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Posted on: August 28, 2020

What is Geoengineering? | METEO 469: From Meteorology to Mitigation:  Understanding Global Warming

ABSTRACT: The most interesting aspect of the geoengineering debate is the difficult situation for climate science that it has created. Unlike climate deniers, geoengineering enthusiasts have fully bought into the climate science of fossil fuel emissions to global warming to catastrophic climate change. The fear based activism of climate science has worked well and these people are genuinely scared and genuinely concerned and wanting to help. In that sense they are close allies of climate change activists. Both sides believe in catastrophic climate change and both sides want to take climate action and the sooner the better. The only thing that separates them is their choice of climate action. And yet, just the difference in choice of climate action, sulfate aerosols on one side and the end of fossil fuels on the other, is enough to have created as much acrimony between these climate allies as there is between climate science activists and climate deniers.

The strong and uncompromising position of climate science is that there is no place and no role for geoengineering in their effort to save the planet from climate change. The only possible form of climate action acceptable in climate science is to bring about the end of fossil fuels. It is this issue and only this issue that has created the acrimony between climate science activism and geoengineering. The difficulty that climate science is having with their geoengineering climate action supporters serves therefore to bare the hidden agenda of climate science. This agenda holds that the only acceptable climate action to save the planet from climate change is the end of fossil fuels and that no alternative to that solution is acceptable.

This hard position of climate science implies that their real agenda is anti fossil fuel activism. This assessment explains the oddities of desperate climate science arguments against geoengineering as for example that geoengineering will reduce the efficiency of solar panels and photosynthesis that are needed to fight climate change although the geoengineering they are arguing against would make these arguments irrelevant. The concerted effort  by climate science to create fear of geoengineering, calling it a “Pandora’s box” and instigator of war among nations serves as evidence of this difficult relationship as when someone falls in love with you for all the wrong reasons.

The complex and difficult relationship between climate science and geoengineering becomes clear when climate change activism is seen as anti-fossil fuel activism. The key to understanding the real underlying movement in climate science is that only the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is an acceptable solution.


Fossil Fuel Emissions Contribute More Methane Than Previously Estimated |  Discover Magazine

Ed Hawkins on Twitter: "His name was Guy Stewart Callendar (@GuyCallendar)."



Global warming from 1930 to 1938, was identified in Callendar 1938, the world’s first AGW research paper, as “artificial global warming attributed to the fossil fuel emissions of the industrial economy


However, that warming ended soon after the publication of the Callendar 1938 paper as the world entered a 30-year cooling period 1945-1975 now known as the 1970s cooling anomaly


As a result of the 1970s cooling, the warming identified by Guy Stewart Callendar as an artificial creation of the industrial economy is today understood very differently by climate science as a puzzling AGW anomaly referred to as the ETCW {Early Twentieth Century Warming} puzzle in AGW theory




Stephen Schneider, a leading climate expert, dead at 65

In the context of AGW climate change where fossil fuel emissions of the industrial economy cause warming, the 1945-1975 cooling anomaly took on a greater mystery because this period coincides with rapid postwar industrial growth and an explosive growth in automobile ownership.

The resolution of this mystery by the Late Great Stephen Schneider is now generally accepted as the explanation of the 1970s cooling anomaly in the context of AGW climate change. The genius of the Schneider CO2/Aerosol model of the impact of fossil fuel emissions on surface temperature is that it explains both warming and cooling in terms of fossil fuel emissions.

The warming part is the standard AGW theory that atmospheric CO2 concentration is linearly responsive to fossil fuel emissions and that surface temperature is logarithmically responsive to atmospheric CO2 concentration. The cooling part is that that emissions from fossil fuel combustion contain not only gaseous CO2 but also aerosols and sulfur dioxide (SO2) that when combined with water turns into acidic sulfate aerosol in what has been termed the “acid rain” issue in the EPA’s clean air act. Details of the acid rain issue are provided in a related post on acid rain LINK

The relevance of acid rain in the Schneider aerosol paper is that in general, sulfate aerosols are carried to the stratosphere where they reflect sunlight and cause cooling. The aerosol cooling effect is much stronger for sulfate aerosols. These were found in fossil fuel emissions prior to the EPA 1971 rule and the acid rain program against SO2 emissions.

An additional factor is that the warming effect of fossil fuel emissions in terms of atmospheric CO2 concentration is logarithmic whereas the cooling effect of aerosols goes up linearly with atmospheric concentration with the effect amplified by the aerosols that are already in the stratosphere.

These dynamics imply that the more CO2 there is in the atmosphere the lower the incremental warming effect of an incremental amount of CO2; BUT the more aerosol there is in the atmosphere the greater the incremental cooling effect effect of an incremental amount of aerosol. This means that when both CO2 and aerosols are going up at the same rate during a time of global warming, aerosol cooling will eventually overtake CO2 warming and the overall effect of fossil fuel emissions will be cooling particularly so in the presence of sulfate aerosols.

The Schneider theory of the 1970s cooling is that this is what had happened and why the 1970s cooling had occurred. Here is his story. The explosive growth in the use of fossil fuels without an EPA and without emission restrictions caused sulfate aerosol cooling to overcome CO2 GHG warming over the period roughly 1945 to 1975 as seen in these charts derived from the HadCRU global mean temperature reconstruction. And when SO2 emission restrictions were imposed in 1971, sulfate aerosol emissions began to fall until CO2 warming once again dominated.

The two GIF charts below trace the Schneider 1970s cooling period for the twelve calendar months one calendar month at a time cycling from January to December and back to January. The chart on the left plots the global mean surface temperature in red and its third order polynomial regression curve in black from 1930 to 1988. The chart on the right plots the decadal temperature trend for the decade ending in 1939 to the decade ending in 1988. The decadal window moves through the time series one year at a time. The blue line in the chart on the right is the zero trend marker. points above the blue line represent decadal warming and those below the blue line represent decadal cooling. What we see in these charts is that although there are significant differences among the calendar months, in most months, notably April to October, we do find the Schneider cooling somewhere in the 1945 yo 1975 region. These curves also reveal the ETCW

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1970scooling-gif.gif

1988 was a significant year in the history of the AGW movement because it marks the Hansen Congressional Testimony LINK that at once launched AGW fear based activism and led to the role of the UN as a global environmental agency fresh from its apparent ozone success at the Montreal Protocol with the flawed and failed assumption that it could repeat its Montreal Protocol ozone success in the Kyoto Protocol climate plan. Most importantly, it was also a time when global warming had fully recovered from its 1970s cooling anomaly.

Also of note in this regard is that because of the AGW confusion created by the backwards data of the 1970s cooling following the ETCW warming, many climate scientists find solace in the real clear AGW data from the end of the 1970s cooling even at the expense of the confirmation bias and circular reasoning that it implies. to the present as described in a related post LINK

However, the most intriguing outcome of the 1970s cooling and its explanation by Stephen Schneider is that: Since sulfate aerosols could reverse the strong and mysterious ETCW warming into the strong and mysterious 1970s cooling, then a similar aerosol human intervention serves as an alternative climate action plan to the costly and possibly unrealistic proposal of changing the energy infrastructure from fossil fuels to a renewables technology that is still a work in progress and not ready for large scale implementation without a fossil fueled backup LINK . The engineering design of many such aerosol intervention plans have been proposed in a field of research described as GEO-ENGINEERING by most and as CLIMATE REPAIR by Sir David King, a key deal maker in the Paris Agreement who now concedes that it has failed and that therefore CLIMATE REPAIR is the only remaining option.

A geo-engineering bibliography is provided below along with a well-written summary of the geo-engineering issue Published at the Yale School of the Environment LINK



Scripps/UC San Diego Alumna Nominated to Lead National Academy of Sciences


Harvard's David Keith Knows How to Dial Down the Earth's Thermostat. Is It  Time to Try? - Vox


Sir David King: Urgent focus needed on climate 'restoration'


Various geoengineering methods could help lower global temperatures.


Once seen as spooky sci-fi, geoengineering is now being looked at with growing urgency . The failure of global emission reduction programs means we must consider controversial geoengineering technologies because we are running out of time. A geo-engineering research center has been established at Cambridge University. Technological options being considered are injecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere. In the USA the National Academies is studying sunlight reflection technologies. David Keith, a Harvard University physicist has developed technology for using chemistry to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere. Kelly Wanser of the MARINE CLOUD BRIGHTENING Project is studying the efficacy of marine clouds (clouds above oceans) with SALTY OCEAN WATER to reflect more sunlight. As shown in the diagram below, this geoengineering technology increases the reflectiveness of clouds and is theoretically able to reduce global warming by 20%. Unlike aerosol sprays into the stratosphere, this form of geoengineering is controllable because it is a continuous process and can be moderated by ceasing the salt water sprays. A factor not usually taken into account and explained by PD Jones of the CRU is that cloud reflectiveness works both ways and it serves to warm the night by trapping terrestrial radiation as seen in the right frame of the diagram below.

China has an active government-funded geo-engineering research program. It has no plans for deployment, but is looking at how solar shading might slow the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers.

Cost of cloud brightening for cooler planet revealed - Innovation Toronto

Geoengineering the climate to halt global warming has been discussed almost as long as the threat of warming itself. American researchers in the 1960s suggested floating billions of white objects such as golf balls on the oceans to reflect sunlight. In 1977, Cesare Marchetti of Austria discussed ways of catching Europe’s CO2 emissions and injecting them into sinking Atlantic Ocean currents.

In 1982, Soviet scientist Mikhail Budyko proposed filling the stratosphere with sulphate particles to reflect sunlight back into space. Also fertilizing the oceans with iron stimulates growth of CO2-absorbing algae. Edward Teller, inventor of the hydrogen bomb, proposed putting giant mirrors into space.

Traditional climate scientists have regarded these proposals as heretical, because they undermine the case for urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. A group of scientists writing in Nature as recently as April last year, called solar geoengineering “outlandish and unsettling… redolent of science fiction.”

But the mood is shifting because the window of opportunity to avoid breaching the Paris climate target of staying well below 2C is narrowing sharply. The rate of rise in CO2 emissions is increasing at a time when we should be making progress toward a goal of halving emissions by 2030. The CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere is the planet’s thermostat. It is now at 415 ppm and rising reaching levels not seen in 3 million years. We have two years left to bend the curve downward. We may be approaching a moment when nothing other than geoengineering will prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Myles Allen says that every year we are not reducing emissions is another 40 gigatons of CO2 in the atmosphere that we are committing future generations to remove.

Some downsides to geo-engineering have been identified. One researcher says that geo-engineering has a potential to promote conflict. According to Science Focus LINK one country’s geo-engineering could mess up the weather in another country and create political tension. that could lead to a climate war. Science Focus adds that there are other debilitating issues. For example, in geo-engineering technologies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere, there is no save place to store the CO2 to ensure permanent storage. And as for sulfate aerosol reflective technologies regional differences in the response would make it impossible to engineer a system that would work worldwide. Climate scientists point out that the climate system is too complex for such simplistic solutions. The impact of such geo-engineering systems is poorly understood and therefore artificial interference with this complex system could have unpredictable consequences. For example putting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere could result in dangerous ozone depletion. We can’t take that chance.

A similar analysis by the Max Planck Institute LINK finds that these well intended efforts to deal with global warming could backfire. Climate models show that the sulfate aerosol idea will indeed control the rise in temperature. It works in the climate models as long as we don’t also reduce fossil fuel emissions. The climate system could become unstable otherwise. Also, the models tell us that the sulfate aerosols will reduce precipitation and that could lead to devastating droughts. The climate system is too complex for such simplistic artificial interference.

The additional implication of this complexity and inability to predict or control the consequences could lead to war because the effects of national geoengineering programs cannot be limited to that nation state. Adverse effects felt in neighboring countries could lead to war.

David Wallace-Wells on Twitter: ""The horror of climate change isn't in the  intrinsic violence of hurricanes or heat waves, but in the ways societies  choose to deal with and prepare for them. ..."


:Geo-engineering seems an intrusive human meddling with nature with things like sulfate aerosol injection into the stratosphere that has no control knob and can’t be controlled or undone if unforeseen catastrophic effects such as cold weather, ozone depletion, or droughts evolve from this kind of meddling. It does not appear that these technologies have been properly thought through particularly so when one considers the absence of control. There is some solace in the sulfate aerosol technology as we have a well documented natural case record in the 1970s cooling but other than that, the technology needs to be proven and then developed to a high level or reliability and some ability to intervene and exercise needed control if things do go wrong. Prior to full scale implementation there should be test implementations to ensure function and safety. Lastly, there should be some way to undo the implementation if things don’t go as expected. As we have seen in the renewable energy fiasco described in a related post LINK rushing a technology to market before it is ready can end in disaster.

The more interesting aspect of the geoengineering debate is the difficult situation for climate science that it has created. Unlike climate deniers, geoengineering enthusiasts have fully bought into the climate science of fossil fuel emissions to global warming to catastrophic climate change. The fear based activism of climate science has worked well in these cases and these people are genuinely scared and genuinely concerned and wanting to help. In that sense they are close allies of climate change activists. Both sides believe in catastrophic climate change and both sides want to take climate action and the sooner the better. The only thing that separates them is their choice of climate action.

And yet, just the difference in choice of climate action – sulfate aerosols on one side and the end of fossil fuels on the other – is enough to have created as much distance between these groups as there is between climate science activists and climate deniers. For example, the climate science position is that there is no place and no role for geoengineering in their effort to save the planet from climate change. The only possible form of climate action acceptable to climate change activists is to bring about the end of fossil fuels. It is this distance between climate science activism and geoengineering activism that forces climate change activists to denigrate geoengineering and to create far fetched arguments against geoengineering such as the argument that geoengineering by country#1 might have an undesirable effect in neighboring country#2 that could lead to war between country#1 and country#2 although what geoengineering proponents propose is global climate action with global agreement just like climate scientists do. Also it is not possible to implement a country specific stratospheric sulfate aerosol program.

The difficulty that climate science activism is having with their geoengineering climate action partners serves therefore to bare the hidden agenda of climate science. This agenda implies that the only acceptable climate action to save the planet from climate change is the end of fossil fuels. That in turn serves as evidence that the real agenda of climate is anti fossil fuel activism LINK LINK

Climate science activism finds itself in the difficult situation of having been successful in creating fear of climate change but without the activism against fossil fuels that they had assumed would be the case. These difficulties are the source of the odd responses of climate science as for example that sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere will retard photosynthesis activity and even that aerosols will interfere with the solar energy scheme of climate science although the geoengineering they are arguing against would make solar power irrelevant.

The bibliography below sheds more light on the difficult task in climate science of having succeeded in scaring people with climate change without anticipating that a solution inconsistent with their anti fossil fuel activism may be proposed.

The concerted effort by climate science activists to create fear of geoengineering because it is the “Pandora’s box” shown below is strong evidence of this difficult relationship as when someone falls in love with you for all the wrong reasons. The complex and difficult disagreement between climate science activists and geoengineering activists is best understood in this context.

Geo-Engineering Climate Change : Environmental Necessity or Pandora's Box?  by J. Michael T. Thompson (2009, Hardcover) for sale online | eBay



  1. Schneider, Stephen H. “Geoengineering: could we or should we make it work?.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 366.1882 (2008): 3843-3862. Schemes to modify large-scale environment systems or control climate have been proposed for over 50 years to (i) increase temperatures in high latitudes, (ii) increase precipitation, (iii) decrease sea ice, (iv) create irrigation opportunities, or (v) offset potential global warming by injecting iron in the oceans or sea-salt aerosol in the marine boundary layer or spreading dust in the stratosphere to reflect away an amount of solar energy equivalent to the amount of heat trapped by increased greenhouse gases from human activities. These and other proposed geoengineering schemes are briefly reviewed. Recent schemes to intentionally modify climate have been proposed as either cheaper methods to counteract inadvertent climatic modifications than conventional mitigation techniques such as carbon taxes or pollutant emissions regulations or as a counter to rising emissions as governments delay policy action. Whereas proponents argue cost-effectiveness or the need to be prepared if mitigation and adaptation policies are not strong enough or enacted quickly enough to avoid the worst widespread impacts, critics point to the uncertainty that (i) any geoengineering scheme would work as planned or (ii) that the many centuries of international political stability and cooperation needed for the continuous maintenance of such schemes to offset century-long inadvertent effects is socially feasible. Moreover, the potential exists for transboundary conflicts should negative climatic events occur during geoengineering activities.
  2. Victor, David G. “On the regulation of geoengineering.” Oxford Review of Economic Policy 24.2 (2008): 322-336. New evidence that the climate system may be especially sensitive to the build-up of greenhouse gases and that humans are doing a poor job of controlling their effluent has animated discussions around the possibility of offsetting the human impact on climate through ‘geoengineering’. Nearly all assessments of geoengineering have concluded that the option, while ridden with flaws and unknown side effects, is intriguing because of its low cost and the ability for one or a few nations to geoengineer the planet without cooperation from others. I argue that norms to govern deployment of geoengineering systems will be needed soon. The standard instruments for establishing such norms, such as treaties, are unlikely to be effective in constraining geoengineers because the interests of key players diverge and it is relatively easy for countries to avoid inconvenient international commitments and act unilaterally. Instead, efforts to craft new norms ‘bottom up’ will be more effective. Such an approach, which would change the underlying interests of key countries and thus make them more willing to adopt binding norms in the future, will require active, open research programmes and assessments of geoengineering. Meaningful research may also require actual trial deployment of geoengineering systems so that norms are informed by relevant experience and command respect through use. Standard methods for international assessment organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are unlikely to yield useful evaluations of geoengineering options because the most important areas for assessment lie in the improbable, harmful, and unexpected side effects of geoengineering, not the ‘consensus science’ that IPCC does well. I also suggest that real-world geoengineering will be a lot more complex and expensive than currently thought because simple interventions—such as putting reflective particles in the stratosphere—will be combined with many other costlier interventions to offset nasty side effects.
  3. Ricke, Katharine, et al. “Unilateral geoengineering.” briefing notes for a workshop at the Council on Foreign Relations. Vol. 5. 2008. There are a variety of strategies, such as injecting light-reflecting particles into the stratosphere, that might be used to modify the Earth’s atmosphere-ocean system in an attempt to slow or reverse global warming. All of these “geoengineering” strategies involve great uncertainty and carry significant risks. They may not work as expected, imposing large unintended consequences on the climate system. While offsetting warming, most strategies are likely to leave other impacts unchecked, such as acidification of the ocean, the destruction of coral reefs, and changes in composition of terrestrial ecosystems. Yet, despite uncertain and very negative potential consequences, geoengineering might be needed to avert or reverse some dramatic change in the climate system, such as several meters of sea level rise that could impose disaster on hundreds of millions of people. Unlike the control of greenhouse gas emissions, which must be undertaken by all major emitting nations to be effective and is likely to be costly, geoengineering could be undertaken quickly and unilaterally by a single party, at relatively low cost. Unilateral geoengineering, however, is highly likely to impose costs on other countries and run risks with the entire planet’s climate system. This workshop will focus on the question of strategies for constraining and shaping geoengineering. We will explore formal, legal strategies as well as informal efforts to create norms that could govern testing and deployment of geoengineering systems and their possible undesirable consequences. We will probe whether it is possible to limit the use of geoengineering to circumstances of collective action by the international community in the face of true global emergencies and what might happen when there are disputes over when the emergency “trigger” should be pulled.
  4. Robock, Alan, et al. “Benefits, risks, and costs of stratospheric geoengineering.” Geophysical Research Letters 36.19 (2009).  Injecting sulfate aerosol precursors into the stratosphere has been suggested as a means of geoengineering to cool the planet and reduce global warming. The decision to implement such a scheme would require a comparison of its benefits, dangers, and costs to those of other responses to global warming, including doing nothing. Here we evaluate those factors for stratospheric geoengineering with sulfate aerosols. Using existing U.S. military fighter and tanker planes, the annual costs of injecting aerosol precursors into the lower stratosphere would be several billion dollars. Using artillery or balloons to loft the gas would be much more expensive. We do not have enough information to evaluate more exotic techniques, such as pumping the gas up through a hose attached to a tower or balloon system. Anthropogenic stratospheric aerosol injection would cool the planet, stop the melting of sea ice and land‐based glaciers, slow sea level rise, and increase the terrestrial carbon sink, but produce regional drought, ozone depletion, less sunlight for solar power, and make skies less blue. Furthermore it would hamper Earth‐based optical astronomy, do nothing to stop ocean acidification, and present many ethical and moral issues. Further work is needed to quantify many of these factors to allow informed decision‐making.
  5. Jean Buck, Holly. “Geoengineering: Re‐making climate for profit or humanitarian intervention?.” Development and Change 43.1 (2012): 253-270. Climate engineering, or geoengineering, refers to large‐scale climate interventions to lower the earth’s temperature, either by blocking incoming sunlight or removing carbon dioxide from the biosphere. Regarded as ‘technofixes’ by critics, these strategies have evoked concern that they would extend the shelf life of fossil‐fuel driven socio‐ecological systems for far longer than they otherwise would, or should, endure. A critical reading views geoengineering as a class project that is designed to keep the climate system stable enough for existing production systems to continue operating. This article first examines these concerns, and then goes on to envision a regime driven by humanitarian agendas and concern for vulnerable populations, implemented through international development and aid institutions. The motivations of those who fund research and implement geoengineering techniques are important, as the rationale for developing geoengineering strategies will determine which techniques are pursued, and hence which ecologies are produced. The logic that shapes the geoengineering research process could potentially influence social ecologies centuries from now.
  6. Russell, Lynn M., et al. “Ecosystem impacts of geoengineering: a review for developing a science plan.” Ambio 41.4 (2012): 350-369. Geoengineering methods are intended to reduce climate change, which is already having demonstrable effects on ecosystem structure and functioning in some regions. Two types of geoengineering activities that have been proposed are: carbon dioxide (CO2) removal (CDR), which removes CO2 from the atmosphere, and solar radiation management (SRM, or sunlight reflection methods), which reflects a small percentage of sunlight back into space to offset warming from greenhouse gases (GHGs). Current research suggests that SRM or CDR might diminish the impacts of climate change on ecosystems by reducing changes in temperature and precipitation. However, sudden cessation of SRM would exacerbate the climate effects on ecosystems, and some CDR might interfere with oceanic and terrestrial ecosystem processes. The many risks and uncertainties associated with these new kinds of purposeful perturbations to the Earth system are not well understood and require cautious and comprehensive research.
  7. Vaughan, Naomi E., and Timothy M. Lenton. “A review of climate geoengineering proposals.” Climatic change 109.3-4 (2011): 745-790. Climate geoengineering proposals seek to rectify the current radiative imbalance via either (1) reducing incoming solar radiation (solar radiation management) or (2) removing CO2 from the atmosphere and transferring it to long-lived reservoirs (carbon dioxide removal). For each option, we discuss its effectiveness and potential side effects, also considering lifetime of effect, development and deployment timescale, reversibility, and failure risks. We present a detailed review that builds on earlier work by including the most recent literature, and is more extensive than previous comparative frameworks. Solar radiation management propsals are most effective but short-lived, whilst carbon dioxide removal measures gain effectiveness the longer they are pursued. Solar radiation management could restore the global radiative balance, but must be maintained to avoid abrupt warming, meanwhile ocean acidification and residual regional climate changes would still occur. Carbon dioxide removal involves less risk, and offers a way to return to a pre-industrial CO2 level and climate on a millennial timescale, but is potentially limited by the CO2 storage capacity of geological reservoirs. Geoengineering could complement mitigation, but it is not an alternative to it. We expand on the possible combinations of mitigation, carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management that might be used to avoid dangerous climate change.


Imagine the global conflict this will cause. Every draught, flood, heat wave cold snap and tropical storm will be blamed on geoengineering.

Yes sir. This is what they are saying. And that it will lead to war among nations. My personal objection is that there is no control system. Once launched, no knob you can turn to tweek it. The other objection we share at the nalopkt site is that it is a solution to an imaginary problem.

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