Can we terraform our way out of global warming?

What could possible go wrong? Via the ABC:

It’s 2029 and every merchant ship in the world is fertilising the ocean with iron — a last-ditch effort to draw carbon dioxide from the air as global emissions near the point of no return.

This global attempt to remove CO2 from the atmosphere has been 11 years in the making — since 2018, when the IPCC Global Warming of 1.5C special report warned that emissions reductions alone would not be enough to restrict global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would also be required.

The hope is that the powdered iron will trigger a bloom of phytoplankton that will remove a gigatonne of CO2 from the atmosphere, by taking the carbon to the ocean floor when they die.

There’s evidence to support the concept — iron-stimulated blooms have been observed in nature for some time, sparked by events such as the 2010 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, and Saharan desert dust plumes.

In 2029, it’s just one of a number of ideas about to be employed across the planet to remove atmospheric carbon dioxide.

How best to remove CO2?

Back in the present, and as signs of global warming continue to mount, a push is on to find ways to draw CO2 from the atmosphere.

“It’s now abundantly clear from the IPCC 1.5C special report that if we’re going to restrict warming to 2 degrees or less, then mitigation of the reduction of emissions on its own is not enough,” said Philip Boyd, professor of marine biogeochemistry at the University of Tasmania.

“We have to go beyond that and we now have to intervene in the climate.”

Professor Boyd recently co-chaired a working group for the UN advisory organisation, Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) that reviewed 27 potential marine geoengineering techniques that had been studied or modelled to varying degrees worldwide.

The group particularly focused on:

  • Iron fertilisation across 10 per cent of the Earth’s oceans by utilising every merchant ship in the world
  • Adding lime to 10 per cent of the oceans to enhance alkalinity, increase CO2 uptake and counter seawater acidity
  • Drawing up cool, nutrient-rich water from the depths with large pipes to create an artificial upwelling that provokes algal blooms while also cooling the ocean’s surface
  • Injecting liquified CO2 into the seabed in depressions and trenches where it can be stored for 1,000 years
  • Increasing the ocean’s reflectivity by drawing up cold water to increase Arctic ice thickness, or by adding foams, micro-bubbles or reflective particles to the surface
  • Brightening marine clouds by spraying fine seawater into low lying stratocumulus clouds to increase their reflectivity and reduce surface temperatures
  • Farming seaweed on a large scale before entombing it deep in the ocean to sequester its carbon, or process it for biofuels

In short, the group found a lot of potential. But more research, modelling and pilot programs are required, especially in consideration of the massive scales required.

“What we are trying to do now is put some incentives out there, create some of these models for feedback,” Professor Boyd said.

“But right now I can’t see any one of them sticking out head-and-shoulders above the rest.”

Old concepts and natural evidence

The concept of using reflective particles to reduce warming was floated as early as 1965, when scientific advisors to US President Lyndon Johnson recognised that increased CO2 in the atmosphere could bring about climatic change.

They raised the prospect of spreading small reflective particles over large oceanic areas in an effort to reduce warming and inhibit hurricane formation.

More recently, scientists have investigated spraying fine seawater into low-lying stratocumulus clouds above the Great Barrier Reef to make them brighter and reflect more sunlight. Thhope is that this will keep the water temperature low enough to prevent coral bleaching.

Scientists internationally have also been modelling a strategy to inject aerosols high into the stratosphere to replicate outcomes from the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption, in which reflective sulfuric acid droplets drew down average global temperatures by 0.5C.

But Andrew Lenton, an ocean carbon cycle modeler with the CSIRO, said geoengineering of this kind could have transnational consequences.

“You’re changing the balance, changing precipitation, and there is some really, really significant side effects that can go here,” he said.

Dr Lenton also pointed out that such techniques would not remove CO2 from the atmosphere, which in high levels reduced pH levels at the ocean’s surface and created acidity.

“It might be like kids in a candy store with all these options available to us,” he said.

“But when you start to dig a bit deeper, everything has risk or potential challenges associated with it.”

Looking for ideas with multiple benefits

Professor Boyd said there was a preference internationally for techniques that had multiple benefits for the environment, along with those that did not step too far from the realms of financial reality.

“There has been so much sensationalism around this, with people talking about mirrors in space, or thousands of these bobbing pipes in the ocean,” he said.
“It’s become a little bit sci-fi.

“We really want to bring that back to earth by exploring work that involves environmental co-benefits.”

This included the concept of “regenerative agriculture”, which could see mined minerals with high CO2 absorption qualities worked into farmland as fertiliser.

“It comes at a low cost, you’re sequestering carbon, you’re fertilising, and you’re also boosting the soil profile,” Professor Boyd said.

“It might also be possible that you could further till that soil to build up its profile for biochar.”

Biochar is a carbon-rich material like charcoal that is produced from biomass through slow pyrolysis rather than incineration, that is, heating in the absence of oxygen rather than burning.

Food and agricultural waste and even manure can be turned into biochar and added to soil, where it sequesters carbon and helps retain soil moisture and nutrients, subsequently bolstering crops when matched with the right varieties and conditions.

Just 10 years to work it out

Trees also capture and store carbon dioxide — for as long as they stay alive, at least — and their planting in recent decades has been touted by commercial entities who claim to be carbon neutral as a result.

Dr Lenton cited a colleague who modelled growing trees on every available piece of land worldwide under high emission models.

“But she was not even able to get to a medium scenario [of global emissions] by basically removing all the agricultural land and turning that into forest,” he said.

David Llewellyn-Smith

David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal.

He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.

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Comments

    • Charlie Daniels

      Because it’s racialist and you cannot blame developing economies or the third world for global warming.

    • As countries we’ve probably emitted more than them? (well ‘cept those ones will their population measured in B’s not M’s).
      Also it was seen as unfair to curtail their development out of mass poverty when we got the burn all that coal in trains.
      I regret having a subscription to the Guardian for a year.

  1. i always wondered why we don just dig a hole in the bottom of the sea to increase the oceans volume so rising water levels wouldnt matter

    • Hah! Nice.

      I still dream of digging a trench to Lake Eyre, putting an osmosis membrane weir at the mouth, and letting gravity slowly fill the lake with fresh water (yes I know it’s a salt lake. The idea is not to let it get saltier). Fair bit of area below sea level there. With the insane evaporation out there, it’ll probably change the climate to its east. Could even start a fishing industry out there.

  2. it’s childish to think that more technology can be solution to problems caused by too much technology

      • These technological ‘advances’ simply enable us to consume more and produce ever more pollution at a lower financial cost, but at an ever-increasing environmental burden on the environment.

        • Yeah, weren’t the good old days when hunter-gatherers burned down whole forests to drive prey into the open, so much better for the planet and humanity.

          • Better than clearing the forest permanently for farmland which we’ve done to most of Australia and Brazil is doing to the Amazon. At least with fire the forest grows back.

          • HadronCollision

            Well yes actually.
            Much better than razing millions of Ha of forest for billions of humans

  3. great picture!! the #ABC forgot to include images of the billions upon billions of tons of plastic garbage that will be floating around in oceans by 2029 !! #HumanPLAGUE

  4. Not sure if its intended, but this ABC article reads to me like jovial sci-fi sarcasm. Do they really think all this will move the needle in 2029, when earth has 8, pushing 9 billion humans all running around farting methane simultaneously/?? ha! The ABC (of course) fail to make any mention of the fact that humans are far too quickly exceeding earth’s carrying capacity, which is the root cause of this mess… Anthropogenic climate change is simply one of many indicators that show human civilization has out-grown earth’s paddock…. with the continuation of the exponential growth of the human population we look set to trigger our very own mass-extinction event some time in the near future. Perhaps the sooner the better, as it will take this kind of event to get through the population’s thick heads that earth isn’t infinite, and quantities of new humans brought about each year might soon need to be limited, somehow… surely we’re smart enough to manage that

    population.org

    • The irony being that the Greens have never once addressed the impact of a growing population on the environment.

      It’s a ‘given’, you see. Hang on a sec, where have I heard that one before …

  5. Something needs to be done….so we’ll do something, that’s guaranteed.
    Something useful, probably not, but something will be done and the interesting thing is that collectively we’ll reward the people that do something. If there are any lessons to be learned from Grenoble it is that nature does a great job of recovering if we just let it recover, as in if we stop doing something…of course we can’t ever really admit to ourselves that we’re the problem so we’ll do something. In the end it’s just human nature to fiddle with something until it’s completely F’ed up.

    • Bingo. We’ll always ‘do something’ (for good or for bad, who cares, as long as the intention is well meant)

      And there will be winners out this: those who are granted lucrative Govt contracts, jobs, research grants etc

      But there will also be losers: bend over and pucker up, tax-cow. It’s for your own good … trust us 😉

  6. Trout à la Crème

    Well it beats global taxation. Because a ‘global problem’ needs a ‘global solution’ something something sloganeering.

  7. Human caused climate change is a conjob, there is zero concrete evidence for it. The Earth was much warmer during the medieval warm period, and there was no carbon dioxide to blame. Then we had a little ice age, and now we are swinging back into warming. it’s a natural process, and CO2 has nothing to do with it.

    Just another scheme by the rich elites to get more of your money – this time, directly through tax and into their private companies, promising to “solve” the problem.

    • DisplayNameMEMBER

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    • “During the 1970s the media promoted global cooling alarmism with dire threats of a new ice age. Extreme weather events were hyped as signs of the coming apocalypse and man-made pollution was blamed as the cause.
      Environmental extremists called for everything from outlawing the internal combustion engine to communist style population controls.”
      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/03/01/global-cooling-compilation/
      https://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/pollution_sacrifice_democracy.png?resize=343%2C543

      • DisplayNameMEMBER

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    • Geoengineering is scary but some will be necessary because we’ve already hit the feedback loops (more forest fires, melting permafrost releasing methane, darker seas and rocks absorbing more heat than the shiny ice used to). There is no international law or even agreement to govern most of these, and an increasing risk that billionaires with their own space capability will feel the need to ‘save the world’ by spreading reflective aerosols high in the atmosphere. What could possibly go wrong?

      Meanwhile, the unpaid puppets of fossil fuel groups continue to post zero credibility crap from wattsupwiththat
      https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Anthony_Watts

      • DisplayNameMEMBER

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        • Of course, since nothing is ever 100% technically settled, we should never do anything.

          Great stuff.

          • Who ever suggested that ?

            How about you just stop using outright lies and empty platitudes

            Then people might take you more seriously

        • HadronCollision

          That’s true
          ever since Arehenius theorised about GHG the science has never settled
          It’s just found itself increasingly behind what’s actually happened.

          Skepticism away, but

        • Science is, by definition, never settled

          Well don’t keep us in suspense, what’s the rest of the sentence ?

        • “Settled” – There is ample, well-supported evidence to provide a basis for action through mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and for adaptation to reduce our vulnerability to climate change impacts.

          At the same time, further research is needed to reduce the uncertainties and quantify confidence levels.

          “Settled” – Theory of Gravity. We know enough to NOT jump of a tall building. But there are a bunch of anomalies and discrepancies and can’t really detect gravity waves!

    • Bulldust SSF. Natural process yes but pushed by human activity. The science was clear 25 years ago. The politics of denial and deferral is also clear and worked for big tobacco for decades. But eventually they became pariahs. Took 50 years. Suspect climate change will likewise.
      Mind you ideas of sowing huge plumes of iron to solve carbon dioxide sounds like importing cane toads from Brazil to deal with a sugar cane pest. What could possibly go wrong?

  8. GunnamattaMEMBER

    Our manufactured world we can fill with improved animals too

    China breeds giant pigs the size of polar bears as African swine fever causes pork shortage
    https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3031734/china-breeds-giant-pigs-size-polar-bears-african-swine-fever?li_source=LI&li_medium=homepage_int_edition_top_picks_for_you

    But seriously. I think it will be an Australian government, the one which comes to recognise it can no longer rely on reinflating real estate and is looking to feed us some other form of bullshit, which will pick up on some of this type of stuff and will use it as another way to bind the masses to debt while barreling funds into the pockets of the few – big contracts to build desal plants, make canals, carve out chunks of land for SE Asia to slap solar panels, taking in waste from elsewhere (tyres anyone) to create mountain ranges in the desert, and probably even to start mulling nuclear energy……

    ……and I think it might start real soon

    • Sydneysiders will certainly get bent over for water in the next couple of years. Probably one of the last needs of society they can gouge us for. Gotta love a declining society and inflated costs of living. Wonder what this country will even look like in 20 years.

    • Sounds like a politician’s partner needs to create a mine rehabilitation/waste processing company. We have lots of holes to fill up with junk.

  9. What about the cows farting isn’t that going to take down the World HnH? Has that been factored into the climate models? LMAO Maybe you should do some research on that and write a post

    • Jevons ghostMEMBER

      Solution: soak up the gut methane by feeding the cows charcoal! When mixed with glycerine the cows go for it. And when the cowpats are dragged underground by dung beetles you have sequestered the carbon indefinitely.

      https://vimeo.com/329226794

    • HadronCollision

      Running cattle is going to become very hard in AU in a lot of areas
      No rain
      Less people eating meat (hat tip Jack Cowin and everyone else in the space)
      Carbon / CO2e tax

    • There’s no doubt there are a fvck load of people out there who need to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk.

      As usual though, the most hysterical among them are the very ones telling ‘other people’ how they should live their lives. Same as it ever was.

      I was watching some surfing ‘highlights’ from the Men’s CT event at Hossegor, France earlier and my viewing was interrupted by an ad railing at the amount of flying everyone does today and what this does for greenhouse gases. The ad was sponsored by the World Surf League itself whose carbon foot-print is beyond colossal as it flies a huge contingent of people (and associated hangers-on) all round the world to various surf locations to compete. As usual, fvck-all self awareness, no end of hypocrisy but it’s okay — their carbon foot-print is justified because they are modern-day climate missionaries bringing the message to the unwashed.

        • I read about some useless billionaire Swedish b1mbo flying around the world in daddy’s private jet lecturing the plebs to cut their meat consumption. It makes my blood boil.

  10. Or you could build high speed rail to cut emissions and order every “skilled” immigrant to donate a Tesla Model S to the ATO.

  11. interested partyMEMBER

    The backers of the new green deal might have some input to help out……
    but then again, these folk are on boards of energy co’s in the Ukraine……I smell a rat!
    Biden’s son
    Pelosi’s son
    Romney’s son
    Kerry’s son

    no wonder orange man bad…..he pulled the covers off.

    • You mean when he tried to blackmail a country, (currently invaded by his Russian mate) to dig up dirt on his political opponents?

      This bloke could take a dump in your mailbox and you would be spinning it as being positive.

        • This site mocks the various bootlickers of the Chinese Communist Party but many of the posters here uncritically worship Trump with little irony.

          • interested partyMEMBER

            You amuse me. I have stated my position many times, and within those posts I have explained that I understand trump is no angel….but thick heads still pound the table….orange man bad.

            But humour me, and let’s go back to your statement…….”You mean when he tried to blackmail a country, (currently invaded by his Russian mate) to dig up dirt on his political opponents?”

            This is the call transcript…..
            https://www.theepochtimes.com/full-transcript-of-call-between-trump-and-zelensky-released_3094727.html

            Please…..point me to where he does what you state?

          • You amuse me. I have stated my position many times, and within those posts I have explained that I understand trump is no angel….but thick heads still pound the table….orange man bad.

            Exhibit A of his point. Your pavlovian response to any criticism of Trump (or the multitude of absurd conspiracies apparently influencing him) is “orange man bad” – ie: there is no possible rational criticism.

            You can explain as much as you want, champ. How you actually behave is what matters.

          • interested partyMEMBER

            bobalot….having trouble finding the lines? Keep reading, it ‘must’ be in there somewhere……cnn/abc/msm told you so. And they don’t tell lies….they told you that as well.

            lol

          • interested party- “IT’S ALL A CONSPIRACY!!!!!!! YOU ARE ALL SHEEP”

            Truly a top mind of the internet.

  12. Forrest GumpMEMBER

    When sea levels rise to the point of neutering out $200 Billion in the value of real estate around scenic rivers in cities, coastal areas (in Australian capital cities) then and only then Politicians will have their Holy Shit moment and actually begin to whale and cry.

    This holy shit moment will happen before the waters lap over the sand bags surrounding million dollar homes. The holy shit moment occurs when the banks and insurance companies forecast that in 25-30 years from now the asset is worth nothing and un-insurable. Owners will not be able to sell because the banks will NOT loan against it. Insurance companies wont touch it.

    Forget about the Hundreds of Millions or perhaps few billions in the value of regional real estate that becomes worthless due to drought and fire risk…no politician ever cares about that…

    Tick Tick Tick

  13. Business wants unlimited consumption and the planet needs less consumption.

    How can we really fix the CO2 problem by throwing more “business” solutions at it which are only done to make money, not reduce CO2.

    The whole world needs to rethink how we do business, because as we have seen as soon as the worlds consumption (and CO2) goes down governments start throwing everything at the economy to keep consumption (and CO2) from falling.

    I do not think just coming up with some CO2 storage solution is going to solve the mess humans have made of the planet and will continue to make while we continue with business as usual.

  14. Because whilst China pollution blocks rain to eastern Australia, it’s not important. See this, I have put it up before.
    http://www.deagel.com/country/forecast.aspx Expected in 2025. Those are the top figures, lots are in red as population falls.
    Beyond that earth climate determined basically by the sun, the solar cycles and secondary issues. Occurred dramatically prior to industrialisation and there is buggerall carbon dioxide. It’s a lagging indicator anyway not causal.