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Tierney on the Climate Prize:

John Tierney thinks Richard Branson's $25 million prize for a technology that removes carbon dioxide from the air is a good back up plan.

Vacuuming up our carbon-dioxide mess sounds improbable now, but so did the idea of precisely determining a ship's longitude in 1714, when the British government offered a prize that led to a revolutionary tool for navigators, the chronometer. Private spaceships seemed impractical a decade ago, but the $10 million Ansari X Prize spurred competitors to spend more than $100 million, and the winning design will soon be taking tourists into space.

If governments and other moguls throw in more money, the new Virgin Earth Challenge may be the start of competitions that ultimately yield nanobots or microbes capable of gobbling up carbon dioxide. As far-fetched as it seems today, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere could turn out to be a lot more practical than the alternative: persuading six billion people to stop putting it there.

Justin (mail):
It doesn't help Tierney much that his "Plan A" is "do nothing."
2.13.2007 8:42am
CWuestefeld (mail) (www):
This scares me. I'm not one of the people claiming that the Earth hasn't warmed, or that it won't continue to do so. The problem is that the Earth's climate is a mind-bogglingly complex system, with many of counterbalancing subsystems. The thing is, no one knows how these work, or even what they all are. With these corrections already chugging away, no one has the slightest idea what would happen if we radically change the situation. It's quite conceivable that we could do more harm than good.

Before jumping into something like this, it's necessary to (a) maintain the status quo -- no more, no less, while (b) gaining understanding of how the systems work.

I blogged about this much more coherently here:
http://www.thewuestefelds.com/blog/?p=82
2.13.2007 9:14am
karrde (mail) (www):
Let's see...

There are many naturally-occurring organisms that might help. Anything which uses photosynthesis, supported in large enough quantities, should fit the bill.

Where do I submit my idea?
2.13.2007 9:15am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
but the $10 million Ansari X Prize spurred competitors to spend more than $100 million, and the winning design will soon be taking tourists into space..

Yep, there's rational economics if I ever saw it. Bet $10 to win $1 (and do something the government was doing regularly over 40 years ago). Absolutely brilliant. And when exactly do those flights start?
2.13.2007 9:32am
godfodder (mail):
Boy, I can think of no better response to global warming than to release a horde of "nano-bots," or genetically modified organisms into the environment. Can anyone say "unintended consequences"?

My mind explodes at the ironic possibilities.
2.13.2007 9:45am
Ahead of the Curve (mail):
Of course, the solution already exists. Problem is, the people who are wailing about global warming are the same people who oppose practical solutions to the problem.

See this paper on ocean fertilization.
2.13.2007 10:01am
Jake (Guest):
It's ok, they can just release swarms of hunter-killer nanobots to take out the carbon-dioxide eating nanobots if they turn out to be a problem. No biggie.
2.13.2007 10:02am
Spitzer:
Not an original idea, but I'll take credit (and $10 million) for John Martin's idea: "give me a tanker load of iron and I will give you the next ice age".
2.13.2007 10:05am
PubliusFL:
If I didn't know eco-nuts better, I'd think this was a publicity stunt for the next Michael Crichton novel. Incredible.
2.13.2007 10:53am
Bpbatista (mail):
I hereby claim the Branson $25 million prize. My plan and technology for removing CO2 from the atmosphere: Plant trees, lots of them.

Mr. Branson can send me a cashier's check or cash (in 10's and 20's) if he prefers.
2.13.2007 10:59am
AppSocRes (mail):
Ahead of the Curve is right: Years ago a experiment was done demonstrating that seeding the ocean with iron compounds enormously increases algal metabolism and the reduction of CO2 to Oxygen and biologically stored Carbon compounds.

But C Wuestefeld and godfodder are also right. What if the Sun is going into an extended period of reduced output (as some recent measurements suggest); increased cosmic ray intensity adds to the problem; and we are about to enter another Ice Age that will put two thirds of the USA and Europe under a mile of ice? Reducing atmospheric CO2 will just add to the problem.

The big issue is that we really don't understand the factors that determine climate change. The other big issue is that those who are concerned about global warming never stop to think that absolute climate stability is an oxymoron and that, given current circumstances, moderate global warming is probably a far better thing than would be moderate global cooling--the only other reasonable possibility.
2.13.2007 11:15am
Ahead of the Curve (mail):
I agree completely with AppSocRes. However, if Branson and cronies want to start handing out money for large-scale CO2 sequestering, then it ought to go to those who have tested and perfected ocean fertilization. Sorry Bpbatista: there's not enough room for the trees you'll need to achieve the required result. Unless maybe you create huge floating forests to use the space available in the deep oceans.

I have a feeling that Branson and Co. would do anything to NOT give money to the ocean fertilization people, even though that process would fulfill the goals demanded. And that would lay bare the real inclinations among the so-called pro-Earth crowd.
2.13.2007 11:38am
karl (mail):
If someone succeeds in achieving Branson's dream, I suggest we turn the CO2 collected into dry ice and cool the planet.
2.13.2007 11:44am
Stating the Obvious:
JF Thomas responds to "but the $10 million Ansari X Prize spurred competitors to spend more than $100 million, and the winning design will soon be taking tourists into space.."

with

Yep, there's rational economics if I ever saw it. Bet $10 to win $1 (and do something the government was doing regularly over 40 years ago). Absolutely brilliant. And when exactly do those flights start?

JF seems to be one of those guys completely oblivious to the difference between spending one's own money on projects that interest one and spending other peoples' money on projects that interest certain lobbying factions. The actual spending results may be identical, but the moral and economic analysis is quite different, much like the difference between my choosing to give JF $10 and his coercing $10 from me.
2.13.2007 12:09pm
Ken Arromdee:
no one has the slightest idea what would happen if we radically change the situation. It's quite conceivable that we could do more harm than good.

Of course, by this reasoning, we could cause harm if we stop fossil fuel use too. (Suppose fossil fuel use is the only thing saving us from an ice age, for instance?)

People are coming up with nanobots, ocean fertilization, and all sorts of extreme measures because they're taking the alarmists at their word: This is such a big problem that there will be utter disaster if we don't do something about it, even if it means drastically modifying our lifestyle and risking crippling our economy.

Once you believe the alarmists and think that it's so bad that you must do something immediately regardless of possible side effects, that extends to side effects that the alarmists didn't think of. If it's so urgent that we can ignore the risk of affecting millions of people's lives, then it's so urgent that we can ignore the risk posed by nanobots.

Of course, someone about as cynical as me would suggest that the alarmists care more about nanobot risk than economy-restructuring and lifestyle-changing risk because the latter is their goal, not something they think of as a risk at all.
2.13.2007 12:15pm
A law unto himself:
Trees do an excellent job of sequestering CO2 in more permanent carbon compounds. All we need to do is cut them down after their early (rapid growth) years and store them without allowing them to decay. Perhaps in something like a landfill???

This cycle would also allow for continuous replanting of the same (clear cut) land.
2.13.2007 1:09pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

If someone succeeds in achieving Branson's dream, I suggest we turn the CO2 collected into dry ice and cool the planet.
Sorry, but unless you build enormous radiators that are outside the atmosphere (or radiate energy in a frequency that greenhouse gases won't catch), turning gaseous CO2 into dry ice gives no net gain in temperature.

The real problem is that it is unclear:

1. How much actual global warming there is.

2. How much of it is anthropogenic.

3. How much of the anthropogenic global warming is a second order effect? Increased solar output means increased plant growth. At least in pre-industrial societies, increased plant growth meant increased crop production, which meant more people, which meant more burning of carbon.

There's an enormous amount not well understood, and there are plenty of scientists--including, most recently, some prominent Indian glaciologists--who are pointing out that there are still many open questions on matters that the global warming True Believers consider to be facts.
2.13.2007 2:34pm
Deoxy (mail):
Clayton Cramer,

I'm sorry, but you must now receive a severe punishment because you are a

HERETIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How DARE you question the undeniabl fact of EVILMAN-made GLOBAL WARMING?!? It is FACT! COMPLETELY UNDENIABLE FACT!!!! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain....

And yes, I'm far mor worrid that some True Believer will succeed spectacularly and unstoppably and end all life as we know it this planet (plants DIE without CO2) than I am about "global warming", even assuming all the worst and most dire of eco-nazi predictions come true.
2.13.2007 5:00pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
2.13.2007 7:43pm
Lev:
If we all, six billion +, hold our breaths, we will not exhale CO2, and, voila, massive reduction.

Where's my check?
2.14.2007 3:14am
Ken Kukec (mail):
State the Obvious:


Yep, there's rational economics if I ever saw it. Bet $10 to win $1 (and do something the government was doing regularly over 40 years ago). Absolutely brilliant. And when exactly do those flights start?


To state the obvious, Stating the Obvious, the whole point of offering a prize for research is to generate more value than would be obtained merely by donating the same amount directly to the researchers. (To bet $10 that at least 11 researchers will wager $1 of their time toward winning the prize.) Seems like rational economics to me.
2.15.2007 12:48pm