Analysis of emerging Kerry-Graham-Lieberman CC Legislation in the United States

It looks like some of the details of the KGL bill are leaking out.  This Grist posting has an interesting comparison chart.

Teresa B. Clemmer

Associate Director, ENRLC & Assistant Professor of Law

Vermont Law School

164 Chelsea Street

South Royalton, VT 05068-0096

(802) 831-1136 (phone)

(802) 831-1631 (fax)

Response to OIF Article in PNAS

Below is a response to the summary of the PNAS piece that I posted yesterday on this site, re: Ocean Iron Fertilization. The author is Dan Whaley, CEO of Climos, a company engaged in OIF research.


A PNAS paper released today which looks at domoic acid (DA) production in past OIF experiments has concluded that DA was increased in some of the projects.  Though the conclusions from the paper itself were relatively conservative:

“Although there remain uncertainties in extrapolating our results to large oceanic scales, the findings establish potential consequences for developing toxic phytoplankton blooms in pelagic ecosystems,
which so far have not been adequately investigated.”

Headlines have ranged from the dramatic “Ocean Geoengineering Scheme May Prove Lethal”, and at the NY Times, the oddly phrased, “A Risk of Poisoning the Deepest Wells” to the more subdued, “Carbon-capture scheme could cause toxic blooms”.

All fail to explore the obvious flaw in this sort of analysis.  Namely, that phytoplankton underpin open ocean productivity, that this productivity relies on iron, and that when iron-fed naturally occurring blooms happen, they likely favor–in certain regions–Pseudonitzschia or other DA producers.  In short, we know that the availability of iron drives much of the oceanic carbon cycle.  If DA is produced by artificially stimulated OIF blooms, it is likely produced during natural ones as well.

Moving forward, we need to understand exactly how deep-ocean phytoplankton respond to iron–be it naturally or artificially supplied, whether and in what situations DA is produced, and how the ecosystem is or is not already adapted to this.  If it occurs naturally, are organisms that live there used to blooms containing DA? In past climate cycles, when productivity in the deep ocean was much greater, was DA characteristic as well?

These are questions that remain unresolved and need well defined research programs to address.

Update… today’s front page article in the SF Chronicle quotes Ken Coale and Ken Johnson…

“It’s a great paper, but I remain a proponent of iron fertilization – if it does indeed work on a very large scale – because it’s the only process that takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere,” Johnson said.

Coale said that “in some cases” his colleagues had also seen large increases in the domoic acid toxin during their own earlier iron fertilization experiments.

But he added: “I’m with Ken (Johnson) on this. We do need to explore all the options and their consequences. My feeling is that iron fertilization is no magic bullet, but it may need to be considered among a large portfolio of carbon sequestration efforts.”

Ocean Iron Fertilization and Potential Toxic Diatom Production

A new study on the potential impacts of ocean iron fertilization (OIF), one of the potential “long wave” geoengineering options, has been published this week in  PNAS: Trick, et al., Iron Enrichment Stimulates Toxic Diatom Production in High-Nitrate, Low Chlorophyll Areas, PNAS Early Edition (March 15, 2010) (open access).

The researchers examined the potential impact of stimulation of the growth of toxigenic diatoms, and its conclusions should give proponents of geoengineering further pause about pursuing OIF as one of the potential schemes for adoption. Among the take-aways from study:

  1. In most of the OIF experiments to date, large diatom blooms generated by the experiments have been predominated by Pseudonitzschia, a species that has the capacity to produce the potent neurotoxin, domoic acid (DA), a toxin that has generated massive toxic harmful algal blooms in coastal waters.
  2. While past OIF experiments failed to find measurable quantities of DA, this may have been due to the use of laboratory cultures that may mask this potential impact;
  3. Bottle-type growth experiments introducing iron and copper amendments resulted in increases of DA by approximately 160% relative to unamended control bottles. Although these levels might not be high enough to generate acute toxicity, it’s unclear whether higher concentrations could result from the persistent introductions of iron that would occur with large-scale deployment of OIF. This threat might be further pronounced by the fact that whereas all mesoscale enrichment experiments to date have used expensive reagent-grade iron substrates, it’s likely that OIF would use industrial-grade iron substrates that may contain copper or other trace metals that would enhance bloom toxicity;
  4. Large-scale OIF could yield DA toxin levels that have been heretofore sufficient to close shellfish fisheries and cause acute toxic effects in seabirds and marine mammals in near-shore waters;
  5. Toxic diatom blooms could have impacts on stressed fisheries that depend on High Nutrient-Low Chlorophyll regions, the regions where OIF operations would occur.

Lots of potential discussion could flow from this article, including:

  1. How do we weigh potential risks of geoengineering strategies against harms that might occur under a business as usual emissions scenario?
  2. Is there any downside to continue to permit small-scale OIF experiments?
  3. Would it be possible to develop an effective compensation mechanism that would permit us to deploy OIF if we become desperate in the future in terms of potential impacts of climate change while still ensuring that those that might be injured by OIF would have redress for damages?
  4. Should we have more trepidation about geoengineering strategies that might be largely driven by private companies seeking carbon credits, vs other potential geoengineering strategies, e.g. sulfur injection or cloud seeding that likely would be developed by governments?

New publication on U.S. GHG mitigation potential

You may be interested in a recent article, “Imagining the Unimaginable: Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Forty Percent” at that explains how, using existing technology and appropriate policy, the U.S. could rapidly reduce its per capita GHG emissions by 40%.

Many Americans do not believe that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be materially reduced, let alone reduced without significant economic hardship. Economic models that predict enormous costs to mitigate climate change reflect a lack of faith in the power of the mzrket to innovate — the belief that this time transformative innovation will not appear. These pessimistic analyses do not include the historic pattern that once environmental mandates are imposed, fierce market forces are unleashed that produce rapid innovation, and that implementation costs generally plummet to a level far below what the models predicted. Predictions and policy choices should be based on how markets actually respond to new environmental requirements. A review of efforts in California, and elsewhere, demonstrates that when an appropriate portfolio of new energy laws and policies are implemented, inefficiently used energy can be harvested from the energy system at low cost, no lose of function, and result in net economic gains to the states economy. The innovation spurred by their energy policy reforms reduced their per capita GHG emissions to a level about 40% below the national average. If these energy law reforms were implemented across the nation, the United States could cut its energy use and GHG emissions, improve its competitiveness in international markets, and maintain the level of energy services our citizens expect. This article surveys these efficiency possibilities, identifies the legal and policy barriers that systematically obstruct these possibilities, and suggest some policy prescription.

Professor David R. Hodas
Widener University School of Law
4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington DE 19803-0474
302 477 2186 (tel)
302 477 2257 (fax)

Publication: Implementation of Geoengineering Options

For readers of this blog who include a geoengineering module in their courses, or make presentations on geoengineering, an interesting brief piece is Carlin, Implementation and Utilization of Geoengineering for Global Climate Change Control, 7 Sustainable Development Law & Policy 56-58 (2007). Carlin is a full-throated supporter of climate geoengineering, and has written extensively in this field, including a longer piece with similar themes, Carlin, Global climate change control: Is there a better strategy than reducing greenhouse gas emissions?, 155 University of Pennsylvania Law Review 1401-1497 (2007).

Carlin’s piece focuses on governance issues associated with research and development in this field, as well as potential deployment of geoengineering systems. Among the take-aways from the piece:

  1. A critical component of any geoengineering scheme’s implementation would be political legitimization of the approach, i.e. “[p]eople and governments are likely to want some assurance that their interests are being heard and taken into account by an organization that would be charged with carrying out such projects;”
  2. Any geoengineering system put in place needs an organization capability to make mid-course corrections should new information come available;
  3. The phases of a geoengineering program would include a careful laboratory investigation, subscale real world experiments, leading to development of a detailed plan for final implementation; efforts to gain acceptance of the plan by legitimizing organizations; plan implementation, maintenance of the system;
  4. A successful program would require limitation (or elimination of the possibility ) of legal liabilities that might occur from deployment;
  5. While the quickest, simplest, and most-cost effect approach would be for unilateral deployment, this would likely result in international tension, a proliferation of lawsuits and even possible lack of support in the deploying country itself; thus a multilateral approach using the UN or other international organization is the optimal option;
    • One option would be for one country to carry out the laboratory research phase, e.g. the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency

This article could generate some interesting discussion. Some of the questions that might be asked include the following:

  • Do you think that Carlin that it’s critical to limit or eliminate the possibility of liability for damages associated with geoengineering schemes? Would this undercut efforts to “legitimize” geoengineering schemes? How could one psosible reconcile these two concerns?
  • Is it likely that a system developed under the purview of a branch of the U.S. military would be deemed legitimate by the world community given efforts by the U.S. military in the past to use weather modification as a military weapon?
  • What would be the decision making structure for full deployment of a geoengineering schme if done under the rubric of an international organization such as the UN? Consensus? A supermajority? A simple majority?

New Gallup Poll on American Attitudes Toward Climate Change

The latest Gallup poll on the environment includes some highly disconcerting data on Americans’ attitudes toward global warming, including the fact that almost half of those polled (48%) believe that the portrayal of climate change is “generally exaggerated” and only 32% see it as a serious potential threat to their lives. Beyond the potential discussion that this poll could stimulate in class as to why climate skepticism is increasing in this nation while the consensus of climate scientists remains firm, it should also remind all of us of the need to confront the arguments of the climate skeptics in our own classes, lest we think everyone is on the same page from the outset!

Climate Change Eduation Training Programs

Dear Colleagues,

Dickinson College invites applications to participate in two programs for interdisciplinary teaching about climate change. The programs are briefly described below. Further details and application forms can be downloaded from

The application deadline is April 23, 2010.

Changing Planet Faculty Study Group: a learning community to support interdisciplinary teaching about Earth science and human dimensions of climate change. Members of the study group will participate in a four-day workshop to that will take place July 19-22 on the Dickinson College campus in Carlisle, PA and other activities over the 2010-2011 academic year. The program is appropriate for arts and humanities, social science and natural science faculty members.

Climate Modeling and Data Applications Workshop: A workshop is being offered August 9-12 at Dickinson College to provide training in the use of the Educational Global Climate model (EdGCM), and a data visualization tool, Terraviva!SEDAC, for undergraduate teaching.  EdGCM is a software package that was developed at Columbia University and NASA/GISS to integrate a computer climate model with a user interface that simplifies setting up, running, and analyzing climate model experiments ( The climate model is a real research tool that is used by NASA scientists – but has been used successfully by undergraduate teachers and students. Terraviva!SEDAC is a tool for analysis, integration, and visualization of social, economic, and environmental data ( No mathematical modeling, computer modeling, or GIS skills are needed, just comfort working with spreadsheets.

These opportunities are supported by a NASA cooperative agreement with Dickinson College, “Cooling the Liberal Arts Curriculum, a Campaign for Climate Change Education at 4- and 2-Year Liberal Arts Colleges.” Partners in the project include the Harrisburg Area Community Collge, Northampton Community College, Montgomery County Community College, Montgomery College, the Center for Climate System Research at Columbia University, and the Socioeconomic Data Analysis Center at Columbia University. Priority for participation in these two programs is given to faculty members from the partner colleges, but 10 spaces are reserved in each program for faculty members from other colleges and universities.


Neil Leary


Neil Leary

Director, Center for Environmental & Sustainability Education

Dickinson College

PO Box 1773

Carlisle, PA 17013   USA

Tel: +1 717-245-1954


Mid-Century Mitigation Targets and Policymaking

Many governments and commentators in recent years have focused on the development of interim mid-century emissions reductions goals, contending that this would preserve long-term options in terms of avoiding temperature increases beyond 2C pre-industrial, provide more guidance to policymakers who engage in multidecadal planning, and provide more guidance on emissions paths for the next few decades than long-term goals. A new study in PNAS, O’Neill, et al., Mitigation implications of midcentury targets that preserve long-term climate options, 107 PNAS 1011-1016 (2010) (open access) seeks to assess the implications of potential interim objectives and long-term outcomes. As such, it could be an excellent reading for students in discussing the timing of emissions reductions and its policy implications. Also, this could be a good reading for students engaged in simulated negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol

Among the key takeaways from the study:

  1. It may be possible that global emissions could be higher in 2050 than predicted by the IPCC and still achieve the goal of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 495-535ppm. Whereas the IPCC concluded that emissions would have to be 30-60% below 2000 levels to effectuate this objective, this study concludes that it might be possible to meet the target by only reducing emissions by 20% below 2000 levels, though the study also concludes that this would not be cost optimal;
  2. To have a 50% chance of limiting warming to 2C would require limiting annual emissions to between 5.5 and 6.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2050, under a least-cost scenario, using the IPCC’s B2 baseline scenario. If emissions were 7 gigatons, however, it would become infeasible to have a 50% chance of exceeding 2C by 2100. The researchers noted, however, that IPCC scenario assumptions are crucial however. For example, should the A2r scenario play out (high energy demand/low technology diffusion), avoiding temperature increases above 2C with a 50% probability becomes only virtually feasible, and would require reductions of emissions by more than 50% by 2050;
  3. Energy systems costs for a wide range of emissons (between 7-10 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually) are roughly similar, suggesting that it’s possible to reduce emissions below some potentially critical thresholds for little or no cost. However, costs do rise substantially once emissions are reduced below 7 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually.

I think this article could stir some lively discussion on how climate policymaking should be conducted in the face of scientific and socio-economic uncertainty. The role of risk assessment and management is also germane here. Should we, for example, seek to reduce emissions to certain levels if this still poses a 50% threshold of exceeding 2C in 2100? Should we be seeking to reduce that risk to 25%, 5%? What are the implications of the principles of intergenerational equity or the precautionary principle? What the are the tradeoffs that this generation may have to take in seeking to effectuate deeper cuts in emissions?

New Open Access Journal

From David Duthie at UNEP:

Today, I stumbled – this is the term for using the internet without using Google – upon Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews – WIREs Climate Change – a new publishing effort to create a cross-disciplinary platform for climate change.

The first issue of WIREs CC is just available online, as is a series of Editorial Commentaries from the 14 sub-sections of the online journal (see list below my signature).

These are mostly available open access and provide a nice set of short, but densely referenced, overviews from authors who have been working for many years at each respective “coalface” (perhaps not the best metaphor to use these days?!).

The ToC of the first issue is available here:

and the Early Online Editorials are at:

A nice (rare?) combination of the rigour of peer-review, coupled with escape from academic “silos”,and the twin advantages of brevity – each editorial is just a few pages – yet well-referenced for further research.