“Pandora’s Toolbox: The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention” – Author Wake Smith. Living with uncertainty, retired psychologist & author Carolyn Baker. Winter heat waves: case study with Oxford’s Nicholas Leach.
Listen to or download this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality (57 MB) or Lo-Fi (16 MB)
WAKE SMITH – CLIMATE INTERVENTION
Listen to or download my 28 minute interview with Wake Smith in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
When science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson looked into the climate future, real science led him to mass heat deaths and then a desperate move to block the Sun. It is called geoengineering, where humans try to restore the climate we live in, with technology. Nobody loves geoengineering, but a growing chorus of philosophers, scientists, and engineers are weighing the options.
Enter Wake Smith with his coming book “Pandora’s Toolbox: The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention” from Cambridge University Press. Wake taught a ground-breaking course about geoengineering at Yale. This is the clearest, most accessible book I’ve ever read on the subject. Wake was a high level executive at Boeing Aircraft, then went into the investment field. But he ended up tackling climate change.
Author Wake Smith
I ask Wake why he is doubtful about the most natural solutions, for example planting more trees to cool the Earth. Then we move to carbon capture and storage. In 2015, we had Dr. David Keith on Radio Ecoshock talking about geoengineering. At Harvard, David Keith is a world leader in the field, leading a direct air capture operation in Squamish, British Columbia.
Two factoids about that Squamish venture for Direct Air Capture:
1. I lived in Vancouver a long time, and practically no one has heard about it. Maybe that’s a good thing.
2 The company Carbon Engineering gets millions from Bill Gates and big oil, like oil sands financier Murray Edwards. Occidental Petroleum and Chevron sit on the Board. That sounds sketchy. What is in it for them? Big oil just wants to drop that captured carbon down old wells to force more oil or gas out of the ground to sell and burn. Wake has no illusions. It may be an honest hope to make oil sustainable, or it could be greenwashing. The point is: industry investment in direct air capture still takes in the direction humanity must go to stop horrible climate change. We need to get carbon back out of the atmosphere.
The IPCC and the Paris Agreement count on carbon capture technology. The non-profit group Global Witness discovered that a carbon capture facility in the Canadian oil sands, run by Shell, actually emits more greenhouse gases than it stores. But that is a whole different technology than the Direct Air Capture method in Squamish.
So far as we know, there is no direct air capture tech to capture growing methane in the atmosphere, or nitrous dioxide. They are just too rare, even though many times more powerful than CO2 as warming gases.
WHEN THE PUBLIC DEMANDS ACTION TO TURN DOWN THE HEAT…
From the new book Pandora’s Toolbox:
“I think there would be demonstrations around the globe, on a scale quite literally never seen before, to demand further action. I can imagine riots that may coalesce into widespread armed insurrection as tens if not hundreds of millions of people watch their homes claimed by the sea and their crops wither. The members of the new Greatest Generation that whipped greenhouse gas emissions would not then meekly return to their desiccated farms and watch their children starve. That just doesn’t seem plausible. The world would demand more.”
A flood of new climate science is led and funded by Chinese institutions. China built more offshore wind energy in 2021 than the rest of the world combined. And China already does more cloud seeding for rain than anyone else. Surely they are engaged in geoengineering research too.
There are many arguments against climate interventions considered in this new book. For example: geoengineering is seen as industrial white men using more technology to solve technological disaster. But Wake is brutally honest. He anticipates our suspicions – and then admits they may have merit. Wake Smith, like David Keith, says it is not time to deploy geoengineering like solar radiation management, but we should do research to know if tools are available if humans need them in the future.
With the help from former Boeing engineers, Wake publishes designs for aircraft modified to spray sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere. No doubt these will show up on Chemtrails conspiracy web sites. Look here are the plans from Boeing! It is proof the government is already spraying us – right? But these are just plans. The world would know if they were being built, likely thousands of planes in a huge save-the-planet action. As Wake outlines in the book, secret manipulation of the atmosphere is not possible, and cannot be done by disgruntled billionaires either.
Another illumination in this new book: finding technology that might alleviate horrible climate events is not necessarily the hard part. The stumbling block: humans cannot agree on global government, or really much at all. The public finds “governance” a strange and boring word. But maybe we just fail, even with possible tools, because we can’t agree on what to do?
It seems like technical optimism in this book to omit other scenarios which might severely limit emissions, including collapse. The current economic system may not survive long, especially if people believe it brought them never-ending grief in a destabilized world. We are teetering on the brink of war in the Ukraine, and a pandemic could break the global system. Others disagree with geoengineering, like previous Radio Ecoshock guest Clive Hamilton, and probably every environment group there is. Add hostility from the chemtrails conspiracy people and climate deniers. The book is brave.
About 200 scientists recently called for a halt testing geoengineering. Find that letter here, and an article about it here.
“Pandora’s Toolbox: The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention” comes out in March. It is like taking a Yale course in the geoengineering, but more entertaining.
SOURCE FOR MORE SCIENCE
In the coming book, Wake recommends the:
“2021 report by the National Academy of Science titled “Reflecting Sunlight: Recommendations for Solar Geoengineering Research and Research Governance,” although that will be superseded shortly by the IPCC AR6 report, which will be issued more or less contemporaneously with this book.”
As it stands, if Wake Smith could somehow magically deploy SAI – he is not ready to do it. Instead, he offers his expertise on what an SAI program could look like, if ever needed. There is a Chapter on that, complete with diagrams of the refitted spray planes. This will drive the chemtrails crowd nuts.
I interviewed Dr. Rose Cairns about the chemtrails conspiracy in March 2015, along with David Keith on geoengineering:
I did two programs on Russ George, the American who used funding from the Haida people to try an experiment dumping iron into the sea, to create an algae bloom, which might capture carbon. Wake thinks it did not work.
MY CONCLUSION AFTER THIS FULL BOOK ANALYSIS:
1. we are not going to reduce greenhouse gases, and get smacked by climate catastrophes from many directions
2. humans make a safe climate THE international priority, slash consumerism and standards of living (to survive), use every tool in the box, including reforestation, rearrange the wealth system, apply carbon taxes, and agree to, or legislate, a rapid depopulation by birth control, baby privilege lotteries, one-child policy and all that. We have to re-imagine what a happy human is, and be willing to undergo wrenching (but humane) changes to make it.
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CAROLYN BAKER – LIVING WITH UNCERTAINTY
“But it’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation.”
– Pema Chodron, Buddhist teacher
Will Omicron end the pandemic? Will fire or flood reach my home next year? Will democracy survive? Is a major war likely? One day to the next, it is hard to know what the future will bring.
“The only thing you can be certain about is uncertainty.”
Carolyn Baker is a one-woman whirlwind of communication. She is on top of world news, as she publishes her Daily News Digest. Trained as a psychologist, Carolyn is author and co-author of more than a dozen books. She provides life-coaching, leads workshops, and online courses.
Listen to or download my 17 minute interview with Carolyn Baker in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
Carolyn is working on a new book. It is called: “Undaunted: Living Fiercely Into Climate Meltdown in An Authoritarian World”. Last week she shared an excerpt which really nails it for the rest of us: we can’t count on certainty any more.
Author and broadcaster Carolyn Baker
Some say even facts cannot be trusted, and I think “Well, we do have science”. But even there, the Indian Express newspaper exposed thousands of fake scientific journals. They have official sounding names, like the Journal of World Nephrology, and claim to be based in the U.S. or the U.K. There is no peer-review. Academics pay to be published. So any outlandish scientific-sounding “paper” can enter the mix. When someone cites science, be sure to check where it came from. The publisher matters.
A recent poll in Canada found almost 1 in 4 people are seriously depressed. In Europe violent street protesters clash with police. Gun violence in America is cresting again. As a retired psychologist, and long-time world watcher, Carolyn says the would-be rational society, even business, is teetering.
Old people have a reputation for retreating into the past, seeking childhood memories. But now the present is a ruthless pandemic and the future looks somewhat dangerous and wrecked. Masses of people retreating into the past, trying to reconstruct the old normal, to make their country “great” again. Carolyn points out that is where Fascism steps in. For example, Hitler promised to restore the former glory of the German people. Carolyn’s latest book is “Confronting Christofascism: Healing the Evangelical Wound.”
RETREAT VERSUS STAYING PUT
As climate ramps up, a billion people live near the sea shore, where more powerful storms bring in higher seas. Humans will retreat, try to return, and then migrate. But the European tradition is sedentary, based around a solid home. People who moved around were suspicious, like the gypsies.
Now you, me, and hundreds of thousands of other North Americans have emergency evacuation bags packed near the door. We may have to go with little notice when the wildfires or floods come, when the power goes out. It’s no accident Ford makes a popular model called “Escape”. Now they sell electric pickups on the ability to power your whole home, when the electricity fails. Capitalism finds a market for collapse…
UNCERTAINTY RULES THE DAY
With the pandemic, we hardly dare go out. Who knows whether we will be too sick to work next week, or dead in a few weeks? Will the grocery re-supply trucks come? Is this air-line ticket any good? Life seems to be mostly questions.
We end by talking about solutions, and Carolyn’s work with Elders, Aboriginal knowledge, and the power of older women.
Find out about Carolyn’s workshops, seminars and cool news service at https://carolynbaker.net/ Watch for her upcoming book “Undaunted: Living Fiercely Into Climate Meltdown in An Authoritarian World”.
PREVIOUS ECOSHOCK APPEARANCES by CAROLYN BAKER
The American Shadow
Posted on June 7, 2017, by Radio Ecoshock
Author and resilience barnstormer Carolyn Baker takes us into the American shadow – and tools to cope with our own dark side.
Living on The Edge
Posted on February 13, 2013
NICHOLAS LEACH – CLIMATE AND WINTER HEAT WAVES
While record sizzling summer heat waves get the news, strange heat in winter is getting increased scientific attention. But how can we know if it is climate change? We investigate the case of the burst of warm weather in the UK in February 2019 – but it could have been Beijing’s record buster in February 2021, or any number of others.
Our guide is the lead author of a new study just published in the top-ranked Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. Nicholas Leach is a PhD student working in the Predictability of Weather and Climate research group at Oxford University.
Lead Author Nicholas Leach, Oxford.
Listen to or download my 16 minute interview with Nicholas Leach in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
British news in 2019 reported sales of bathing suits and shorts were brisk. As February temperatures soared into the 70’s F (21 C) – people went to the beach. Now we get to the frustrating part. The news crew calls up climate experts and always get the same caution: “Of course we can’t say any one event is climate change”. Even when winter goes topsy-turvy into summer heat, why can’t scientists just say the obvious: that global warming is behind this?
Trying to say what is and is not climate change has developed almost into a new scientific field in itself. This team developed a new tool to sort that out, using European weather models that already successfully predicted the heat wave. They used The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts is known by it’s acronym ECMWF. It could be a more reliable way to assign climate attribution to weird or extreme events.
GROWING WINTER HEAT WAVES
There were two deadly heat waves in the summer of 2019, in June and then late July. All-time high temperature records were broken in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
For a couple of decades, scientists warned the greatest amount of warming in the Northern Hemisphere could come in winter, more than summer. I’m seeing continuing reports of record breaking heat waves, including one with the hottest weather ever recorded in December in Washington state, Montana, Wyoming, Washington state and North Dakota.
In 2021, Beijing broke past 20 degrees C – 68 Fahrenheit – for the first time ever. A day later the city reached 25.6 C, 78 F. That winter heat wave extended down into South Korea.
Nicholas Leach is lead author of the PNAS paper “Forecast-based attribution of a winter heatwave within the limit of predictability”.
For more on the 2019 UK heat wave, check out this article by Carbon Brief.
Media reaction: The UK’s record-breaking winter heat in 2019
If you want to dig deeper, here is another helpful study on attribution of extreme events:
L Van Garderen, F Feser, TG Shepherd – “A methodology for attributing the role of climate change in extreme events: A global spectrally nudged storyline” Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. January 18, 2021,
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Hello! What is “SAI”, sulfur aerosol injection?
Thank you for another great episode.
Sorry. SAI is “Stratospheric Aerosol Injection”
Regarding the discussion by Nicholas Leach on identifying climate change attribution to extreme weather events. If I may oversimplify, the re-running of the current weather models using the historic N Hemisphere lower sea surface temperature will surely be a ready identifier of changes in weather patterns.
As oceanographer Jim Massa reminds us (& any listening meteorologists) it is the ocean temperatures which drive the global weather systems.
one elegant answer to why FF cos are investing in CCS, is that their business model was pumping carbon out, now game over, switch to pump carbon in (to the earth).
not weaponizable? says Wake, hey wait, the US has been there for years with HAARP weather modification tech.
I like Wake Smith’s admirable commitment & practical approach to addressing the consequences of greenhouse gas accumulation (presently irreversible on human timescales). However I can’t help feeling from the tone of his albeit limited half-hour discussion (essentially on implementing flue-carbon capture), that he is viewing solutions on a linear basis.
The increasing additions of more potent emissions from methane & nitrous oxide are accelerating CO2 effects. Also the rising ocean heat from capturing 93% of the GHgas heat imbalance is fueling unstoppable (?) amplifying feedbacks in the Arctic, particularly from thawing permafrost.
So in summary, despite respecting both his admirable approach, & his reluctance to endorse SAI geoeng, it seems to me that he may be oversimplifying a host of adverse climate consequences which are unwinding at an accelerating rate.
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