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Scientist Publishes ‘Escape Route’ from Global Warming

Steve Connor, Independent / UK via Common Dreams
A Nobel Prize-winning scientist has drawn up an emergency plan to save the world from global warming, by altering the chemical makeup of Earth’s upper atmosphere. Professor Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on the hole in the ozone layer, believes that political attempts to limit man-made greenhouse gases are so pitiful that a radical contingency plan is needed.

In a polemical scientific essay to be published in the August issue of the journal Climate Change, he says that an “escape route” is needed if global warming begins to run out of control.

Professor Crutzen has proposed a method of artificially cooling the global climate by releasing particles of sulphur in the upper atmosphere, which would reflect sunlight and heat back into space. The controversial proposal is being taken seriously by scientists because Professor Crutzen has a proven track record in atmospheric research.

A fleet of high-altitude balloons could be used to scatter the sulphur high overhead, or it could even be fired into the atmosphere using heavy artillery shells, said Professor Crutzen, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.

The effect of scattering sulphate particles in the atmosphere would be to increase the reflectance, or “albedo”, of the Earth, which should cause an overall cooling effect.

Such “geo-engineering” of the climate has been suggested before, but Professor Crutzen goes much further by drawing up a detailed model of how it can be done, the timescales involved, and the costs.

In his forthcoming scientific paper, Professor Crutzen emphasises that the best way of averting global climate disaster is for countries to cut back significantly on their emissions of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide produced by burning oil, gas and coal. But in the absence of such measures, and with the average global temperature expected to rise more than 3C this century, there may soon come a time when more extreme measures have to be considered, he said.
(31 July 2006)

Blair signs climate pact with Schwarzenegger

Patrick Wintour, UK Guardian
· California deal paves way to joining EU scheme
· Agreement represents snub to White House
Tony Blair yesterday sidestepped the Bush administration’s refusal to act on climate change by signing what was hailed as a ground-breaking agreement with California, the world’s 12th largest carbon emitter, to fight global warming.

Downing Street made no attempt to disguise the fact that the deal is designed to get round Republican objections to states imposing mechanisms to cut carbon emissions. With other US states also interested or involved in carbon trading markets, the path is being opened to bring US business into international efforts to fight climate change, even though international progress has been stymied by the Bush administration’s refusal to sign up to binding targets in the Kyoto protocol

Mr Blair signed the statement of intent yesterday with California’s governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, saying it would lay the groundwork for a new transatlantic market in carbon dioxide emissions.

The prime minister wants to create a coalition of the willing among those US states prepared to join the European Union’s carbon trading scheme. The Blair-Schwarzenegger deal came at a meeting in Long Beach organised by Steve Howard, CEO of the Climate Group, an international charity working to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and Lord Browne, chairman of British Petroleum. Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson was also present.

The two-year-old EU carbon trading scheme sets country-by-country overall caps for carbon, and rewards individual companies which find a profitable way to minimise carbon emissions.

The United States is responsible for a quarter of the world’s global-warming pollution. Bush administration officials argue that requiring cuts in greenhouse gases would cost the US economy 5m jobs.
(1 Aug 2006)
Related commentary by California power company CEO Tom King and Steve Howeard, CEO of The Climate Group: The bottom line on global warming (SF Chronicle).

Lisa Hyams at Gristmill puts the agreement in perspective: Update on Blair & Schwarzenegger’s climate kissypoo

The AP overstated the extent of the climate agreement announced today between British PM Tony Blair and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (and thus Daily Grist overstated it too).  Now that the deal’s been officially unveiled, a few clarifications:

The two didn’t agree to launch a new trans-Atlantic carbon-trading market, though they will look into the possibility. Rather, they said the U.K. and California would cooperate on research into cleaner fuels and technologies. Writes the San Francisco Chronicle, “aspects of the agreement include jointly studying the economic impacts of global climate change, collaborating on technology research — including studying the effects of California’s effort to create a ‘hydrogen highway’ touted by Schwarzenegger — and establishing regular exchanges between scientists in both places.” Not so bold, but a nice symbolic gesture at least.

Potential Leakage and Toxicity Problems with CO2 Sequestration

Mike Millikin, Green Car Congress
Results from a field test on CO2 sequestration in an old brine-filled oil reservoir suggest that the mixture of CO2 and brine dissolves minerals in the rock walls, including carbonate, that could lead to pathways in the rock through which the gas could escape.

In a paper published in the July edition of Geology, the researchers in the Frio Brine Pilot also note the potential for the mobilization of toxic trace metals and toxic organic compounds.

The Frio Brine Pilot was the first test of closely monitored CO2 injection in a brine formation in the United States, and was funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) under the leadership of the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) at the Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin, with major collaboration from GEO-SEQ, a national lab consortium led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

The researchers injected 1,600 metric tons of CO2 1,500 meters down into a sandstone site representative of a target for large-volume storage. The sandstones of the Oligocene Frio Formation are part of a thick, regionally extensive sandstone trend that underlies a concentration of industrial sources and power plants along the Gulf Coast of the United States.

The team then measured and monitored the CO2 plume using a diverse suite of technologies in three intervals: the injection zone, the area above the injection zone, and the shallow near-surface environment.

Each monitoring strategy used a preinjection and one or more postinjection measurements. Wireline logging, pressure and temperature measurement, and geochemical sampling were also conducted during injection, and at follow-up intervals subsequent to the injection.

While the sequestration to-date has been successful-there have been no detected CO2 leakages-the researchers conclude in their latest published assessment of on-going findings and analysis that the chemistry of the process might prove problematic.
(31 July 2006)
Related from John McGrath at Gristmill: “What if I just start snorting baking powder instead?”

Speaking of sequestration: The journal Science points out today that even if we can sequester carbon dioxide, it may have bad side effects — like, say, poisoning our drinking water. Brilliant.

So the engineering problems for CO2 sequestration are immense, it won’t work with existing plants, and even if it works some time in the indefinite future, it might still kill us all. So of course, this is a serious option being discussed by many in Canadian politics and punditry.