Can we reshape Earth’s atmosphere, going back to greenhouse levels found before the industrial revolution? Physicist and engineer Peter Fiekowsky says “yes” in his new book “Climate Restoration: The Only Future that will Sustain the Human Race.” But the tools are still questionable. Pay attention, to learn from one of the most informed minds in climate restoration. But stay tuned for my analysis of the pitfalls and unknowns of trying to engineer the atmosphere.
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THE CASE TO RESTORE THE ATMOSPHERE
Are we doomed to climate Hell? It often looks that way. So I was doubtful about a new book claiming humans could go back to a safe atmosphere. Author Peter Fiekowsky knows climate despair, but he refuses to let us give up. His new book is “Climate Restoration: The Only Future that will Sustain the Human Race.”
Peter Fiekowsky trained at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as both a physicist and engineer. He has worked with NASA and Artificial Intelligence, holds 27 patents, and advises clean tech companies. In 2017 Peter launched and led the Foundation for Climate Restoration. Now his new book tells us all how to do it.
GETTING PAST CLIMATE DESPAIR
Despite the Paris Agreement and all sorts of green promises, the fossil fuel industry is booming. Greenhouse gas emissions set new records every year. Terrible climate-driven events are everyday news. Isn’t climate despair the most rational assessment? Peter agrees despair is reasonable – BUT we don’t have to give up yet. There are still tools to reverse our damage to the atmosphere.
Even if we do care about the climate, our lives are filled with other problems and heart-aches. Everything costs more. We have war, refugees, and the virus. Can we blame the average person for saying “not now” for climate action – and climate spending? Is climate despair the biggest barrier to saving ourselves? Do we need a kind of mental health tool, coupled with a large media campaign, just to overcome that?
THE NEW DREAM
So, let us dare to dream humans can repair the damage we have done, starting with the atmosphere. According to Fiekowsky’s new book on Climate Restoration, we also need to get past another illusion. Suppose by 2050, humans manage to fulfill the 2015 Paris Accords, and humans reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions – all in just 35 years. With the science we have, that is not enough! We would still be fighting our way through repeated climate-driven disasters and disappearing polar ice. Net-Zero by 2050 is a kind of climate denial, he says.
Peter says we need to wind back the carbon clock, going not just to 350 parts per million CO2, but the post-ice age balance of 280 ppm. The carbon counter at Mauna Loa Hawaii just registered an all-time high over 422 parts per million, up 2 ppm from the same April date last year. We are going in the wrong direction, and have a long way to go.
The book says: “Referring to his 2008 paper, I asked, ‘Dr. Hansen, 350 ppm would be a likely death sentence for humanity, wouldn’t it?’ He confirmed that it would. ‘But if we actually got there,’ he said, ‘we could see where to go next.’”
That is why Fiekowsky and a network of other academics are looking at tools that don’t stop our current emissions (that is a given) – but pull back masses of carbon dioxide from the air. In the book he outlines the prospects for four such technologies. The big four climate restoration tools are: Synthetic limestone manufacture; Seaweed permaculture; Ocean iron fertilization; and Acceleration of natural methane oxidation,
In the interview, Peter chose to focus on one of them: stimulating plankton growth with iron. In death, some of the carbon-containing shell-making plankton would fall to the bottom of the sea, where decomposition does not take place. That sequesters the carbon. I discuss some promises and pitfalls of this technique in the second half of this blog.
Radio Ecoshock guest, Dr. David Keith at Harvard leads a project for Direct air capture of carbon dioxide, right from the air. His team has a former industrial plant in British Columbia working on it. But Peter is doubtful about Direct air capture (DAC), partly because it would be so expensive per ton of carbon removed, that DAC would not be affordable on the vast scale needed.
In October 2021, Stanford scientist & Chair of Global Carbon Project, Rob Jackson told Radio Ecoshock listeners about the promise of methane removal. Methane is a short-lived gas in the atmosphere. We discuss it.
I presumed this book would duck the population problem, as so many public figures do. Instead Fiekowsky devotes a chapter to it. What is the goal, the real number for long-term survival of humans on this limited planet? He thinks one or at the most two billion people. Peter says we may already be on the right track, with people having smaller families in many countries.
The book, co-authored by Carole Douglis, says:
“We need to remove seven tons of CO2 per year for every man, woman, and child—the equivalent of 14 pounds per day.”
CAN “OCEAN PASTURES” HELP RESTORE A SAFE ATMOSPHERE?
– analysis by Alex Smith
CAN PRIVATE COMPANIES SAVE THE ATMOSPHERE?
As discussed in my interview with Peter Fiekowsky, governments currently fail to control emissions, much less restoring the climate. Peter suggests private donors and corporations are ready to fund restoration. We used to think that only governments can do this – but maybe the private sector can? Consider the U.S. space program. Of course only NASA and governments can do that! But when that failed in the United States, private operators from Musk to Bezos have stepped in to supply the rockets and know-how. If that is possible, why not climate restoration, which seems to be much cheaper?
CLIMATE IS NO LONGER A SCIENCE PROBLEM
“A scientist predicts what will happen; engineers cause what they want to happen”. Climate is not a science problem now, Fiekowsky says. It is an engineering problem and a social one.
Peter proposes: this is the way the brain works: what you pay attention to is what you get. If skidding in a car, do not look at the tree you hope not to hit; look at the road in the direction you want to go and steer there. Now, it doesn’t pay to look at climate disaster, as real as that may appear, but on the kind of climate we need and want. That will be a revolutionary thought for some.
In the interview, Peter foresees and answers this question: Why not include forests and carbon farming? Because, says Fiekowsky, carbon on land eventually recycles back into the atmosphere. But carbon dropping to the bottom of the sea, stays there, and can become carbon-laden rock. This is true even of carbon frozen for a hundred thousand years in permafrost soil. When the permafrost melts, as it is doing now, the carbon returns to the atmosphere. To meet the criteria of a true climate restoration tool, the solution has to be permanent.
But as you will hear in more depth below, I worry this ocean storage argument is too simplistic and not highly certain. In our current emergency, there is more evidence “carbon farming” (getting more carbon into the soil) and preserving forests can have a very large impact on the climate we get this century. We know how to do it, and can preserve this carbon across the land mass of the globe. The carbon storage may not be permanent, but it is known and can help us to mitigate the speed and amount of climate change. Consult experts like Radio Ecoshock guest Thomas Crowther from ETH Zurich, and many other guest scientists explaining how forests help moderate the carbon cycle, and climate.
FERTILIZING OCEAN PASTURES – IS THAT A CLIMATE TOOL?
When asked to tell us about the four big solutions advanced in his book, Peter Fiekowsky brought ocean fertilization to the fore, and said it was likely the first major tool for climate restoration. But he then relied on the work of a questionable source, with no scientific publications for judgment by other experts. And the whole field is riddled with unknowns and untested theories.
Peter told us about an experimental voyage in the Gulf of Alaska which confirmed putting iron into the sea can stimulate plankton blooms which sequester carbon, permanently. At first I thought he meant the expedition called the Subarctic Ecosystem Response to Iron Enrichment Study or SERIES. For more on this, see: Project: Sub-Arctic Ecosystem Response to Iron Enrichment Study.
Three research ships, from America, Mexico, and Japan spent almost a month adding iron and monitoring results. There were 45 researchers from 20 institutions on board, with loads of equipment.
I looked up a large review of all research into carbon capture through iron ocean fertilization.For example there is this one: “Reviews and syntheses: Ocean iron fertilization experiments – past, present, and future…”
What did they find? Quote:
“Increased particulate silica export via sinking diatoms was recorded in sediment traps at depths between 50 and 125 m from day 21, yet increased [particulate organic carbon] POC export was not evident until day 24.” So it takes up to 24 days to see any results. But when they set traps at various levels in the sea below, the results were not encouraging for ocean mineralization success.
They found, quote: “Only a small proportion of the mixed-layer POC was intercepted by the traps, with more than half of the mixed-layer POC deficit attributable to bacterial remineralization and mesozooplankton grazing.” So other ocean processes, including consumption by larger life forms, grabbed most of the organic carbon. Only a small portion proceeded toward the sea bottom. Do proponents of ocean pasture restoration include the smaller results in their promised carbon removal?
Finally, this research voyage called SERIES fund a quote: “inefficient transfer of iron-increased Particulate Organic Carbon below the permanent thermocline”, which means iron-increased carbon did not move much below the layer of cooling in the sea. Not a lot of the carbon made it to the bottom, this large team of scientists found. They say these findings, quote: “have major implications both for the biogeochemical interpretation of times of greater iron supply in the geological past, and also for proposed geo-engineering schemes to increase oceanic carbon sequestration.”
That sounds pretty discouraging for iron enrichment to capture carbon in the sea. But in our interview Peter Fiekowsky referred to a research expedition “about ten years ago” – that is, around 2012. The only such voyage was the controversial experiment by Russ George. Is that good proof of ocean carbon capture as the best tool to restore the atmosphere. Let’s investigate. Again.
Russ George claimed to be the senior scientist for that ocean trip, financed by money from the Haida tribe in British Columbia. Russ has no training in oceanography, and as far as I can tell, no university degree of any kind. I covered that controversial story extensively in two radio programs in 2012. I interviewed Russ George for the first hour, with three critics in the second program. See the links below.
During an investigation into the iron dumping incident, by the Canadian government, the authorities raided Russ George’s offices and seized his computers and data. I have been unable to find any scientific publication or public release of the extensive data Russ collected during that trip.
There was an increase in salmon harvest the following year, but we cannot be sure why. It is possible the iron fertilization worked, but as we see from the earlier “SERIES” experiment, to find out, ships have to be out on the water for an extended period of time, taking difficult measurements of dropping organic materials at depth. This was not done by George, and so we don’t know. That cannot be the basis for depending on ocean fertilization as a viable climate solution.
In the Fiekowsky book we find a small biography of Russ George, his experiments, and the media controversy. Peter and co-author Carole Douglas begin, quote:
“One of those who caught the iron bug early was Russ George. I first met Russ George in 2017, around the time I was realizing that almost no one was focusing on the need to restore the climate. When I queried eminent climate scientists, they expressed interest in climate restoration, but were vague about how methods might be financed or scaled to remove 50 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year.
One idea came through loud and clear, though: ‘Don’t talk to Russ George.’ After hearing this warning three times, I got Russ’s contact information. Soon we met in a New York restaurant, where he ended up bending my ear for hours.”
Apparently Russ convinced Peter. Fiekowsky calls him “a self-styled environmental scientist”. Others would claim Russ George misled people into thinking he was a scientist. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, others thought George had expertise in physics. Russ established a business promoting cold fusion and stock in the company. Fiekowsky also says he thinks cold fusion will work, and promises an announcement about that in a year or two. Is this convergence of enthusiasms on the very edge of scientific credibility a coincidence?
I did not know Russ George had previously been approached (and possibly funded?) by oil companies. The new Fiekowsky book says:
“Thanks to his reforestation expertise, George was asked to design a carbon-sequestration plan for some major oil companies. He realized that it was not physically possible to plant enough trees in Canada to absorb the amount of carbon dioxide the oil company activities emitted. But with a little iron, he thought, it might be possible to achieve the same goal in the ocean.”
Fiekowsky acknowledges the Haida people thought Russ George was a scientific advisor:
“They formed the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (HSRC), hired George as scientific advisor, provided funding, and, in July 2012, bid him and 11 crew members bon voyage.”
But Russ George did not have any credits or credibility as a “scientific advisor”. This brings up the question: will great answers to climate come from outside the scientific community? As an engineer, Peter Fiekowsky in the interview says climate is no longer a question for science (which only records and projects more climate threats and losses) – but for technologists, like engineers. He says engineers cause changes they want, rather than recording mere nature.
DOES A “SCIENTIST” NEED A DEGREE?
In fairness, we need to point out the earliest discoveries about the atmosphere and chemistry came before the days of institutional science. Some important work came from gentlemen investigators in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. Before 1970, and really until the 1990’s, there were no “climate scientists”. Most senior climate scientists today began as physicists, oceanographers, meteorologists and such. It seem entirely possible that important answers to the large human problems of fossil dependency may come from individuals and the private sector, rather than the scientific process. Elon Musk’s electrification of transportation is an example of solutions by engineers. There has been a long-standing competition for leadership between scientists and engineers, sometimes acrimonious.
But when it comes to public policy, and making changes to the global commons like ocean life, we need some kind of protective system that double-checks claims and results. That is certainly required before we can depend on ocean fertilization as a climate solution. The scientific method, with the requirement of duplication of experimental results, is a protection we need. We don’t have that on the work of Russ George, who had other questionable company dealings, accompanied by penny stock pumping by obscure owners in Panama and the under-regulated stock market in British Columbia. All this was investigated and published by then Vancouver Sun Business reporter David Baines, a guest on Radio Ecoshock.
Your can find links to my two programs about Russ George and his history here. Part I (Russ George interview)
In part two, I interview his critics, including stock watcher David Baines, and Pat Mooney from the environmental ETC Group.
In the book, Peter Fiekowsky handles this controversy fairly, citing many sides of the debate, and concluding:
“The online magazine Salon summarized the confusion many in the public felt in a headline that asked, ‘Does Russ George Deserve a Nobel Prize or a Prison Sentence?’”
The problem is: we still don’t know. But Fiekowsky is certain Russ George’s iron dumping did pay off in more fish the following year. He writes, quote:
“Yet one important point is worth noting: The Haida salmon came back. In 2013, the year after iron dispersal in the Gulf of Alaska, Fisheries and Oceans Canada documented the largest run of pink salmon ever recorded—over 12 million. The previous year it had been only six percent of that number. Similarly, Alaska reported the highest earnings from salmon since the 1970s, when documentation began. In 2012, pink salmon caught by Alaska fishermen numbered 67 million; in 2013, that soared to more than 223 million,”
Benefits to fisheries might help pay the low costs of a series of ocean fertilization experiment. That assumes a government or some body could collect a fee from fishers who benefit, to cover costs. It might be difficult to assess who caught what fish. Salmon travel large distances. This could cover the “financeable” criteria for climate restoration tools. But it does not comfortably prove the effectiveness of this technique for large-scale carbon dioxide removal. We should note, that actual scientific experiments to determine the results of ocean fertilization, run with government funding and carrying trained scientists, were unable to find proof this will work. Those experiments recurred over at least a 20 year period with multiple voyages.
What does the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say around ocean iron fertilization? Chapter 4 of the 2021 AR6 Working Group 1 says of CDR (Carbon Dioxide Removal” :
“When CDR is applied continuously and at scales as large as currently deemed possible, under RCP8.5 as the background scenario, the widely discussed CDR options such as afforestation, ocean iron fertilization and surface ocean alkalinisation are individually expected to be relatively ineffective, with limited (8%) warming reductions relative to the scenario with no CDR option (Keller et al., 2014). Hence, the potential role that 13 CDR will play in lowering the temperature in high-emission scenarios is limited (medium confidence).”
The Supplementary Material for WGI AR6 report lists a number of carbon reduction in a chart. They list “Ocean iron fertilization” with a “Large” potential, but “Low” confidence (”medium evidence, low agreement”). So the best summaries of science have not much confidence in ocean iron fertilization as a large scale solution, and low agreement on whether it will work. Just saying.
In the interview Fiekowsky says, quote:
“When they did it [who? Russ George?], they estimated that about 82 million tons of CO2 and they used about 70 tons of iron dust.”
How would we verify that 82 million tons were sequestered when (a) the records of the voyage were allegedly seized and then lost by Canadian authorities and (b) the expedition ship did not stay on the grounds long enough to measure the results (as the 2002 study found is needed); and could not measure how much (if any) carbon made it to the bottom of the sea. Who says 82 million tons of CO2 were sequestered by that voyage?
Keep in mind that Russ George appeared on YouTube with the Pope, after claiming to make the Vatican the first carbon neutral State. That was based on carbon promised sequestration in a Hungarian forest, that was never planted, i.e. did not exist, among other exploits. I have previously covered a list of Russ George claims never fulfilled. Russ George is not the authoritative source for proof of concept we need to save us from our greenhouse gas emissions.
Fiekowsky tells us the George fertilization experiment generated about half a billion dollars in extra fisheries revenue, “which the government did not have to fund”. In fact, the venture was funded by the government of the Haida people, and those monies came from the Canadian federal government. This was not private venture capital.
Peter calls ocean iron fertilization the number one climate restoration technique. We would have to fertilize about 500 of those eddies, he says, which is about 1% of the area of the ocean. Peter has appeared with Russ George on “Ocean Pasture Restoration” at an event at COP25, November 12, 2019. There is a video of that conference here. The official organizer of that presentation was the International Society for Ecological Economics.
The third guest at that event, and others where George and Fiekowsky appear, was Alex Carlin. Alex is a keyboard musician who played in the American band Psycotic Pineapple. He is a firm believer in “Ocean Pasture Restoration” and the work of Russ George. Alex Carlin writes articles in various journals promoting this method of climate repair.
In one article Carlin writes: “The man who guided the Haida tribe to their success in 2012, Russ George, is currently carefully identifying which ocean pastures are the most promising for this restoration work worldwide.” But the Haida themselves have a different view of this “success”. There were protests from band members than the millions of tribe money spent on the George expedition should have been spent on much-needed housing. The Government of Canada raided George’s office and considered charges for this “success”. What came out of this?
These three also show up in a YouTube “Ocean Pasture Restoration and the New Paradigm” hosted by the Climate Emergency Forum, and in a few other programs.
Along with his Foundation, Peter Fiekowsky is promoting ocean fertilization as a way to revitalize coastal villages, some devastated by poor fisheries and the collapse of tourism during the pandemic. Keep in mind, some aboriginal people and long-time fishing villages are being wiped out of fish not necessarily by lack of ocean productivity, but by big ocean trawlers and other commercial fishers further out to sea. Overfishing is likely a bigger killer of village-level fisheries than lack of plankton. But we don’t hear that from this group.
DOES PLANKTON NEEDING “RESTORATION”?
Another question about this push for ocean pasture restoration: the group states ocean plankton is decreasing due to climate change and pollution. Certainly new dead zones are appearing around the world, here and there, due to land-based pollution, mainly fertilizer run-off.
But whether climate change will increase or decrease plankton growth is not known, according to the plankton expert I interviewed Sergei Petrovskii. Petrovksii was a senior scientist at the Russian Shirshov Institute of Oceanology for 15 years before moving to Britain. His work in Russia involved modeling plankton growth for the big Russian fishing fleet. So he is more than qualified.
As I wrote in my 2016 blog:
“If Petrovskii is right, we may advance into the future fooled by the response of plankton. As the world warms, plankton could appear to thrive, providing lots of oxygen, and sequestering more carbon dioxide. We all cheer. Apologists tell us our worries were overblown. But then, a limit beyond sustainable cycles is reached, and plankton world-wide could experience a mass die-off. That’s another trap: it looks good, until, as Petrovskii and his colleagues call it, ‘catastrophe 2’ occurs.”
THE KNOWN UNKNOWNS OF OCEAN “RESTORATION”
“Ocean pasture restoration” is not nearly so simple as it sounds. “Plankton” is not a type of species. We cannot show you a photograph of a plankton. Coming from the Green, the word “plankton” simply means tiny life in the sea. Some would look like specs, others cannot be seen by the human eye. There are two major types of plankton: plant organisms which perform essential photosynthesis, the phytoplankton; and tiny animals which feed on phytoplankton, called zooplankton. Some zooplankton are actually baby forms of animals we can see and recognize when they grow up.
When iron is added to the sea, the phytoplankton can increase rapidly. If conditions are right, they will “bloom” in a large wave of new production. A sub-set of plankton build shells around their bodies, tiny shells, that you cannot see. These shells are made of calcium carbonate, and the carbon is taken from the sea, fairly close to the surface, because the process required light.
If and when the bodies of those calcified organisms fall down into the ocean column, if they drift all the way to the deep sea bottom, the carbon in them will remain there, and could eventually become calcified rock, like the White Cliffs of Dover. That is the goal of ocean restoration to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
But the plankton bloom changes a lot about ocean biology and chemistry. For example, the carbonate covered phytoplankton stimulate a large growth in zoo plankton predators to consume them. Those in turn may be eaten by fish, like salmon. What happens to the carbon in this process? And what happens to it when you remove fish from the ocean? How much carbon is re-released back into the ocean, and then the atmosphere, in the grand carbon cycle in those processes? Despite years of study, the reality is: we still do not know.
In a survey of scientific papers, including overviews of ocean fertilization experiments, I was unable to find a single study showing conclusive measurements of the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by adding iron to the sea. Such a study would be expensive and time consuming, possibly tying up a research vessel for a couple of years, complete with super-deep diving equipment to measure the composition of the ocean bed. They would also have to measure carbonize shell material falling through the water column, to see how much reached the bottom. The study should then return over the years to remeasure carbon dioxide deposition in the sea bed. I can’t find that study and I don’t think the work has been done yet. So we are flying blind with assumptions by trying to deploy ocean fertilization as a way to solve the climate.
In an email to me, Peter says the issue of low estimates (10%) of plankton carbon getting to the bottom is not important. He writes:
“Carbon that gets to the sea-bottom: It’s a red herring. The carbon removal that OIF is mimicking is nature’s carbon removal, in which the biocarbon is suspended in the ocean, and then comes out again at the end of the ice age. This presumably happens because ocean currents change and oxygen becomes available allowing the biocarbon to decay back into CO2. The scientists who compute carbon on the seafloor are working on some separate problem, not the one we’re working on–mimicking CO2 removal before an ice age.”
I have not done enough research on suspended biocarbon to comment.
Even if such a detailed and expensive study was done, if it was just in one or two places, we still have no conclusive evidence. We would not know whether the deposition process varies greatly due to ocean geography, currents, and other factors, including storms. That is a pitfall of ocean science generally. We know there is tremendous variability, and one or two places do not portray the whole picture.
On top of all that uncertainty, we have a second major impact of our carbonization of the atmosphere: ocean acidification. This process, which is measurably making the ocean more acidic, reduces the ability of shell-forming plankton to make calcium carbonate. The reasons are simple chemistry. Will ocean acidification reduce the ability of plankton to capture carbon? Some scientists thinks so, but we do not really know that either.
THE ESSENTIAL RIGHTNESS OF FIEKOWSKY’S BOOK
We cannot argue with the basic concept that carbon levels in the atmosphere will have to be reduced somehow, if we hope to maintain the climate where we and other species evolved. Everyone agrees, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and world governments. They endorse carbon capture and storage as their main tool. If we can use nature’s methods to remove carbon dioxide and methane from the atmosphere, that is the optimum and safest solution. Peter Fiekoswky is absolutely right about that, and wise to promote that in his work, and in his new book.
WE ARE NOT FOOLING AROUND
But we are not fooling around here. We have only a few years left to act before climate change becomes locked in, and climate-driven extremes overwhelm us. Plus there is limited finance and limited public attention and will – to do anything about climate change. We need to choose and promote our tools wisely. So far, ocean restoration does not fit that bill. That is my opinion, but also the collective judgment of world scientists. The IPCC has low agreement and low expectations for ocean fertilization as a way to repair the atmosphere. The bottom line: we do not know if this iron-to-the-ocean method will WORK to help save the climate.
The process seems relatively harmless, although we simply do not know the full ecological consequences of making such changes in ocean life, repeatedly, over a long term. There could be unknown consequences, including a break-down of those same natural systems. That is a big unknown. You could argue humans should add iron to the ocean to encourage a better fishery in some places of the world. In a capitalist sense, it would “pay” to do that, and growing humanity does need food.
But that is a VERY different argument than adding ocean iron to reduce carbon in the atmosphere permanently, on a very large scale. We have no proof it will work and how well.
Fiekowsky says it is difficult if not impossible to influence methane from sources like tropical bogs and flooded rice fields. He, and then his worries about a methane burst from the Arctic. He fears of a 50 gigatonne methane burst suggested by Russian scientists Semelitov and Shakhova.
Although possible, this methane burst theory also evaded scientific verification – despite multiple expedition ships to the Siberian East Arctic seas, including one funded by the Swedish Royal Academy. According to my Swedish source, the Russians kept and did not fully share the data from those expeditions. This is again science at the very edge.
But Fiekowsky stays on safer ground by advising we work with natural methods for methane removal. Nature oxidizes methane in the atmosphere, breaking it down into bi-products including the less powerful warming gas carbon dioxide. If we can speed the process up, more methane could be removed, as we heard from Rob Jackson and others.
Peter says methane lasts in the atmosphere about eight years and then oxidizes. This is at the low end of the methane scale I’ve seen and heard 8 to 12 years – plus some methane remains for decades. It turns out by that eight year figure Fiekowsky means the half life of methane.
A technique called iron salt aerosol could cut that “half life as we call it down to four years”, Peter tells us. Iron salt is also called Ferric Chloride. Fiekowsky says they are currently working on a project to put iron chloride vapor into ship exhausts, to disperse this relatively harmless chemical into the atmosphere to reduce methane. If it works, we presume that would have to be implemented in many if not all ships around the world, as part of their working process. He says in the interview:
“… and all the evidence is that over the next five or ten years we can develop that to the point where we reduce methane levels back to what they were preindustrial.”
That is a huge claim. We await the evidence.
Find out more about using “ferric chloride” for methane removal in a September 2021 research article by Rob Jackson et al. That article says:
“The proposed method would enhance methane removal by releasing iron salt aerosols in the lower troposphere [47,66], increasing the Cl sink four-to-six-fold during the day and continuing to enhance the °OH sink at night.”
and, (as Peter Fiekowsky told us in the interview), quote:
“ISAs [iron-salt aerosols” have been invoked to explain why, just before the ice ages, the concentrations of both CO2 and methane decreased simultaneously; ice cores extracted from both Arctic and Antarctic poles show that there was 4–7 times more mineral dust during the glacial periods compared to the warmer interglacials.”
A DISAGREEMENT OVER LIMITING FLYING
In our interview, I asked if we should stop flying to help save the climate. Peter Fiekowsky thought not. First he said, it would not work. There not enough people support cutting back on aviation. But people absolutely stopped elective flights, tourism and a lot of business conference flights when they thought their lives were at risk during the first year of the pandemic.
The drop in flying was so extreme, major airlines parked planes, laid of thousands of pilots and flight attendants. They would have gone bankrupt without billions of dollars in taxpayer funding from various governments. The American government quickly handed the U.S. airlines $40 billion dollars, and there may have been more. Other governments did the same.
So the public definitely can and will stop flying if they see an imminent danger. Climate change is an immanent danger all over the world. Possibly, after enough suffering through storms, fires, droughts, and species loss, people will be ready to stop flying again, to save the climate.
Fiekowsky also says in the great scheme of things, slashing air travel would not really matter much. I know what he means, as he looks at the need to remove trillions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere, to restore our previous climate system, if that is possible. Stopping air travel is a drop in that bucket.
But as emissions are still rising, growing air travel is a major contributor. Aviation produces about 2.1% of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. The impact may be even larger, as that carbon and pollution is injected directly into the higher atmosphere, often above 30,000 feet (over 9,000 meters).
Currently, human induced global greenhouse gas emissions are growing year-on-year by about 3%. If we could knock out 2%, we could at least approach a plateau. Yes that matters.
Top-ranked climate scientist Kevin Anderson has sworn off flying, even to international climate conferences – because he is so concerned about aviation’s impact on the atmosphere and our future. As the former Deputy Director of the UK’s famous Tyndall Center atmospheric research center, Kevin took a commercial ship to a conference in Iceland, and travels by train to Europe. The rest can be done online.
Watch a brief interview with Dr. Kevin Anderson about flying and climate here on YouTube.
Similarly, famous climate campaigner Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic for her appearance in America – on a fast racing sail boat. It was a brave voyage with few conveniences, over 15 days, from Plymouth UK to New York. She thinks we should stop flying for fun, and so do millions of young people today. I think Peter Fiekowsky is wrong to give aviation a free pass, something we can get away with.
Greta Thunberg sails the Atlantic 2019
Plus, Fiekowsky tells us good news: he is involved in a company refining a WWII discovery. They are trying to turn waste into jet fuel. Common municipal waste can be used to produce jet fuel. So we might keep flying for a couple of decades, he says, using waste, which comes from already processed fossil fuels, like plastics. But we do not know what other toxic bi-products will come from the process or left-overs from this process. All this is yet to be seen. In the meantime air travel is adding more and more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Peter is also a believer in cold fusion. Hypothetically, cold fusion is an atomic reaction that happens around room temperatures, instead of the extreme heat found in nuclear power reactors. Those atomic reactions are very hot, and do not employ fusion of atoms. So far, no one has satisfactorily demonstrated cold fusion that can be replicated. Peter tells us he and others are working on it. He hopes for an announcement about that next year. Russ George also promoted cold fusion, and formed a company selling stock that went bust.
We cannot count on cold fusion as a solution for our energy needs. So far it exists only in concept. Peter does not list cold fusion as one of his major climate solutions, and in fact does not mention it in his new book “Climate Restoration” at all. He knows cold fusion is still too speculative.
THE PROMISE OF THE TECHNOLOGIST
Peter Fiekowsky says we have all the technology we need to get carbon, methane, and human population back to pre-industrial levels. He promises we can keep our technological lives.
Peter argues that life will be better when the population is a quarter or less of current. People would experience fewer traffic jams, more nature in the parks, more of everything. That may sound impossible, but historically it has sort of happened. The Black Death plague around 1350 killed more than half the population of Europe. Material life actually did improve for the survivors. Some manor houses were left empty. There were more chances, spaces, and more stuff for those left. That was followed however by two centuries of brutal wars. What would happen in depopulation, and how we would get there, is too large a subject for this interview and blog.
Personally, I don’t think we can keep the current number of energy slaves available to the Middle Class and above, in developed societies. We don’t really need gas leaf blowers, and we do need the exercise of bicycles and walking. We do not need to fly seventy people for a wedding party to Fiji. Most of us do not need to fly at all. I won’t go on. We can live lives more difficult and yet possibly better quality with a tiny diet of fossil fuels heading for none at all. Our kids will survive if we do. Few people want to hear that.
Would I buy and read Peter Fiekowsky’s new book “Climate Restoration: The Only Future that will Sustain the Human Race.”? Yes, definitely. Peter brings new perspectives and a vision much better than just lying down to wait for extinction. If we choose to survive, and maybe survive well, humans will need ways to amplify natural processes to remove carbon dioxide, methane, and possibly nitrous oxide from the air. We also need to stop emitting more.
Fiekowsky’s basic vision is sound, but the tools are still unsure. Question everything – but this book should wake up those questions – which is always a good thing.
Thank you for listening. I’m Alex Smith, for Radio Ecoshock.