Regular Features Sandpit September 17, 2018 John Quiggin14 Comments A new sandpit for long side discussions, conspiracy theories, idees fixes and so on. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading... Related
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I looked a little more into dumping biomass into the oceans to sequester atmospheric CO2.
To store trap carbon long term biomass needs to be dumped in areas of sedimentation. But I have no idea if the sediment from where the Murry oozes into the ocean or the gradual flow of ooze off the continental shelf will be enough.
If biomass is dumped in the deep ocean and not trapped in sediment it will break down and CO2 will be added to the ocean water, although some carbon may be added to the seafloor long term. The release of CO2 will occur slowly because the area is cold and nutrient poor, but it still happens. If wood is dumped wood boring worms colonize it break it down over decades. But if we have wood to dump, the cost of moving stuff across oceans is low so it could be dumped in Antarctic waters where there are (currently) no wood boring worms.
Once CO2 is released from decaying biomass in deep ocean water near South Australia, at a very rough guess, it may take 65 years for CO2 dissolved in the water to reach an area of up welling and be brought to the surface. If it was dumped in deep waters closer to Perth it might take 100 years. But ocean freight is cheap and it would be possible to haul biomass to the best long term dump sites if necessary.
So, while not perfect, it could be a relatively low cost method of locking up carbon. It will of course be necessary to end the burning of all or almost all fossil fuels because being able to lock up millions of tonnes of carbon a year in the oceans isn’t going to do much to offset adding billions of tonnes of CO2 per year as we currently are.
Geoengineering is a very bad idea. Unintended consequences will spread through the biosphere’s complex systems generating additional unforeseen damage. What we have to do is stop doing the damage and permit the biosphere re-equilibrate itself as best it can. That is the path of least possible harm even at this late stage.
Click to access 10.1007_s10584-013-0764-x.pdf
As well as the ethical objections to mis-framing geoengineering as a public good, the scientific objections are also clear.
Ikono, does dumping biomass on the ocean floor as “geoengineering”? Because I’d say it’s clear that — given how out of whack we have managed to make the atmosphere — a tonne of CO2 locked up in biomass 7 kilometers down on the ocean floor is better than a tonne of CO2 in the atmosphere. I’d even say that if rich nations refuse to pay for the removal of excess CO2 from the atmosphere using the excuse of possible unintended consequences it would be like them refusing to pay for the medical treatment of people they had shot on the grounds that some of them could turn out to be future Hitlers.
It would suit the common definition of geoengineering: “deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.”
Didn’t this whole problem start because we humans assumed we could dump CO2 into the atmosphere without worrying about impacts? Now, a proposed solution is to dump carbon-based stuff onto ocean floors without worrying about impacts?
It is flawed to assume that the sea floors are non-complex, inert places where we can dump stuff without oceanic and other impacts. We should study the sea floor much more before we directly mess with it.
The link below is given not for its particular content but to illustrate the general point that “A series of new discoveries from the ocean floor highlights how incomplete our knowledge of this habitat still is.”
Overall, we should stop damaging the system (the biosphere) and allow it to self-correct. That is to say we should stop burning all fossil fuels as soon as possible and then allow natural processes to re-equilibrate the natural systems over time. The biosphere and evolved natural systems are “smarter” than us by many orders of magnitude. Reality is always more complex than our theories about it. There is a relatively new concept termed “the evolution of evolvability”. The idea is that the processes of evolution themselves evolve.
“By unifying the theory of evolution (which shows how random variation and selection is sufficient to provide incremental adaptation) with learning theories (which show how incremental adaptation is sufficient for a system to exhibit intelligent behaviour), this research shows that it is possible for evolution to exhibit some of the same intelligent behaviours as learning systems (including neural networks).”
Therefore, complex co-evolved systems are likely to exhibit “intelligent behaviours” in the sense outlined above. The biosphere itself appears able to exhibit intelligent-seeming behaviours on a par with learning systems (like neural networks). The complex, co-evolved system is thus likely to have an extensive capacity to re-equilibrate or “heal” itself without our interference. All that is properly required of us is to markedly reduce our impacts.
Read more at phys dot org news “Is evolution more intelligent than we thought?”
Note: The above idea has nothing to do with the idea of intelligent design by a creator.
So, Ikono… See many dinosaurs around lately?
Just geoengineering dinosaurs. Geoengineering is a decoy idea just like CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), These ideas are decoys put out and promoted by the pro fossil fuel lobby. Their underlying premise is always the same. “We can keep burning fossil fuels longer because CCS. We can keep burning fossil fuels longer because geoengineering.” These are dangerous distractions put out to promote BAU and inaction on fossil fuels. Giving the general populace a mental “out”, a seeming escape, makes the fossil fuel phase-out seem less urgent. It’s a ploy to encourage complacency in the general population.
Raymond Pierrehumbert, a lead author of the Nobel Prize-winning Third Assessment Report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, calls geoengineering ideas “barking mad”. I agree with him.
Also, this article:
James Wimberley! I summon thee from the depths of the internet!
“Geoengineering: neither economical, nor ethical—a risk–reward nexus analysis of carbon dioxide removal” – Turaj S. FaranLennart Olsson.
Clive Hamilton had a good book on the subject ““Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering.” Unfortunately, he has diverted most of his attention to the (third-order, in my view) issue of Chinese interference in universities.
For my own two cents worth, geoengineering is an absolute last resort, worth trying only after everything else (including nuclear and CCS) has failed.
I am willing to call that nuclear and CCS have already failed. By default, I then have to call that renewable energy is our only hope (in the energy field per se).
CCS goes over the line into being geoengineering. The capture of CO2 is not geoengineering but then the second stage, the storage, is indeed geoengineering. All the places mooted for storage are geological or ocean storages; parts of the biosphere, hydrosphere or lithosphere. None of these places are particularly safe. Catastrophic release or seepage are possible.
We need to reamain aware at all times of the absolute bad faith under which the current economic system (neoliberal, crony capitalism) operates including in putting forth these supposed “solutions” for AGW. Cap and trade, CCS and geoengineering are all neoliberal subterfuges as clear and obvious as the denialist campaign waged by the tobacco industry re lung cancer. They are all deliberate campaigns to delay action on fossil fuels and to enable such assets to remain un-stranded and exploitable for as long as possible.
John, looking at the definition of geoengineering I get:
“The deliberate large-scale manipulation of an environmental process that affects the earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.”
This means things such as reforestation, land reclamation, and making less environmentally destructive concrete can all be considered geoengineering, along with putting sulfur compounds in the stratosphere, building a sun shield in space, and using hydrogen bombs to turn mountains into gravel to hasten chemical weathering.
Some of these things don’t have any mechanisms in place to pay for them. For example I can’t sell a unit of stratospheric sulfur cooling to anyone. But some of the processes that could be lumped under the term geoengineering would, or at least should, be paid for if there were an efficient carbon price in place.
For example, cement production is a process that currently releases a large amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. A portion of CO2 released is absorbed by concrete as it cures, but the portion is very small because carbon in the form of coal ash is already added. If charcoal made from plants was used instead this would increase the amount of CO2 from the atmosphere that gets locked in concrete. At the moment cement manufacturers have no incentive to use charcoal as that costs money while flyash from coal is basically free. But with a carbon price a credit could be claimed for the carbon in charcoal that is that is sequestered for an extended period of time.
If a carbon price is reintroduced and it is applied in an efficient way, then credit should apply to processes that remove carbon from the atmosphere for an extended period of time. It should of course only apply to carbon this is reasonably expected to be locked up for an extended period and which is done in a way that makes it safer than leaving it in the atmosphere. For example, while it would be technically possible to sequester carbon in cyanide gas stored in large tanks in the center of cities, this would be really stupid and so should not receive a carbon credit.
I think I have made concrete sound a lot simpler than it is. I apologize for that because it’s actually very complicated stuff.