This week The Times writes about the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ report on geo-engineering options. The Institue is advocating investment in Klaus Lackners ‘artificial trees’. This pleases me, because in my own review of geo-engineering options as research for the book, I also figured Klaus had one of the most promising and optimistic technologies. As a result I’m visiting Klaus along with climate change guru Wally Broecker at the Lamont-Doherty Observatory in New York on the 18th September. Wally wrote a great book on this subject called ‘Fixing Climate’, which is worth a read (there’s a link to the right).
The full report (click here) says:
“The big question therefore is: if we haven’t got enough time to decarbonise the global economy before the mean global temperature rise passes 2°C, is there something we can do to avoid dangerous climate change and a 4°C to 6°C outcome? Is there something we can do to buy us some time while we go about the business of a low-carbon transition, yet which doesn’t distract us from that principal objective? The answer may be ‘yes’ and it is geo-engineering.”
The emphasis is mine. Lackner claims “The air right behind one of our collectors has as much CO2 as it had in 1800″.
What is clear is that emissions aren’t going down nearly fast enough. They can be brought down, and lots of dedicated people are working on technology and policy to achieve just this. Yet investment in technologies like Lackner’s is stifled by:
I understand the comments on blogs and newspaper sites are for, well, people who like to comment and therefore often attract, let’s be honest, loonies. But I am amazed by some of the ‘head in the sand’ tenor of both the posted responses and, indeed, our own government’s reaction. (It still surprises me even though I recently saw Ed Milliband speak at The Manchester Report and have never been more underwhelmed by a politician’s intellect or vision in my life - and as you can imagine that’s up against some pretty stiff competition).
A ‘spokesman’ for the Department of Energy and Climate Change is quoted as saying:
“Our primary aim must be to deliver a global deal which cuts global emissions. It’s clear that geo-engineering technologies are undeveloped and untested and at present remain a long way from being practical solutions to an urgent problem.”
Perhaps one reason these technologies are ‘a long way from being practical solutions to an urgent problem’ is a lack of urgent investment from government. Last time I checked the atmosphere was a pretty important ‘infrastructural’ resource, that economies rather need to keep functioning. Luckily Obama’s Energy Secretary Stephen Chu is showing an interest. ”That’s exciting, but I don’t particularly want to discuss this in a public forum because I think this gives me a little bit of an opportunity to tailor my proposals to the Department of Energy in a way that makes them more palatable,” says Lackner in this article for CNN.com
The more I research this, the more I find myself agreeing with ex-politician Vicki Buck, who I’m visiting in New Zealand in December. Vicki Buck is a pragmatic optimist extraordinaire and has readily agreed to show me all the things she’s involved with, of which there’s a lot. The former (independent) mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand (she held the post from 1989 to 1998), she’s the director of several eco-companies and calmly remarks ‘if we wait for governments to sort this out, we’re buggered’. There’s a nice article about Vicki, modestly entitled ‘Can this woman fuel the world?’ here.
Certainly having seen the paucity of neurons apparently used in the construction of Ed Milliband’s position, one can sometimes find oneself leaning towards agreeing with her, though I still advocate that government should be part of the solution (if only to make them feel good).
My favourite comment under the Times article is:
“According to the Telegraph, these are the same fools who propose painting all buildings white! I think they stupidly believe that this will reflect all the energy back upward into space instead of dissipating it and diffusing into our atmosphere and onto other objects. I assume these people are on fat government research grants. All these silly proposals would just be a drop in the ocean to address the real problems; they only serve to divert the public into paying these fools salaries.”
If ever there was ever an example (beyond the existence of Ed Milliband) of the need for our schools to place more emphasis on critical thinking methods, this is it. What I find staggering about this statement is the uncritical way it’s presented… the ‘science’ is wrong, the assumptions stated are, well, just that, the cynicism is blatant and debilitating. Reading it is a bit like walking around in an intellectual larder where everything has gone moldy.
This is why I’m writing the book.
I’m looking forward to grilling Klaus and Wally (who sound a bit like a puppets from a German children’s TV show when you put them together like that).