Freeman Dyson on global warming

Discuss

74 Responses to “Freeman Dyson on global warming”

  1. Antinous says:

    I’m sorry, your anecdotal evidence completely negates every piece of work done on a global scale.

    Well, he did announce up front that he was using sixth grade biology as his reference. Also, how are sun spots biology? Is that helio-biology?

  2. JulianR says:

    Er… Trees already eat Carbon, and have been for ever. It’s called photosynthesis… I don’t see a need for inventig “treeier” trees, the ones we have are good enough.

  3. Fnarf says:

    I didn’t say anything about corn.

    But Dyson DID. That’s what we’re talking about.

  4. Aloisius says:

    I often see a very strange line of thinking that goes along the lines of: “It isn’t a permanent solution therefore it isn’t worth doing.”

    This seems rather strange to me as it assumes that technology is static and we won’t be able to come up with another solution later.

    Let’s take trees decaying for instance. It is true that trees will decay and release their carbon in the form of CO2 back into the atmosphere. However, trees don’t decay over night. It actually takes some time. Not only that, but there are quite a few species of trees that live for hundreds of years.

    I dare say that we’ll be able to come up with another solution in 100 years, so trees are one viable option to delay the problem. Which brings me to another strange line of logic I see sometimes that goes like “It doesn’t handle 100% of the problem so it isn’t worth doing.” It is as if incremental improvement excludes revolutionary change.

    Trees can’t handle all of this mess, but again, there is little reason to not have them handle some of the mess.

  5. Takuan says:

    Dear Humanity:

    Yes, it is possible to shit in your own nest even on a planetary scale.

  6. Tenn says:

    I saw an episode of Doctor Who once where the star the people were scooping fuel from was alive in every sense. It proceeded to infect the fuel-scoopers with its consciousness and turn them into mad murderers.

    Which is to say, it -could- be biology if you were on-board the S.S. Pantellion with the Doctor at one point in time.

  7. scottfree says:

    Ahhh. Ok, trees don’t eat carbon dioxide, they store it until they die, at which point it is released. Deforestation causes increased atmospheric carbon dioxide in so much as the trees that are killed release their nasty prematurely. And planting more trees will do eff all to prevent that, because living trees will not suck up carbon dioxide faster then a dead tree will release it. An adult tree releases as much carbon dioxide as it absorbs–so really I’m not sure trees factor much into it in any way, shape or form. Algae is much better at this kind of stuff, and its not like anyone is using the pacific ocean as anything other than a tip anyway.

    And Tenn, which series was that? Arent you a little young to remember before Chris Eccleston? And don’t you talk shite on David Tennant. Definitely the most likeable Doctor since Tom Baker. Not that I particularly like them that way. Also, the rumours are Rose comes back this series.

  8. Antinous says:

    they store it until they die, at which point it is released.

    Don’t you have to burn or otherwise catalyze them to release it? Otherwise people would asphyxiate in public parks every time there’s a Dutch elm disease outbreak.

  9. Takuan says:

    scripted before or after Whipping Star?

  10. noen says:

    Unusual Suspect
    I’m not understanding this. Can you please explain? Isn’t the CO2 released by burning plant-based ethanol mostly atmospheric CO2 that was previously fixed by the plant through photosynthesis?

    Yes, that is the CO2 cycle and it is why fixing carbon with plants will achieve nothing. Fossil fuels on the other hand have been removed from the CO2 Cycle and buried for millions of years. To remove carbon from the biosphere it needs to be buried in the Earth or ejected into space I suppose. Or perhaps transformed into solid form like plastics.

    Switching to a cellulose => alcohol fuel system wouldn’t be bad. It would at least halt the dumping of fossil fuel carbon into the atmosphere. That would be better that what we have now.

  11. Tenn says:

    After, I’m afraid. The very new seasons, which while inferior, are still better than the other Sci-Fi shows I could watch. Besides, Captain Jack is a hottie. (Martha is too, but she only showed up in one season and has been replaced by blubbering Donna, and let’s not even TALK about Rose, the Doctor’s ‘love’ interest. I wished she’d stayed ‘dead’).

  12. coldspell says:

    @33:

    Yes, that is the CO2 cycle and it is why fixing carbon with plants will achieve nothing. … To remove carbon from the biosphere it needs to be buried in the Earth or ejected into space I suppose.

    To break the CO2 cycle, grow trees and then bury them deep in the earth.

  13. presterjohn says:

    To Humans, From Nature.

    Plants breathe Carbon Dioxide.

    We will grow more plants in response to higher levels of Carbon Dioxide.

    Thank you for your suggestions, but you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Regards.

    p.s., worry more about methane.

  14. Antinous says:

    I can’t quite figure out what’s being argued (on the bio-fuels part, not the magic trees part), but isn’t one of the points that the fuel used to plow (or plough for some of you), plant, irrigate, harvest, extract and transport the biofuels either exceeds, equals or substantially curtails any value from the enterprise? Some of those processes are equivalent or analogous to ones used to produce petro-fuels, but not all. It’s a cycle, but it’s not a closed cycle because it’s dependent on a whole bunch of fuel-burning ancillary activities.

  15. fnc says:

    Have any studies been done on the long term effect on plants of their ancestors serving as carbon sinks? If a plant dies and gets buried and takes that carbon out of circulation, so to speak, that has effect on the atmosphere, and anything in it. I know they can supposedly recreate the atmospheric carbon record going way back, has there ever been a decline in carbon due to plants storing it deep underground? Or records of its effects on subsequent generations of plants (I’m talking over long spands of time) If not, does that mean some other source is keeping the level constant? I know oceans can give it off, microbes could produce it, etc.

    When Dyson mentioned biotech coming to the fore as computers did in the past, it struck me that a combination of computers WITH biotech is going to be considerably more….interesting.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Diesel trees, from Brazil already produce oil that can be used in vehicles, without processing. You just need to improve the trees to make them grow in a wider range of climates so that they are a global solution.

  17. Takuan says:

    ha!
    “After suffering under a tyrannous pure democracy which had the power to create laws so fast that no thought could be given to the effects, the sentients of the galaxy found the need for a Bureau of Sabotage (BuSab) to slow the wheels of government, thereby preventing it from legislating recklessly.”
    written in 1970

  18. scottfree says:

    You just need to improve the trees to make them grow in a wider range of climates so that they are a global solution.

    Or…just change the global climate!

  19. pixeltone says:

    Yes, but will these trees eat more kites?

  20. Joe says:

    Burying organic matter (like dead trees) deep in the earth is one possibility; the stuff will eventually turn into fossil fuels. I guess if we could promote the growth of coral reefs and similar organisms, more carbon would be removed and turned into calcium carbonate.

    Just planting trees will take carbon out of the air while the tree is growing, but when the tree dies and decays, the carbon is given back to the atmosphere.

    But the problem with Dyson’s idea is that if we manage to build a plant that takes lots of carbon out of the air, how do we make it stop, considering the large number of invasive pests we’re helpless against already?

  21. The Unusual Suspect says:

    “Yes, that is the CO2 cycle and it is why fixing carbon with plants will achieve nothing. Fossil fuels on the other hand have been removed from the CO2 Cycle and buried for millions of years.”

    Until the fossil fuel is dug up and burned by humans, thus releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where plants absorb it to grow more plants, etc.

    Welcome, humans, to your role in the CO2 Cycle!

    (Your part is a minor one, however, far behind that of forest fires, volcanoes and those farting beetles that have been eating British Columbia forests lately.)

  22. Clumpy says:

    Carbon-eating trees wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves in large numbers. If they became the dominant foliage on Earth, they might fix the climate issue. Then again, they might create the opposite problem – consuming too much carbon and bringing on rapid global cooling. (Remember – SOME carbon in the atmosphere is normal. It’s been pretty high before.)

    But even if the trees were successful, the planet would reach equilibrium with a smaller number of trees, meaning that trees would not reproduce as quickly with less carbon to consume. If we want to fix the planet AND have enough wood for our needs, it makes more sense to think more than one step ahead and merely tone down our emissions while populating forests.

  23. JulianR says:

    Okay, trees release the carbon again after they die and decompose. So, a carbon-eating tree will not do that? I am pretty sure the carbon molecules will be there in some form as well after the carbon-eating tree dies.

    Anyway, I am not sure that this is the right way to go: Why not focus on lowering emissions first? The less fuel a car uses, the better. But in the end, all the carbon from the oil will be in the atmosphere, one way or the other. So wouldn’t it be better to not use up the oil in the first place? Which is just a fever dream, I know…

  24. greffless says:

    We could already do this with existing plants and technology! We don’t need to unleash Frankenstein’s monster’s herbaceous cousin on the world to do it either.

    There are already copious species of plants that grow at a very fast rate, certain bamboos for instance. We could grow fields of them specifically for the purpose of harvesting and pyrolysis into products like agrichar (google it).

    It would:
    a. turn tonnes of CO2 into solid carbon and release much of the bound oxygen
    b. recover/release the water and many nutrients used to grow that plants
    c. generate energy (pyrolysis produces gases which can be captured and used to fuel the process with surplus)
    d. produce an end product that enriches soils to help these plants or any other crops grow faster bigger and stronger thus store more carbon.

  25. Takuan says:

    only those with carbon-fiber spars.

    Anyone heard of GMO super-carbon eaters? Kind of reminds me of the Fighting Trees of Linebarger.

  26. Thebes says:

    Maybe if the Y axis of the graph started off at 0 instead of 310 it would look a little less biased?

    Surely I am concerned about the sharp increase in CO2 in our atmosphere. It would seem to give plants an advantage over mammals, and as a mammal that bothers me. Genetically engineered super trees just add to that bother, btw.

    This added CO2 is only a very tiny portion of our atmosphere, but it might also be responsible for some of this warming we had in the late 90′s which was so worrisome. Now, though, that seems to have slowed or it might even be now cooling… hard to say without properly located and surveyed sensors (rather than ones next to blacktop parking lots and a/c discharge vents).

  27. dnotice says:

    There’s a good critique of his review over on Real Climate.

  28. John Mark Ockerbloom says:

    David Archer posted a critique of Dyson’s article to RealClimate a few days ago (“Freeman Dyson’s selective vision”). There’s been an ongoing discussion in the comments thread (now up to 133 responses). You can read the whole thing here.

  29. noen says:

    To break the CO2 cycle, grow trees and then bury them deep in the earth.

    Sorry, doesn’t work. They just decay and release their CO2 that way. Unless you seal them up, remove all the O2 and keep them buried for millions of years. Do you have any idea of what kind of numbers we’re talking about? We need to remove gigatons of CO2.

    If a plant dies and gets buried and takes that carbon out of circulation

    No it doesn’t, the plant decays and then releases it’s CO2. Peat bogs do store a lot of ancient CO2. Because of the anaerobic conditions the plant matter in a peat bog has not decayed. Permafrost also holds a lot of CO2 in the form of frozen plant matter. Unfortunately due to warming that is changing and the vast tundras of the world are thawing out and releasing their stored carbon. These are not practical solutions.

    has there ever been a decline in carbon due to plants storing it deep underground?

    No, observed levels of CO2 are determined by glaciation, around 200ppm during ice ages and around 300 in warming periods. In the past 10,000 years it’s been very steady at around 280ppm. In general though there has been a very gradual decrease in CO2. Half a billion years ago concentrations were very high. We really really don’t want to live in that kind of environment as there would be all kinds of problems. Chief among them would be breathing.

  30. Michael Zed says:

    Replant 1/4 of the world’s trees in order to preserve them? Yikes!

    Why not just start replanting the forests that we’ve already cut down, today? Plant more than we cut. Those trees already know what to do with carbon.

  31. noen says:

    Dear Nature
    Thanks for the reminder to worry about methane. Trust me, I am. Let’s not have a repeat of the Permian–Triassic extinction event kay?

    Much love,
    Humans

  32. jetsetsc says:

    Scary as the carbon rise is, I have an issue with graphs where the scale doesn’t start at zero. The current presentation exaggerates the rise:

    |———x
    |——x
    |—-x
    |–x
    |x___________

    If the ppmv scale began at zero it would look more like:

    |————–x
    |——-x
    |–x
    |
    |
    |________________

    /tufte

  33. zikzak says:

    The unbridled techno-optimism in this article recalls the utopian 50′s attitude towards nuclear technology.

    In short, it’s funny in its naivety, but also kind of scary in that people may actually try to do this.

  34. geo the moose says:

    yea, lets go invent some freakin trees that will eat all the carbon. i am sooo sure that nothing untoward will happen with that…..

  35. arkizzle says:

    Thebes is right, the War On Nature must commence forthwith!

    Those green, CO2-breathing bastards!

  36. GregLondon says:

    The problem with breeding specialized trees that are capable of eating carbon is that all the female ents have disappeared and we don’t know where they went.

  37. noen says:

    Dr. Who is now a big ball of suck. I can barely watch it.

    my sources include the New York Times

    Yeah, that great scientific journal the NY Times and it’s equally prestigious research lab The Financial Times. Wow. Clearly teh stoooopid is strong with this one.

  38. JSG says:

    It is sixth grade biology….
    What do humans breathe out? What do plants “breathe” in? What do plants “breathe” out? What do humans breathe in?

    I love these snake oil salesman, and that is what they are, that say that the earth is going to warm up because of human beings. The truth is the earth has been cooling down since 1998, I am currently in Pittsburgh PA, and on May 28th the temperature at 1:00 pm is 58 degrees. most of May it has been in the 50′s. A few years ago it was in the high 60′s to lower 70′s in May

    The heating and cooling of the earth has little to do with what we puny humans do in our day to day lives. There were three our four ice ages before we even arrived on the planet, however that happened.

    Wyoming had a sub tropical climate millions of years ago.
    Link: http://smtc.uwyo.edu/coal/WyomingCoal/geology.asp

    Few, if any humans in the area, no oil production. And since humans found the land, the temperature has changed very little.

    Temperature, the warming and cooling of the earth has little or nothing to do with us. It is the position of the earth, the sun, and the sun spots that cause the majority of global climate change.

  39. noen says:

    Your part is a minor one, however, far behind that of forest fires, volcanoes and those farting beetles that have been eating British Columbia forests lately.

    Cut ‘n paste from JunkScience much?

  40. Guysmiley says:

    The comment about ethanol is just plain wrong. If we were to switch to a biofuel transportation infrastructure, it absolutely would reduce CO2 levels because biofuels are not releasing previously fixed carbon like fossil fuels do.

  41. imipak says:

    Fascinating? Possibly. Insightful? Not at all.

  42. kebko says:

    #6 – For all the dangers of technological predications, don’t you think the techno-pessimists or techno-stasists (?) look much worse in comparison to the techno-optimists? For starters, there are a good number of Malthusians that were way off the mark.

    Looking back, the optimists seem quaintly naive but fairly harmless – or at least manageable – whereas had we followed the advice of the Malthusians, untold harm would have been created that would have been very unnecessary.

  43. Anonymous says:

    I would and do imagine that these trees are going to be ravenously hungry if we continue to use them for effect.

  44. ZehnKatzen says:

    @17 said:

    @14. I hope you’re joking.

    Yes, I maek funnay joak. I know the difference between the guy who invented the vacuum and the guy who did the … physics and stuff.

  45. scottfree says:

    Bring on the Vuuzhan Vong.

    I remember from an episode of QI that an adult tree will release more carbon then it absorbs, and between 60-90% of the world’s carbon is converted by algae. QI isnt always the most reputable source, but they usually get it approximately right.

  46. Tenn says:

    The truth is the earth has been cooling down since 1998, I am currently in Pittsburgh PA, and on May 28th the temperature at 1:00 pm is 58 degrees. most of May it has been in the 50′s. A few years ago it was in the high 60′s to lower 70′s in May

    I’m sorry, your anecdotal evidence completely negates every piece of work done on a global scale. Worry’s over, guys, go back to protesting Red #40 for JSG has shown us the light!

  47. meddeviceengineer says:

    RealClimate posted a response to Freeman Dyson on the 24th
    that takes him to task for some of his statements.

    ” The problem here, unrecognized by Dyson, is that the business-as-usual he’s defending would release almost as much carbon to the air by the end of the century as the entire reservoir of carbon stored on land, in living things and in soils combined.”
    ….
    “And anyway, business-as-usual will always argue that the alternative would be catastrophic to our economic well being. Remember seat belts? Why is it that Dyson’s remarkably creative powers of vision (carbon-eating trees for example) fail to come up with alternatives to the crude and ugly process of burning coal to generate electricity?”

  48. The Unusual Suspect says:

    “The comment about ethanol is just plain wrong. If we were to switch to a biofuel transportation infrastructure, it absolutely would reduce CO2 levels because biofuels are not releasing previously fixed carbon like fossil fuels do.”

    I’m not understanding this. Can you please explain? Isn’t the CO2 released by burning plant-based ethanol mostly atmospheric CO2 that was previously fixed by the plant through photosynthesis?

  49. consideredopinion says:

    Sorry for the lack of a better link, but…

    http://www.bioenergylists.org/en/maxphydtherm

    Baby technology towards the kind of authentic carbon sequestration we’ll have to get a whole lot more serious about.

  50. Jeremiah Cornelius says:

    Horsefeathers.

    On the subject of “genetic engineering” and global salvation, I leave you with two thoughts. You’re clever enough to make the reasonable conclusion:

    1. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
    2. The World According to Monsanto

    Now, tell me. What does our present world resemble more? The diverse technophillic rhapsodies from Larry Niven to Star Trek? The predictable, grim warnings of Orwell, Dick, Gibson and Brazil?

    The tragic mistakes of humanity stem from their attempted conquest of the tangible world, before succeeding in the difficult conquest of the unconscious self.

  51. ZehnKatzen says:

    Wow. Some guy invents a killer vacuum cleaner and all of a sudden he’s a full-on climate pundit.

    Talk about arrogant!

  52. bogusphotographer says:

    Dyson is a scientist, but his attitude is religion in the purest sense: blind faith. Recent work has shown how GM soya yields have actually fallen compared to non-GM. It’s possible plants are already working at their optimum and little if any increase in yields is possible. I agree with an earlier comment here, that this is utopian science – that it will deliver a shiny future and save mankind. Perhaps it’s an oversight, but we already have carbon eating trees – they’re called ‘trees’. It’s carbon burning humans that’s the problem.

  53. Nobilis says:

    Let’s say it works. Let’s say that a quarter… A QUARTER… of the planet’s trees are replaced with carbon-stripping variants, and the CO2 in the atmosphere is drastically reduced…

    How does this affect the carbon cycle? What happens when CO2 is abnormally LOW?

    And how about all the OTHER greenhouse gases, like nitrous oxide, ozone, CFC’s, and water vapor?

    Replacing one out-of-control climate hammer with another one that bangs in the opposite direction is not an answer.

  54. noen says:

    The idea that increased CO2 in the atmosphere will encourage plant growth and thereby effectively sequester CO2 is misguided. Plants need more than just CO2, they also need nitrogen and phosphorus. Simply having more CO2 available is no guarantee they increase their rate of growth. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if someone did a well controlled study? Why yes it would:

    FACE
    “FACE is a method and infrastructure used to experimentally enrich the atmosphere enveloping portions of a terrestrial ecosystem with controlled amounts of carbon dioxide”

    Duke University FACE Experiment

    The upshot is that any gains are likely to be short lived and unlikely to offset human CO2 activity.

    But what are we talking about here? What are the numbers? There are approx. 600 billion tons of CO2 in above the ground vegetation and 1200-1800 below ground. Unfortunately Human fossil fuel emissions for the 21st century are predicted to be anywhere from 600 to 2500 billion tons. That means we would have to find somewhere to take the entire mass of plant life above ground and sequester it underground or on the bottom of the ocean. It ain’t gonna happen.

    Certainly it would help if we stopped the destruction of forests and reversed current trends. By all means plant a tree. But we are much more likely to succeed if we just reduced our emissions in the first place. Your great grandchildren will thank you.

  55. Nelson.C says:

    Unusual Suspect @53 et al:

    Until the fossil fuel is dug up and burned by humans, thus releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where plants absorb it to grow more plants, etc.

    A fine and dandy theory with but one flaw: it isn’t true. Where are all these extra plants? Your very first link in #57 is about an unusual infestation of beetles eating a whole forest. We’ve been deforesting the world since before the industrial revolution, replacing it with farmland, not all of it sustainable. In fact, the greatest depredations of the 20th and 21st centuries replace rich, living, ecodiverse rainforest with soil-eroded wastelands, with a thin edge of farmland where the latest bit of forest has been cut down.

    So where are these extra trees that a benevolent god/Gaia/invisible hand is supposed to be planting to make up for the blind-to-consequences rapine that the human race is engaged in?

    You know, nature will adjust, eventually, if we do nothing. But it’s blind, foolish narcissism to believe that any such adjustment will leave human beings in play.

  56. The Unusual Suspect says:

    (my sources include the New York Times)

    Yeah, that great scientific journal the NY Times and it’s equally prestigious research lab The Financial Times. Wow. Clearly teh stoooopid is strong with this one.

    Well, actually, I read about this first in my April 24 issue of Nature, of which only an abstract is available on the Web to nun-subscribers:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v452/n7190/full/nature06777.html

    But I guess you think they are “teh stoooopid” too.

  57. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    @14. I hope you’re joking.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_dyson

  58. Homegrown Evolution says:

    Seems like the large scale control of nature is what got us into trouble in the first place. While not a technophobe, I’d argue that it’s time for more creative responses than just more technology. How about more walkable/bikable cities? How about permaculture? I agree with Daniel Pinchbeck when he says that the future will be more about technique than technology.

  59. Fnarf says:

    If we were to switch to a biofuel transportation infrastructure, it absolutely would reduce CO2 levels because biofuels are not releasing previously fixed carbon like fossil fuels do.

    This is wrong for the simple reason that growing CORN for biofuel requires more fossil fuels than the biofuel replaces. Fuel corn doesn’t grow itself; it uses massive quantities of petroleum and natural gas for fertilizers, etc. It’s a net loss for fossil fuels, and an ecological disaster for other reasons, starting with the amount of water required.

  60. martha_macarthur says:

    How about we just plant more regular trees, wouldn’t that be faster and cheaper at this point instead of spending money on creating some kind of carbon eating monster tree which won’t be available for 20 to 50 years?

  61. Takuan says:

    nothing lasts forever, not even the Earth. I listen to anything that will drag things out another few centuries though. We are alive at a time when it is possible to think about and possible to actually do something about extending our species lifespan beyond the lifespan of its host planet. It’d be a shame to blow it for lack of vision and fear of thinking big.

  62. eredux says:

    Check out this US Energy Footprint Chart, an interactive United States Energy Consumption Footprint chart, illustrating Greenest States and more. This site has all sorts of stats on individual State energy consumptions, demographics and State energy offices.

    http://www.eredux.com/states/

  63. The Unusual Suspect says:

    @#55:

    (Your part is a minor one, however, far behind that of forest fires, volcanoes and those farting beetles that have been eating British Columbia forests lately.)

    “Cut ‘n paste from JunkScience much?”

    No cut-and-paste, and my sources include the New York Times, among others:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/29/science/earth/29obbeet.html?em&ex=1209700800&en=6df805f06dc6b70a&ei=5087

    http://environmentalresearchweb.org/cws/article/research/34391

    http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/editorial/story.html?id=97e5f9a6-3c17-46bc-8371-2c34502ca019

    http://www.financialpost.com/analysis/columnists/story.html?id=51c4a7dd-2457-41db-a060-d3c8dc6700ad&k=42706

  64. bogusphotographer says:

    “As a scientist I do not have much faith in predictions. Science is organized unpredictability. The best scientists like to arrange things in an experiment to be as unpredictable as possible, and then they do the experiment to see what will happen. You might say that if something is predictable then it is not science. When I make predictions, I am not speaking as a scientist. I am speaking as a story-teller, and my predictions are science-fiction rather than science.” Freeman Dyson

    Well…he said it about himself. At least he’s aware of it.

  65. Guysmiley says:

    “This is wrong for the simple reason that growing CORN for biofuel requires more fossil fuels than the biofuel replaces. Fuel corn doesn’t grow itself; it uses massive quantities of petroleum and natural gas for fertilizers, etc. It’s a net loss for fossil fuels, and an ecological disaster for other reasons, starting with the amount of water required.”

    I didn’t say anything about corn. Corn is not an ideal crop for biofuel, no argument there.

    For the person that can’t understand the difference between crude oil and biofuel, one is a cycle and the other is an addition with no corresponding removal.

  66. Stefan Jones says:

    Intesting . . . the Dyson lectures I’ve been to or read transcripts of tend to be about how the best laid plans of the hubristic can go terribly wrong.

    His essay collections Disturbing the Universe and especially Imagined Worlds are full of interesting anecdotes about technology misapplied.

    * * *

    The only problem I have with Dyson’s solution is that there are *never* cure-all single solutions.

    And I fear that governments will take Dyson’s essay as a reason not to worry, things will be taken care of. In fact, the carbon-capture fix will require a really big effort, almost certainly government based. The invisible hand of the market will be diddling itself.

  67. beejamin says:

    #17 – I think the vaccuum referred to by #14 might be the Dyson sphere? I´ve got a (the other) Dyson vaccuum, but it`s not *quite* that effective…

  68. The Unusual Suspect says:

    “For the person that can’t understand the difference between crude oil and biofuel, one is a cycle and the other is an addition with no corresponding removal.”

    Corn, algae, trees, hemp or [insert favourite plant here] all consume CO2 (and water and sunlight) by photosynthesis. They convert the CO2 into free oxygen and carbohydrates such as sugars and starches.

    The oxidation of these carbohydrates (whether metabolically, chemically or by fire) releases CO2 as a waste product.

    It’s very much a cycle.

  69. The Unusual Suspect says:

    Nelson.C #55:

    “So where are these extra trees that a benevolent god/Gaia/invisible hand is supposed to be planting to make up for the blind-to-consequences rapine that the human race is engaged in?”

    Where are all these extra plants? They grow out of the waste products of the previous generation of plants, including the CO2 waste.

    One side-effect of the current warming cycle is that Greenland is becoming green again, and the snow and ice is being replaced with an extra 2,000,000 square kilometers of forest. That’s a lot of extra trees.

    Humans have been real asses about conservation but, so far, we’ve haven’t made nearly the dent in Earth’s forests that a good old continent-wide forest fire or insect infestation has made (and there have been plenty of those).

    The situation can change in the future but, right now, we’re just an annoyance.

  70. The Unusual Suspect says:

    Stefan Jones @#25: “The invisible hand of the market will be diddling itself.”

    That quote alone is worth the price of admission!

  71. Destiny says:

    I could focus on the discussion, because scenes like this kept popping into my head.

    Lucy: You’re a failure, Charlie Brown. You’re stupid, you’ve never win a baseball game, and you’ll never be able to fly that carbon.

    Charlie Brown: You’re wrong, Lucy. Here I go. ARGH!!!

    Lucy: What happened?

    Charlie: It got caught in that carbon-eating tree.

  72. ekppp says:

    Fascinating.

    Forgive me if my enthusiasm for GE trees with oil spigots attached seems tempered.

  73. andyhavens says:

    If an invisible hand diddles itself in a forest of carbon-eating trees, does anybody hear (or see?) when it [deleted by NSA]?

  74. consideredopinion says:

    Yes, such a technology could eventually be useful. Ultimately we’ll have to get very good at making coal and oil from atmospheric carbon to lock away in seams for a very long time, at incredibly-faster-than-geologic timescales.

    In the meantime, there’s plenty we can and should be doing before this, or any other, “magic bullet” opportunity matures enough to use. How about slowing and stopping the exploitation of existing carbon stores for a start? I’ll be very happy the day an owner of a coal seam makes more money keeping it in the ground than digging it up.

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