The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00398: Desperate Climate Remediation Schemes

Key concepts
Tyndall Conference on Macro-Engineering Options for Climate Change Management and Mitigation, MIT, Cambridge, counsel of despair, fervid, crazy, and mostly fantastic climatic disaster counter-efforts, thinking outside the box, weird science
Attention Conservation Notice:
Consists mostly of Viridian black humor about a well-meaning conference of Anglo-American wannabe climatic super-engineers. Includes the entire, heavily annotated text of a conference dot-pdf.

The planet-menacing horror of soot-tainted snow.

The tiny, inoffensive Pacific island of Niue catches it in the neck from a Category 5 typhoon.

My advice
never get intimate and trustingly disrobe in the presence of anyone sporting "Dejaview Camwear."

Robotic flowers. An efflorescence of MIT.

Dr. Mary Kaldor, the judge of our Viridian "Civil Society Computer" contest, has been in Iraq recently.

Climate change will exterminate about a quarter of all species now living on Earth. That's assuming we don't kill more of them with ambitious remediation schemes like the ones described in this Note.

Nifty ubicomp scheme harvests piezoelectric energy.

Another set of praiseworthy enviro beers. I especially like the one boldly named after Cleveland's polluted river that caught fire. Another Viridian beer-tasting is clearly in order, but I don't know where to find these Ohio beers in Texas. Send me mail if you know, because after proofreading this Note, I badly need a drink.


"Tyndall Centre & Cambridge-MIT Institute Symposium


Isaac Newton Institute, Cambridge, England, 7-9 January 2004

((("Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night: / God said, 'Let Newton be,'" and Newton was immediately discredited by Lysenkoist Beltway political operatives bankrolled by the fossil-fuel industry.)))


"Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by the amount (say 50%) which may be necessary to avoid excessive climate change, will be very difficult. If combined with significant convergence internationally, it will moreover require the developed countries to reduce their emissions by much larger proportions, such as 90% (for the USA) and 80% (for Europe). Many people feel that it is very unlikely that such reductions can be achieved just by improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon intensity by using renewable sources of energy. (((Yep, it sounds pretty tough... I guess we'd better just fold our hands and die from this civilizational inadequacy of ours... Oh wait, maybe we techies can invent some source of hope, however farfetched!)))

"Specifically, conventional approaches may not be sufficient regarding either their magnitude and their time-scale. Because of the urgency of implementing climate-change management, more innovative approaches to the mitigation of climate change are likely to be needed.

(((Let's rephrase this, shall we? "Although we can't find the political will not to cook our own planet, we might, while cooking, be able to invent some weird way to avert some of the consequences.")))

"Indeed, new options may already be needed during the Second Commitment Period for the Kyoto Protocol. Any alternatives such as possible macro-engineering options for climate change management and mitigation therefore need to be widely discussed and properly evaluated, as soon as possible, before they can be seriously considered for implementation.

(((The peculiar assumption here is that people will find the resources, cash and energy to repair a climate crisis while they are actually on fire. It's kind of like arguing a legal case after being flung in prison. But, well, okay – if that's what it takes, carry on!)))

"The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the Cambridge-MIT Institute are therefore jointly convening a Symposium in Cambridge, England, on 7-9 January 2004, whose purpose is to identify, debate, and evaluate possible macro-engineering approaches to the management and mitigation of climate change.

"Specific Symposium Objectives

"1. to convene and consolidate the relevant research community (((Hey, research guys! Too bad you didn't have the clout to convince oil and coal companies not to destroy our civilization!)))

"2. to provide a panoramic review of the options (((Step One: jail entire board of Exxon-Mobil for crimes against humanity, Step Two, shut Chinese coal mines by force of arms... whoops, these vital steps don't seem to be in here!)))

"3. to evaluate the options using multi-criterion analysis and ranking techniques ((("Grandmere has died in her Paris apartment of the heat; quick, order a multi-criterion analysis, and rank her.)))

"4. to contribute to setting the research & development agenda (((we're from Cambridge and MIT, so we don't do that "action" stuff.)))

"5. to provide the scientific, engineering and socio-economic basis for policy formation by Governments. (((Oh Vannevar Bush, that we have lived to see this melancholy day for the Endless Frontier mavens of your beloved MIT... At last everyone on Earth can become Robert "Destroyer of Worlds" Oppenheimer through the simple process of pumping some gasoline.)))

"Page 2 Philosophy

"The intention is to initiate a process of exploration and evaluation of any possible macroengineering approaches, so that suitable options may be available if and when it is decided that they are required. (((Decided by whom?))) This process is envisaged as continuing for a number of years, before any firm conclusions can be reached. The range of approaches identified now will doubtless be incomplete, and any evaluations made will necessarily be preliminary.

"Nevertheless, since the detailed evaluation and the actual implementation of any promising approaches may take several decades, it is important to start the process as soon as possible. (((Good thinking. We'll need to give Rem Koolhaas plenty of contractual leeway so that he can construct a vast new prison in The Hague.)))

"Although most of the macro-engineering approaches identified so far are not currently in the mainstream thinking in relation to climate policy, (((wry MIT-Cambridge ivory-basement humor here))) the mere fact that they have been conceived and proposed places an obligation on engineers, economists, and environmental and social scientists, working together, to explore their feasibility and evaluate their consequences and their wider implications. (((We're screwed and we all know it. So, hey, let's blue-sky and handwave!)))

"At the very least, such options may be considered as emergency policy options in the event of more adverse climate change impacts than expected, or less effective carbon reduction measures than anticipated. The process of exploration, evaluation, development and (eventually) pre-operational implementation of such approaches should be regarded as at least an insurance against these eventualities. (((If "thinking the unthinkable" was good enough for Herman Kahn, it's good enough for us!)))

"The symposium will therefore

  • "Consider all approaches identified, objectively, and without preconceptions (((For instance, we'll consider and identify some objective provisions for really, really massive graveyards)))
  • "Engage in an open, unbiassed, and visionary but still concrete discussion (((I'm starting to warm to this kooky Tyndall project, even though I know full well that it means every possible kind of hell for my grandchildren)))
  • "Disregard potential pressures in relation to political correctness. (((Hoo-ah)))
  • "* Employ a very wide range of criteria for a preliminary evaluation

(((Maybe SAUCER-MEN will save us from our own insanity! Or – okay, maybe I'm blue-skying it here, but bear with me – maybe mass prayer can trigger a premature Rapture!)))

"Possible options to be considered

1. CO2 Sequestration (capture and storage), including

  • Geological disposal (liquid & solid) (((export our crisis to the great-grandkids)))
  • Direct ocean disposal (((dissolve coral reefs in seltzer water)))
  • Atmospheric scrubbing (((needs really, really, really big sponge)))
  • Ocean fertilisation (((sounds good as all fish are doomed anyway)))
  • Enhancement of land carbon sinks (((grow more trees? OK!)))

Page 3

"2. Insolation Management (albedo modification)

"Orbiting Deflection Systems (Mirrors, Balloons, Droplets, etc.) (((I'm really liking the "balloons", though "droplets" are kinda growing on me as I begin to sweat bullets)))

  • Stratospheric Aerosols (((Manmade Global Dimming)))

  • Differential Cloud Stimulation (((Poor people's countries don't get any clouds any more)))

  • Land Surface Modification (((paint roofs and roads white)))

"3. Prospective Climate Design (((I do hope they teach this at Cranbrook)))

  • "Terra-forming Approaches
  • "Glaciation Control by Designer Greenhouse Gases (((Huh?)))
  • "Long-Term CO2 Management for Photosynthesis (((When the biosphere does this naturally, it's known as a "coal-bed")))

"4. Impacts Reduction

"Ocean-Current Stabilization by River Deviation (((Re-route the Mississippi through Washington DC to keep Europe from freezing)))

"Sea-Level Stabilization by Freshwater Retention (((dam up the molten Antarctic glaciers)))

"Large-Scale Migration Corridors for Biosphere Adaptation (((abandon the American MidWest, reinstate nomads and bison)))

"Note: many of these possible options are highly speculative at present, and some may even appear to be crazy. (((Okay, I love these guys. All is forgiven. Send me the conference T-shirt.)))

"However, that is precisely why they should be evaluated (and if necessary dismissed) as soon as possible. Otherwise, politicians may seek to use them as 'Magic Bullets' either to postpone action, or as prospective solutions for actual implementation, once it becomes clear that the mitigation of climate change is going to be a major and very difficult task. ((("Major and very difficult" = "bankrupting and massively lethal")))

"Evaluation Criteria

"The criteria to be considered for evaluating options should include: Feasibility Effectiveness Predictability Reversibility Environmental impacts Ecological tolerability Safety (potential for disaster) Cost Social equity Economic equity Economic efficiency * Public attitude (((Nice list there, would look great on the T-shirt)))

"Evaluation Methodology

"We propose to use a combination of techniques to guide and motivate the debate. These will include the iterative Delphi method (where those holding extreme views are invited to explain their reasons, prior to a collective re-evaluation). We also propose to use multicriterion decision analysis and scale-free ranking techniques. These will be used at the symposium simply to facilitate and focus the debate, and we shall not attempt to reach anything more than preliminary and indicative conclusions.

(((The good ol' Delphi method, wow.)))


"Organisation and Process

"A modified Dahlem Conference approach is proposed. Before the symposium, the Tyndall Centre & CMI will therefore commission and distribute a set of short factual briefing notes on the alternative approaches to be discussed, with selected references to sources of further information. The symposium will commence with invited plenary presentations reviewing the options under consideration, each followed by a Q&A sessions to enable participants to clarify any matters of interest or doubt. This will be followed by further group presentations and debate based on the working papers. The first day will concentrate on factual issues, and on mutual education, and will deliberately avoid premature attempts to reach conclusions. It will conclude with a preparatory explanation of the evaluation process, and the criteria to be considered, and a final plenary discussion session in which any other major issues or concerns can be raised. The second day will be commenced in parallel sessions (with chairs and rapporteurs), with each group carrying out the same task, i.e. to debate the pros & cons of each option according to the criteria selected, without deliberately seeking a consensus, and then (working as individuals) evaluate them on a qualitative scale (e.g. H/M/L, good/neutral/bad, etc) against each criterion. Following this the facilitators will prepare a synthesis of these evaluations [see Note 2]. During the final afternoon the rapporteurs will summarise the major issues and outcomes arising from their sessions, and the facilitators will then present their synthesis of the evaluation (including the ranges and outlying opinions). The symposium will conclude with a final discussion to permit expressions of assent and dissent. There will be no attempt to force any agreement on consensus conclusions at this meeting, although these would be reported if they should emerge naturally.

(((You know, the human race may well be pitching itself and a million other species off a cliff, and organizational minutiae like this paragraph up above, that is the crown of our civilization.)))

"Outcomes & Deliverables

"The principal Symposium output will be a short (circa 10-page) synthesis/strategic overview document based on the working papers and the discussions, summarising the salient attributes of each scheme, and recording the symposium evaluation of each, (i.e. their preliminary overall ranking, including ranges, and annotated with any special issues identified). Further symposium materials (presentations, working papers, bibliography, etc) will be placed on the Tyndall web-site. (((I really can't wait!)))

"The deliverables envisaged are therefore:

  • "A new volume in the Tyndall Symposia Series of topical monographs (((There are almost 2,000 people on Viridian List now, so if we were to each order one of these Tyndall Symposia climate monographs, I feel quite certain that we would vastly outnumber all other such consumers)))
  • "An executive summary technical paper for (e.g.) Nature or Science (((vastly to their credit, neither Nature or Science have bowed the knee to political pressure as yet)))
  • "A briefing/overview paper for government and policy-makers (((Useless without a fat packet stuffed with re-election money, but you can't say they didn't try.)))
  • "Web-based dissemination of results, possibly including an e-mail conference.


"Following the Dahlem format there will be between 40 and 50 invited participants, mainly from a professional (science, engineering, and socio-economic) background, together with additional participants from the policy and business communities and major NGO's to ensure that the full range of attitudes will be expressed. ((("Full range of attitudes?" What? No ludicrously opinionated science fiction writers? Call Michael Crichton!)))


"1) The workshop process proposed is a loose hybrid of the classic Dahlem model, and the first iterations of a Delphi process. The aim is to elicit and report the full range of views, and not to arrive at a consensus.

"2) The evaluation process should employ a non-parametric multiple criterion approach, and the distributions of the scores should be preserved and presented. The proposed attempt to arrive at a preliminary overall ranking and synthesis may be too ambitious (but is suggested since it will help to focus and stimulate the final discussion)."

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