Albedo modification is bad!

If you are like me, you had no idea what Albedo Modification is.  But now we both know thanks to this really interesting Slate article that explains that it is changing the amount of sunlight that gets reflected back to space (for the purpose of limiting global warming).  And why we often hear (in more friendly terms) that we can always use albedo modification down the road to solve our climate change problems.  Alas, that is a far more fraught strategy than you might think:

Most previous literature has referred to schemes to increase the proportion of sunlight reflected back to space as solar radiation management, as if it were something routine and businesslike, along the lines of “inventory management” or “personnel management.” It is far from clear, however, that solar radiation can be managedin any meaningful sense of the word. The NRC report instead uses the more neutral term “albedo modification.”…

The report describes albedo modification frankly as involving large and partly unknown risks. It states outright that albedo modification “should not be deployed” and emphasizes that the main focus in climate protection should continue to be reduction of CO2 emissions. If we continue to let CO2 build up in the atmosphere and attempt to offset the effects by increasingly extreme albedo modification, the report states, that situation is one of “profoundly increasing risk.” This is a far cry from the cartoonish portrayal of albedo modification as the cheap and obvious method of choice in Superfreakonomics or by Newt Gingrich.

Two albedo modification schemes are singled out for detailed scrutiny. The first of these, called stratospheric aerosol modification, works high up in the atmosphere—in the layer known as the stratosphere—and involves injecting substances such as sulfur dioxide that lead to the creation of tiny particles that scatter sunlight back to space. It’s modeled on what happens in the wake of large volcanic eruptions. The second, called marine cloud brightening, works close to the Earth’s surface and involves injection of particles (usually created from salt spray) that either directly reflect sunlight or modify low-level clouds in a way that makes them more reflective. Both techniques have the glaring problem that the albedo-modifying effects disappear within a few weeks to a few years, whereas the climate effects of the CO2 we emit will persist for millennia, even if we ultimately kick the fossil fuel habit. That means that if the CO2 we have emitted at some time heats the Earth to the point where something intolerably bad starts to happen, active albedo modification would need to be continually maintained basically forever. [emphasis mine] When has humanity ever managed to sustain a concerted complex technological enterprise for centuries, let alone millennia? An awful lot can happen in a thousand years, much of which we have no way to anticipate. The report recognizes that such a millennial commitment would be unprecedented in human history.

Ummm, wow.  That “forever” part is pretty daunting.  I certainly had no idea of that.  There’s all sorts of other problems, too, but that’s a pretty damn big one.  I don’t know, maybe we should try and find some policies that reduce our amount of carbon emissions.  And as for solutions, we’re probably much better off finding technology that can safely remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The justification for stripping this professor from tenure over a blog posting (scary!!) is pretty pathetic.

2) It would be nice if Supreme Court Justices actually had some real world experience.  Somehow, John Roberts has never even been pulled over while driving!

3) Jon Chait with a handy reminder that Mitt Romney predicted we would face economic doom if Obama were re-elected.

4) The NYT headline, “Jails Have Become Warehouses for the Poor, Ill and Addicted, a Report Says.”  Only problem is the need to qualify with “report says.”  Sadly, this is just reality.  And the modern debtors prison part is especially distressing.

5) New Yorker’s Sarah Larson with one of the better takes on Jon Stewart stepping down.

6) Are you “gluten sensitive”?  Chances are pretty good it’s in your head.  Emily Oster in 538:

If you don’t have celiac disease or a wheat allergy and are experiencing distressing gastrointestinal symptoms after eating gluten — lack of satisfaction with your stool consistency, for example — there is something like a 1 in 30 chance that the gluten is potentially responsible. If you cut out gluten and it makes you feel better, great. Although it may all be in your head.

If you are cutting out gluten for any other reason, all that will happen is you’ll feel the same, but without the pleasure of bread that tastes like bread.

7) Frank Bruni on the value of a liberal arts education.  Personally, I’m still not sold on Shakespeare.

8) I’ve always been blaming my genes for the extreme picky eating of my kids.  In truth, it’s also clearly some pretty sub-optimal parenting in this regard.

9) Really  enjoyed Will Saletan’s takedown of those who argue Christianity never does any wrong.

10) Wow– the twitter police are just nuts!  Scariest part– the tweet that basically ruined Justine Sacco’s life was so obviously meant ironically, but the twitter police are apparently willfully obtuse.

11) Parents stop reading to their kids too soon.  David is 15 and we’re still going strong.  Often my favorite time with my kids each day– why end this before it’s absolutely necessary.

12) Fall and rise of US inequality in two charts.

13) Michael Tomasky on the need for raising the gas tax, and the greater need for actually leveling with the American people:

The second, broader point is this. Someday, some Democrat who wishes to take the reins of this great nation is going to have to level with the people and say look, you say in poll after poll that you want certain things—the preservation of Social Security without benefit cuts, more assistance for higher education, better day care, paid family leave. Fine. I want to give you those things. But they aren’t free. And the rich, even though they’re rich, only have so much to contribute. The top marginal tax rate just isn’t going to get much higher, and the corporate tax rate if anything should be lowered (although as loopholes are simultaneously closed). So you’re going to have to pay a little.

14) Meaningful tax reform just isn’t going anywhere in today’s Congress.

15) Investing in energy efficiency really pays off.  We should do more of it.

16) John Judis on the Republicans’ emerging advantage with white, middle class voters.  Well worth reading, here’s the conclusion:

In the wake of the dramatic gains Republicans have made during Obama’s presidency, I now read the history of the last 80 years much differently. The period of New Deal Democratic ascendancy from 1933 to about 1968 may well prove to have been what historians Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore have called the “long exception” in American politics. It was a period when Americans, panicked about the Depression, put on hold their historic aversion to aggressive government economic intervention, when the middle and bottom of the American economic pyramid united against the top, and when labor unions could claim the loyalty of a third of American workers. That era suffered fatal fissures in 1968 and finally came to a close with Reagan’s landslide in 1980.

It now appears that, in some form, the Republican era which began in 1980 is still with us. Reagan Republicanism—rooted in the long-standing American distrust of government, but perhaps with its roughest theocratic and insurrectionary edges sanded off for a national audience—is still the default position of many of those Americans who regularly go to the polls. It can be effectively challenged when Republicans become identified with economic mismanagement or with military defeat. But after the memory of such disasters has faded, the GOP coalition has reemerged—surprisingly intact and ready for battle.

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