MEER First Principles
Here we present the core arguments underlying the science of MEER’s particular SRM strategy
1) What is “Earth’s energy imbalance” (EEI) and why is it so important?
1. What is “Earth’s energy imbalance” (EEI) and why is it so important?
Earth’s average temperature has been fluctuating within a certain range that allowed our various life forms to flourish for many thousands of years. When fossil fuels found deep under the Earth’s surface began to be burned as a fuel around the year 1760, things started to change in our atmosphere. When we burn fossil fuels, that burning creates carbon dioxide (CO2) which goes into Earth’s atmosphere and starts to block the portion of heat from the Earth that would normally escape through it. This blockage accumulates, resulting in average temperatures on our planet rising over time.
This imbalance of energy flow, where more energy is arriving from the sun at any given time than is able to leave the Earth, is described as Earth’s Energy Imbalance, or EEI.
The EEI is important because it is the key to the cause and also to the solution of global warming.
When Earth’s energy is “balanced” it means that the same amount of energy is leaving the Earth as is arriving from the sun, or in other words, the energy imbalance is zero. As long as the energy flow from the sun to the Earth and back out into space remains imbalanced, Earth will continue to get hotter, resulting eventually in the death of nearly all life on the planet. Halting the burning of fossil fuels is not sufficient for reducing the EEI: it only helps to not make it larger (and worse).
This is our problem: the heat. It is crucial to keep this in mind.
We can stop global warming if and only if we reduce the EEI to zero, thus restoring the energy balance.
2) Why does the basic physics of the Earth system, particularly regarding the relationship between the sun and temperatures on Earth, make this a very difficult challenge for science?
2. Why does the basic physics of the Earth system, particularly regarding the relationship between the sun and temperatures on Earth, make this a very difficult challenge for science?
There is a limited amount of energy available to human beings on this planet. We need energy to function in our daily lives, but we also need energy to solve the problem of Earth's Energy Imbalance. There is not enough energy to do both, unless we start using less energy in our daily lives, and use whatever energy we save to run efficient cooling processes. Because energy is limited and because we must use a certain amount of energy every day to live, we have to develop a solution to global warming that doesn’t require more energy than can be made available.
Any strategy to stop global warming that requires more energy than can be provided must be rejected.
The time humanity now has to react to global warming has been squeezed by 50 years of inaction thanks to the oil executives that ignored private warnings from scientists before eventually actively working to deny, suppress and distort that science. As a result, the speed at which any strategy to fight warming can be effective is now a crucial determining factor for its selection or rejection.
As a result of human beings starting to burn fossil fuels almost 200 years ago, we have already had about a 1.3°C increase in average global temperatures, which has caused a lot of problems for life on Earth. If this increase in average temperatures reaches 2°C, it will be devastating. Global warming is causing Earth’s temperature to rise at a steady rate. At the current rate, we will reach this 2°C increase around 2040, no matter how we change our energy habits or try to clean the atmosphere of CO2.
This means for example that the strategy of using trees to remove CO2 from the atmosphere will not work as a strategy to protect us from hitting a specified temperature level. Trees take a certain amount of time to remove CO2, and when we plant a new tree, it takes even longer, because the tree has to grow to maturity before it begins to reach its most powerful CO2-removing ability. Trees are also efficient light absorbers during photosynthesis. This means they are efficient generators of solar heat. They often create more heat than can be avoided from the CO2 they absorb. So whether we are talking about the trees that already exist or we add to that by planting new trees, this strategy will not satisfy our time requirements, so it must be rejected.
One of the biggest problems with popular proposals for combating Earth’s rising temperatures is that they do not take into consideration these “hurdles” to success: the limitations of energy, plus resource and time requirements. Additionally, they often focus too much on the removal of CO2, which only indirectly addresses temperature.
We must remind ourselves that the most immediate goal here is not, as is too often assumed, the removal of greenhouse gases, but rather the halting of rising temperatures.
There are other important considerations in addition to how much energy and time is needed when evaluating strategies to stop global warming. But even if we only consider energy use and speed, we see that the only strategies that have any chance of working are those that we call SRM, or Solar Radiation Management strategies, of which MEER’s strategy is an example.
Of the handful of SRM strategies that are being proposed by climate researchers, MEER’s strategy is the only one that meets the energy use, speed and other key requirements.
MEER’s primary strategy is to stop rising temperatures using solar reflectors on the land surface of the planet. The heat from the sun only begins to have an effect on the Earth’s temperature when it strikes Earth’s surface, whether it be land or sea. Tools with the reflective ability of a common mirror instantly reflect solar radiation back into space before that radiation has had any warming effect. In addition to working so quickly, using solar reflectors is also beneficial because they do not need complex and time-consuming research and development before they can be used to cool the planet. All of the materials needed are also recyclable and inexpensive. Both the materials and the final product are safe to make and use. They can be scaled up to a global solution in a way that is fair and also controllable.
Additionally, and quite uniquely, solar reflectors have both small-scale local applications (cooling homes, for example) and large-scale global application.
3) What are the 4 most important requirements that any strategy to stop global warming must have?
4) What are the 4 most important requirements that any strategy to stop global warming must have?
There are 4 main criteria that any strategy must fully satisfy to be considered a good possibility as a climate solution:
Method is shown to provide net cooling at a small scale while meeting a minimum energy efficiency
Enough material exists for global use
Enough energy exists for global use
Global implementation that would be fast enough
This is only a basic description of the qualifications. Depending on the particular strategy being considered, each of these involves more details to be fully understood and will be slightly different from one case to another.
4) What is locked-in warming?
5) What is locked-in warming?
Locked-in warming (LIW) is the future increase in the average global temperature that will occur even if greenhouse-generating human activities were to come to a complete stop, instantly.
Is there locked-in warming and why is there so much confusion on this topic? Why do I not hear scientists and politicians talk about locked-in warming?
LIW exists and is > 0 because the current EEI > 0. The current value of EEI at 1.5W per m2 can increase by about another 1.3W per m2 when the skies clear of air pollution following full decarbonization. The total outstanding EEI is therefore between 2-3 W per m2. In other words, more energy is entering than is leaving from the Earth system every second, and will do so even faster once we decarbonize. These facts guarantee that the sum of materials in the Earth system must continue to heat up to store the ever-increasing size of the pool that represents heat trapped near Earth’s surface.
While the analysis of LIW involving the EEI and what it implies for future temperatures on Earth is relatively straightforward, the reason for confusion over this topic is much more complex, but can be summarized as follows:
The general lack of public discussion of LIW leads to misunderstanding
Specifically, scientists, policymakers, business leaders and activists are reluctant to discuss LIW publicly
LIW can be considered another “inconvenient truth” as it complicates and even invalidates much of today’s forecasting, risk assessment and popular responses to global warming
Governments and international organizations have generally avoided acknowledging LIW due to the fear of stoking panic, civil unrest, and the disruption of the business-as-usual that has so far served the power structure well. A few facts make it easy to avoid the discussion: rising temperatures occur relatively slowly, we have not achieved decarbonization, and most people can simply be convinced that warming continues due to contemporary emissions only.
Surprisingly, it is even the case that very few scientists have clear qualitative intuition for and quantitative understanding of the kinetics of global warming.
Further explanations include the fact that the entire scientific effort to analyze and report on global warming is hampered by the traditional tendency of scientists to be very cautious and conservative in their conclusions. A 2017 publication specifically on climate science, “What Lies Beneath,” by Spratt and Dunlop goes into specific detail on the shortcomings of climate research and the reporting of it, especially as through the United Nations IPCC.
MEER as a science and fact-based organization comprehensively reviews the literature on the topic, openly discusses the science and implications, and educates stakeholders about locked-in warming to provide every interested human being the necessary background knowledge to make informed decisions.
5) How much locked-in warming is there and how is it assessed?
6) How much locked-in warming is there and how is it assessed?
A clear understanding of the assessment and measurement of the EEI is beyond the scope of this text, which is intended for the non-scientist, so here, we only offer a brief overview.
The total EEI, consisting of the actual EEI plus the portion masked by aerosols, and Earth's temperature response to this sum are assessed by a combination of empirical observations that include satellite measurements and paleoclimate data as well as computer-based numerical models. Estimates based on computer models are consistently lower than predictions based on empirical data. The difference may stem from the lack of a complete scientific understanding of cloud-aerosol processes, leading current climate models to fail to or to be incapable of fully accounting for locked-in warming, in contrast to experimental observations.
Locked-in warming is between 1-4°C. Instead of a single number, we know that future warming will land within a particular range because some of the more fundamental parameters that go into its calculations are currently quantified as probability distributions. Even as ongoing scientific work continues to improve the precision of the estimates, we have high confidence that 1°C warming is unavoidable regardless of emission scenarios.
6) What is CROI and why does it help determine the value of a climate solution?
7) What is CROI and why does it help determine the value of a climate solution?
CROI, which stands for Cooling Return on Investment, is a concept developed by MEER which is similar to a well-known concept used in discussions about energy production, the Energy Return on Investment, or EROI.
Where Energy Return on Investment indicates how much energy can be created per $, materials, energy, (or “input”), Cooling Return on Investment describes the ratio in energy in the form of heat that is removed from the Earth system per “input” of energy humans have used to create that cooling.
The metric of EROI is relevant to determining the effectiveness of an investment, but is not relevant to climate change. The CROI, however, is relevant for climate mitigation because it tells us how effective at cooling the Earth any proposed climate solution is.
7) Why is CROI important in deciding which climate solution to use?
8) Why is CROI important in deciding which climate solution to use?
The power of the EEI, currently about 1,500TW, or terawatts, is enormous considering that humanity only uses 18TW in fossil fuel heat to power all of our energy needs. We don’t know how much of our current energy use could be diverted to stop global warming, but we know that it is a very small amount in comparison to this 18TW we use in our daily lives. As a comparison, the global airline industry, the shipping industry, and the cement industry each consume 1.5%, 2.5% and 6% respectively, or 10% in total of that 18TW.
In an optimistic case, perhaps only a few percent of our energy consumption, or about 1TW, could be made available for fighting global warming. This 1TW must eventually be able to remove the EEI of 1,500TW from the Earth system. So we could say that any proposed strategy should have a CROI significantly higher than 1,000, or in other words, that our 1TW of power results in significantly more than 1,000TW of cooling power, or rate of heat removal from Earth"
Using CROI to find and eliminate false solutions
People are considering a variety of ways to reduce the EEI through a combination of technological, industrial, and natural methods. Regardless of the technical details of any particular method, the space for practical solutions is limited by the energy we have available. Additionally, the rate at which we can divert energy and other resources to remove the EEI severely limits the choices we have. Using the universal metric of CROI, we have to reject most approaches in mainstream discussions as ineffective.
A perfect example is that of planting trees. Planting trees as a strategy to combat climate change fails by all four criteria measuring effectiveness, net cooling upon implementation, scalabilities in energy and material, and speed.
8) Why is using 100% renewable energy insufficient for solving our climate catastrophe?
9) Why is using 100% renewable energy insufficient for solving our climate catastrophe?
Many people believe that if we can convert to using only renewable energy, global warming will no longer be a problem. This is wrong for two reasons. First, 100% renewable energy and carbon neutrality simply mean that we stop doing further harm (adding to the existing EEI), but the harm we have already done is sufficient to continue driving further warming and to ensure Earth system collapse.
Second, the problem of locked-in warming is much larger than the challenge of providing for people’s energy needs. Measured in units of power, the climate problem is caused by the accumulation of excess heat at a rate (>1000 terajoules per second) compared to our energy needs (18 terajoules per second). Therefore, solving climate change is not about producing more energy faster and cheaper; it is about finding highly efficient ways to get rid of excess thermal energy and removing it from the surface of the planet.
The need to REMOVE energy rather than to hoard it as a RETURN on an investment illustrates the necessary radical conceptual shift, currently lacking, to effectively address the climate crisis based on fundamental physics and engineering principles.