I don’t know which I find more remarkable, the speed and determination with which we tear fossil fuels from the ground and burn them, adding to our already too high level of atmospheric CO2, or how incredibly long it takes us at times to connect dots.
In the first category we have, of course, the rampant spread of fracking and unconventional extraction of natural gas and oil, particularly here in the US, plus the newly heightened interest in mining offshore methane hydrates, e.g. Unlocking Icy Methane Hydrates, Largest Fossil Energy Store. One could not ask for a starker example of short term economics, which in this case is a euphemism for greed, taking precedence over our own long-term self-interest. We have arrived at a critical state where it is imperative that we find whatever maturity and foresight and strength of will are needed to leave as much of the available carbon in the ground as possible, and instead we’re rushing to ramp up production and therefore consumption of it as quickly as possible.
The latest example of the second category, our lethargic dot connecting, is the recognition that, golly gee!, if we don’t burn all those carbon deposits then the massive valuations of fossil fuel companies are so much low-grade balloon juice, and we’re staring at a not insignificant chance of a financial mess that would make the recent mortgage meltdown look like the good old days. How long have we known that Exxon Mobil, BP, et al. would be serious endangered, along with the investments of many millions of people and institutions, if those deposits of ancient wealth were suddenly wiped off their ledgers? We should have been talking about this for years, decades even, but it’s only recently that it’s become a hot topic. So, this give us quite an interesting situation, assuming we’re dumb enough to sit back and expect the runaway truck known as the “free market” to learn to steer itself. (See Burn our planet or face financial meltdown. Not much of a choice for some more on this.)
But wait, you must be asking as you glance at the title of this blog post, what does any of this have to do with geoengineering? Glad you asked, because it’s a particularly glaring example of our ineptitude when connecting the dots that are sitting right before our collective face. According to a presumably leaked version of the next IPCC report, even that staid group is awakening to the inevitability of geoengineering.
From World climate change goal at risk as emissions surge [emphasis added]:
A global goal for limiting climate change is slipping out of reach and governments may have to find ways to artificially suck greenhouse gases from the air if they fail to make deep cuts in rising emissions by 2030, a draft U.N. report said.
A 25-page draft summary, by the U.N. panel of climate experts and due for publication in 2014, said emissions of heat-trapping gases rose to record levels in the decade to 2010, led by Asian industrial growth.
The surge is jeopardising a U.N. goal, set by almost 200 nations in 2010, to limit a rise in temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius above levels before the Industrial Revolution, according to the text seen by Reuters on Friday.
The panel, made up hundreds of the world’s top climate scientists, is trying to condense all the peer reviewed findings since 2007 into a summary for policymakers.
Its draft said that if emissions were not checked by 2030, they would be so great that governments would have to take carbon dioxide out of the air to limit rising temperatures by the end of the century – not just cut emissions spewed from cars and factories – a sea change in the approach to climate change.
Governments must sign off on the document that emerges from the draft by Working Group Three of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and which will serve as the climate policy road map for the next six or seven years.
Delaying deep cuts until 2030 may make targets for limiting warming by 2100 “physically infeasible without substantial overshoot and negative global emissions … in the second half of the century”, it said.
“Negative emissions” mean policies such as planting more forests that naturally absorb carbon dioxide from the air as they grow or burning biofuels, for instance wood or farm waste, and capturing and burying their greenhouse gas emissions.
Given how hyper-cautious the IPCC has been in prior reports (witness their treatment of polar ice, for example, which fell very far short of events since the last report was published in 2007), and given what we know about the factors I natter on about here endlessly — long CO2 atmospheric lifetime, rising emissions, our current state of thermal disequilibrium — I think it’s about the safest bet one could make that not only will we employ geoengineering in an effort to head off the truly nightmarish impacts of climate change once they’ve already started, but that we’ll employ several. Air capture of CO2 will be critical if we want to curb ocean acidification, and for a quicker, short-term fix (there’s that knee-jerk approach again) we’ll no doubt use sulfate injection and/or orbital mirrors and/or ground-based albedo modification.
Of course, not everyone thinks geoengineering is a wonderful idea, e.g. No, we should not just ‘at least do the research’, but that has nothing to do with the fact that we’ve locked ourselves into a path where it is absolutely inevitable that we will “have to” resort to such desperate and risky measures.
But I’m getting ahead of the curve with such pronouncements. We still prefer to ignore the dots arrayed so neatly before us that they practically beg to be connected, and we cling to the quaint and increasingly bizarre notion that we’ll somehow avoid both the incredibly high-stakes gamble that is geoengineering and the truly devastating consequences of climate change, even as we continue our race to exploit ever more and (in the case of natural gas) cheaper carbon deposits.
We’ll continue skipping along this comfortable path of denial for a while, perhaps a few years, perhaps a decade or two, until Father Physics and Mother nature tackle us, grab us by the throat, and slam our head into the ground repeatedly. Then we will panic, look for someone to blame, and demand that Something Be Done, and said Something will, no doubt, include geoengineering (along with adaptation measures), paid for by the government and taxpayers and further enriching many of the same large corporations that currently are doing not nearly enough or are even actively fighting our growing awareness of our mess.
 Please don’t point out to me that some article or blog posting was published in 2002 saying as much. I’m not claiming no one individual made this connection, but that it didn’t rise to the current level of awareness until very recently.
 I’ve said repeatedly online that the day it becomes inescapably clear, even among right-wing echo chamber media, that we are in very deep climate change trouble, the usual suspects on Fox and other outlets will immediately blame the climate scientists for “not making a sufficiently compelling case that we had a serious problem”, even though they themselves played a major role in diluting the scientists’ message for years.
 Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could pass laws that said any company that funds denialism or does less than a reasonable amount to reduce their CO2 emissions is not allowed to profit from adaptation or geoengineering efforts for, say, the next century?