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2023 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #8

Posted on 25 February 2023 by John Hartz

A chronological listing of news and opinion articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week: Sun, Feb 19, 2023 thru Sat, Feb 25, 2023.

Story of the Week

Podcast: Goodbye to blue skies? The trouble with engineered solutions

  • Humanity has created a lot of ecological problems, and many of the proposed solutions come with giant price tags — or the things lost can even be priceless, like the sight of a blue sky — with no guarantee of solving the situation in the long term.
  • Many such solutions — like Australia’s deliberate introduction of the toxic cane toad, which has wreaked havoc on the country’s wildlife — create new problems.
  • Solar geoengineering to slow climate change would have the most visible effect to all, likely making the sky appear white: No more blue skies—but how would this affect the global plant community’s ability to photosynthesize, would it harm agriculture?
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert joins the Mongabay Newscast to talk about her latest book, “Under a White Sky,” which examines these interventions, the problems they come with and humanity’s seeming inability to stop turning to them. 

From pumping aerosols into the atmosphere to combat climate change to gene-editing invasive species, human beings continue to conjure up technological or “miracle” fixes to ecological ills, many of which stem from previous things society has done. Whether it’s electrifying rivers to prevent Asian carp from entering the U.S. Great Lakes or $14.5 billion levees to keep the city of New Orleans from sinking, temporarily, humanity continually creates mega solutions that often fail, while harming biodiversity.

“We seem incapable of stopping ourselves,” argues journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. Her latest book, “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future,” explores many of these projects, chapter by chapter, in what she describes as “sort of a dark comedy.”

She joins the Mongabay Newscast this week to talk about what she found while writing the book and why she urges readers to be skeptical of these machinations.

Click here to access the entire article as originally posted on the Mongabay website.

Podcast: Goodbye to blue skies? The trouble with engineered solutions by Mike DiGirolamo, Mongabay, Feb 21, 2023

Also see:

Exclusive: Inside a Controversial Startup's Risky Attempt to Control Our Climate by Alejandro de la Garza, Climate Adaptation, Time Magazine, Feb 21, 2023

Why Billionaires are Obsessed With Blocking Out the Sun by Alejandro de la Garza, Climate Adaptation, Time Magazine, Feb 24, 2023

Links posted on Facebook

Sun, Feb 19, 2023

Mon, Feb 20, 2023

Tue, Feb 21, 2023

Wed, Feb 22, 2023

Thu, Feb 23, 2023

Fri, Feb 24, 2023

Sat, Feb 25, 20234

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Comments 1 to 16:

  1. Regarding the engineered solutions to humanities various problems. I acknowledge the downsides of this and I oppose geoengineering the climate, but I get tired of listening to academics (and the general public) potificate on the dangers of engineered solutions, while they fly around the world and live in their homes packed full of technology and drive their sophisticated cars. If its really a huge problem, wouldn't they set an example and live simply?

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  2. nigelj: At this moment in time, the human race seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place with respect to mitigating man-made climate change. Sooner or later, something has to give. As someone who turns 80 years old this coming summer, I don't know if I'll live long enought to see which path is chosen.  For my childrens' and grandchildrens' sake, I sure hope its the right one.

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  3. Saturn and Jupiter do a dance with the Earth which, over the course of 100,000 years, causes sea level to rise and fall by 120m (400 ft). This demonstrates how delicately balanced our planetary systems are.

    Do humans have any chance of artificially controlling such a delicately-balanced system (i.e., through geo-engineering), short of ceasing to poke a prod the system the way we do?

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  4. Re Evans@3.  The gravitational pull of all solar system objects, on Earths surface, relative to the moon is: Moon 1, Sun 0.4, Venus 6E-5, Jupiter 3E-6, Mercury 4E-7, Saturn 2E-7, Mars 5E-8, Uranus 3E-9, and Neptune 8E-10.  

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  5. Evan at 3: Do you have a source, link, published paper for this very bold assertion?

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  6. ubrew12, Phillippe:

    At a guess, I expect that Evan may be claiming that the variations in the Milankovitch cycles are due to the gravitational effects of Saturn and Jupiter, such that we have glacial/intergalcial periods at 100,000-year intervals. And that causes sea level changes of 120m.

    Just a hunch. Evan can confirm.

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  7. Bob@6, correct. These are not tidal forces due to Jupiter and Saturn, but rather complex feedback processes triggered by varying orbital cycles due to the tug and pull of Jupiter and Saturn on the Earth, ala the Milankovitch cycles.

    I did not give a reference because I am simply framing the effects of the Milankovitch cycles in a way that people may not normally think of them.

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  8. Indeed, Evan. That's what I figured. A subtlety in mentioning, without naming, the gravitational effects that might see minor - and are, in a direct sense, based on ubrew12's numbers.

    But those minor direct effects lead to indirect effects, with a well-known and plausible physical mechanism, that make for major shifts in climate.

    A delicate balance for sure. People argue that we don't know enough about climate to be confident that CO2 is having a warming effect - all those pesky unknown unknowns - but we know enough to be confident that geoengineering will be entirely predictable and problem free? Surely a place to be skeptical.

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  9. The milkankovich cycles are only able to force ice ages (and sea level) when GHGs levels are so low that summer insolation at high latitudes doesnt not melt snow. (The milankovich cycles operated long before the Pleistocene ice ages). The simple geoengineering to prevent an ice age is to increase GHG to such a level (around 400ppm) that they dont have an effect. Whoops! we have just done that.

    We definitely agree with Wally Broecker that climate is an angry beast and that we shouldnt be poking it with a stick.

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  10. scaddenp@9, good points. Isn't it remarkable that the Earth ever so slowly changed over millions of years until we arrived at this delicate position where ice-age cycles took us up and down, cycling between 180m and 60m equivalent sea level rise worth of ice on land. The incredible sensitivity of Earth to the tugs and pulls of Jupiter and Saturn are a true indication of the delicate balance that Earth has functioned in for so long.

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  11. Evan,

    Humans certainly would have difficulty being reasonably certain of the results of the collective accumulating impacts of their actions. A January 13, 2016 Carbon Brief article "Human emissions will delay next ice age by 50,000 years, study says" covered a study published in Nature. It explains how climate impacts have significantly delayed the onset of the next ice age. A key point is not 'the positive' of delaying the ice age. The key point is that the climate impacts will last 10s of thousands of years unless some generations of humans 'unprofitably' drawdown CO2.

    Even if CO2 is drawndown there will be many harmful results of the short term excessive CO2 levels that are irreversible. And many of those permanent harms will be surprises because humans don't really understand the complexity of life on this amazing planet.

    Humans have proven they can have massive impacts. And have proven to resist learning about how harmful their developed beliefs and actions actually are.

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  12. Evan@7 said "I am simply framing the effects of the Milankovitch cycles in a way that people may not normally think of them."  Yes, you certainly fooled me.  It makes sense that they would be a 'forcer' for those cycles, but I thought you were refering to some kind of direct gravitational effect.

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  13. ubrew12@12, glad we cleared that up. I simply like to remind people how delicately balanced Earth's systems are. The current effect of the Milankovitch cycles on our planetary systems fascinate me.

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  14. Jon Hartz @2.


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  15. ubrew12 @12:

    I don't think Evan was trying to fool anyone, but he was trying to make people think. Seeing his original comment @3, and the responses @4 and 5, the path my brain went into was:

    • 100,000 years sounds an awful lot like glacial cycles.
    • 120m sounds an awful lot like sea level changes between glacials and interglacials.
    • Effects of Saturn and Jupiter sound an awful lot like the kinds of gravitational forces that cause wobbles and slight shifts in earth's orbital patterns...
    • ...which leads to Milankovitch theory.

    Rather than jumping into a mode of "this seems absurd..", I went into a mode of "maybe Evan is thinking about something other than the obvious..."

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  16. Bob@15, I've been found out. :-)

    You are correct that I am simply trying to get people to appreciate the unbelievably delicate balance that defines many of our natural systems.

    That planets 100's of millions of miles away can cause sea-level change (by whatever mechanism) on the order of 120m (400') is astounding!

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