Lee Raymond, former Chairman and CEO of Exxon and Vice Chair of AEI’s board of trustees.
For those even remotely in touch with climate issues, ExxonMobil’s funding of Market Fundamentalist think tanks to spread FUD about climate change is no secret (see Put A Tiger In Your Think Tank I and II, or here, here, here, etc.), and in an alternately amusing and sickening way it has become more newsworthy when Exxon claims (falsely, I might add- e.g. here and here) to have stopped this practice than reporting on instances where it obviously had. Among the think tanks used by ExxonMobil, notables include CEI, the George C. Marshall Institute, and AEI– the last perhaps being more infamous for its role in drumming up support for the US invasion of Iraq than its anti-regulation propaganda efforts on behalf of the oil industry.
Today AEI released (via the LA Times) a “short publication” fully embracing the reality of anthropogenic climate change- but did so in service of (surprise!) anti-regulation messaging. No need to regulate any time soon, the implicit argument is made, because of the Magical Geo-Engineering Solution That Doesn’t Yet Exist But Surely Will:
In fact, geo-engineering could be surprisingly simple.
That is, if those pesky ivory tower elitists allow it:
Fear that geo-engineering might work, however, is the reason some people reject, or are reluctant to even openly discuss, this idea. Critics worry that geo-engineering could be used as an excuse to continue unchecked emissions forever. Within the last two years, three high-level conferences have explored geo-engineering; each was held behind closed doors. One premier university was too frightened to even do that. There have been calls for boycotts of the research or, failing that, strict international regulations.
For the appearance of honesty some caveats were superficially referenced, but quickly dismissed:
Scientists note that sulfur particles could cause stratospheric ozone depletion, although the evidence from Pinatubo suggests that this effect would be modest.
Modest? If by modest AEI means setting back ozone recovery by at least several decades (Tilmes et al. 2008). [EDIT: And let’s not forget that climate change is tied to the fate of the ozone layer (Son et al. 2008), all but guaranteeing that further depletion and prolonged recovery will exacerbate the very effects sulfate geo-engineering proposes to avoid.]
What of painting roofs white? New Scientist did a first pass at the numbers and found that at best painting every roof in the world white would only nudge planetary albedo by a one-hundredth, and goes on to make the point that solar roofing would be a significantly better use of the space.
As for ocean sprayers? 50 cubic meters of ocean water would need to be sprayed globally every second in order to offset a doubling of CO2.
None of these “solutions” address the resulting ocean acidification and nutrient changes that would occur as CO2 continued its massive increase even if warming could be offset.
The overall tone of the AEI piece presents geo-engineering as a much more plausible solution than the science supports and downplays the numerous arguments that favor mitigation and adaptation as the superior solution. It is difficult, in this light, to view AEI’s championing of geo-engineering as anything other than a new strategy for delaying regulation, albeit in a manner that has been forced to concede the reality of anthropogenic climate change.
[UPDATE: It looks like Chris Mooney (whose books The Republican War on Science and Storm World I very much enjoyed, but whose position on the “framing” science/Expelled nastiness I didn’t care for at all) has a piece in the upcoming issue of Wired on geo-engineering as well. Mooney is no climate science denialist, and I think that the merits of geo-engineering should be openly weighed, but I can’t help but wonder where Wired is going with all this. Yes, it’s mostly product placement a tech magazine and not a science or policy rag, but can’t we do without the constant repetition of “forget what you think you know about X/it’s time for Y” meme, and hope for a little coherence and substance? How can they claim in one breath that cutting carbon is paramount- so much so that environmental goals should be sacrificed for it (false dilemma)- and then float geo-engineering in the next? That’s more than a little schizophrenic.]
[LATE UPDATE: Mooney’s piece: Can a Million Tons of Sulfur Dioxide Combat Climate Change?]