Responding to Paul Crutzen
RESPONDING TO PAUL CRUTZEN http://www.enouranois.gr
(The proposal referred to is presented in Paul Crutzen’s “Albedo Enhancement by Stratospheric Sulphur Injections: A Contribution to Resolve a Policy Dilemma”)
p.s. There is a well-known slogan of May 1968: “Le doigt montre la lune: l’imbecile regarde le doigt.” Paul Crutzen’s “Albedo enhancement” article is the finger pointing at the (cloud-covered) moon. Let us not spend too much chattering about the finger as opposed to the moon.
(Editorial in Pittsburgh Tribune Review, August 7th 2006)
Professor Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on the hole in the ozone layer, should -- to put it as tactfully as possible -- work on the hole in his head.
Mr. Crutzen has dreamed up an "escape route" from global warming that only Al Gore could love. Crutzen, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, is so “grossly disappointed” by man's seeming indifference to the junk science that blames humans for the Earth's temperature changes that he proposes to artificially cool the global climate.
He hopes to release particles of sulphur into the upper atmosphere -- using high-altitude balloons or heavy artillery shells -- to reflect sunlight and heat back into space, according to The Independent in the U.K.
That geo-engineering would increase the reflectance ("albedo") of the Earth, which should cause an overall cooling effect, he says.
The controversial proposal supposedly is being taken seriously by scientists because Crutzen has a proven track record in atmospheric research. And, after all, he did receive a Nobel Prize. But then again, so did former President Jimmy Carter.
And if that doesn't work, he believes giant reflecting mirrors in space, or laying reflecting film in deserts, or floating white plastic islands in the ocean mimicking the reflective effect of sea ice might work.
Which brings us to this question: If global warming is part of this orb's natural cycle, what global havoc might Professor Crutzen's proposals wreak?
A confused question from an anthropogenic climate change “sceptic”.
There is another question that could equally well be asked: what would be the effect of acknowledgement that proposals like those made by Professor Crutzen are not just proposals? What if geoengineering programmes similar to those he has advocated are actually under implementation?
What if the “policy dilemma” he sees arising out of the fact that sulphate particles, soot and other forms of man-made and natural air pollution partially counteract global warming from greenhouse gases - means that governments - or one government, on behalf of other governments - have/has already decided to go ahead and fight one form of pollution (carbon dioxide) with another (sulphur dioxide)? On a global scale!
There is nothing new about such ideas. As far back as 1992 the National Academy of Science’s report “Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming” was saying that “the most effective global warming mitigation would be spraying of reflective aerosol compounds into the atmosphere by utilizing commercial, military and private aircraft”. The NAS Report argued that “aircraft could be used to maintain a cloud of dust in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight.” It reckoned that “emissions of 1 percent of the fuel mass of the commercial aviation fleet as particulates… would change the planetary albedo sufficiently to neutralize the effects of an equivalent doubling of CO2.”
If it were to be acknowledged that measures of such desperation are part of our contemporary reality, one result would surely be a total evaporation of public sympathy for the arguments of the “sceptics”. They would either have to start demanding that the outrageous and unjustifiable geoengineering practices be stopped, or they would be forced to concede that their categorization of global warming as a “non-problem” had been mistaken.
But it does not seem likely that we are going to see any such cornering of the sceptics. James Hansen, on behalf of mainstream climate science, has confessed that “we are not doing as well as we could in the global warming debate. ..We have failed to use the opportunity to help teach the public about how science research works. … We often appear to the public to be advocates of fixed adversarial positions. Of course, we can try to blame this on the media and the politicians, with their proclivities to focus on antagonistic extremes. But that doesn’t really help.”
This is the advice of a scientist advocating not more but less politics.
On the other hand British Government scientific advisor Sir David King has described the climate change debate as a “pseudo-debate”. He asks: “Why does the debate on climate change continue to be reported?” “Part of the answer,” he says “is in the nature of the media itself, which likes to present two sides of a story.”
The media does NOT present the two sides of the geoengineering story. In media discourse one side of the geoengineering debate is never reported, or is reported only to be ridiculed. It is the side that consists of “conspiracy theorists”, who must on no account ever be taken seriously.
There is an either/or relationship between climate change “sceptics” and geoengineering “conspiracy theorists”. Scientific debate on climate change can have either one or the other as the interlocutor, as the “other viewpoint”. It cannot have both.
Paul Crutzen says in his “Albedo Enhancement” article that a large-scale climate modification programme of the kind he proposes could not be implemented without prior establishment of trust between scientists and the general public. This implies either an expectation of future success in persuading “sceptics” of the soundness of his “solution” (to a problem they do not recognize), or it means something rather vaguer: that he is a scientist who believes in the necessity of working with, rather than against, the public. And in this connection it should be acknowledged that he does quite clearly state in his article that “the very best would be if emissions of the greenhouse gases could be reduced so much that the stratospheric sulphur release experiment would not need to take place.” He deplores the fact that attempts to reduce greenhouse emissions have been unsuccessful. He cites statistics indicating that while stabilization of CO2 would require a 60-80% reduction in anthropogenic CO2 emissions, such emissions from 2000 to 2002 actually increased by 2%.
“Anthropogenically enhanced sulphate particle concentrations cool the planet, offsetting an uncertain fraction of the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas warming. But this fortunate coincidence is ‘bought’ at a substantial price. According to World Health Organization figures, the pollution particles lead to more than 500,000 premature deaths worldwide.” ….. “Through acid precipitation and deposition, sulphates also cause various kinds of ecological damage.”
Crutzen bases his case for the sulphate spraying programme on the argument that “if sizeable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will not happen and temperatures rise rapidly, then climate engineering such as represented here is the only option available to rapidly reduce temperature rises and counteract other climatic effects.”
This could be interpreted as a warning that if society cannot free itself from the mentality that has led to the failure he describes, Crutzen can see no alternative to proceeding with implementation of his programme.
The feasibility of “trust”
How possible is it for one who believes aerosol seeding programmes to be not just drawing-board recommendations but a well entrenched planetary-scale reality, to “trust” a scientist who conforms to the official line of denying any such possibility? Or in any case ignoring it.
To start with, in replying to this, it may be worth speculating on the possible reasons for the more or less unanimous support given by scientists, including the most immediately implicated scientists, to the official story.. One of the relevant considerations is legality, the basic parameters for which were laid down a decade ago by, among others, Dan Bodansky:
“Climate engineering proposals, including those aimed at screening out sunlight by injecting aerosols into the atmosphere to create cloud condensation nuclei and hence more clouds, by injecting dust into the stratosphere to screen out sunlight, by launching reflective balloons into the stratosphere, or by space mirrors or screens to act as a constant shield from the sun, possess such problematic features as the fact that this activity is intentional (and thus attracts greater scrutiny), has global effects, involves high uncertainties (with an indeterminate risk of something going wrong), and non-uniform effects (winners and losers result). These features of geoengineering raise several governance issues. The fact that geoengineering is an intentional activity with global effects raises the issue of who should decide whether to proceed. Should all countries be able to participate in decision making since all will be affected and there will be both positive and negative impacts? Also, how should liability and compensation for damages be addressed?
Schemes to inject dust or release balloons into the atmosphere are the most problematic of the geoengineering proposals in terms of existing international law because the atmosphere above a country, including the stratosphere, is part of its air space. Nations have claimed this area and acted on their claims (e.g., by shooting down aircraft).
Geoengineering proposals involving the atmosphere thus could be viewed as an infringement and incursion on national territory.
Although existing international legal norms are generally permissive, they are unlikely to be a reliable guide to how the international community will react if geoengineering schemes are seriously proposed. Instead, there is likely to be a great deal of resistance. Absent some crisis, there will probably be a drive for the regulation of these activities, and perhaps for their prohibition, because it is very difficult to discern what the inadvertent consequences of such proposals might be.
The ultimate obstacles to geoengineering may not be technical or economic, but political.
If the ultimate obstacles to geoengineering activity are political, however indefensible or defensible the stance might otherwise be, it is quite logical for a scientist persuaded of the necessity of geoengineering to wait for the relevant political obstacles to be removed by politicians rather than pre-emptively meddled with by scientists. Crutzen’s whole approach in his article can be seen as a way of giving a nudge to politicians, to solve, belatedly – IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER – the scientific problem he outlines.
But who are the politicians that can solve the problem? Certainly not any politicians obliged, like it or not, to share the political arena with climate change contrarians. And with their media support base.
The role of Edward Teller
Though acknowledging in his paper his scientific debt to researchers at the Lawrence Livermore laboratory - “so far the only ones who have modeled the stratospheric albedo modification scheme” - Crutzen does not appear similarly to recognize, and may not even have thought very much about, how deeply the politics of his stratospheric geoengineering proposal were similarly influenced by Livermore, and above all by the late Edward Teller, for many years its director.
Teller sets his own distinctive political seal on the stratospheric particulate seeding project in his popular article “Sunscreen for Planet Earth”.
“Society’s emissions of carbon dioxide may or may not turn out to have something significant to do with global warming--the jury is still out. As a scientist, I must stand silent on this issue until it’s resolved scientifically.” As a citizen, however, I can tell you that I’m entertained by the high political theater that the nation's politicians have engaged in over the last few months. It’s wonderful to think that the world is so very wealthy that a single nation--America--can consider spending $100 billion or so each year to address a problem that may not exist—”
Teller here situates himself unequivocally among the “sceptics”. This makes him very different from Crutzen. But not content with categorizing climate change as a possible non-problem, Teller also puts himself forward as the man to solve the non-problem.
“Contemporary technology offers considerably more realistic options for addressing any global warming effect than politicians and environmental activists are considering. Some of these may be far less burdensome than even a system of market-allocated emissions permits (i.e. Kyoto, W.H.). One particularly attractive approach involves diminishing slightly – by about 1 percent – the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface in order to counteract any warming effect of greenhouse gases.”
“As the National Academy of Sciences commented a few years ago in a landmark report: ‘Perhaps one of the surprises of this analysis is the relatively low costs at which some of the geoengineering options might be implemented.’ …But for some reason, this option isn’t as fashionable as all-out war on fossil fuels and the people who use them.
If the politics of global warming require that ‘something must be done’ while we still don't know whether anything really needs to be done--let alone what exactly--let us play to our uniquely American strengths in innovation and technology to offset any global warming by the least costly means possible. While scientists continue research into any global climatic effects of greenhouse gases, we ought to study ways to offset any possible ill effects.
Injecting sunlight-scattering particles into the stratosphere appears to be a promising approach. Why not do that?”
Teller even injects into the very subtitle of his piece the same trickiness that pervades the text as a whole: “GLOBAL WARMING IS TOO SERIOUS TO BE LEFT TO THE POLITICIANS. HEREWITH A SCIENTIFIC SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM. (IF THERE IS A PROBLEM, THAT IS.)”
We see that Teller is not merely one of the pioneers of the stratospheric seeding idea ridiculed by one of his fellow contrarians at the beginning of this article. He is quite possibly also the architect of the whole conflictual scenario that we still see being enacted before us in 2006, three years after Teller’s death. But for which his – in American party-political terms – opponent Paul Crutzen has now been manoeuvred into the position where he, and by extension presumably Al Gore, must be the stool pigeons…. ..
This certainly represents progress over the heyday of the superpower arms race between the US and the USSR, in which Teller was, again, a leading protagonist. In the nuclear warfare psychodramas of those days it was Republican politicians such as Richard Nixon, Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan, not liberal democratic figures, that were cast as the madmen, or accomplices of madmen.
Admittedly, the inversion may well not be something deliberately planned. It may be just a side-effect of decisions to make weather and climate the business of military-oriented institutions such as the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, with the resulting extension into what were once civilian domains of the habits of secrecy and deception characteristic of military research, and above all of nuclear weapons development. Doubtless the conception of legality as an “optional extra” that we have suggested as an explanation for scientists’ apparent evasiveness over geoengineering reflects an expansion of such military assumptions and behaviour.
But the imposition of politically paralyzing contradiction is a Teller trademark, seen before at virtually every stage of his career, and certainly in the period of the Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative) anti-missile shield campaigning immediately preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union. The double-bind that Teller had devised at that time was presented to the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev by Ronald Reagan at the 1986 Reykjavik Summit. It took the form of an unexpected willingness to consider an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union on total nuclear disarmament of the two superpowers. Support, in other words, for Gorbachev’s stated objective of bringing about universal nuclear disarmament by the year 2000. The only precondition attached to an American agreement on total abolition of the United States’ nuclear arsenal was that Gorbachev should, in return, accept the legitimacy of the United States’ Star Wars anti-missile shield.
Gorbachev’s response was that if nuclear missiles were to be abolished there could be no justification for supporting a programme whose purpose was to shoot them down. But for the international political establishment and its media this meant that it was the conservatism of the Soviets that had prevented a epoch-making political breakthrough at Reykjavik. Teller was one of the few members, possibly the only member, of the American power elite with whom Gorbachev never agreed to shake hands.
What is there to discuss?
What common basis is there for discussion, between climate scientists of goodwill and “civil society”? If – as it seems – there are no grounds for expectation that any scientist of importance is going to acknowledge that spraying of massive amounts of sulphate or some other form of poisonous aerosol into the atmosphere is anything more than a hypothetical future possibility, an “insurance policy”, to quote NAS president Ralph J. Cicerone, “if the world one day faces a crisis of overheating, with repercussion like melting icecaps, droughts, famines, rising sea levels and coastal flooding,” what demands can be made of climate scientists that might help to inspire the “trust” that Paul Crutzen says he wants to see?
One measure that might help be would be a demonstration by climate scientists that they are capable of standing up to the ‘sceptics’: refusing to debate them on the media for example, (unless perhaps the ‘sceptics’ in question are of the sincere - and politically clueless - type that are also protesting about “chemtrails”).
Another step that might lead in the direction of “trust” would be by our raising the demand that questioning whether climate change is connected to human activity should be made illegal, (rather in the way that it is currently illegal in some otherwise civilized countries to question whether there were gas chambers at Auschwitz!)
This would be against freedom of speech, just as it is against freedom of speech to compromise scientists and subject them to regimes of quasi-military secrecy so that they feel unable to admit what they are doing, and/or what is being done, and so that they are reduced to sending out smoke-signals to “the politicians”. Our challenge to freedom of speech would be HONEST and OPEN. It would not be a sly, tricky, below-the-belt Edward-Teller type threat of the kind that is actually in force.. A legal ban on “climate change contrarianism” would at least level the playing field.. A muzzling capacity would be extended to both sides, not just to the contrarians.. The weapon of litigation would be as available for us to use against them as it is available now to the contrarians (and any other interested party) to employ against any geoengineering advocate tempted to throw in his lot with the “conspiracy theorists” and admit that, yes, geoengineering is not hypothetical. We, and our friends, are doing it, and proposing it! Sue us!
Sir David King is on record for saying that climate change is a bigger threat than terrorism. He is still confronted on that statement by aggressive journalists, even today when it has become known that he sees nuclear power as part of “the solution” rather than “the problem”. Let his perception be systematized. If climate change is a bigger threat than terrorism then climate change contrarians are the moral and political equivalent of terrorist sympathizers. Let them be treated as such!
One possible focus for discussion between civil society and climate scientists would be the current campaign launched by the European Union and some ecological groups (e.g. Friends of the Earth) against the environmental cost of aircraft emissions. This campaign has included some very militant sounding assertions, for example by Friends of the Earth International vice-chair Tony Juniper, who has said : “Aviation is a rogue sector and its environmental impact is out of control. Climate change is the most urgent challenge facing humanity and yet aviation policy is doing the exact opposite of what is needed.”
Certainly readers of the NAS report on “Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming” will agree that if “spraying of reflective aerosol compounds into the atmosphere by utilizing commercial, military and private aircraft” has actually been implemented as “the most effective global warming mitigation”, then it may be more than justified to describe aviation as a “rogue sector”. But this is not what Juniper, and other anti-aviation campaigners, mean. What they mean is in a way the precise opposite. It has to do not with the use of aircraft emissions to mitigate global warming. It has to do with the role of aircraft emissions as net contributors to global warming. Anti-aviation campaigners are worried about aircraft as producers of greenhouse gases. They want to see aviation being included in the European Union’s emissions trading scheme. They want to abolish tax exemptions on aviation fuel so as to put an end to the current unfair advantages of air travel over other more ecologically sustainable forms of transport such as railways.
The argumentation of anti-aviation campaigners nowhere intersects with, interacts with, or shows any consciousness of, the argumentation of geoengineering advocates. Geoengineering advocates and anti-aviation campaigners argue past each other, ignoring each other. And most importantly, they base their arguments on diametrically opposite conclusions about the effects of aircraft emissions.. Geoengineering advocates posit a net cooling effect; anti-aviation campaigners a net warming effect of aircraft “contrails” on the earth’s atmosphere.. In both cases these conclusions correspond to the needs of political agendas.
Almost everything published in the mainstream media on the environmental effects of air travel is framed in a disingenuous tone that arouses suspicion. Which of the two sides of the non-debate between geoengineering advocates and anti-air-travel campaigners is more guilty of distorting scientific fact.? If anything the anti-aircraft campaigners seem more guilty, despite the fact that – or perhaps because of the fact that – their political objectives seem less unobjectionable, and even praiseworthy..
What is to one make of the following?
“The CO2 emitted from aircraft engines is not the only way that that aviation affects climate. Aircraft also affect climate through their contrails, the long trails of water vapour and ice that form in an aircraft’s wake and which can persist for several hours. Contrails trap heat in the atmosphere by reflecting infrared radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface.
In 1999 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated that contrails from the world fleet of 12,000 civil airliners contribute as much to global warming as the CO2 their engines pour out as they burn jet fuel.
But global air traffic is growing by around 3.5 per cent per year, and many of those extra flights are long-haul, high-altitude, contrail-forming journeys. So by 2050 contrails will be having a great deal more of an impact on global warming than the CO2 emissions from aircraft engines.
Contrails could be eliminated if aircraft reduced their altitude from about 33,000 feet to between 24,000 feet and 31,000 feet, depending on the weather.
But this would come at a price: lower altitude means denser air and higher air resistance, so planes have to burn more fuel. And this means more CO2 emissions, which would apparently negate any benefits from eliminating contrails.
But according to researchers at Imperial College, London, the idea may work after all. “It seems counterintuitive”, admits Robert Noland. But Noland and his colleagues have calculated that if planes flew low enough to leave no contrails behind, their fuel consumption would increase by only four percent, boosting CO2 emissions.”
Does this convoluted argumentation by anti-aviation writers reflect anything more than political determination to oppose the geoengineering approach to climate change without ever admitting that it exists or has ever been proposed? What is the scientific status of arguments (e.g. from NASA) that cirrus cloud cover generated from aircraft emissions are responsible for increasing average surface temperatures in the United States over a twenty-year period?
Given that it is one of the key charges of the climate change “sceptics” that liberal activists in general and ecologists in particular distort science in the pursuit of unacknowledged political objectives, would not the head-on confrontational approach of “conspiracy theorists”, particularly if backed by agreed scientific facts, be a more effective response to these charges than a more “discreet” approach that relies on possible manipulation of scientific data?
The burden of proof
As a final point for empowerment of currently excluded “conspiracy theorists”, it is often argued that the burden of proof for any assertion that geoengineering programmes are something more than proposals lies on those who make the claim. “Agenti incumbit probatio” (the burden of proof rests on the accuser). There is a surface plausibility to this, but on more careful consideration it should become clear that there is not any self-evident single “accuser” in these controversies. . In their way all parties are accusers. Paul Crutzen is an accuser when he implies that because of “taboos” his sulphate seeding programme is not being given the serious consideration it deserves. His accusation enables “us” to request that he prove his programme is not being given such consideration. (What more serious consideration could there be than actual implementation?) Climate change contrarians are being accusers when they caricature the proposals of Crutzen as those of a “nutty professor”. Can they prove that Crutzen’s sulphate seeding proposals are disproportionate to the seriousness of the situation he is attempting to deal with?
All in all the argument here is for the adoption of an offensive stance, a concerted attempt to become “the other side” of the debate, displacing the “sceptics” as interlocutors with mainstream climate science. Can we successfully do this?
22nd August 2006,