Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Future of Flight

It's hard to grasp the scale of the commercial aviation business. Most of us don't fly that often and when we do there seem to be way more planes sitting on the ground than taking off. This personal perspective prevents us from appreciating the real magnitude of the operation -- something that these two videos really convey (be sure to view them in full screen mode for the full effect!)

Once you understand the scale of the operation, the environmental consequences become more apparent. As the Suzuki Foundation notes:
Jets account for somewhere between 4 and 9% of total human impact on the climate. .... A special characteristic of aircraft emissions is that most of them are produced at cruising altitudes high in the atmosphere. Scientific studies have shown that these high-altitude emissions have a more harmful climate impact because they trigger a series of chemical reactions and atmospheric effects that have a net warming effect. The IPCC, for example, has estimated that the climate impact of aircraft is two to four times greater than the effect of their carbon dioxide emissions alone.

Thus, comparisons such as the one below, which represent the comparative impact of carbon dioxide emissions alone and show air transport to have essentially the same impact per kilometer traveled as car transport, understate the impact of air travel.

Whatever happened to Conservation?

In a brilliant book, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency, noted historian Samuel Hayes connects the emergence of the conservation movement at the turn of the 20th century during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt with the rise of a technocratic elite convinced that their knowledge could benefit the world. Governments created departments of Forestry, Fisheries, Natural Resources, Agriculture, etc. all populated with technocrats aiming to do what they saw as the morally correct thing: conserve resources for the benefit of all by avoiding unnecessary waste. It is stunning to realize how far the technocrats of today have drifted from that vision.

The image on the left shows an oil storage tank. Everything looks normal. But, an infrared view of the same tank taken at the same time, shows the tank is leaking methane. This is the sort of thing that drove the original conservationists batty -- the unnecessary and unproductive waste of valuable resources. Leaks like this -- from wells, storage tanks, and pipelines -- are commonplace and few companies do anything about them despite the fact that the EPA has evidence showing such fixes to be cost effective.

Given that nobody is seriously monitoring this, it is hard to get a real estimate of the problem. However, the EPA estimates a total of about 3 trillion cubic feet. This amount has the warming power of emissions from over half the coal plants in the United States. As people have begun to pay attention, government scientists and industry officials have come to the conclusion that the real figure is almost certainly higher.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Book: William Catton Returns with "Bottleneck"

George Mobus, Assoc. Prof. of Computing Software Systems at the Univ. of Washington Tacoma does a lengthy review of William R. Catton's Bottleneck: Humanity's Impending Impasse. The book is posed as a sequel to Catton's 1983 book, Overshoot, which has become a classic of literature in environmental sociology. The review is posted at The Oil Drum.
Warning: this book does not have a happy ending.

"In the sequel, Bottleneck: Humanity's Impending Impasse, Xlibris Corporation, he drops the part about we can evade the worst. The subtitle says it all. Now he concludes that it is already too late to mend our ways and somehow avoid the collapse of civilization. Indeed the main title refers to an impending collapse of the human population. An ecological bottleneck (also called a population bottleneck) is where radical changes in the environment of a species causes a die-off of all but the most hardy of the population; hardy, that is, in terms of the selection pressures arising from the change. Of course there may be no sufficiently hardy individuals left or the ones that manage to survive cannot reproduce sufficiently to produce a new population. In that case the species goes extinct.

Catton's arguments for why this is the most likely outcome for humanity boil down to something I have written about in my blog for several years now. It is the rate of change that matters as much as the degree or magnitude of change when it comes to shocking a population. If we look at the rate of climate change due to anthropogenic forcing, or the rate at which our fossil fuel energy sources are depleting, or the rate of aquifer depletion, or the rate of population increase, or the rate of consumption increase per captia in the developed and developing worlds, or... You get the picture. We are changing the world in ways unfavorable to human survivability more rapidly than we can either adapt or mitigate. And we have already passed the point of no return."

Visualizing Sociology

Many of the posts on this blog have featured stunning visual graphs and images to depict sociological ideas. With the Internet and sophisticated graphics software, this seems to be a growing trend in sociology. So I thought I feature a few sites that specifically address visual images in sociology.

Valerie Miller

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Homogenization of America

Diversity, whether social or ecological, increases resilience. When it is only this far between McDonald's restaurants in the US, one has to wonder how diversity is fairing! The greatest distance between 2 McDonald's is 107 miles in South Dakota.

Monday, November 23, 2009

NB Power sale

For those wanting to follow along on the debate about the proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro Quebec, the Memorandum of Understanding outlines the terms of the proposed sale. It is obvious from the emerging public opposition that the Graham government has a basic problem: a lack of public trust. David Alward, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, is trying to reinforce that feeling. His Reply to the Speech from the Throne focuses entirely on the NB Power sale and leads with the trust issue (there was no mandate for the sale, not selling NB Power was part of the Liberal platform in the 2003 and 2006 elections) before he gets to his substantive criticism. The recent statement by the NB Auditor General, noting that the sale won't help the provincial debt, undermines one of the major arguments for the sale and, by doing so, legitimizes the lack of trust. The Liberals make their case here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Great Agricultural Land Grab

What do you do if your country has an increasing population, a lack of agricultural land and lots of cash? The standard answer coming from the CEO's of large corporations in the developed world is "give us money to develop more productive crops. We developed 'miracle rice' back in the 60's and with sufficient development funds we can save you again."

Increasingly, however, it appears that these countries are opting for an alternative solution: shopping for agricultural land in even less developed countries. When I visited my daughter last Christmas, she had this fascinating map up on her wall. Taken from an article in The Guardian, it graphically depicts the location of various land purchases made by several wealthy developing countries: China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emerits. Convinced they will not be able to provide the food necessary for their future populations, they have started to invest heavily in countries with historically unproductive agricultural lands like Sudan and Ethiopia, with the intent of using the land to support their burgeoning populations. A number of people have questioned the ethics of such actions since these African countries are already unable to feed their populations and, hence, can ill afford to use their land for export crops.

Thanks to the efforts of the folks at Grain and their related website (, these developments are receiving an increasing amount of attention. The recent NYTimes Magazine article 'Is There Such a Thing as Agro-Imperialism' provides a good overview of the issue.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stewart Brand on 4 Environmental Heresies

Stewart Brand, the author of the Whole Earth Catalog, was one of the leaders of the 60's environmental movement. He has recently been rethinking his positions on cities, nuclear power, genetic modification and geo-engineering. His ideas (Cities are Green! Nukes are Green! Gene modification is Green! Geoengineering is Probably Necessary!) have recently been published in WHOLE EARTH DISCIPLINE: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto a review of which is available here.

For the video inclined, he covers much the same ground in this TED talk.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Social and Natural Systems in the Decline of North America's Megafauna

One of the most striking characteristics of humans is that we are adaptive generalists. Unlike most species, which are adapted to specific ecological niches, humans have radiated out to populate virtually every land-based ecosystem on the planet. We can do this because we build shelters, transport food and otherwise make arrangements for the necessities of life in those parts of the globe that would otherwise be inhospitable.

It is this capacity, the ability to transform situations to meet our needs, that lies at the root of the interconnection between social and natural systems. The most obvious example of this interconnection is climate change, where humans are pumping the carbon stored in the ground as fossil fuels into the atmosphere and, hence, fundamentally altering both atmospheric chemistry and the global climate.

But what lies at the root of this human capacity? The standard answer is technology. Through technology we transcend the limitations and constraints placed on other species. But a recent article by Christopher Johnson in Science (Science 20 November 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5956, pp. 1072 - 1073) detailing the process of magafaunal decline in North America casts doubt on this account. Here is the story in brief:

Twenty thousand years ago, North America had a more impressive array of big mammals than Africa does today; by 10,000 years ago, 34 genera of these mammals were gone, including the 10 species that weighed more than a ton. Many other drastic changes occurred in this interval, all of which have been advocated as possible causes of megafaunal extinction. The climate flipped from cold to warm, then back to cold in a 1000-year chill (the Younger Dryas), before rapidly rewarming. There were more, larger fires, and the structure and species composition of vegetation changed drastically. People arrived, and the Clovis culture—with a characteristic style of beautifully crafted stone spear points—flourished for less than 1000 years. Some scientists have argued that an extraterrestrial object struck Earth ~13,000 years ago, triggering the Younger Dryas, starting fires, killing the megafauna, and putting an end to the Clovis culture. ....

What about people? It has long been argued that Clovis artifacts signal the first arrival of people in North America south of the boreal ice sheets and that the Clovis people were specialized big-mammal hunters who caused a crash of megafaunal populations from prehuman abundance to extinction within a few hundred years. This “blitzkrieg” scenario is supported by the fact that terminal dates on megafaunal fossils range from 13,300 to 12,900 years ago, which coincides almost exactly with the Clovis period. But the new data show that the megafaunal decline had begun more than a thousand years earlier. If people were responsible for that decline, they must have been pre-Clovis settlers. The existence of such people has been controversial, but archaeological evidence is slowly coming to light and is consistent with their arrival around the beginning of the megafaunal decline. It is beginning to look as if the greater part of that decline was driven by hunters who were neither numerous nor highly specialized for big-game hunting. Clovis technology may have been a feature of the endgame, possibly reflecting an intensified hunting strategy that developed once megafauna had become rare, possibly wary, and harder to hunt. ...

Before 14,800 years ago, the environment around the site studied by Gill et al. was an open savanna or parkland, probably with scattered spruce and rare broad-leaved trees growing over a short grass-dominated pasture, and almost no fi re. As the megafauna declined, woody biomass increased, mainly by growth of broad-leaved trees that had presumably been suppressed by the large herbivores. The result was a transitory spruce/broadleaf woodland, the like of which does not exist today. Big fires broke out ~14,000 years ago, and for the next few thousand years, major fires returned every few centuries. These changes were widespread: Fire increased throughout North America ~14,000 years ago, and the transitory “no-analog” woodland extended over a vast area.

In short, we begin with an ecosystem dominated by open savanna and numerous species of megafauna. Humans arrive, and apparently without the aid of significant technology, kill off the majority of the megafauna thus setting loose a cascade of ecological changes that ultimately result in the replacement of the savanna by a "no-analog" woodland. Thus we have a clear, early example of the interconnection of social and natural systems, but one that seems not to implicate technology as the fundamental driver.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Global Warming?

We sure had a cold summer here in New Brunswick. I didn't even go swimming until the heat finally hit in August. Summer was unusually cold not only in this Province, but all over the United States. Isn't that proof that we're moving toward a cooling period?

Right . . . If you were in North America this year, you were in the spot with the most abnormally cool temperatures on the planet. Nonetheless, NASA reported 2009 as the hottest June to October temperatures on record, tied only with 2005.

"What makes these record temps especially impressive is that we’re at “the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century,” according to NASA."

But it was in the Arctic that temperatures were above normal by up to 5 degrees Celsius. Most of the surface warming is happening at the Poles, especially in the Arctic Circle, where Alaskan and Siberian permafrost, and Greenland's glaciers, are melting at ever increasing rates.

The problem is that temperatures in the temperate zone (like the US) have such a wide range of natural variability that it becomes difficult to sense--from every day experience--that the planet is warming.

But aside from increasing surface heat, the greatest global temperature rise comes from a warming of the ocean.

Still, it's easy to understand why people get confused. It also makes it hard to get the planet's largest carbon emitter, the United States, to do something about climate change when people are wearing sweaters on summer evenings in July.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Vandana Shiva on Transition Towns and Global South

Vandana Shiva on how Transition initiatives in the North can best help the South

Transition Berlin asked Vandana Shiva how Transition Towns of the North could help the people of the South. She said, surprisingly, that growing vegetables in the North would relieve some of the consumer pressure leading to the confiscation of land and resources in the South.

Climate Change and Agriculture in East Africa

In the context of the earlier post discussing expected changes in global agricultural productivity by 2050 (in which the southern hemisphere suffers hugely), it is reassuring to see the recent article "Adapting to climate change: Agricultural system and household impacts in East Africa" in the journal Agricultural Systems.

While East Africa is likely to be one of the least affected regions on the continent, the article notes:
Yields of staples like maize and beans will double in the region's highland areas as a result of rising temperatures, as warmer climates make crops mature faster.

But the reverse is likely to occur in both drier and more humid areas, with crop harvests decreasing significantly in these places.

In the worst-affected areas, the researchers recommend farmers keep more livestock, switch to more drought-hardy crops such as sorghum, or abandon crop cultivation altogether. New sources of income might include carbon sequestration, they say.

In areas where the effects of climate change are likely to be less severe and crop losses more moderate, the authors call for the adoption of new technologies and agricultural techniques — such as water harvesting — that will enable farmers to continue growing crops.

While it is somewhat comforting to know that mitigation techniques are plausibly successful in such the region, there remains the pressing issue of providing the resources necessary to make such adaptation possible.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Greening UNB

As you are probably aware, UNB is in the process redoing its strategic plan. Greening UNB is one theme in the 'Building a Better UNB' portion of the plan. Here is some information on how to participate in that process.

1) There will be a meeting Tuesday, November 17, at 2:00 p.m. in the Dean's Conference Room, #202, Forestry/Geology Building. This is a pre-planning session where people with interests in environmental matters will get together and brainstorm ideas for influencing the process in a positive direction. In the email I received, they requested that you let Liz Whamond know ( if you will be able to attend, but feel free to just show up.

2) On the Fredericton campus, the strategic planning process itself will commence with some break out sessions on December 4 and 5. Here are the details:

You are cordially invited to attend the Strategic Planning Breakout Sessions hosted by the University of New Brunswick on Nov. 20 & 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday) at the Hilton Hotel, Saint John or on Dec. 4 & 5 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday) at the Wu Conference Centre, Fredericton.

There will be a breakout room for each of the nine white paper topics. You may choose to focus on one session or engage in any number of sessions, space permitting. You may spend an hour in a session, or up to a full day, depending on your interest and availability.

Facilitated by co-chairs from the UNB community, these sessions will focus on how the UNB community views UNB's strengths, challenges and its future related to each white paper topic.

Please RSVP to Melissa Dawe, Project Manager ( to indicate the date(s), times and sessions you plan to attend. Please also indicate if you plan to take advantage of transportation between Fredericton and Saint John. RSVP is not mandatory, but appreciated to help with room and food planning, and other logistics.

Additional details regarding the breakout sessions and background information will be available on the website at as they become available.

All members of the UNB community are encouraged to attend at least one of these sessions. Your insights are very important to the strategic planning process and the future of UNB. We look forward to seeing you there!

The Ebenezer Scrooge Carbon Reduction Plan

The Ebenezer Scrooge Carbon Reduction Plan

1. Am I obliged to give you a day off every 15th of December so you can go to Copenhagen to protest at the climate change conference? I suppose if I didn’t you would think yourself ill used.

2. The Middling Classes should buy as much stuff as possible so the Rich will be rich enough to afford all that expensive technology, like carbon capture and storage. So get back to work, you ungrateful slug.

3. Shut down the coal-fired power plants? Are you mad? Coal-fired power plants spew millions of tons of sulphur dioxide and ash into the air, which everybody knows causes global dimming. We should build as many coal-fired power plants as possible, at least one a week.

4. The poor should stay as poor as possible so the Rich can continue to be industrious. Any increase in consumption by the poor would only turn the rest of us into toasted Welsh Rabbit.

5. Climate change is caused by overpopulation. There are simply too many people on this planet, billions too many. Mass starvation is Mankind’s best Natural defence. If they are going die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.

6. There is nothing more to be done about the mass migrations of Unfortunates driven from their homes by climate change. Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

7. Binding reductions? Bah, humbug!

Copyleft 2009 Shaun Bartone

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Book: Thinking in Systems

A manuscript by Donella Meadows, the lead author of 1972's Limits to Growth, was published in August as a new book on systems theory called Thinking in Systems: A Primer. It's a posthumous publication (Meadows died in 2001) edited by Diana Wright of the Sustainability Institute.

"In the years following her role as the lead author of the international bestseller, Limits to Growth—the first book to show the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet— Donella Meadows remained a pioneer of environmental and social analysis until her untimely death in 2001.

Meadows’ newly released manuscript, Thinking in Systems, is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute’s Diana Wright, this essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing readers how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life."

It's in paperback and available at Canadian booksellers for about $17.00.

Meadow's article, "Places to Intervene in a System" was first published in Whole Earth magazine in 1997, but received little attention. It is available to download here, reprinted by the software developer blog, Software developers picked up on her theory because it has implications for software modelling of complex systems.

UPDATE: I just read "Places to Intervene in a System" and I have to tell you, if you don't have the time or inclination to read anything else about systems theory, you should just read this article. It's 19 pages long, and it's the most brilliant analysis of how to pragmatically change systems, and fundamentally, how they work.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Historical Change in US Crude Oil Estimates

Shaun recently posted material noting that the IEA had revised its world oil reserve estimates downward and suggesting that the US had put pressure on the agency to keep them artificially high.

That post took me back to my long lost past, when I wrote my PhD dissertation on social factors affecting estimates of how much oil was left in the ground. The diagram at left shows some of the data from my dissertation, illustrating that the pattern of estimates fell into distinct historical periods. Each dot represents a particular estimate of how much oil is left in the ground in the US plotted against the year that the estimate was published. As you can see, revisions are a fairly common occurrence :+) And, as I argued, significantly political.

Unfortunately, I can't embed the pdf of the article on the blog. But anyone that is interested in can take a look at the original here. If you aren't at a location that will allow access to the journal, the citation information is: Gary Bowden, "Estimating U.S. Crude Oil Resources: Organizational Interests, Political Economy, and Historical Change" The Pacific Sociological Review (the journal changed its name, now it is Sociological Perspectives), 25(4): 419-448. October 1982.

Transition Towns and Resilience

The current issue of Resurgence magazine is timed to come out with the Copenhagen talks on climate change.

Inside is an article by Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins titled "Resilience Thinking. Why ‘resilience thinking’ is a crucial missing piece of the climate-change jigsaw and why resilience is a more useful concept than sustainability."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Whistleblower Says IEA Inflated Oil Estimates

An unnamed whistleblower at the International Energy Agency claims that the IEA's previous and current "World Energy Outlook" ('08 and '09) inflated the estimated amount of oil reserves in the world. The Guardian UK has the story, which includes a 3-minute audio segment by journalist Terry Macalister, a nice quick summary of the situation. The whistleblower inside the IEA says that the United States pressured the agency to make oil reserves look better than they really are to avoid panic in the markets and worsening of the financial crisis.

The current WEO states that world oil supplies can reach 105 mbd by 2030.

The whistleblower told The Guardian, "Many inside the organization believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90 million to 95 million barrels a day would be impossible, but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further.”

Currently, the world output is 83 mbd.

"A second senior IEA source, who has now left but was also unwilling to give his name, said a key rule at the organisation was that it was "imperative not to anger the Americans" but the fact was that there was not as much oil in the world as had been admitted. "We have [already] entered the 'peak oil' zone. I think that the situation is really bad," he added." (Guardian UK)

An October report by the UK Energy Research Council says that world oil production will go into permanent decline before 2020, in less than ten years. UKERC is a consortium of academic partners from 15 different UK institutions. Its headquarters are based at Imperial College Londonand at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.

The World Energy Outlook '09 was just released today.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cap and Trade or Carbon Tax?

As we wind our way toward Copenhagen, debate about climate change policy has intensified. Particularly interesting is the US debate, where a seemingly trivial administrative ruling is having tremendous implications. Back in the Bush years, the EPA ruled that CO2 was not a pollutant and, hence, could not be regulated by the EPA. In April, 2009 (following a 2007 Supreme Court ruling) the EPA in the Obama administration ruled CO2 was a pollutant. The implications of this are huge. It means that CO2 emissions are covered under existing legislation and, hence, the EPA can create administrative rules limiting CO2 emissions WITHOUT having to pass legislation through Congress. While there are legal constraints on the types of rules they can come up with under existing law (which mean this probably isn't the best way to go), this gives the Obama administration a really big hammer to use on Congress: do something significant about climage change or the EPA will act unilaterally.

Two EPA lawyers with 20 years of experience dealing with cap and trade legislation, Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, have recently inserted themselves into the debate. As the Obama administration moves toward cap and trade legislation in Congress, they are advancing an alternative -- a carbon tax (or, since tax is a bad word in the US, a carbon fee and rebate system). This is a scheme similar to that proposed by Stephen Dion (though that didn't go over very well, did it?) and, increasingly, by thoughtful economists like Nobel winner Joseph Steiglitz, who served as Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton administration. Their recently posted YouTube video is below. For more info, go to their website.

It is tempting to think of this as just a policy debate. But, at its root, it is an argument about creating social rules to facilitate cooperation. Their basic complaint is that cap and trade, as a big accounting scheme, is subject to all sorts of accounting tricks. This means both that it is ineffective and, equally as significant, that it will be seen as inequitable. Since cooperation depends on trust, this means that, over time, an inequitable cap and trade system may self-destruct. Since there really isn't time to limit emissions by trial and error -- that is to try one policy, see if it works and adjust it if it doesn't -- we need to get the policy right the first time. Stated another way, the policy needs to take account of social theory -- our understanding of processes related to social rules and trust -- as well as economic theory. More about rules and cooperation later.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Critical Supply of Minerals and Elements for Technology

The guys over at the Oil Drum are obsessed with counting things: how much of anything is left in the ground, etc. The graph posted here is an estimate of how much minerals and elements are left to be mined that are critical to our current technology and how long that supply will last, given current uses. I'm not sure of the date of this information, and I cannot vouch for how accurate it is. But it's certainly a spectacular graph and is at least informative on the types of minerals we use and suggestive of the supplies we need. The graph was posted in a response to a
post about an article in the November Scientific American, "A Plan for a Sustainable Future."

Approaches to Complex Systems

In this talk George Francis provides an overview of different approaches to the study of complex adaptive systems. The talk is interesting in that he draws as much on social science theorizing as that developed in the natural sciences. World System Theory, in particular, is discussed at length.

He is also the author of 'Models for Sustainability Emerge in an Open Systems Context,' an article covering much the same ground.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

World Development Report 2010 focuses on Climate Change

The most recent World Bank Development Report, WDR 2010, focuses on development and climate change. The main ideas of the report aren't particularly surprising: a) both developed and developing countries need to address emissions now and b) developing countries can shift to lower-carbon paths while promoting development and reducing poverty, but this depends on financial and technical assistance from high-income countries.

However, there are a number of interesting specifics. Among them this map showing the predicted global changes in agricultural productivity. Canada, Northern Europe and Russia are the big winners, with the southern hemisphere suffering substantially.

Another graph compares the emissions savings from more fuel efficient cars in the US with the additional emissions needed to provide 1.6 billion people in developing countries with electricity. Quite a thought provoking comparison.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Geoengineering the Climate

Over the past couple years scientists have expressed renewed interest in geoengineering solutions to climate change, the idea that there is a technological solution to global warming that doesn't require people to modify their actions. So, for example, you dump a bunch of iron into the ocean in order to create an algal bloom which will soak up carbon from the atmosphere. Or, more imaginatively, you mimic the action of volcanos by pumping large quantities of reflective sulphur dust into the Earth's stratosphere through a patented 18-mile-long hose held up by helium balloons.

Most people start to laugh when they hear this stuff. And, indeed, these ideas were largely discarded by the scientific establishment years ago when they were first proposed. A number of them are described in Bill McKibbon's book The End of Nature first published in 1989. The recognized problem is that they have massive unintended consequences. Thus, for example, all that sulphur pumped into the stratosphere ultimately ends up in the ocean and transforms the oceans chemistry (and not in a good way). But, the scientists feel they are being forced to return to these ideas because the scientific evidence concerning climate change has become both stronger and more alarming while political consensus on effective international action has become weaker. In short, they are giving up on the political apparatus and social changes and starting to contemplate the need for immediate technical action because in order to avoid a tipping point in the climate.

As this article in The Guardian shows, these ideas are gaining popular attention. Equally as significant, in my view, is the fact that China is taking these ideas seriously. As they showed during the Olympics, the Chinese are capable of acting on a massive and concerted scale to accomplish environmental goals (e.g., clean air in Beijing during the Olympics) if they so desire. Even more significantly, geoengineering solutions are relatively cheap. This leads Gwen Dyer to speculate in Climate Wars about the possibility that certain nations particularly threatened by the consequences of climate change (for example, Small Island Developing States) might go rogue and intervene in the biosphere on a massive scale in order to prevent sea level rise, even if there were little international support for such schemes.

Wikipedia provides an interesting overview of some of the schemes.