Fix Hothouse Earth Just Like Last Time

The world has been a hothouse most of the last 540 million years. Humanity can mimic what naturally occurred to turn a hothouse Earth 15C warmer than today into a -9C ice age. We can just do a little less aggressively and in more precise amounts to cool 1.2C.

A Smithsonian Institution project has tried to reconstruct temperatures for the Phanerozoic Eon (aka the last half a billion years). Preliminary results released in 2019 showed warm temperatures dominating most of that time, with global temperatures repeatedly rising above 80°F and even 90°F—much too warm for ice sheets or perennial sea ice. About 250 million years ago, around the equator of the supercontinent Pangea, it was even too hot for peat swamps.

Over 98% of the last 540 million years the earth has been far warmer than it is today.

When it is very hot, there were tropical forests and jungles over much of the Earth.

Over the last 100 million years, global temperatures have peaked twice. One spike was the Cretaceous Hot Greenhouse roughly 92 million years ago, about 25 million years before Earth’s last dinosaurs went extinct. Widespread volcanic activity may have boosted atmospheric carbon dioxide. Temperatures were so high that champsosaurs (crocodile-like reptiles) lived as far north as the Canadian Arctic, and warm-temperature forests thrived near the South Pole.

Another hothouse period was the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) about 55-56 million years ago. Though not quite as hot as the Cretaceous hothouse, the PETM brought rapidly rising temperatures. During much of the Paleocene and early Eocene, the poles were free of ice caps, and palm trees and crocodiles lived above the Arctic Circle.

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) warming period was bout 20,000 to 50,000 years long and it lasted for 200,000 years.

A PBS special discussed the PETM but focused on the fact that human-based global warming is acting faster than whatever caused the PETM. The PBS special glosses over the Azolla event. The Azolla event is the theory that this plant grew and covered the Arctic and then sank to the bottom of the ocean taking trillions of tons of carbon to the bottom and ending a warming event that is 12C-15C degrees warmer than we have today.

They skipped over the outline of the solution to our current issues. We could bioengineer Azolla to grow very well in saltwater. We generate a trillion tons of it and have it sink to the bottom of the ocean. Then we follow up to cancel out the 40 billion tons per year of CO2 we are generating. The extra CO2 gets removed and we are at 1850 levels. Cheap, easy, fast and mimicking nature’s solution to excess CO2.

800,000 years of Azolla bloom episodes and a 4 million square kilometer basin to cover. Carbon was sequestered by plant burial to account for the observed 80% drop in CO2 by this one phenomenon alone. Other factors almost certainly played a role. This drop initiated the switch from a greenhouse to the current icehouse Earth. The Arctic cooled from an average sea-surface temperature of 13 °C to today’s −9 °C.

Grow bioengineered Azolla, seaweed, kelp or create massive algae blooms and sink them to the bottom of the ocean. Algae blooms can be created in a day using iron fertilization. 100 tons of iron dust was placed into the ocean and it generated a 10 million ton algae bloom. It only took 5 guys on a small “Jaws” movie sized boat to sequester more carbon than the billion-dollar Weyborne project to capture fossil fuel emissions to sequester a million tons.

We should use the tried and true and natural method of planetary scale cooling. Grow and sink the right amount of plants to remove up to trillions of tons of CO2. Plant and algae growth is the proven way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for billions of years. The world has cycled through dozens of cooling events. Grow a lot of plants and sink them in the ocean. The carbon gets stored at the bottom of the ocean and compressed at high pressures and then becomes part of the earth’s crust. We know that it works, it is good for the environment, it works at scale and it stays cooled for millions of years.

SOURCES-, PBS, Curiosity stream, wikipedia
Written by Brian Wang,

116 thoughts on “Fix Hothouse Earth Just Like Last Time”

  1. Much of that 'carbon inventory' has been shoved into the atmosphere just in my lifetime – too fast for the biosphere to deal with it. Climate effects aren't the only ones, either – fish and shellfish have to deal with an ocean that is more acid, as well as hotter.
    Your sangfroid about the populations of all our major port cities having to find somewhere else to live, as well as replace their infrastructure, and relocate or lose all the cultural treasures there, might not be shared by them. Nor is there any assurance that sea level will stop where it did in the Eemian. By 2100 it will be hotter than it peaked at back then, and the longer term effects of what we're doing now will still be catching up. During Meltwater Pulse 1A, at the end of the last Ice Age, sea level rose about a meter every 25 years for 400 years straight. Most of Greenland's ice sheet and an unknown portion of the West Antarctic stayed put during the Eemian; they might not this time. We don't have anything to compare with, since at no time in the paleo record did CO2 levels increase this fast – during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, the rate of increase was ten times slower, and the rise took twenty times as long.
    We don't have any experience of launching anything on a fraction the scale of what a solar shield would need, either. We do have experience of large countries, such as France and Ukraine, getting a major portion of their power from nuclear, with minimal CO2 emissions.

  2. Somehow I think 10% of the world's population is capable of moving away from current shorelines over the course of a century, so that doesn't particularly scare me.

    I think there's more than CO2 driving these climate variations, a lot more, so I don't think you can actually say, "We've got higher CO2, so the temperatures and sea level have to end up higher." But, maybe.

    My concern here is actually that we respond sensibly, and taking a large part of our carbon inventory and putting it permanently out of reach is not sensible, because if we turn out to have done it by mistake, we can't undo it.

    Space based sun shields can be turned off and on like a light switch. If it starts getting cold, we can turn the heat back up. We can even, potentially, modulate the light spectrum and spacial incidence to improve the biosphere; Reduce only the green wavelengths plants don't use, make it darker over the low albedo largely abiotic oceans, while retaining full energy for photosynthesis in biologically productive areas.

    And since the energy imbalance is actually tiny, the percentage modulation needed to do the job is equally tiny. Considerably less than a 1% change in incoming energy.

  3. The Eemian, the last interglacial before the one we're in, had temperatures about 1-2 C higher than today. Sea levels then were 20 to 30 feet higher, which is enough to flood ten percent of the world's population. CO2 levels were 280 ppm – today at Mauna Loa they're about 415 ppm. We've already dug up and burnt billions of tons of carbon from miles deep in the ground – no need to panic about upsetting the natural order of things, we've already done that.

  4. I heard a story about three African tribesmen sneaking up on a pride of half a dozen lions gathered round a kill. They just broke cover and marched right up to them. The lions retreated while they figured out this insolence. The men grabbed a haunch and made off, laughing their heads off at having robbed the King of the Beasts.

  5. 'In highly productive nitrate-rich environments limited by Fe, small, lightly silicified diatoms dominate the phytoplankton community and are easily recycled in the upper water limiting the efficiency of the biological pump. In an Fe-rich marine environment, however, large chain forming diatoms clump into rapidly sinking aggregates that efficiently transfer carbon to the sea floor (efficient biological carbon pump). The excess Fe may come from continental shelves, rivers, glacial sediment, or atmospheric dust.'
    Iron fertilisation is one of the positive feedbacks postulated to account for the slight nudges of Mihailovic orbital cycles leading to such decisive swings between ice and interglacials. The glaciers ground up millions of tons of raw rock, and the low sea levels exposed wide areas of what is now continental shelf. Wind blew glacial flour from these all over the ocean, and the resulting diatom blooms sucked even more CO2 out of the atmosphere.

  6. The carbon is not being taken out of the food chain. It is just circulating. These things are being eaten at all levels. And I stand by the claim that it is unlikely to reach the seafloor without having been eaten perhaps a few times. It can literally take years for it to reach the bottom. If it is not eaten by larger organisms, it will be eaten by microbes.

  7. 'Diatoms sustain the marine food web and contribute to the export of carbon from the surface ocean to depth. They account for about 40% of marine primary productivity and particulate carbon exported to depth as part of the biological pump. Diatoms have long been known to be abundant in turbulent, nutrient-rich waters, but observations and simulations indicate that they are dominant also in meso- and submesoscale structures such as fronts and filaments, and in the deep chlorophyll maximum. Diatoms vary widely in size, morphology and elemental composition, all of which control the quality, quantity and sinking speed of biogenic matter to depth. In particular, their silica shells provide ballast to marine snow and faecal pellets, and can help transport carbon to both the mesopelagic layer and deep ocean'

  8. All the carbon sequestered temporarily by a large farm would be the amount of coal one large power plant burns in 1 hour. I guess you need to make a new large farm every hour…until they run out of coal…to make up for one power plant.

  9. Diatoms are very small, which means they have very high surface area. Just a glass shell hitting the seafloor.

  10. There are no perfect solutions. But we can't afford to continue to burn fossil fuel. There is enough deserts to put all solar panels we will ever need.

  11. The hair was gone much much earlier. We know from lice species. Far earlier than clothing started. Our System loads us with infantile repressed needs, assuaging these needs becomes a source of bonding. It becomes sexy to be like an infant, soft with fat like an infant and hairless. I first heard the aqua-ape theory from a waitress in the 80s. I must admit, it does explain the webbed hands and feet.

  12. In the example project, they use gray water which is limited indeed. Egypt focuses too much on the Nile, historically, while desalination is possible from three Seas: the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and The Red Sea. Profit outweighs cost and that is all that matters to put it in motion + wrangling politicians to give a permit which in Egypt requires that you make them believe it is their idea and is not terribly difficult to do.

  13. Thanks. I was wondering where they were getting the water in Egypt. That will limit how much they can expand any such project.

  14. Forests burn. That is what they always did and will do. They used to do preventive burns in the USA, which the Greens refused to do in he last decades.

    With regards to water, there is no issue. Your only concern is profitability of the entire system, and that is guaranteed.

    How do you stop them turning to ash and smoke every summer?

    • First of all: that will not happen
    • Second: such a project that takes upwards of a decade; you can do it in patches separated by even hundreds of miles and still get benefits in re-starting the evaporation cloud seeding cycle
    • Third: Forest fires disperse nutrients to a wider area without human effort = desired
    • Fourth: The water cycle starts to function again above the Sahara, this is a weather band separated from the equatorial and northern latitudes by natural wind patterns, when water is added to it, in that latitude band, the water stays there. Thus, your trees are pumping water into those latitudes and it will stay there, mostly.
    • Five: As a result of four, the climate, locally and regionally starts to cool
    • Six: the risk of forest fires gradually declines
    • Seven: This is a reward for your effort:
    • Eight: Insciptions on Ancient Egyptian temples 'boasting' capturing a million heads of cattle during a single campaign by pharaoh x, y, z; and this happened repeatedly. Archaeology once thought this was an exaggeration. Desert archaeology proved this was likely correct.
  15. Well, to counter that argument in the most ethically dubious manner possible 🙂 : A bribe is a bribe. Politicians don't care if it comes from fossil oil or an olive oil plantation.

  16. Search this thread in YouTube "Egypt: The Amazing Forest in the Desert | Global 3000", you'll get a six minute news report with foresters discussing the technique and problems to keep in check. (good seed stock, etc.)
    Also interesting to look up is the Al Bayhdha Project in the arid Mountain deserts of Saudi Arabia, which were created as a result of nationalizations of tribal land in the 50'ies. The project demonstrate the dramatic changes that can happen with careful management over a ~7 year duration project.

  17. Diatoms don't need a frame – just a little iron, and some silica. They're tiny, but they breed fast, and they have armoured shells that stop them from being gobbled up by the next thing up the food chain. That means a lot of them sink to the deep ocean, taking their carbon with them. The German research ship, Polarstern, dropped iron into an eddy in the Southern Ocean ( after lots of opposition by Greeny NGOs and neighbouring governments alike), but there wasn't enough silica there for diatoms, and the unarmoured algae that grew instead were immediately gobbled up by zooplankton.

  18. Yeah, technically, the climate record that far back isn't high enough resolution to say how fast warming took place.

  19. It's not going to stay there. Temperature lags CO2 and the other greenhouse gases, and they're going up faster than ever. Ice melt will act as a multiplier.

  20. Orographics and all. The Pineapple Express is what prevents California from going full Atacama…but the plants have what, kerosene-BTU level sap as a result?

  21. I think the current temperature is about right actually…dead in the middle between hothouse and icehouse

  22. That would have happened without our intervention only if that provided an evolutionary advantage to the organism.

    Not rotting: Not really an advantage unless the plant grows in stagnant swamps where rotting is a threat to the living organism.
    Huge spectacular size: Not an advantage more just about all trees. Which is why only a couple have developed that, in a handful of locations.
    Super fast growth: Once again, some plants have evolved this, most have not, so no reason to evolve it outside of those rare niches.

    We have HEAPS of existing examples where humans were able to modify plants and animals to have characteristics that we enjoy (large, edible, plentiful grains, bountiful milk) but did not occur naturally.

  23. It's cheap to test, and easy to implement if it shows promise. (Which it did, a decade or two back in an experiment that was roundly criticized because they didn't get approval from green groups first)

    Because it's cheap, the folks needing loads of funding to save the planet aren't interested… I think there's not enough cash available so they could hide the costs of fancy offices and private jets.

  24. Ahh you prefer a global centralized bureaucratic control model on human societies that has the authority to geo engineer the planet.

  25. OK, seriously: The energy imbalance we're talking about is on the order of a watt per square meter, out of about a thousand. If you put up sun shades at L1 to intercept enough of the incoming sunlight to put the Earth back in balance, without irreversibly sequestering carbon, you'd never even notice the dimmer sunlight.

    And you could shut it off if it proved to be a mistake!

    Or, put a band of thin film mirror in orbit, 10-20 km wide. Or, better yet, a band of solar panels. Reduce the temperature right where it's hottest, AND generate power. Win-win.

    Don't take a sledge hammer to the furnace, adjust the thermostat. We're engineers, not cave men, we can do this intelligently!

  26. We humans barely escaped extinction in a colder climate. We didn't really do well until things warmed up again.

  27. And, so ineffective compared to Space solutions. The kelp need sunlight. An acre of solar panels in Space will be thousands of times less massive than kelp supports. Will make money selling power. Also, direct shade from Space for short term. Space power for scrubbers easier than kelp, if the power is cheap enuf. And, it opens Space for the further benefit of Earth.

  28. It has some hidden costs. It does not make money the way Space Solar would. Indeed, it does not help open Space even. If we spend money on ocean iron we will divert money from *my* program, which stops the CO2 production, a slower effect than removal. Do BOTH!

  29. Indeed, an excellent account of the "standard model" as I glean it from popular accounts, not being a specialist in that field. Some ideas of population biology, but not the recent details you describe. Our 7 million year evolution in the tropics is fortunate, what if we were polar bears?, but still was entirely within an overall cold spell. Seems wise to limit the rate of warming to the slopes usually seen thru the past, not the one from the asteroid. Our choice, after all.

    On the bigger *human nature* ideas, beyond the topic perhaps, there is another factor in addition to, not instead of, those in the *standard model*. We are predated by or at least coevolve with our "System" of ritual, esp child treatment ritual. This System shows many of the signs of being a life form, and is *in control* of our behavior, so can form feedback control loops. Powerful stuff. See Janov for details. Our need for a large brain to handle this System imposed control is a factor. Our nearly being extinct most of the time, until language?, is a sign of death by System, often in childhood, or killing by crazed, "mad" in British, power addicts. Males harming females and adults harming (their own) children also a sign of trouble. Don't get me started on politics!

  30. Agreed. People just wants the engineers to wave their calculators around and make all the drama they themselves caused to go away.

  31. We're not a rational species.
    It's not about proof – it's about the kind of World various factions want and how each of these factions can promote/ work a goal via their preferred path.
    The world is made of doers and wanters.
    Doers are the people with the technical know-how (mostly) and productivity-potential but require resources or other support to become enabled. Wanters are various political, cultural, and identity groups that try to enable Doers by resources and/or threats/persuasion.
    The key is for Doers to undertake work that provides as much opportunity and options as possible with as little disruption to the various conflicting Wanters. This is done most easily through technology and definable goals.
    GOALS most likely to be acceptable to the MOST Wanters:
    1) maintain economic levels and resiliency
    2) maintain predictable weather patterns and environmental threat levels (fires)
    3) maintain 'trophy' ecosystems (jungles, mangroves, reefs…)
    4) maintain 'trophy' species (polar bears, pandas…)
    Outlier PATHS wanted by the Loud and Obnoxious (both sides) which may or may not achieve the above GOALS
    1) maintain and increase overall world biodiversity
    2) maintain and improve arbitrary ppm carbon levels in arbitrary timeline
    3) move large populations of people to space
    4) vastly substitute energy production by non-nuclear renewables
    5) embrace non-chemical food production and complete cycle renewables
    Its political and only advancing technology can meet the most goals fast

  32. cacti consume CO2.
    many xeriscape plants do the same.
    we have to stop thinking that evolutionary nature is the most productive, creative, and ideal 'creator'.
    Mankind can do better and should; we can increase complexity, productivity, and aesthetics.
    We need only overcome, as in many things, 'don't rock the boat' sentimental-conservatism.

  33. I'm open to proof (a modest amount of) global warming is a bad thing, any time the people concerned about warming are ready to stop just assuming it is, and start proving it.

    But whatever we do better be something we can quickly turn off if we discover we were mistaken. No sinking billions of tons of carbon where we can't get it back, and then discovering how fast ice ages kick in.

    I'd rather adjust the thermostat than bust the furnace.

  34. That's a global average. Doesn't mean everywhere gets that much hotter.

    Mostly winter warms more than summer, night more than day, and high latitudes more than the equator.

    They're kind of downplaying that aspect of global warming.

    And 12-15 degrees is pretty unlikely.

  35. In order to sink enough carbon to cool the planet, the Azolla plant needed a few things-
    A freshwater lake the size of the USA and Canada combined.
    Temperatures of 20 C, with 24 hour sunshine.
    An anoxic lakebed, so dead plant matter couldn't rot.
    Several hundred thousand years.
    Those could be hard to arrange.

  36. "We know that it works, it is good for the environment, it works at scale and it stays cooled for millions of years."

    I missed the part where you established that it was good for the environment. Less can we, and more should we, please.

    I mean, I'm not a big fan of the precautionary principle, but we should be REALLY sure it's the right thing to do before we stick billions of tons of carbon where we can't get it back.

    Maybe put frequency selective sun shades between Earth and the Sun, stop a bit of that green light plants don't use while keeping the CO2 fertilizer, instead?

  37. WOW hundreds of millions spend on research and analysis and simulations and a strong correlation with reality were all a waste. All we needed was 8 minutes of video by a quack and we have the correct answer.

  38. Millions of years time scale for changes which gives us and the environment time to adapt. Try using the frontal cortex. Instant changes did occur with meteor impacts and major continental volcanic eruptions. The results were ecological collapse just ask the dinosaurs. Simple arguments for simple thinking. I suspect that the paid army is now posting on the board.

  39. Movement of the continents is far slower than climate cycles. Antarctica was parked at the South Pole way back in dinosaur time. They've had the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum – way hotter than now – and about twenty ice ages since then.

  40. WE HUMANS and existing ecology evolved in a colder climate! Raise the temperature and whole planet suffers and species die. Glaciers/ice caps melt and coastal cities flood. Island countries disappear and countries like Bangladesh disappear. A billion are displace and another couple of billion starve. If we were dinosaurs it would be fine so people with a dominate reptilian brains my do well.

  41. Actually cow were fed sea weed in their diet and it was found to significantly reduce the methane. Win win where carbon is taken out of the ocean and methane production is reduced. But not until all of the profitable oil has been extracted and then the propaganda sites on the web are no longer being funded and the politicians are not being paid.

  42. The forests in Algeria are already blazing. Even if you can somehow grow trees in the Sahara – which would take billions of tons of fresh water, already at a premium in surrounding areas – how do you stop them turning to ash and smoke every summer ? They can't even keep Greece or California from burning. Or Siberia.

  43. So you want to wait 800,000 years? Likely a small fraction fell…requiring eons. Also, there are a lot more organisms in the open ocean that might be able to eat all this stuff, and will proliferate in no time eating all this stuff.
    It is simply not going to grow out of control into massive mats all over the ocean even if you could somehow engineer it to withstand saltwater. And that is no small order.
    Also we are producing carbon dioxide far faster than those plants were taking it in.

    And, even if it worked like you want, it would be devastating to more organisms than a few degrees of warming would have been.

    Charring is not burning. The carbon remains. It is just heating without oxygen. But not much can eat charred stuff.

  44. Pangea was a gigantic continent.
    The interior was a desert because most of the moisture had been shed from the atmosphere long before getting inland.
    At least that was the theory that persuades me.

  45. I’ve heard some people push back against the idea of putting iron into the oceans, but I really can’t see why. Doesn’t the fishing industry remove incredible amounts of iron from the oceans every day? And aren’t fish decreasing in number as a result? Putting iron back as you fish (possible from the very same vessels) just seems like good stewardship– like sustainable forestry practices.

  46. 12-15C higher than today would make most of the equator unfit for human habitation, even with air conditioning. Yikes!

  47. Sometimes governments like in China are a real boon to the human race, they do a lot to step on more than 5 idiots long before they can run amok. Every other joe always has some half-baked genius idea to solve all problems at little to no cost. Simplistic minds are incapable of contemplating the possibilities of negative unintended consequences to their awesome thought bubbles.

    The one that truly terrified me was the idea put forward by George Church to make ocean bacteria immune to the ravages of bacteriophages. The technical barrier to entry for the armchair tinkerer is getting lower and lower every year. May you live in interesting times.


    The earth was covered in trees back then, it took millions of years to reduce the co2 levels so cutting the trees down and storing them with low decay is the only way to get a speedup. Dumping them in the ocean is probably another ill-conceived armchair idea, never underestimate the vississitudes of scale.

    This will pathway not allow one to avoid reducing emissions to a manageable level, you cant escape that. Besides, most that frequent this site thinks "AGW is a good thing" at best, and "there is no evidence it's a bad thing" at worst. Why bother either way.

  48. …balmy Canadian artic – ice free Antarctica and all that, raises for me the question: at which latitude where these places at the time? What influence has Continental drift had on the climate. Having the highest continent lodged over the South Pole alone obviously has a huge influence on earths climate.
    People write about these things a lot, but don't bother to add, where was what at the time.

  49. I think the "throw iron in the iron-poor parts of the ocean to provoke carbon sequestering algae blooms" concept is a very good idea. It seems much safer to do things that way rather than releasing genetically engineered saltwater super-algae into the oceans and hoping for the best. You can always just stop throwing more iron dust in the water in a way you can't just turn off your mutant algae after it eats the Pacific.

  50. For similar reasons, I have concluded that, should we develop the ability to develop Von Neuman machine nanotech (grey goo) we should force it to have a stage where it builds a large device (larger than a shoebox, certainly) and design it so that only the "shoebox" can process raw materials and produce new nanomachines. The nanomachines themselves would require periodic service at the shoebox to continue operating.

    Digression: The shoebox could also contain the data and most of the processing power needed for direction of the nanomachines. Better yet, there would be three computer devices in each shoebox, approving each command given, and when one didn't react in agreement with the other two, those two would either repair the aberrant system, or else destroy the entire shoebox (call for nanomachines to harvest it for resources while transferring control of them to another shoebox, and then shut itself down). The shoeboxes would also transmit their locations and be receptive to broadcast "kill" commands.

  51. We evolved to live in a tropical environment in the shade of forests. Even today, living in the absence of greenery can cause mental instability in many people.

    At some point, forced to the ground by our forests turning more towards grasslands (caused by East Africa receiving less rainfall due to continental shift) the big cats had a field day on us.

    Coupled with other natural disasters our numbers shrank to no more than a thousand, possibly much less, and we survived in seaside cliff caves where we could draw food from the birds and other creatures that lived there, while avoiding large predators, and we spent so much time in the tidal pools collecting food that our hair has become hydrodynamic (it flows the way water would flow over us), our hands and feet became webbed, and our body fat is now attached to our skin. Properties no other primates have.

    During this time, our hands and brains developed rapidly in a feedback loop based on better skills at making and using tools improving survival. At some point, our numbers recovered and continued to grow, forcing us back onto the land where our pack hunting, tools, and endurance, (and the primate ability to sweat a lot) suited us for filling a niche nothing else was using (except African dogs): endurance hunting. We could run down anything, given enough time, without becoming prey ourselves. Ten or fifteen primates running across the savannah with sharp spears was something even lions learned to avoid.

  52. Duckweed is used as feedstock for animals, but it is not a complete food. Do not bioengineer it for salt water. We cannot control it, and it could end up harvesting too much CO2 and kill of all land based plants. This would not be a problem with fresh water (pond) based solutions, or greenhouse solutions; in areas where you have a good supply of cheap fresh water.

    Anyhow, I want trees covering the Sahara, yesterday. Cut them down three times, use them for building material and you have sequestered all C02 production since 1850 till today. Besides cooling the climate, generating its own rainfall in cloud bands stretching from the Sahara to Mongolia, it also creates quality jobs, stops refugees from desiring to come to Europe, all the while being commercially viable today, given the very high price for lumber. You don't need to wait for international or bilateral treaties, any entrepreneur with adequate funds and the patience will be able to duplicate commercially what has been demonstrated over 3 decades in the deserts of Egypt, where forest plantations were found to grow 4 times faster than at European latitudes. You'll have to accept the bribes, as sharks will eat, but that is a small price for a very high return on investment and very large environmental dividends. Yes you need desalination plants, but even they produce water 10-times cheaper than a decade ago with more economical technologies being introduced. There is no longer any excuse. We should just do it.

  53. Agree with your comment. Having iron as the control on a species that we already know seems a lot safer than engineered species.

  54. Ocean iron fertilization to create safe natural dilute algae blooms should not to be confused with the dangerous blooms created by excessive fertilizers in our rivers.

    The small amount of iron used is roughly equivalent to the iron content of dust blown into the ocean winds blowing over deserts. Or the iron content from volcanic ash.

    It is a normal, natural level of fertilization. Nowhere near enough to cause dangerous blooms.

    As additional side effects, the algae feed fish and create clouds. The clouds can cause immediate cooling. The increased fish production can make the system more than pay for itself.

    And the system is easy to control. When you stop fertilization, the environment returns to the pre-fertilized state in a few months.

  55. I, for one, am in favor of warmer temperatures.
    I'm glad to see discussion of engineering solutions – rather than usual solution of imposing the failed centralized bureaucratic control model on to human societies.

    Unintended consequences abound with engineering solutions, but with growing plants you can carpet bomb them with Agent Orange to kill them. Which has consequences of it's own, so lets think through the approach first for a couple of years. We've passed so many, "we have X number of years to save the world" deadlines that empirical experience says we can probably let a few more expire.

  56. Nah; if that could happen it already would have happened without our intervention.

    The only way we can make an organism that grows and spreads much faster than evolution has allowed already existing organisms to do is to adapt it to unnatural conditions (and then provide those conditions, otherwise it will be at a disadvantage). Either more nutrients or no predators. E.g. we can make an organism that grows best at higher levels of nitrogen or iron than is normally present; nature isn't going to optimize for that; then we provide those nutrients. Or we can make it not waste energy on defenses again predators and viruses and then we defend it against those things.

  57. Trying to understand earth cycles that are literally millions of years apart. Our human life span of <100yrs, recorded history of just a few thousand, and real hard data of earth weather of magnitudes less.

    We are like fruit flies that live 24hrs trying to understand the seasons with a weeks worth of real data, and a months worth of stories & theories.

  58. One thing is pretty clear: if the Earth was warmer for 98% of the time multi-cellular life has existed – 540m years – then it "wants" to be warmer. OK, the speed of warming is unprecedented, and that's due to us, but it'll be hard to keep things cool the way we like them, eventually. Maybe if all we care about is centuries, then there's ways to do that…
    Seaweed can also serve double duty, in keeping down methane from burping cattle too.

  59. Take a long and hard look at the graph on top of the article.

    Then tell me if anthropogenic global warming is the problem or the solution of the problem.

    98% boy!

  60. What a terrible idea environmentally. I do not want to see over a 100,000 square miles of pristine ecosystems turned into giant solar parking lots. Windmills have similar issues and both would need 100s of millions of tons of material to work. Wish you folks on the left would look a little deeper into your "be all end all" environmental solution. It's not cheap, and it's terrible for the environment.

  61. Releasing engineered, uncontrollable creatures to run rampant all over the planet and eat up the carbon dioxide that our agriculture depends on? Hmm, sounds like a great idea!

  62. If we're going to engineer organisms to grow fast and throughout the oceans, I would NOT choose something like algae, or even kelp.

    Because if it gets away from you, then what? It's too difficult to keep under control.

    Much better to choose great big trees. Because you can get rid of a forest of trees very easily, using hand tools if necessary. And they can hardly hide the way algae can.

    Also, great huge trees look great. People love them. The wood is useful. And there already exist trees where the wood does not decay over the timespans we are concerned with. Huon pine for example will sit around, wet for centuries without rotting. So that's locked up your carbon automatically without the need for any charring program or deliberate burying.

    (Huon pine is super slow growing though, you want to fix that.)

    But you do want the grows in the sea part. Because that's the only spare space we've got with lots of water.

    So I'd start with mangrove. And then just turn the growth rate and the size way, way up. Add some do-not-decay genes, and use it to colonise the continental shelves and shallow sea mounts out to 100 m deep or something.

    Note that these are desirable at the local level. The inhabitants of the area are being given a wonderful new resource, not just given a task to do "for the good of the planet".

    Vast new forest designed to look awesome. We could then add tigers or something to give them heaps of new habitat.

  63. First off ask the deniers to identify just one nationally or internationally recognized scientific organization that agrees with them. I will tell you there is NOT one but there are hundreds that say global warming exists and caused by human emissions of warming gasses. So the next idiotic response is "science is not decided by consensus" or it is all a conspiracy to take over American the world etc.

    Look at the denier sites and you will find links to big oil, lawyers etc acting like scientists, and just out and out lies.

    The hope I have is molten salt reactors the first of which China is currently building and or the fusion reactors discussed here many times.

  64. That's why ocean fertilization is my favorite geoengineering approach.

    Really affordable, based on natural mechanisms, makes more food for humans and for oceanic species alike, plus it sinks CO2 in incredible amounts in a place where it remains for a long time and food lacks, benefiting the abyssal species.

    Think of the abyssal species.

  65. I don't agree. Building artificial environments in space, eventually ecosystems, from scratch will be much simpler than fixing the very complex one we currently live on.

    Space habitats can start relatively simple, with just water and oxygen recycling provided by algae and a small trophic chain fed by sunlight/electricity, ending up in crops and small animals, allowing people to remain alive and fed in space from their own resources.

    They can add more variety of ecological food chains as habitats grow and become more complex, with as many variations as we can afford to build.

    Eventually, as humanity masters the construction of habitats with robots and self replication, they can be very big and equivalent in complexity to countries with several biotopes. That's the ultimate state of these artificial environments.

    All this will be in the very long term, and can happen without us even agreeing on how to fix Earth, which would continue being the discordant home to many vociferous political and philosophical views about how to deal with the problem.

  66. What do you think about Earth to Earth power beaming, the solution to the problem you are pointing out? Search Criswell LSP find searchanddiscovery link. See ppg 12-13 for such beaming. Add in the Earth wind and solar that is *extra* around the Earth, and in Space eventually. Problem solved, forever!

  67. "a planet that’s already well tuned to our needs before we developed agriculture and technology". So, I agree that "The surface of a planet", the Earth in this case, IS the right place for a struggling pre-tech, pre-farming pre- civilization that has no way to go to Space. So, you propose we learn how to manage *that* planet sustainably. I would add pre Clovis-Solutrian, so there are still big animals around. Can't do it, already can tell. For us to go back to hunter gatherer at our numbers would be impossible. Our tech is incompatible with that Earth, until after we leave and put the nasty stuff in orbit. So, it is clear that "the surface of a planet", *that* Earth, is NOT the place for . . ."

  68. If you can’t manage a planet that’s already well tuned to our needs before we developed agriculture and technology, then you have no chance of engineering an entirely new and sustainable biosphere. Yes, I agree that longer term it’s something we need to learn how to do, but we will learn best here first.

  69. Do it, and cause localised issues like a drought or harsher typhoon and watch the law suits and threats of military conflict. Our global climate models are not yet good enough to model the effects, so any large scale project would be flying blind.

  70. Wind and solar can only get you so far, even with a significant ramp up. For a nation like the U.K., moving powergen to fully carbon neutral as planned by 2035, will only achieve half of the reduction in carbon emissions necessary to reach neutrality. The other half will be much harder, through rescom, transport and industrial heat. Or to put it another way, if you sourced all of the energy via electricity generation (and convert some into h2 or efuels where necessary for the application ), then you’d need to more than double the total power generation capacity. It’s feasible but it’s an immense transition. For other nations, further behind in the transition or in challenged areas for renewables, it may not be feasible in the time frame required.

  71. With the Japanese example in mind… Saudia Arabia is a very hot country, and they have a lot invested in the idea that the world keeps buying their oil.

    They could start an iron fertilization 'research' campaign any day. Same with adding sulfate aerosols to the atmosphere.

  72. A thousand times this.

    The ocean is like a desert, there's very little photosynthesis happening across it because it isn't a great place plants despite the surface sunlight. Even kelp needs a substrate. We can literally just float racks out in the sea, and maybe pump some of the nutrient dense waters near the bottom up to the top (or ship in some of those iron tailings every now and then).

    It would take a lot of these racks, but it wouldn't significantly disrupt any ecosystems. Those deep sea areas are mostly dead, and they cover 70% of the planet. You disrupt more ecosystem by building solar panels in the Sahara.

    Keep half the kelp for food, sink the rest. Collect some to make bioplastics. Maybe integrate some of those floating fish farms while you're at it and you have an industry to feed the earth.

  73. In which case it’s more a case of piloting the infrastructure and processes to make this work effectively and minimise the unintended consequences. At one level that’s avoiding messing too much with the local marine ecosystem. At a regional or global level, it’s understanding the effect of taking out carbon, winding back and ultimately reversing the warming effect we’re currently causing. How fast can we do this without creating further instabilities and such.
    Even with a proven set of geo engineering tools, and decent models to simulate their impacts, getting alignment amongst nations to carry out the work, and pay for it and any downside effects, will be a mighty challenge until the effects of global warming are obvious and severe.

  74. I think we evolved in a cool place. We need to make a cool place to live, in Space, or keep this one cool. Any damage we cause will be cancelled when we stop the next big asteroid. We can take sea water to Space for our habs, too, and expose all land that was ever exposed for historical research and more living areas.

  75. All good and well, but if you do not manage to sequester enough algae on the sea floor the bacterial degradation of the algae (after the bloom) can deplete the oxygen in the seawater causing vast areas of ocean to die and release decomposition gasses (CO2 and methane) and you are back to square one with no CO2 sequestered and the ocean dead…

  76. Against international law. They could do it when it was an experiment. But now it would actually be geoengineering rather than an experiment.

    Yes, they need to change that law.

    Though, the Japanese kept killing whales for decades claiming it was scientific research…while clearly selling the whales for consumption in Japan…so maybe some rich dude should give it a try. He can't be on any worse footing than the whalers.

  77. No need to engineer…unless you want to make photosynthesis more efficient in the plants. Just use giant kelp. That can grow very fast. We just have to have something for them to hang onto. We can make racks that float and give the plants an anchor 100-200 feet down. Giant kelp is naturally limited to areas that are not very deep because they need sunlight to grow…and enough so it can grow large before it is eaten near the bottom.
    You also want sea otters, or purple sea urchins will eat all the kelp. Or, something that will eat those things.
    Hmm. As long as the whole patch of kelp is above the seafloor, I don't think the urchins could reach the kelp…unless someone sabotaged it, and brought urchins to it.

  78. Growing it and eating it does very little for CO2. You are only sequestering the carbon in the plants you have on the farm. After they leave, they become CO2 again.

  79. You are ignoring that most of it will be eaten before it ever hits the seafloor. We need to scoop up the algae and char it. We may be able to drop it right there, after it is charred, but I prefer burial, because we can always dig-up and burn some, if we find we went too far, or too fast. Also after charring we can process the char and remove everything other than carbon and restore those minerals to the land and/or use those minerals for aeroponics/hydroponics. Could even generate enough money to pay for itself.

  80. The Japanese already farm sea weeds. Its profitable. With some incentive and education it could be expanded world wide.

  81. The artic sea became brackish because land bridges isolated it from the other oceans. The rivers still flowed into it and is became less and less salty. The Azolla grew all over it and it became the Green Sea.

    But I wouldn't start playing God with the Azolla since we might make it grow to well in the oceans and it might take the oceans over. It is simpler and cheaper, much cheaper, to stop buying coal, oil and gas. We do have a much cheaper alternative: Solar and wind. And instead of Azolla, we could plant trees and soy beans.

  82. Azolla is a freshwater plant, big leap. Actuate what you already have in the ocean for a greater effect with the smallest effort and least imbalance it causes!

  83. Lots of potential issues to resolve before attempting this at large scale, but it would be prudent to begin a project to engineer the organism, and test small scale deployments so that it’s in our armoury should we need a relatively quick fix to help bridge to a low carbon future.

  84. I am curious why some one like Bill Gates doesn't take $500 million worth of Iron dust out to the ocean. Roll your own geo engineering.

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