Global warming can cause an extinction-level hole in the ozone, says Dr. John Marshall from UK’s University of Southampton. From Milan, Dr. Anna Abatayo’s paper “Solar geoengineering may lead to excessive cooling and high strategic uncertainty”. Aided by Alan Robock, Alex reports 20 reasons why climate engineering may not be a good idea.
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Bonus video: Alex gives you a quick tour of our prepper garden, beefed up (with veggies and chickens) for the pandemic or hard times.
ANCIENT MASS EXTINCTION CARRIES A WARNING FOR OUR NEAR-FUTURE – DR. JOHN MARSHALL
Thanks to movies and the popular press, the public knows an asteroid or comet hitting Earth could bring mass extinction. Fewer people know that long-term eruptions of volcanoes can be a kill event. Until this new paper, I did not know global warming could drive ozone loss to an extinction level threat.
The reason for a mysterious mass extinction event may have been found. The crisis hundreds of millions of years ago was not caused by something from outer space or volcanoes. It was a combination of two threats we have today: global warming and the ozone hole. That sounds like news we need to know.
The title of the paper just published in Science Advances is: “UV-B radiation was the Devonian-Carboniferous boundary terrestrial extinction kill mechanism”. The lead author is Professor John Marshall from the University of Southampton in the UK.
Dr. John Marshall, University of Southampton
Listen to or download this 27 minute interview with John Marshall in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
OZONE AND GLOBAL WARMING
It has taken at least 30 years to unwind the public misconception that the ozone hole is causing global warming. Probably millions of people still believe that. The public heard of ozone loss first (leading to the Montreal Protocol of 1987) and then global warming afterward, more-or-less starting with James Hansen’s warning to Congress in 1988, but really coming to the public in the1990’s. The ozone hole does not cause global warming!
But now this research stands that on its head, saying global warming can cause destruction of the ozone layer. It’s a complex chain of events. Over-simplified (and so not quite right) we can say: the death of forests and other plant life during a major warming led to a wave of nutrients from decayed plant life being washed into the sea. Life processing those nutrients led to the release of ozone-destroying chemicals into the atmosphere, letting more UV-B into the surface of the Earth, compounding extinction there.
Nutrients were washed into the sea, and chlorine was released by marine organisms. That damaged the ozone layer, leading to mutation including tree spores. So the worst part of the extinction was “mutagenic” – the spores needed to reproduce a lot of plant life changed away from the survival patterns developed over very long time periods. Plants failed to reproduce, and animals that depended on those plants starved.
So during a major warming, ozone became so depleted that many species went extinct from the effects of UV-B radiation. In a 2018 paper, Jeffrey Benca called that a “pulsed ozone shield weakening”.
Here is an alarming warning from the Abstract of this new paper by Marshall et al:
“ozone loss during rapid warming is an inherent Earth system process with the unavoidable conclusion that we should be alert for such an eventuality in the future warming world.”
Marshall’s team also says: “the climate system around the D[evonian]-C[arboniferous] boundary had a reduced resilience in that it was more easily perturbed to extremes.” Are we in a similar situation now, with a climate of reduced resilience and a growing tendency toward extremes?
Scientists have identified two periods of extinction as the Devonian period closed around 350 million years ago. The first was caused by a change in glaciation and big drop in sea level. The second was brought about by the warming and ozone depletion – which is the focus of this new paper, which explains the second period of mass extinction, the Hangenberg event, 359 million years ago.
We discuss earlier research by Dutch scientist Henk Visscher’s group, who also found UV-B damage in fossil spores on Greenland. After Visscher’s Greenland discoveries, mutated spores from the end-Permian mass extinction event were found in many other parts of the world, confirming the results.
“an international team of paleontologists led by Henk Visscher at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands sensationally claimed that the stratospheric ozone layer had been all but obliterated 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian.”
– The Emerald Planet, David Beerling, pg 95 (still a must read book to understand the dance between plants and the climate!!)
Visscher and team called it “chronic environmental mutagenesis at the time of global ecological crisis”. The cause of that ozone depletion about 250 million years ago was vulcanism, a sustained eruption of the Siberian Traps emitting “hydrothermal organohalogens”. But the earlier crisis 359 million years ago did not bear the signals of volcanic causes. This brought Marshall’s team to examine what else could have cause the mutagenesis found in spores from the time of that mass extinction event, known specifically as the Hangenberg.
A series of scientists, beginning with German paleontologist Otto Schindewolf, suggested mutagenic extinctions and ozone depletion have astrophysical causes, whether energy coming from a supernova explosion, or changes to solar winds and magnetic fields. This has not been ruled out, but is not necessary for the results found in the new paper by Marshall et al.
We have to keep in mind that when these scientists are studying deposits in “Greenland” – the actual rocks at that time were located in a different array of continents, and was several degrees SOUTH, below the paleoequator, not at all our vision of the frozen north. Continents travel, floating around the globe over hundreds of millions of years. So get present-day “Greenland” out of your mind, to begin with.
DESPERATE MEASURES: CLIMATE ENGINEERING WITH ANNA ABATAYO
What if we can’t stop a wave of super heat, storms, and cities drowning from polar ice melt? The ICU for global warming might be “climate engineering”. Somebody sends up a few planes to spray reflective pollution into the upper atmosphere, like a sun shade. But who is that “somebody”? Could it be a major power, or North Korea, or just a billionaire like Elon Musk? What if it goes too far, or leads to a kind of climate war?
While we struggle with a pandemic and racism, a different threat is emerging: Climate Wars. Simply said: because we are not limiting greenhouse gas emissions, the world will get far too hot too fast. We will suffer in the heat, millions will die because of it, the weather and agriculture will destabilize into extremes. That is the time for last ditch efforts trying to cool down, to somehow go backward in climate time.
A new study from Italy says “Solar geoengineering may lead to excessive cooling and high strategic uncertainty”. The lead author is Anna Lou Abatayo, an economist and research fellow at the prestigious Bocconi University.
Dr. Anna Abatayo, Bocconi University
Listen to or download this 18 minute interview with Anna Abatayo in CD Quality (only)
NOTES ON CLIMATE ENGINEERING FROM RADIO ECOSHOCK
The age of climate engineering is advancing, likely arriving in this decade or the next, certainly within your lifetime. Humans will run experiments with Earth’s atmosphere, land and oceans. We are already doing that with fossil fuels, but now we need anti-warming technology. It seems unlikely that will come peacefully by international agreement.
At the Park Theatre in Vancouver I recorded and broadcast a speech about “Climate Wars”, by Canadian journalist Gwynn Dyer. But in 2008, Mr. Dyer worked out how the stresses of climate change would drive various national militaries into conventional wars. More recently, there have been a string of studies and papers about using climate control itself as a weapon. The prospect isn’t pretty.
For example, in February 2018 Markus Lederer and Judith Kreuter published “Organising the unthinkable in times of crises: Will climate engineering become the weapon of last resort in the Anthropocene?”
Of course, I covered Climate Engineering in depth with Australian author Clive Hamilton when he released his book about it – “Earthmasters, The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering.“
ANOTHER VARIATION ON CLIMATE ENGINEERING: FOSSIL FUEL WARS
Another possible variation of “climate wars” could be a war to stop a “rogue” nation from continuing to burn fossil fuels, perhaps based on a treaty with a majority of major military powers. In this scenario, a country like the United States, after suffering severe crop and storm damage concurrent with unbearable heat, might bomb coal burning power plants in a hold-over country like India, to prevent their continued use, thus reducing further warming. Recall that Israel bombed a nuclear power plant in Iraq to stop it operating, for strategic reasons. Or, a war might be declared by a country already transitioned to alternative energy, like solar, hydroelectric and wind – against a fossil fuel producer who continued to ship, like a Middle Eastern oil and gas country.
ANY BILLIONAIRE CAN DO IT!
The idea of a wealthy person blocking out the sun for their profit was explored in the cartoon series the Simpsons. Nefarious nuclear plant owner Mr. Burns throws a shade over the sun to create more demand for his electricity. But since Mr. Burns, the stuff of cartoons and science fiction has come within the grasp of reality.
Journalist David Levitan explored the idea of a billionaire deciding to unilaterally deploy climate engineering. Janos Pasztor, the Executive Director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative found billionaire climate action is “a plausible scenario”. That article published at Pacific Standard in May 2019 is titled “The Billionaires’ Guide To Hacking The Planet”.
A billionaire might initiate climate engineering in their belief that it must be done to save the planet (philanthropical motivation); because they can make money (say by manipulating certain stocks vulnerable to climate impacts); or answering a perceived public demand that someone must save humanity from extreme weather and other impacts of a rapidly warming planet. An individual or conspiracy might do it for irrational reasons, perhaps religious beliefs in the End Times. Someone may seek to cement their name in history, do it out of hatred for mankind, or even to atone for a sense of “sin” against all Nature and all other species. When there are too many possible reasons for an action, that increases the probability of it happening.
MORE GEOENGINEERING RESEARCH UNDERWAY IN AUSTRALIA
In April, during the pandemic, a team of Australian scientists from Southern Cross University in New South Wales experimented with Marine Cloud Brightening. They want to cool the ocean to save endangered coral. If that could be done, might that embolden the Australian government to proceed with their plans to increase coal mining and coal exports? Read what the ETC Group has to say about that here.
Australia cannot just control the temperature above the Barrier reef. As with such plans in the Arctic, where David Keith says the intentional pollution will spread over the Northern Hemisphere, an effort by Australia would spread over the Southern Hemisphere, cooling perhaps South America, and perhaps change rainfall over the Amazon or Africa. Anyway, the ocean is not locally heated so much as globally. It would take decades to cool the ocean for coral, and Australia would have to cool off the whole world ocean.
AN EXAMPLE OF OVER-COOLING THE PLANET
Rutgers scientist Alan Robock suggested putting 10 million tons of sulfates a year into the atmosphere around the tropics causes a significant drop in temperature, going from .8 degrees C above the 1951 to 1980 mean in 2020, to about .3 degrees below that mean temperature. That is a drop of 1 degree C. However, if geoengineering stops in 2030, the temperature rises again to about .1 degree C of where it would have been anyway, at least.
You can find my 2015 interview with Alan Robock of Rutgers about geoengineering in my show “Broken Future News”. I have also interviewed Harvard’s David Keith about using technology to cool the planet. He thinks it could be done, but only as a very last resort. Keith wrote “A Case for Climate Engineering” in 2013, published by MIT Press.
On Radio Ecoshock, David Keith and Canadian scientist Paul Beckwith have described the technology of Solar Radiation Management. It can be just airplanes modified with spray nozzles, and a preparation that includes reflective particles like sulphates. Sulfates are cheap and plentiful – we could even capture them from the stacks of coal-burning power plants.
Dr. Keith thinks the relatively tiny amount of sulfur required to achieve the same global dimming would be far less harmful than the low-level smog humans are breathing these days. It takes 1/50th or 1/100th of the amount of sulfur to achieve the same effect. And don’t forget, we already put about 50 million tons of sulfur a year into the lower atmosphere, mostly from coal burning, but also from other industrial processes. The amount being suggested for the upper atmosphere might be 10 million tons a year. We don’t know yet.
Scientists like American nuclear physicist Edward Teller proposed more permanent SRM techniques, like launching millions of tiny mirrors into space, blocking incoming sunlight. That would be much harder, if not impossible, to undo. All another country could do to return to warmer conditions would be to put more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We are doing that now and it is also hard to undo, as we know too well.
Here is my quick summary of 20 reasons why Dr. Alan Robock thinks climate engineering is too dangerous, just like thermonuclear war. Ready?
1. Climate engineering could result in regional climate change, including unpredicted swings in temperature and precipitation. Research suggests some countries would be devastated by drought or extreme rains.
2. Ocean acidification would just continue, damaging the base of the food chain and wiping out species. Solar radiation management – let’s call it SRM – does absolutely nothing to stop our continued emissions from changing ocean chemistry into an acid bath.
3. Several scientists suggest SRM would cause ozone depletion. That leads to millions more cases of cancer, and blindness in some species.
4. A solar shield reduces the amount of sunlight reaching plants, reducing crop yields and all natural plant production.
5. We would probably get more acid rain, which kills lakes and forests.
6. The world cloud pattern could be changed, especially on high cirrus clouds, as aerosols we launched fall into the lower atmosphere.
7. We would all notice the sky become kind of white. But there would be more nice sunsets.
8. With sunlight blocked in the upper atmosphere, there would be less solar radiation for solar power.
9. Solar radiation has to be redeployed every year. If it stops for any reason, we get rapid warming with huge unknown impacts.
10. If we do want to stop the solar shield, maybe due to unexpected results, how rapidly could we take it down and how? We don’t know.
11. Just sending up a fleet of airplanes, and producing the chemicals needed, also has environmental impacts, including increasing global warming.
Then we have a large collection of unknowns with possible cataclysmic risks.
12. For example, what if we miscalculate and cool things down to ice age levels?
13. There could be unexpected consequences that we don’t even know about, that I can’t list here.
Plus there are political, ethical and moral issues.
14. Schemes perceived to work will lessen the incentive to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions
15. As discussed, there is the use of the technology for military purposes. Are we developing climate weapons already? Are they disguised in what looks like research and testing with beneficial aims? Geoengineering research is like germ research: it can be used for good or for evil, or unintended serious accidents. Maybe we just found that out with COVID-19.
16.Big business is going to get involved. How will we control commercial use of this technology? Could a corporation providing the solar shield keeping us alive gain strong control over governments?
17. By the way, climate engineering violates the United Nations Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification
18. Deploying a working solar shield, and keeping it going for decades could turn out to be tremendously expensive, draining money from other social needs. By then we won’t have any choice but to pay up.
19. Even if climate engineering works, whose hand will be on the thermostat? How could the world agree on the optimal climate?
20. Who has the moral right to choose to modify the global climate? What happens to people who don’t want it? Should the animals and plants get a voice in what happens to their world?
You can find out more about the grave risks of climate engineering from the ETC Group at ETC group.org. Climate engineering forces so many awful questions. How many people (in how many countries) already have the expertise to do it right now? Who will try it in 10 years, when the bad climate impacts begin to bite?
Could a country pushed by a population in panic, mount a kind of Manhattan Project to develop and launch climate engineering? Has anyone already threatened to use this as a weapon, or a terrorist weapon? Maybe we will be held to ransom by someone with sulfur and the planes. Are large intelligence agencies already patrolling social media and other networks for signs countries or groups are actively pursuing this technology? Should I say “hi” to them right now? Will you go into a dark database if you download this program?
As our guest Anna Abatayo, and a whole chorus of other scientists have warned, our semi-intelligent species is not ready to control the planet’s temperature. And yet, we appear ready and able to wreck it with fossil fuels, forest destruction and all that. We are in the definition of “a wicked problem” – a crisis with changing data and no good solution in sight. Surely drastic action to block out the sun is not the way to go.
The only solution to wickedness, we are told, is to confess our sins and choose right living. I believe there is still a narrow pathway where humans can live lightly and rightly on this planet. That is why we search for truth and then act on that.
I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening to Radio Ecoshock, and reading this blog. This show is made available free of charge to all non-profit radio stations, and listeners around the world – because blog readers like you decide to help me pay the costs and keep going. Please make a donation of any amount if you can, or join the small group of monthly “subscribers” who make sure the bills get paid, even in the summer time. Science to the masses! Well, at least we try.
thanks, again, for a most informative and thoughtful show. Your radiostation/podcast is the only one I subscribe to (although I do occasionally donate to others)
The show blog is a wonderful educational source and the links to earlier shows are an important part of the blog.
If you decide to alternate between earlier shows and current interviews that would have my full support.
By the way I wonder if you have thought about interviewing Clive Spash someday. He is in my opinion the ecological economist who has developed the deepest and best thought out stance on social/ecological economics. I was reminded of his critique of the Noble prose winning economist mentioned in this programme.
I also have a garden but no chickens, we do feed a red squirrel, a hedgehog, host about 30 to 50 bird visits daily and have 4 types of bees visit as well.
Keep up the good work with your family, colleagues and ll who help Radio ecoshock.
Because you mentioned Elon Musk:
Just a few days ago, a number of astronomers / astrophysicists complained on the long-running BBC series “The Sky at Night” about the launch of a project in which Musk wants to carpet the near-earth orbit in TENS OF THOUSANDS of satellites. Supposedly, this is meant to improve broad-band internet access all over the world – but they said the only known customer he has for the use of this satellite swarm so far is the US military. Aside from the suspect usefulness for anything but warfare, and the cluttering of the orbit (one of ESA’s satellites already had to make a maneuver to avoid colliding with one of Musk’s new satellites – this will only get worse the more of them there are), the scientists pointed out that the streaks caused by this huge amount of fast-moving reflective objects would ruin at least a third of all photos they take through telescopes. And that doesn’t just mean a huge waste of the very sought-after and expensive time slots on these big telescopes, but it also includes the short series of 3-4 photos they try to take of any point in the sky to figure out whether some random point of light is noticably moving and therefore likely an asteroid, not a star. So this commercial mega project literally endagers all life on Earth by hindering the asteroid hunters who are trying to find all the big asteroids on a collision course with our planet before it’s too late to do anything about it.
And then there’s the fact that this man just straight-up broke California’s social isolation laws (and got away with it scot-free, of course) and endangered the workers in his Tesla factory by forcing them to come back to work if they want to keep their jobs. (Tesla is already notorious in the industry for bad worker safety policies, and they didn’t even plan to test the workers for the virus.) And not even because the company really needed it. No, it was simply just to enrich himself, because some weird clause in a stock option contract that Musk signed with Tesla a couple of years ago means that he can buy the shares much cheaper than what they are worth if the company maintains a certain share value throughout a 6 month period that was just hitting its final weeks this spring. (E.g. for this part of his contract to come into effect, the share price mustn’t fall due to loss of confidence from other share holders because the factory closes for the lock-down period and thus can’t fulfill some of its delivery contracts in time.) The plan worked out perfectly: Risking the lives of his workers and breaking the law earned him an extra $700 Million in personal wealth.
So yes, this man really is egotistical and megalomaniac enough to possibly start a rogue geo-engineering project. And thanks to the above-mentioned stock option contract, which hits even more lucrative clauses if the company does well these next few years, he will probably be rich enough for this kind of thing as well, in another decade or so.