the human population will be reduced of its own accord, so the problem is, ultimately, self-solving. Fewer people will slow climate change most effectively. And when carbon capture and storage erupts and smothers all life for miles around when it escapes confinement (doubtless intensionally by GreenPeace), that diminishes human population, too, again solving the problem. Let me be first to suggest that we sequester all the carbon dioxide beneath Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, plus under Peking, Hong Kong, Calcutta, London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Capetown, Buenos Ares, … I say, let the problem creators assume the risks of CCS, and not the poor innocent people in the hinterland.
    Another way to improve our chances against global warming is to increase warfare and diminish the heat given off by weapons of mass distruction. The dozens of atomic nuclear weapons we set off in the atmosphere doubtless contributed to global warming, too, eh?
    We could rescind the ban on chemical weapons, which kill without exothermic reactions, and limit such weaponry to reflective gases.

    Or we could send up a lot of big reflective balloons into orbit that we could move or take down as necessary to achieve our goal of climate control without killing each other. Orbits around the equator would be most effective overall, and parking big balloons over 1% of the sky over glaciers would keep them from melting, saving all those CO2 emitters downstream. Eh?
    Balloons which are fun and happy or like the next guy says, kill off all the poor people who produce too much carbon dioxide. We should strike a balance.

  • Brad

    There is no global warming, as evidenced by the global cooling over the last couple decades. Low information liberals will believe anything they are told.

  • Brad

    Ridiculous, liberal bilge.

  • Climate has always changed. The uptrend accompanying the Industrial
    Revolution began at the depths of the Little Ice Age (approximately 1700) and
    progressed fairly steadily through the 20th century. It became known
    as Global Warming (GW) during the comparatively steep rise in the last quarter
    of the 20th century.

    GW ended before 2001. Measured average global temperature is 0.3 K less
    than ‘consensus’ predictions. That is 40% of the total rise in the 20th
    century. Since 2001, the CO2 level has increased by 30% of the total
    increase 1800-2001.

    Two natural drivers have been
    identified that explain measured average global temperatures since before 1900
    with 95% correlation. CO2 change is not one of them.

    Search using key words AGW unveiled to discover the drivers
    and a graph of what they predict.

  • Looked at Mount Kilimanjaro recently or have your politics muddied your vision?

  • Bubba Nicholson

    Brad, I really had nothing to do with Benghazi. I know you don’t believe it, but, seriously give me a break.

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