Wealth, Global Warming and Geoengineering

Monday, October 12, 2015: 17:00
Regency Ballroom (Hyatt Regency)
A. Heller (University of Texas at Austin)
The press has done well in telling the public that CO2 emissions and global warming are associated.  Many political leaders are committed to reducing CO2 emissions to mitigate global warming through policies and subsidies encouraging energy efficiency and use of renewable energy.  

What neither the press nor the political leaders publicize is that the underlying cause of the rapid rise in CO2 emissions is the increase of global energy consumption with global wealth, i.e. with the product of the per capita GDP and the world’s population.(1-4) Global wealth has increased in the past century about 250 fold and its growth is accelerating. A major part of the world’s population has emerged in the recent past from poverty and the world’s fraction of poor people continues to shrink.

Because populations emerging from poverty consume the least expensive fuels, which are fossil fuels, the rate of global CO2 emissions is increasing: (1-4) As people prosper they consume more manufactured goods, live, work and shop in more spacious and better temperature-controlled buildings, drive more and larger cars, fly more frequently, use more steel (for larger automobiles) and cement (for larger homes). Just two growing wealth associated industries, steel production and the cement production, account for as much as 13 % of all worldwide CO2 emissions.  

Overall, the reduction in CO2 emissions that resulted of policies of energy conservation and switching from fossil fuels to renewables is massively outpaced by the global wealth growth associated rise in CO2 emissions and the temperature continues to rise at a rate of about 0.15°C per decade, (5) the rise affecting people, animals and plants. Improving energy efficiency and switching from fossils to renewables are dwarfed by the global wealth-growth associated increase in the concentration of atmospheric CO2. Unless people change to seek less wealth and to have smaller families, which is unlikely, the only option would be to enhance, in a controlled and reversible way, known global temperature-reducing feedback loops that, having been in the past uncontrolled, caused ice-ages.  

After the media and the political leaders explain to the public that the policies and the technologies deployed to mitigate global warming do not balance the effect of the global increase in wealth, the educated public should debate which, if any, of the reversible and controlled feedback loops to invest in, then deploy. Two options are emerging. Altering the albedo to reflect more sunlight, hesitantly recommended recently for intensified consideration by the US National Research Council,(6)  and iron fertilization of the southern oceans, suggested by the late John H. Martin as the cause of the latest ice-age and recently validated as its actual cause.(7)  Both clash with core ideals of the environmental movements which object to introducing man-made matter in the stratosphere or in the oceans. So far the environmental movements considered the risks associated with these options greater than the risks of the effects of warming resulting of people’s quest for wealth and large families. As an example, the environmental movements successfully applied to the iron fertilization of Southern Oceans rules of the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter. (8)

It would be prudent for the media publicize the relationship between global wealth and global warming and for people and governments to consider risk-involving technologies that could actually mitigate global warming, if only as a last-ditch means of preventing a catastrophe.

1.            Canadell JG et al. 2007. Contributions to accelerating atmospheric CO2 growth from economic activity, carbon intensity, and efficiency of natural sinks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 18866-70

2.            Raupach MR et al. 2007. Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 10288-93

3.            Peters GP et al. 2012. Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Nature Climate Change 2: 2-4

4.            Friedlingstein P et al. 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets. Nature geoscience 7: 709-15

5.            Karl TR et al. 2015. Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus. In Science ePub June 4, 2015

6.            2015. Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth. , National Research Council, Washington, DC

7.            Martínez-García A et al. 2014. Iron fertilization of the Subantarctic Ocean during the last ice age. Science 343: 1347-50

8.            RESOLUTION LC-LP.1 (2008) ON THE REGULATION OF OCEAN FERTILIZATION. London Dumping Convention. 31 October 2008.