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Climate Control Moon Shot: Do We Have the Technology Already?

The Thermometer Series: The fifth of six articles on the next steps in climate reform and why we need to advance current climate change strategy.

The Thermometer Series: The fifth of six articles on the next steps in climate reform and why we need to advance current climate change strategy.

We have entered the non-linearly increasing phase of climate change impacts. This is pretty much standard climate science that climate scientists said we would endure if we delayed action. Could they have imagined that we would delay for 20 years? What would they have said 20 years ago about what we should expect if the had of known that we would delay 20 years?

Should it be an Emergency Wartime Mobilization or a Moon Shot? How would they have suggested we proceed at this point? Both are very similar missions to industrialize a process. Both elicit major motivation of the science and science implementation industries. Are we ready to launch either?

“Wartime…” is certainly how we should behave given new time frames relative to West Antarctic Ice Sheet disintegration, but is the effort really this scary? Well, yes, it is actually more scary than World War. Economic collapse caused by the submergence of  a significant portion of every coastal city on Earth would badly degrade the functioning of those cities. This submergence is now being defined in the most recent research efforts on ice sheet collapse that after 20 years, is finally beginning to depart from the standard ice cube melt modeling of the past. The physics of marine ice cliff collapse are being defined where ice cliffs above 300 feet high are unstable and collapse on their own. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has marine ice cliffs that approach this height, but the entire WAIS rises 6,000 feet above sea level. Once this ice cliff collapse mechanisms starts, there will be trouble.

This trouble has been foreshadowed by NOAA’s announcement that we should expect research findings in the very near future that show 10 feet of sea level rise by 2050 from collapse of the WAIS.

What this means is the crippling of every coastal city in the world and resultant global economic collapse. The infrastructure of any city is largely located at a lower elevation than the city. Energy generation facilities are often located near the ocean for cooling water; wastewater facilities are always located downhill from population centers, our road infrastructure at lower elevations would be submerged creating a transportation nightmare, and a very significant portion of global industry is located near the sea to provide easy access to bulk transportation. If a city is only partially submerged, most of the water would impact the infrastructure first and it would badly damage the ability of the entire city to function.

The adaptation threshold for sea level rise is about three feet per century. Sea level rise faster than this is beyond the scope of our civilization to build its way beyond. Obviously, we can’t allow sea level to rise 10 feet by 2050.

But there is widespread public understanding that climate science is as yet, and the solutions that could avoid this new abrupt change time frame, is not ready for the prime time. The thought is that more study is required, but this talking point is based on a climate that will not change abruptly, or one that would see only slow steady warming through 2100 as the IPCC suggests.

Emissions reductions, even aggressive emissions reductions of 80 percent by 2050 allow double to triple warming already observed with an emphasis on “triple.” Even “net zero” or zero emissions—yesterday—would allow nearly double the warming we have already seen by 2050. To avoid the risk of a collapsing West Antarctic Ice Sheet, we obviously need to reduce warming, not increase it.

Because all of the emissions reduction strategies combined would still allow at the minimum nearly double our current warming by 2050, we must remove some of the already emitted climate pollution from our sky.

This is an easy, economic, but highly controversial task using new and old direct air capture (DAC) of carbon dioxide technologies. The Climate Change Counter Movement sponsored media bias has corrupted messaging on this topic described here (The Direct Air Capture Controversy: Silver Bullet or Fossil Fuel Panacea?)  Knowledge about the economy and safety of direct air capture, or carbon dioxide removal, from environmental advocates, the media and even climate scientists who do not specialize in DAC have been misguided by the fairness bias in the media. It is important to understand that even non-DAC specialist climate scientists get their climate information from the same sources as the rest of us–the media. So DAC is truly not as far off or as expensive as has been communicated to us.

But for logic sake, let’s suppose we really are still at the very beginning of DAC research and more is needed in order to effectively industrialize the processes.

The scientists that are working on DAC/CDR will certainly say their work is not ready for industrialization–and of course it is not–out of the barrel. But is it ready to be the technological basis in a rapid “emergency/Moon Shot” climate reform program? To begin with, emergency or no, the term “emergency” is frightening. Forget that this term exists when discussing climate. There is no better way to create disinterest in a topic than to frighten people. Forget “wartime” too, same smell.

There is one rapid industrialization program that we have completed  successfully that is nowhere near as frightening and should be used for a rapid industrialization program like this that is of great benefit to our civilization and that of course is President John F. Kennedy’s Moon Shot in that was launched in 1961.

So the question needs to be; is DAC technology today, similar enough to space travel technology in 1961, so that it is a logical and feasible thing to do to launch a Zero Warming Healthy Climate Program? If you ask the scientists, the answer to both the Moon Shot and zero warming is no. But Kennedy did not ask NASA to go to the moon. He told them to go to the moon.

When Kennedy announced the Moon Shot in May 1961, there had been only two successful flights into space, one by the Russians and one by the United States (Mercury and Vostok Space Programs.) At the time of Kennedy’s announcement, the U.S. had experienced only 15 minutes of time in space in a space capsule. We could barely make it into near-earth orbit much less break free from Earth’s gravity.

Our Mercury and Vostok programs today, in a rapid climate reform program, are Global Thermostat and Carbon Engineering. These two organizations have already developed industrial scale prototype direct air capture technologies. Relative to Kennedy’s Moon Shot, it is totally appropriate to begin a Moon Shot type rapid climate reform program from where the DAC technology from where it is today.