Tag Archives: climate week

Geoengineering (Climate Week #6)

Geoengineering represents several technological or large-scale approaches for offsetting the effects of climate change. Rather than conventional mitigation approaches that result in lower greenhouse gas emissions (such as switching to electric vehicles or investing in renewable energy), geoengineering approaches represent far more technical or radical interventions intended to stop climate change.

Broadly speaking there are two basic approaches:

  1. Greenhouse Gas Removal – removing greenhouse gases (but especially carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere. Methods for doing this include capturing gases as they are released, use giant air scrubbers to directly capture greenhouse gases from the air, or planting huge numbers of trees. The end result is less greenhouse gases in the sky, and lower average temperatures.
  2. Solar Radiation Management: making the Earth more reflective so that light from the sun bounces back into space. You can use artificial snow or reflective materials to protect ice sheets, paint roofs and buildings reflective colors, add reflective aerosols to the upper atmosphere, or even use reflective objects in space to reflect light away from the Earth. The end result is less solar radiation being absorbed by the Earth, and lower average temperatures.

You can probably guess that pretty much every geoengineering approach (with the exception of afforestation, planting huge numbers of trees) is controversial, with many detractors. Criticisms include geoengineering approaches being poorly studied, some approaches are currently expensive, some proposals have unknown negative side effects, some of these approaches have massive consequences for international relations, and pursuing geoengineering instead of climate mitigation could give polluting nations and companies an excuse to keep polluting.

Geoengineering isn’t a panacea – but, like I’m going to be saying for the rest of my life, climate change is dire enough that any and all solutions need to be on the table.

There are over a dozen geoengineering approaches already proposed, from relatively conventional like afforestation, to the truly sci-fi idea of adding orbital mirrors to reflect sunlight. But, whether conventional or radical, I’m going to be evaluating each approach for its effectiveness at stopping climate change and how easily it could be used at large scales.

Why Write About Climate Change? (Climate Week #5)

Why write about climate change in the first place?

My goal is to find a solution to climate change, whatever it takes. I could do that by closing my website entirely, giving up on writing, and just spending my time on learning, research, and scientific experiments. Writing about any problem (including climate change) doesn’t automatically lead to the problem being solved.

So if writing =/= solving, and my goal is to solve climate change… why write about climate change every week, or at all? Lots of people have written about climate change already. What’s the point?

At a basic level, it’s a way of keeping myself accountable, and make progress every week.

Climate change is really complicated. There’s a lot of ground you could cover if you wanted to become an expert – something thousands of scientists have dedicated decades of their life to doing. I don’t think that’s achievable for me in the next decade, or really necessary.

If someone wanted to only understand the parts necessary for solving climate change, that would be difficult, but doable – as long as they kept at it for weeks on end, and only focused on the absolutely most important parts.

Writing about climate change every week forces me to start the week saying “By the end of the week, I need to learn about climate change and share something about it with the world” That doesn’t necessarily mean saying something new or revolutionary – I’m learning about the problem as I go, there’s a lot to talk about.

Then again, it also doesn’t mean thousands and thousands of words every week if that isn’t necessary – different weeks will have different amounts of learning, and they say brevity is the soul of wit. What’s important is writing about something related to the goal of stopping climate change – the science, the solutions, and the logistics/process of getting this done. Even the politics, if that comes up (it probably will).

It doesn’t have to really long. It doesn’t have to be about the same thing every week. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to represent some amount of progress towards finding a solution to climate change. I can correct errors later, add stuff on later, or even combine the things I write if I write about two parts of a topic separately. As long as progress is made every week.

Also, one of the words of advice I’ve seen about learning over the years is that the best way to learn and remember something is to teach others. Reading about a topic is easy. Taking what you learn about the topic, remembering the important parts, and turning it into an understandable lesson is harder – but worth it, if you want to be a person who can solve problems. And climate change is a problem that needs to be solved, just as much if not more than all the other problems out there.

So that’s why I’m writing every week about climate change.

Alright. Back to work.

Iron Fertilization (Climate Week #4)

“Give me a half a tanker of iron and I will give you another ice age.” Or at least, that’s what oceanographer John Martin said in 1988 about a radical and bizarre way of stopping climate change: dumping iron in the ocean. This is one of several geoengineering solutions to climate change, solutions that deliberately alter the environment to fight climate change.

To understand what iron has to do with climate change, you need to understand that most photosynthesis (the process plants use to take carbon dioxide out of the sky) doesn’t happen on land. The majority (50-85% depending on the estimate) actually happens in the ocean, done by microscopic algae called phytoplankton. These “wandering plants” take nutrients from the water, and carbon dioxide from the air, in order to make more phytoplankton. Then, the phytoplankton are either eaten by other marine creatures or sink to the ocean floor, preventing the carbon dioxide being released back into the atmosphere.

Iron is a necessary nutrient for photosynthesis – and it’s often the limiting nutrient. It turns out there are large parts of the ocean (HNLCs, or High Nutrient Low Chlorophyll zones) that have all the nutrients for phytoplankton growth, except for iron. While iron naturally enters the ocean through volcanic eruptions, upwellings of nutrient rich water, and iron dust from the land, the iron doesn’t have to be natural in origin to be effective.

The basic plan is this: take huge amounts of iron, in a form easily dissolved in water such as iron sulphate. Use ships to dump large amounts of this dissolvable iron in otherwise nutrient rich water. Large scale algal blooms are created, taking huge amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere into the deep ocean.

Give me a half a tanker of iron and I will give you another ice age.

How much iron would be required to actually make this work? How much would it cost? Would doing this cause ecological damage or other unintended consequences? Could it actually be effective at a large scale? Could there be a way to do this artificially on land, without risking damage to the oceans?

I’ll explore those questions in later posts.

It’s an unusual, even radical solution. And there are many people who not only dislike technological solutions to climate change on general principle, but who also don’t like that iron fertilization takes carbon dioxide out of the sky before we learn how to stop emitting it – potentially giving humans permission to pollute even more and make the problem worse.

Considering the dire situation we’re in with climate change, I think we need all options on the table – including the radical ones.

The Oceans are Acidifying (Climate Week #3)

Not all of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere stays there.

About 30% of it gets absorbed by the ocean.

One of the things you can measure about a liquid is its pH (power of hydrogen) – how many H+ ions are in the liquid, and what effect that has on the liquid’s properties. If a liquid has a lot of H+ ions, it’s acidic with a pH below 7. If a liquid doesn’t have very many H+ ions, it’s alkaline (or basic) with a pH above 7. Regular water has a pH of very close to 7 or exactly 7.

Oceanic salt water is slightly basic, with a pH slightly above 8. But then carbon dioxide (CO2) gets absorbed into the ocean, some of which turns into carbonic acid (H2CO3, which is CO2 combined with H2O), where it can lose lose its hydrogen ions into the larger ocean and raise the acidity of the ocean.

“What’s the big deal? It’s just a few hydrogen ions! What’s the harm in that?”

Other than the part where massively changing the chemical composition of the ocean doesn’t sound like a good idea, there is explicit harm in ocean acidification. Namely, carbonate becomes less abundant for organisms like coral, shellfish, and oysters to use. Even worse, many of these organisms are seeing their shells and structures dissolving, other organisms that rely on an alkaline ocean will have their life cycle disrupted, and this will only worsen as more carbon dioxide is dissolved into an acidic ocean.

If this goes on for long enough, and the oceans get acidic enough, then you run the risk of mass ocean extinctions. The new pH of the oceans doesn’t have to kill every organism that relies on carbonate or an alkaline ocean, just enough of them to cause damage up and down every ocean ecosystem and food chain – and damage to all of the people that rely on the oceans for food.

The science of ocean acidification is still developing, and I’m not going to claim to be an oceanographer. In the end though, this is yet another reason to stop putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – and one of the problems we would need to solve even if climate change wasn’t real.

Politics (Climate Week #2)

In case you didn’t hear, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died yesterday. She was 87.

While the death of a Supreme Court Justice is usually a big deal, a Justice dying six weeks before a Presidential election makes it a bigger deal.

It’s impossible to predict what effect this will have on America – but considering that America is already dealing with a pandemic, an upcoming election, racial protests, and a massive economic downturn, I’m less than optimistic. People are already very stressed out, even without a massive change to America’s highest court.

I’m not focused on any of that. Justice Ginsburg’s passing is a tragedy, and the effects of her passing will be felt for decades to come. But it has very little to do with stopping climate change, at least directly. As much as I’m tempted to spend the next week reading about the implications of a Supreme Court Justice’s passing, I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to do what I was going to do anyway: trying to find a solution to climate change. Especially a solution that doesn’t require the support of an unpredictable federal government.

Alright. Back to work.

What if Climate Change Isn’t Real? (Climate Week #1)

Last week, I wrote about how I’m dedicating my life to stopping climate change – whatever it takes.

But then there’s a problem: I’m the kind of person who can’t help but generate counterarguments to everything, and have questioned pretty much all of my beliefs at one time or another. Because of that, I can’t help but ask myself the question:

What if climate change isn’t real?

There’s a lot of people who don’t like that question – especially climate scientists and environmentalists, who regularly get told by climate skeptics that climate change either isn’t real, or it’s not a very serious issue. But while the question might be annoying to those who deal with climate change the most, it is a valid question: What if climate change ISN’T real? What am I supposed to do then?

Right now, I have every reason to believe climate change is real:

  • I don’t have a good reason to doubt the current model of atmospheric physics, where carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases responsible for keeping Earth at a livable temperature.
  • I don’t have a good reason to doubt that humans have released over a thousand gigatons of greenhouse gases (not just carbon dioxide, but also methane and others) into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.
  • I don’t have a good reason to believe that observed temperature changes are caused by a different part of the global climate system, like changes in cloud cover or increased solar activity.
  • I don’t have a good reason to believe that climate scientists have been lying to the public for decades about climate change, or that there’s some kind of international conspiracy to promote climate change for evil purposes.

While all of those things are possible, I don’t think they’re likely.

I do think that fossil fuel companies have every incentive to lie to the public about climate change, fund climate skepticism/denial where it isn’t justified, create the false impression of a debate, and do everything they can to avoid losing money from government regulations that lower greenhouse gases. One of the books I’m going to be reading in the near future is Merchants of Doubt – if the book is to be believed, fossil fuel companies have worked with the same scientists who spread doubt about things like smoking and cancer in order to spread doubt about climate change.

I have to ask myself which I find more likely: Is our entire understanding atmospheric physics wrong, and climate scientists are all fools/lying/members of a conspiracy… or does the fossil fuel industry not want to lose money due to regulations? Both are possible, but I find the second far more likely. To be clear, I don’t say any of that to hate on fossil fuel companies. I suspect that even the greenest climate warrior would be tempted to do the same thing if they were in the position fossil fuel executives find themselves in. But I think I’ll write about that idea at a later date.

Back to the question: What if climate change isn’t real? Maybe the data was incomplete. Maybe our model of atmospheric physics was wrong. Maybe climate scientists ARE part of a conspiracy. Maybe all of our efforts to stop climate change were wasted, because it turns out climate change wasn’t real or wasn’t very serious.

If that was the case… I would be a very happy man.

Why? Because of a different question: What if someone solves climate change tomorrow?

If I open the news tomorrow and someone has the perfect solution to climate change, I would be relieved. Relieved beyond belief. The oceans won’t rise to engulf the homes of millions. The ecosystems of the world won’t radically change in response to climate change. We won’t get the mega-storms, droughts, famines, and resource wars that  climate change is predicted to bring. We can implement this perfect solution someone has found, and then we can spend our time and energy solving the many other problems humans face.

And if someone proves climate change isn’t real or serious… then the world would look just like if someone had solved it. The disasters of climate change won’t happen, millions of people won’t lose their lives, and we can spend our time and energy on other problems.

It might not be intuitive, but the day where a scientist proves climate change isn’t real/serious, and the day where someone has found the perfect solution to climate change, look exactly the same. Either one would be one of the greatest days in human history.

What if climate change isn’t real? I hope it isn’t real. I desperately hope that it isn’t real. I hope some scientist comes along and conclusively proves that climate change isn’t real, or isn’t serious, to the satisfaction of the world’s climate scientists. That scientist would deserve the Nobel Prize, and a central place in the history of science. While I would love for this scientist to come along… I can’t afford to wait for that to happen, and have no reason to believe it will.

I have every reason to believe climate change is real. I have every reason to believe it’s going to get worse. Right now there is no large-scale solution for climate change, and I need to try to find one if it exists…

Whatever it takes.

LIFE UPDATE (Climate Week #0)

I recently had my 25th birthday. While that would normally be an important day, recent events have made it more important than usual.

Let me tell you a story.

It was the middle of August. I’m scrolling through reddit like I normally would, when I find this Reuters article. The gist: Greenland is melting fast, faster than yearly snow fall can rebuild the ice. It’s melting fast enough that even if we radically lowered carbon emissions, it’s going to completely melt over the coming decades. That means an average 6 meters of sea level rise.

That’s about 20 feet. That’s… not good, to put it mildly. The article doesn’t say it, but if Greenland is on track to melt, Antarctica probably is too. And that means far more than 6 meters of sea level rise.

This is a depressing article… for most people. But when I read, I felt something different:

A crushing sense of purpose.

You see, I’ve been concerned about climate change for years. At one point, I was actively researching a solution for climate change… and then stopped. A distraction here. A pandemic there. You know how it goes. For the past few months, when I haven’t been rethinking my life, I’ve been playing games, reading books, watching Netflix, and definitely not thinking about climate change.

And then I read about Greenland, and realized… I can’t do that. The best evidence I’ve seen says climate change is real. I’m open-minded, but I have every reason to believe it’s going to get worse.

The storms will grow larger. The droughts will go longer. The heat waves will get hotter. The forests will burn faster. The seas will rise, and the deserts will move to meet them. If the worst predictions come to pass, the Earth will be transformed, millions will die, millions more will become climate refugees, and billions more will suffer the consequences if climate change isn’t stopped.

I reject that future, and substitute my own.

I’ve made a decision: I have to find a solution if one exists. I can’t sit by and do nothing while the world burns and the seas rise. Climate change needs to be stopped, and I need to do whatever it takes to solve it. Not because it’s my destiny; I don’t believe in destiny. And it’s not about me being a perfect fit for the job either; to paraphrase a famous videogame quote, even the wrong man in the right place “…can make all the difference in the world.”

I intend to be the right man.

This is my promise to the people of the Earth, to all of my descendants, and especially to myself: I will do whatever it takes to stop climate change. I will work with anyone if it means stopping climate change. I will pay any price, bear any burden, and march through the fires of Hell if that is what it takes to stop climate change.

“He who has a why can bear almost any how.”

So what is this going to take? What does this mean? It means I can’t play around anymore. I can’t play video games; climate change is not a game, and there is no reward for failure. I can’t watch pointless videos or read pointless posts on reddit; every hour browsing the internet is an hour wasted. I can’t waste time on pointless drama – personal or political – when there are millions of lives at stake.

The habits of adolescence are not sufficient for the task at hand.

I need to read every available book on climate change, and any book that will make me better able to solve climate change. I might dislike the author or disagree with their political views, but those are unimportant when millions of lives are at stake. The absolute best books I read will get added to my book recommendations.

I need to learn everything I can about climate change, and every possible solution for solving it. Even if the solution is unpopular or has taboo tradeoffs, it needs to be considered; there’s too much at stake to not be open-minded. Whatever I learn, I’ll write about here… when I’m not actively trying to solve climate change.

I need to turn myself into a person capable of solving climate change. I need to work long hours (50 hour weeks, 70 hour weeks, 100 hour weeks, more if necessary), and make those hours count. I need to be able to work longer hours than I’ve ever worked, focus more than I’ve ever focused, read faster than I’ve ever read, and be more organized than I’ve ever been. I need to be smart, capable, and free in all the ways that others are not if I want to have any chance of solving this.

I need to not use social media very much if at all, except in ways that directly and indirectly lead to climate change being solved.

I need to be as healthy as possible, so I can devote as much energy as possible to this. Being healthy is not the same as being competent, but anyone who’s ever been sick will tell you that it’s hard to work long hours or solve hard problems if your body is getting in the way. I need to sleep well, eat well, exercise, and get all the vitamins and minerals needed for healthy living. And I need to experiment with different health habits; what works for you might not work for me, and vice versa.

I need to be a focused writer. Anything I write about going forward either needs to be directly related to climate change, or needs to be indirectly helpful for solving climate change.

I need to not worry as much about current events, whether it’s a pandemic, election, or anything else. Those things will either resolve themselves, or become so bad that I’m forced to worry about them. It’s not because those things are unimportant, it’s that I don’t have time to focus on them with millions of lives at stake.

And it is millions. In the days ahead I’m going to be writing about just how bad climate change is going to get. You can’t predict the future with certainty, but you can look at probabilities… and the probabilities aren’t looking good unless a solution is found.

But that’s a topic for another day. I wrote all this just as much for myself as for anyone else, and I’ve already written a thousand words.

TLDR: My name is Proteus Morrill, and I’m going to solve climate change no matter what it takes.