How to Cool The Globe: Not

The New York Times must of had a big hole in the op-ed page, for it found room for a piece by Ken Caldiera called "How to Cool the Globe" that starts pessimistically: "Despite growing interest in clean energy technology, it looks as if we are not going to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide anytime soon." and then continues with a proposal to emulate Mount Pinatubo and fill the atmosphere with sulfur.

"If we could pour a five-gallon bucket’s worth of sulfate particles per second into the stratosphere, it might be enough to keep the earth from warming for 50 years. Tossing twice as much up there could protect us into the next century." He suggests that "naval artillery, rockets and aircraft exhaust could all be used to send the particles up. The least expensive option might be to use a fire hose suspended from a series of balloons."

We note that in June, 2006 the same New York Times wrote a piece called "How to cool a planet" where Nobel Laureate Paul J. Crutzen proposed the same thing. At the time, our own John Laumer looked at it here, suggesting that "Implementation of a full-scale stratospheric sulfur injection project could best be performed by nations with plenty of equipment and bureaucracies left over from the Cold War," calling it "Vulcan engineering." ::more

Realclimate asked: "Would it work? In most of the cases under discussion the target is the global mean temperature, and so something that balances the global radiative forcing of greenhouse gas increases is likely to 'work'. However, having no global mean forcing is not the same as having no climate change. A world with higher GHGs and more stratospheric aerosols is not the same as a world with neither."

"Thus there will be side effects. For the stratospheric sulphate idea, these fall into two classes - changes to the physical climate as a function of the changes in heating profiles in solar and longwave radiation, and chemical and ecological effects from the addition of so much sulphur to the system. Physically, one could expect a slight decrease in surface evaporation (a 'dimming' effect) and related changes to precipitation, a warming of the tropopause and lower stratosphere (and changes in static stability), increased Eurasian 'winter warming' effects (related to shifts in the wind patterns as are seen in the aftermath ofvolcanoes). Chemically, there will be an increase in ozone depletion (due to increases in heterogenous surface chemistry in the stratosphere), increases in acid rain, possibly an increase in high cirrus cloud cover due to indirect effects of the sulphates on cloud lifetime. Light characteristics (the ratio of diffuse to direct sunlight) will change, and the biosphere may react to that. Dealing with the legal liability for these predictable consequences would promise to be a lively area of class action litigation…. On the positive side, sunsets will probably be more colorful.

Could it keep up? GHGs (particularly CO2) are accumulating in the atmosphere and so even with constant present-day emissions, the problem will continue to get worse. Any sulphates put in the stratosphere will only last a couple of years or so and need to be constantly updated to maintain concentrations. Therefore the need for the stratospheric sulphates will continue to increase much faster than any growth of CO2 emissions. This ever-increasing demand, coupled with the impossibility of stopping once this path is embarked upon is possibly the biggest concern." ::realclimate

There is a much easier way to put sulfur into the atmosphere; just take off the scrubbers, start burning more high-sulfur coal, and start building dirty coal plants like mad. We can fill the atmosphere with particulates and sulfur to reflect that sunlight in no time.