Geosciences and Carbon Sequestration to Address Climate Change

author: Margaret Leinen, CLIMOS
published: Aug. 29, 2011,   recorded: October 2007,   views: 2084

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The pace of global carbon emissions may be such that humanity’s best efforts to stabilize them below current levels by 2050 won’t be enough to prevent a significant increase in Earth’s temperatures. Margaret Leinen, drawing on the U.N.’s recent climate reports, and the latest research from the field, shows the dire graph: a red line of CO2 emissions marching steadily upward, with accompanying graphics depicting hoped-for impacts of international efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas release.

The current global abatement “wedges” consist of technologies not yet developed or widely deployed, such as energy efficiencies, cellulosic biofuels, solar, wind, and nuclear. Leinen notes that most of the abatement in renewables “comes into play 20-30 years out,” and the “reality is there will be increases in CO2 in the atmosphere for the next 20-30 years while we try to address the problem.” Policy makers have not begun to grapple with the notion of delayed onset of emissions, says Leinen. Among scientists, there’s growing concern that “we’re going to be dealing with catch-up for a long enough time that we will suffer the consequences of emissions regardless of whether we put policies in place.”

These projections suggest to some scientists that we must take more radical, immediate steps and geoengineer our way out of global warming. But other scientists, says Leinen, are loath to discuss these approaches, much less let them see the light of day. Carbon capture and sequestration, “viewed as necessary mechanisms for emissions reductions by some” says Leinen, and which have captured the interest of politicians, are viewed by another scientific camp “as soft engineering, or geoengineering light.” When a Nobel scientist wrote an article proposing the use of stratospheric aerosols to decrease sunlight hitting the earth, alarmed scientists lobbied prestigious journals not to publish it. Leinen’s own area of research, ocean iron fertilization, attempts to stimulate phytoplankton activity, which would help sop up atmospheric CO2. These approaches all face opposition because of their possible, negative impacts. But, says Leinen, these arguments “ignore the fact that we’re faced with a situation in which we must have an entire portfolio of activities” for reducing CO2. She worries that lack of discourse, or constant dispute will put scientists in a position “where policy makers want to move to (the new) techniques … and we won’t have studied them sufficiently to provide good scientific answers about whether they work.”

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