Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Funding for CCS in Australia

The Global CCS Institute has announced AUD$2.3 million ($2.4 million) in new funding for CCS projects in Australia. Specifically, the international, Canberra-based collaborative is providing support to three separate initiatives:
  • AUD$1.84 million to Australia's national science agency CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) for research on the air quality impacts of CCS
  • AUD$240,000 to the CarbonNet CCS network demonstration project backed by the state of Victoria
  • AUD$226,000 to WorleyParsons, a professional services firm active in the energy industry, for a site-specific retrofit feasibility study
With this funding, additional financial support for other projects, and highly valued reports and collateral (for example, see More Tools Available for CCS Policymakers, 6/6/11), the Institute continues to lead global efforts to promote widespread adoption of CCS technologies.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Comment on Crop Yields Paper

A paper published this week on crop yields under a stratospheric aerosol regime has generated much discussion in the blogosphere. The authors compared two model scenarios, one a world with twice the historical level of CO2 in the atmosphere, the other a 2xCO2 world augmented with stratospheric aerosols, and compared them to each other and to current conditions in terms of food production. The results show that crop yields increased in the geoengineered, 2xCO2 world relative to the non-geoengineered 2xCO2 world. This evidence contradicts the common assertion that agriculture would be compromised in a geoengineered world--according to this study, the opposite would occur since the positive growth effects of CO2 fertilization would not be offset by temperature stresses associated with an unadulterated greenhouse world. Instead, SAI would minimize these stresses so that higher CO2 would lead to higher crop yields and food production.

This has generally been greeted warmly by supporters of geoengineering research. In at least one respect, however, the research design of this and similar studies subtly undercuts their position and strengthens the hand of geoengineering opponents. Specifically, by modeling only two future scenarios, a geoengineered 2xCO2 world and a non-geoengineered 2xCO2 world, and not allowing the inclusion of emissions mitigation, the authors lend credence to the false charge that abatement and geoengineering are mutually exclusive activities, and policymakers must choose either one or the other. This assertion is patently untrue and runs counter to the policy preferences of the vast majority of the geoengineering community, which is clearly committed to emissions cuts first and geoengineering only as a final, auxiliary measure. In framing geoengineering as a stand-alone policy option, these studies inadvertantly provide cover for those who would present this false choice.

One way to avoid this would be for researchers to include an additional mixed mitigation/geoengineering scenario as a standard feature of such modeling exercises. While it is important to know the independent effects of geoengineering for analytical purposes, testing the combined effects of geoengineering and emissions cuts would both disarm irresponsible critics, and tell us more about the conditions likely to obtain under the most responsible policy scenario.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Cool Roofs Toolkit

The Global Cool Cities Alliance has just released "A Practical Guide to Cool Roofs and Cool Pavements," designed to promote the adoption of cool materials in urban environments worldwide. The guide contains a wealth of information on the benefits of cool surfaces, technologies for enhancing solar reflectance, incremental material and installation costs, and program design. It is intended for use by contractors, vendors, facilities managers, and policymakers interested in expanding their involvement in the cool roofs market. While cool roofs will probably have only a marginal effect on global temperatures, they do reduce the local urban heat island effect and lead to significant energy savings for residential and commercial customers. Cool roofs also make the concept of albedo enhancement more tangible for everyday people, something that can easily be overlooked in abstract discussions of aerosol properties and radiative forcing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Geoengineering and the Liberal-Conservative Divide

It has often been noted that the debate over geoengineering can make for strange political bedfellows, with free-market conservatives and (some) liberal environmentalists joined together in support of research and possible deployment. A new paper from Yale Law School's Cultural Cognition Project suggests one mechanism by which geoengineering manages to bridge this divide. Its authors argue that strong social attachments to different cultural groupings can account for the occasional failure to agree on the meaning of otherwise uncontroversial facts. In the climate context, for example, the evidence produced by climate science would seem to speak for itself, yet it tends to trigger opposite reactions from "climate change deniers" as compared to those who accept that climate change is a problem that must be addressed. The reason is that culture can trump science when it comes to perceiving risk--conservative belief in the preeminence of markets encourages disregard for evidence of the need for robust government regulation, while liberal belief that the state exists for the good of the community dovetails nicely with the same empirical evidence.

However, the results of surveys conducted in the US and UK indicate that framing climate issues in terms of geoengineering can help overcome this barrier:

Geoengineering is consonant with a narrative that depicts human technological ingenuity as the principal means by which our species has succeeded in overcoming environmental constraints on its flourishing. Geoengineering permits climate change to be assimilated into this story and thus turns climate change from an indictment of hierarchical individualists' [i.e., conservatives] values into an occasion in which the forms of human excellence that such citizens prize can again be deployed for the advance of human welfare (p. 19).

In other words, because geoengineering accords well with conservative views on the importance of industry, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship, it can invoke agreement on the facts and support for action in ways that other modes of presenting climate change cannot. While these findings are preliminary and require additional investigation, they offer initial support to an intriguing explanation of why geoengineering has attracted backers from across the conventional political spectrum.