Climate change is the byproduct of the industrial economy. Production of CO2 and black carbon (soot and particulates) are not the goal of industry and transportation. However, CO2 and black carbon have been produced in huge quantities.
Indoor and outdoor air pollution (mainly particulates but also sulfur dioxide) kills about 7 million people per year and causes many more to be sick. Increases in air pollution in any day causes a corresponding increase in visits to hospitals.
Some people claim that we should not interfere with the earth’s atmosphere with geoengineering to mitigate climate change. However, we have already been experimenting with the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans with the climate changes that we have already been making for over 200 years. Even before the industrial age that there have been large-scale environmental changes with the destruction of forest or expansion of deserts.
China and 23 other countries already engage in significant weather modification. China is setting up or has already set up a level of rain control across Tibet and other parts of China. Tens of thousands of fuel-burning chambers will be installed across the Tibetan mountains, with a view to boosting rainfall in the region by up to 10 billion tons of rain annually. In 2013, China was already producing 55 billion tons per year of artificially induced rain. China is expanding this to over 250 billion tons per year.
Australia will be engaging in localized geoengineering to preserve the great barrier reef coral.
Climate scientists debate whether we should spend a billion dollars to ten billion dollars per year to effectively bring the Earth’s temperature down by a degree. The climate scientists then push for $2-4 trillion per year to be spent on upending the world economy to stop using fossil fuels by 2050. People already know that simulating a large volcano will reduce the Earths temperature. The methods will work and will be super cheap relative to the money China already spends on weather modification and transferring water from the South to the North with super-canals and for fighting air pollution. The cost of geoengineering is also trivial relative to the 100-year plan for over $100 trillion to convert world energy and transportation in the “right” way.
Will any one country or a few countries “cheat” and use a few billion dollars per year to fix the climate temperature and take many more decades and save trillions of dollars to slowly getting around to converting off fossil fuels.
Let us review the massive amounts of artillery and missile launchers that China has been using to seed clouds. We can also review the effort in China’s war on air pollution.
Then we can review if we think China would stoop to using geoengineering.
China has a four-year-old war on air pollution. China has spent over $150 billion to reduce coal usage and reduce particulates and soot.
China is launching the world’s largest weather-control machine, with the ability to modify the weather in an area similar to the size of Alaska.
China’s state-owned Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is implementing a plan to send thousands of rain-inducing machines across the Tibetan Plateau to increase rainfall along the region.
The Tibetan Plateau is the source of much of China’s water, running down from the mountainous highlands via the massive Yangtze, Mekong, and Yellow rivers. These rivers, which originate on the Tibetan Plateau, are fed by glacial and snow meltwater and drain down into the fertile Chinese farmlands.
In order for water vapor (humidity) in the air to form clouds and eventually rain, it requires a nucleating particle. Typically, this is a tiny particle of dust which en masse produces the clouds we see in the sky. By artificially “seeding” the Tibetan Plateau with silver iodide particles the Chinese government is inducing the formation of clouds where there weren’t any before. Once the clouds become unstable, this leads to artificially induced rainfall.
Each rain machine (chamber) is expected to create a 3-mile long strip of billowing clouds. When multiplied by the thousands of chambers China is installing along the Tibetan Plateau, it is estimated that China will be artificially controlling the weather over an area similar to the size of Alaska.
China plans to monitor the system through weather satellites and supplement with silver iodide particles deployed from planes and shot out of ground artillery. In total, the Chinese government expects the system, which will span 620,000 square miles, to produce up to 10 billion cubic meters of rainfall each year.
If the system works as expected, it would equal roughly 7 percent of China’s annual water consumption.
The ground-based network also comes at a relatively low price – each burning unit costs about 50,000 yuan (US$8,000) to build and install. Costs are likely to drop further due to mass production.
In comparison, a cloud-seeding plane costs several million yuan and covers a smaller area.
One downside of the burning chambers, however, is that they will not work in the absence of wind or when the wind is blowing the wrong direction.
Pollution reducing towers 500 meters tall
China has built a 100 meter tall (40 story) tower to help purify the air. It sucks in air into a large greenhouse at the bottom. The system works and helps clean the air.
China will build hundreds of full-sized towers that will reach 500 meters (1,640 feet) high with a diameter of 200 meters (656 feet). The size of the greenhouses could cover nearly 30 square kilometers (11.6 square miles) and the plant would be powerful enough to purify the air for a small-sized city.
Yes, it is a tough prediction. Will some country or group of countries geoengineer and stop global warming in its tracks for 100 years for a few billion dollars per year and have a gradual and cheap transition to solar and nuclear energy over the next 100 years. Or would they listen to the climate alarmists and deal with climate the “moral” way and shutdown every coal plant within ten years and scrap all of the 2 billion combustion engine cars within 20 years. Those would be the down-payment steps to get to half of the CO2 emissions of 2010 by 2030 and then to zero emissions by the 2040s.
Is China scared of “tampering with the environment”? A country that will make 250 billion tons per year of artificial rain? A country that has a tens of thousands of soldiers firing massive amount of iodine and cloud seeding material into clouds. A country that will make tens of thousands of burners to generate clouds across all of Tibet?
Will China be worried about what other countries will think about them affecting global climate? China just happens to take the tens of billions of tons of rain from Vietnam, India and other countries.
Geoengineering is only 1000 times cheaper and 100 times faster. It is only guaranteed to drop the temperature because it is simulating volcano effects where the temperature did drop.
Take it to the bank. Geoengineering will happen. Global temperatures will not go to 1.5 degrees celsius over the industrial age. Temperatures will not be stopped because the world decided to scrap capitalism. Temperatures will not be stopped because we chose to get rid of all fossil fuel usage by 2040 by spending $50 trillion.
The initiation of geoengineering will not involve a global public debate or vote.
Do not bother having debates about if or will we use geoengineering. The best thing is to work out the best combination of approaches to make it work the best way possible and minimize side effects. We will probably end up learning a fair bit after we start implementing.
China controls weather and will not blink before starting geoengineering when they think it is needed.
I, for one, will welcome our weather control geoengineering overlords.
Background on how easy it would be to geoengineer
The cost to construct a Stratospheric Shield with a pumping capacity of 100,000 tons a year of sulfur dioxide would be roughly $24 million, including transportation and assembly. Annual operating costs would run approximately $10 million. The system would use only technologies and materials that already exist—although some improvements may be needed to existing atomizer technology in order to achieve wide sprays of nanometer-scale sulfur dioxide particles and to prevent the particles from coalescing into larger droplets. Even if these cost estimates are off by a factor of 10 (and we think that is unlikely), this work appears to remove cost as an obstacle to cooling an overheated planet by technological means.
The Stratospheric Shield was designed by Intellectual Ventures Lab. Nathan Paul Myhrvold , formerly Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, is co-founder of Intellectual Ventures. Founded in 2000, Intellectual Ventures is a privately-held invention capital company. They are building a market for invention by making invention a profitable activity. With more than $6 billion committed capital and more than 40,000 IP assets in active monetization programs, they own one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing intellectual property portfolios, which they license to the world’s most innovative companies. Investors include a mix of Fortune 500 companies, individuals, and institutions.
HIGH-FLYING BLIMPS, based on existing protoypes, could support a hose no thicker than a fire hose (above) to carry sulfur dioxide as a clear liquid up to the stratosphere, where one or more nozzles (below) would atomize it into a fine mist of nanometer-scale aerosol particles.
The stratosphere is the weather-free portion of the atmosphere at altitudes between about 10 kilometers and 50 kilometers, or 33,000 to 165,000 feet.) The attractiveness of this approach stems largely from the fact that it happens naturally during large volcanic eruptions, such as the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991. Intensive scientific study of the Pinatubo eruption showed that sulfur dioxide aerosols injected high in the atmosphere cooled the planet by reflecting more incoming sunlight back into space. An even larger eruption in 1815 of Mount Tambora in Indonesia led to the second-coldest year in the northern hemisphere in four centuries, the “year without a summer”.
Preliminary modeling studies suggest that two million to five million metric tons of sulfur dioxide aerosols (carrying one million to 2.5 million tons of sulfur), injected into the stratosphere each year, would reverse global warming due to a doubling of CO₂, if the aerosol particles are sufficiently small and well dispersed. Two million tons may sound like a lot, but it equates to roughly 2% of the SO₂ that now rises into the atmosphere each year, about half of it from manmade sources, and far less than the 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide released over the course of a few days by the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Scientific studies published so far conclude that any increase in the acidity of rain and snow as several million additional tons a year of SO₂ precipitate out of the atmosphere would be minuscule and would not disrupt ecosystems.
A rough first-order estimate is that injection of as little as 200,000 metric tons a year of sulfur dioxide aerosol into the stratosphere above this region could offset warming within the Arctic.
Although 100,000 tons a year sounds like a lot of liquid, when pumped continuously through a hose, that amounts to just 3.2 kilograms per second and, at a liquid SO₂ density of 1.46 grams per cubic centimeter, a mere 34 gallons (150 liters) per minute. A garden hose with a ¾-inch inner diameter can deliver liquid that fast.
It takes quite a bit of energy to lift material into the stratosphere: about 30 trillion Joules of potential energy, in fact, to lift 100,000 tons to a height of 30 kilometers. If the work is spread out over the course of a year, however, that energy translates to a required power of just 1,000 kilowatts. Inefficiencies and other practical considerations will increase this amount, possibly by several times; nonetheless, the power levels are not daunting by industrial standards.
To pump 34 gallons a minute up a 30-kilometer-long hose, the system must overcome both the gravitational head and the flow resistance. The gravitational head, which is simply another way of talking about the potential energy considered previously, would amount to a pressure of 4,300 bar (62,000 p.s.i.) if the liquid has a constant density of 1.46 g/cm³—not taking into account the small attenuation in the strength of gravity with increasing altitude.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.