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Environment

Dumbing Down Geoengineering Talk

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorOctober 17, 2009 6:28 PM

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More proof that environmentalists can't chew gum and talk about climate adaptation at the same time comes in this post from David Roberts at Grist. The cognitive dissonance from this crowd continues to amaze me. As we learned earlier this year, the carbon load already in the atmosphere is projected to lead to irreversible climate change for the next millennium:

Among illustrative irreversible impacts that should be expected if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase from current levels near 385 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to a peak of 450"“600 ppmv over the coming century are irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the "dust bowl" era and inexorable sea level rise.

With all due respect to Bill McKibben's noble cause, respectable scientists believe we should prepare for life beyond that catchy 350 number. Real environmental journalism outlets (as opposed to activist clearinghouses) find it reasonable to have this discussion. The irony is that Roberts posts a set of global land use & ecological impact graphs to make his point that geoengineering won't save humanity from all the upward trends in the graphs. So if every ecological and climate indicator demonstrates that the earth is becoming less livable because of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations and other global land uses, then is it realistic to take geoengineering off the table just because someone like Richard Branson makes a glib and simplistic statement like this:

If we could come up with a geoengineering answer to this problem, then Copenhagen wouldn't be necessary. We could carry on flying our planes and driving our cars.

I suspect that what really bugs Roberts about this is the inference in the latter part of the comment that we could carry on with our carbon-intensive lives if only we could suck all that nasty CO2 out of the atmosphere. Fair enough. I can respect that. But the truth is that no matter happens at Copenhagen and in the U.S. Congress, some type of adaptation measures will be necessary. Roberts is a very smart guy, and I know he's capable of chewing gum and talking about climate adaptation at the same time. The fact that he doesn't want to likely results from his belief--which is shared widely by climate activists--that any discussion of climate adapation is an unwelcome distraction from the debate at hand on mitigation. Why there isn't room for both discussions to occur beats me.

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