Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Comments on a post at Rortybomb

Go read the post

My comments

I have a lot of comments and can't be brief.

1) You seem to assume that if one advocates geoengineering then one must decide to at least reduce efforts to cut emissions. This does not follow logically. I am ignorant and my opinion doesn't matter but I sincerely believe that we should do everything politically possible to reduce emissions and send sulfate precursers up 18 mile long tubes. The discussion of the effects of geoengineering has become linked to opinions about cap and trade and carbon taxes. This is illogical and ideological.

2) relatedly, some people seem to use the logic "If Bjorn Lomborg says it's good it must be bad." This is not completely reliable. Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn.

3) acid rain -- the amount of Sulfur Dioxide under discussion is less than one half of current US Sulfur Dioxide emissions (which are a modest fraction of the world total). The acid precipitation will be spread over the world not concentrated at lethal (to spruce trees not humans) levels (like the smoke the US used to send across the border to Canada)The claim that that amount of Sulfur Dioxide will directly cause serious damage to the environment tends to be contradicted by the scientific analysis by Kravitz et al (pdf warning http://tinyurl.com/yzyw2cm). I am ignorant and their conclusion might be contested. However, the confident claim from a non expert that they are definitely wrong does not impress me.

4) Moral hazard and hurting a billion people. The two points don't fit together comfortably. As noted in another paper the same group at Rutgers (and others) predict that the main problem with sulfur based geoengineering is that it will cause reduced precipitation in India and China. This (unlike acid rain) is a real problem. It does not, however, create a moral hazard problem. The USA can honestly tell India and China

"we want to stop global warming. If you don't reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, then we will feel forced to send millions of tons of Sulfur Dioxide up 18 mile tubes. We really don't want to do this as it will hurt you badly. That's a nice monsoon you have there. It would be a pity if something were to happen to it."

I don't mean to be flippant. Reduced rain in India and China is one of the climate changes which would do the most to incrrease huiman suffering. That, and not acid rain, is the serious problem with Sulfur based geoengineering.

5) "Moral hazard" is a very respected phrase. However the logic of the moral hazard argument is Leninist "The worse it is the better it is." Now Leninist is not a nice word, but what exactly is the difference in the reasoning. Of course a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn and Lenin's argument might be valid in this case.

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