How to Cool the Earth & Restore Life-giving Climate

Climate Restoration Methods Draft 10/06/2017

By Peter Fiekowsky

[Fiekowsky is a physicist/ engineer in the Silicon Valley network, a graduate of MIT who has patented many technological improvements and has committed himself to work to restore a climate as life-giving for our children and grandchildren as it was for our parents and grandparents. He has founded a network and website called the Healthy Climate Alliance and has been working with The Shalom Center toward bringing together a mutireligious network to call for restoring a healthy climate.

For us, the Prophetic Call toward making that vision real is expressed in the very last passage of the very last of the classical Hebrew Prophets, Malachi, who lived 2500 years ago: "I [YHWH, the Interbeathing of all life] will send you Elijah the Prophet to turn the hearts of parents to children  and the hearts of children to parents, lest I [the Breath of life, the Wind of change,  become a Hyper-Hurricane] bring utter destruction on the Earth. (Mal. 3:23-24)

We share a conviction that the religious communities of the US are potentially the basis for turning this prophetic vision into vigorous  public support, as the religious communities did with racial justice half a centtury ago. We have already begun creating new liturgies, sermonic materials, and Spirit-filled forms of activism  to engage the deepest thoughts and emotions of our communities. And we also intend that the religious communities bring our own ethical and spiritual concerns to assess various different proposals for restoring a healthy climate --  some oroposals perhaps more risky than others, some perhaps more likely than others to embody social justice.

--  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, editor]

Methods for Climate Restoration


There has been accelerated recognition that we are changing Earth’s climate to the extent that human civilization is imminently threatened. The villain is CO2, which is primarily created by burning fossil fuels. The respiration of plants—which absorb CO2 and turn it into oxygen— is the primary way it is addressed1. Over the past 150 years, we have burned so much more fossil fuel and destroyed so much plant life that we have thrown the planet out of balance2.

Reducing emissions

The concerted human activity and thinking about what governments and technology have to do have so far focused on slowing down and then stopping the human activity that adds to the CO2 load (e.g., reduction of emissions from cars, coal power stations being phased out, etc.).

Unfortunately, we have already disrupted the environment so much that is just not enough3. Not nearly enough. As urgently as we find ways to stop putting CO2 into the ecosystem, we have to find ways to take out what we have already put in and continue to put in.

The good news

Fortunately, emissions reduction is not the only tool at our disposal. We have the capacity to remove CO2 from our atmosphere both through novel technology4 and by speeding up natural decarbonization processes. This process is called "restoration". It is urgent and it is the ignored stepchild of the emerging global warming consciousness.

The Healthy Climate Alliance

The Healthy Climate Alliance is built upon the idea that it is our responsibility and our moral obligation to leave our children and future generations a climate as healthy as that which our grandparents gave us. The climate goal that embodies this message is returning to 300 parts per million (ppm) CO2 by 2050.


The purpose of this paper is to introduce the initiative of restoring the climate. Climate restoration cannot replace emissions reduction efforts—those are still necessary—but rather can work in parallel. We must begin this work now, because emissions reduction is not nearly enough to guarantee the survival of humanity. As it stands, technologies exist to

Climate Restoration Methods Draft 10/06/2017


begin the climate restoration process, and there is a high likelihood that other better technologies will be developed if we give researchers resources and support to do so. The critical action now is to recognize their importance, develop them, and scale them.

Achieving the Goal

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement5 was agreed upon by 195 nations in December 2015. It is the first universal, legally binding global climate deal. According to the UN Framework Convention6 on Climate Change,

the Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Paris agreement calls for an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 in order to stay below two degrees warming. However, the IPCC and prominent climate scientists have claimed that two degrees warming will still subject future generations to irreparable harm7. In short, the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement are insufficient.

Restoring a healthy climate

Achieving the goal of giving our children a healthy climate with zero warming would require —in addition to following through on the Paris goals8—removing about a trillion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. This means removing about 50 Gt CO2 per year for 20-30 years. This rate of CO2 removal is ten times what is called for in the Paris agreement9.

There is a widespread assumption that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies that could achieve that rate do not yet exist (After all, surely if they did exist, we would be hearing about and acting upon them!). However, that assumption is false; there are various technologies that are capable of that rate, and it is likely that others could be discovered through research. So to correct that assumption, this paper describes several technologies that can be scaled up at reasonable cost.

The methods described in this paper are not hypothetical--they already exist. Decarbonization technologies have been developed, and newer and better technologies are being developed every year. These methods establish a performance bar that will only be raised. They were chosen for inclusion in this paper based on how easy they are to visualize being expanded to the needed scale.

Removing CO2 can happen in two general ways. One is that CO2 is captured from the air and then turned into a stable, productive, benign form (usually referred to as Carbon Dioxide

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Removal or CDR). The other way is that the natural earth systems that remove CO2 from the atmosphere (in particular, photosynthesis) are enhanced or accelerated to increase the amount of CO2 that is processed and removed by nature (usually referred to as referring primary productivity). In addition to these processes, it is likely that cooling methods, known as Solar Radiation Management (SRM), will be needed in the short term.

Carbon Dioxide Removal

CDR, the foundational technology of climate restoration, can be divided into land-based and ocean-based technologies. Land-based methods mostly start with “direct air capture” (DAC), which concentrates CO2 from the atmosphere for sequestration or use. Ocean-based methods restore the oceans and their primary productivity with the immediate result of increasing fish and seaweed production, while simultaneously sequestering carbon as detritus falls towards the ocean floor.

Many CDR methods yield secondary products (e.g., fish, seaweed, concrete aggregate) that can be sold. This allows these methods to be viable for businesses with little or no public subsidy. Because of this, the cost becomes inconsequential.


The problem of CO2 capture involves both capturing the CO2—from the atmosphere or from the flues of coal or other plants—and then putting that CO2 into stable and harmless forms. There are seven DAC technologies, which are listed in a Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment 2017 paper10 along with their costs. In recent years three DAC companies have made news with their plants, Climeworks11 in Switzerland, Carbon Engineering12 in British Columbia, and Global Thermostat13 in California. Global Thermostat (which we are focusing on due to the authors’ proximity and familiarity with it) asserts an at-scale cost of $10-$35 per ton CO2. They are described in Drawdown14, from Paul Hawken.

Land-Based CDR

Once the CO2 has been captured from the air using any of the DAC methods, it can be converted into a stable form. Many of these forms have commercial uses, while others use natural processes to keep the CO2 sequestered.

Commercial uses for CO2


One productive economic output for CO2 from DAC is producing aggregate (limestone) for concrete used in roads and buildings. It is safe, profitable, and scalable. A process

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developed by Blue Planet Ltd15, Los Gatos, California simulates the chemistry used by shellfish to produce limestone from calcium and CO2. Global demand for aggregate is currently 54 Gt/year16, which corresponds to potential sequestration of 20 Gt CO2 per year into concrete. The first plants built use CO2 from industrial exhaust from power plants or steel, cement, and aluminum plants. Later plants could also get their CO2 from DAC companies.

As of the writing of this paper, aggregate appears to be the only commercially viable output from DAC.

Other commercial uses

There are other commercial uses of CO2, like in the manufacturing of plastic and carbon fiber17. However the global market for these materials can absorb less than 1%18 of the carbon sequestered in aggregate globally.

Natural processes

Basalt fields

One way to use nature to absorb CO2 is to bury the CO2 extracted from the atmosphere into basalt rock fields, which are common around the world. When water is present, The CO2 dissolves in water—which can be added to the CO2 stream if it is not already present, increasing costs—producing carbonic acid, which reacts with the rock to produce stable carbonates over a period of 2 months to 2 years19.

Sequestering CO2 in basalt fields is estimated to cost about $8/ton, which must be added to the DAC cost, bringing total costs to $23-$58 per ton. This implies that a carbon price of about $50/ton, paid for sequestration, could finance the restoration of our atmosphere. If this were the only CDR technique, it would require 2.5% of global GDP, a quarter of global health spending. However aggregate, fish, and seaweed production could together sequester CO2 at the required rate at minimal, or even negative cost.

Other natural processes

Other CDR techniques commonly recommended for the Paris two degree warming goal, such as biochar20, BECCS21 (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage), and afforestation22 are not suitable for climate restoration because their maximum scale, although useful for a mitigation goal, is about 1/10 of the 50 Gt CO2 per year required for climate restoration.

Ocean-based CDR

The earth’s surface is 71% ocean23, and much of that ocean is blue “ocean desert”24, which is too hot and low in critical nutrients to grow phytoplankton, the photosynthesizing organisms

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that make the sea green. This represents an enormous unused opportunity to harness sunlight for carbon sequestration without disturbing existing agriculture. Increasing the ocean’s primary productivity—the amount of photosynthesis—increases its uptake of CO225.

This carbon is sequestered as long as the carbon-containing products are stored, unoxidized, in the ocean. Typically, this sequestration lasts for centuries or millennia26. This is similar to the situation on land, where trees and roots store CO2 as long as they remain unoxidized. Also similar to land, increased productivity is associated with higher food (fish and seaweed) production.

Oceans contain 98% of all the carbon in the atmosphere and oceans. Sequestering all the excess atmospheric CO2 would increase ocean carbon content by less than 1%27.

Ocean-based CDR tends to be profitable because the fish, seaweed, and phytoplankton produced can generally be sold to human populations for food, energy, and chemical feedstocks.

Ocean Iron Fertilization

One method of restoring ocean primary productivity is ocean iron fertilization (OIF)28, which distributes minute amounts of high-iron dust in a manner similar to the way volcanic dust blowing onto the ocean fertilizes it. This increases the primary productivity—often producing record fish harvests—and CO2 sequestration. The dust distribution is performed by ship, and when performed in territorial waters, income can be generated from fishing licenses and taxes.

Marine permaculture

Another method of restoring primary productivity to the oceans is called marine permaculture. It involves the use of simple, lightweight structures in deep water, as described in Tim Flannery’s Sunlight and Seaweed29 and featured in Project Drawdown’s ‘coming attractions’, with this description:

The key technology involves marine permaculture arrays (MPAs), lightweight latticed structures roughly half a square mile in size, submerged 80 feet below sea level, to which kelp can attach. Attached buoys rise and fall with the waves, powering pumps that bring up colder, nutrient-rich waters from far below. Kelp soak up the nutrients and grow, establishing a trophic pyramid rich in plant and animal life.

Plants that are not consumed die off and drop into the deep sea, sequestering carbon for centuries in the form of dissolved carbon and carbonates. Floating kelp forests could sequester billions of tons of carbon dioxide, while providing food, feed, fertilizer, fiber, and biofuels to the world.

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Other ocean-based methods

Other scalable CDR techniques discussed by the IPCC30, such as geochemical weathering31, would require significant public financing to test and develop because they don’t offer profit potential. This public funding is only possible after climate restoration becomes a public goal.

Cooling our Planet

Temporary cooling of our planet may be needed now. The range of cooling technologies is typically referred to as Solar Radiation Management (SRM). Record temperatures32 exceeding 125° F (50° C) are beginning to make populated areas of our planet unlivable for humans. With sixty-five million climate refugees driven mainly by failed harvests already, there is good reason to expect that cooling the planet in some manner will soon be required.

Long-term cooling poses risks33 not shared by short-term cooling. If the cooling is suddenly stopped, possibly preceded by social, political, or economic instability, the resulting rapid temperature increases could trigger significant environmental damage, along with correlated human death and misery.

Cooling for a few decades while we reduce CO2 levels to 300 ppm, could prevent social or economic collapse as the number of people displaced by global warming rises from tens of millions to hundreds of millions, or even billions.

Various cooling techniques exist but are only practical after the UN adopts a climate restoration goal such as 300 ppm by 2050. If we put our planet on a “climate restoration” CO2 trajectory towards 300 ppm by 2050, then cooling might be started around 2025 and discontinued fifteen years later, about 2040, when CO2 levels pass below 350 ppm.

The cooling technologies most frequently discussed are stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI), marine cloud brightening (MCB), and cirrus cloud thinning. These are each low-cost technologies, likely less than $10 billion per year, or 0.0001% of global GDP. Other techniques have been proposed that also seem to have low cost and low impact, but they have received little discussion to date.

Stratospheric aerosol injection

SAI34 has been discussed for many decades, and was studied at scale in 1991 when the volcano Mt. Pinatubo erupted35, pumping millions of tons of sulfates into the stratosphere, and cooling the planet by almost a degree for a year. The Harvard Solar Geoengineering

7 lab36 is leading work in this area, primarily focusing on reducing the impacts on the ozone

layer and precipitation.

Marine cloud brightening

Marine cloud brightening37 acts to brighten and prolong clouds over the ocean by seeding them with nano-particles of salt or other materials38.

Cirrus cloud thinning

In cirrus cloud thinning39, high thin cirrus clouds are seeded with aerosol particles like sulfuric or nitric acid40. These thin clouds don’t block much sunlight coming down, but they do block a lot of heat radiation going up at night. So thinning them will make nights colder in regions where it’s done. This cooling would be particularly useful in polar regions to restore the ice caps and stop permafrost melt, and in tropical regions to restore agricultural production. Some scientists say that conducting cirrus cloud thinning at the poles alone would provide enough cooling to dissipate the excess heat from our current greenhouse gas concentrations.

Cost of Climate Restoration

The main reason that so little has been done in terms of CO2 removal is that critics and skeptics are concerned about the cost of these efforts. While this is not an unreasonable concern, it is based on a fallacy: Even if the cost of restoring the climate via CO2 removal were astronomical, it would still be lower than the cost of dealing with the catastrophic warming that would result without it. Furthermore, choosing not to restore the climate and forcing those costs onto future generations is immoral.

A 2017 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) publication41 is skeptical of the self-reported performance of the companies engaged in CDR, and suggests that climate restoration is impossible. Their logic is that to remove all trillion tons over 50 years, the worst-case scenario indicates that the CDR cost could cost as much as $1000/ton of CO2, or 20% of global GDP. They imply that is too much to invest for future generations, and therefore not worth pursuing.

While initial estimates of the costs of climate restoration technologies were quite high, newer technologies have since been developed with lower costs. As with any technology (e.g., solar panels), costs will go down over time, so the cost estimates we generate now are conservative by nature. The actual total costs will be much lower.

Another reason not to let potential costs stop consideration of these technologies is that many of them produce commercial byproducts, which makes the businesses that do the

Climate Restoration Methods Draft 10/06/2017

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work commercially viable. This means that the public and private funds needed to make this work happen are minimal and are mostly needed up front, rather than on an ongoing basis.

Altogether, regardless of the source of funding, the cost of removing a trillion tons of CO2 with the current technologies and current costs over 30 years would equal about 1% of global GDP each year for 30 years. This is equivalent to about half of global defense spending42 (a category whose cost is exacerbated by the impacts of climate change and thus could be expected to decrease sharply as the climate is restored43). Costs of technology go down over time as technology improves, so we can assume that these estimates are conservative.

Safety and Governance

The Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative44, led by Janos Pasztor, has taken the lead on the critical issues of global climate engineering governance and safety. Just as in any large engineering project, careful attention to safety and data collection is required for CDR and for cooling. In this age of satellites with high resolution imaging, autonomous submarines, and with the new internet of things, the cost of carefully observing and analyzing the climate, ocean, and environmental systems will not be prohibitive.

The critical factor, just as with medical interventions, is to raise expectations. Before modern medicine, the expectation of success from any medical intervention was quite low, and few records were kept. People now expect that any medicine they take will be safe. As a result, extensive testing and record keeping is done in order to fulfill that expectation.

The current climate goal is similar to medical goals of 150 years ago: “The patient will probably die, but let’s try something.” Two degrees warming is expected by many to be the end of humanity as we know it, so our expectations of climate interventions are very low. This leads to our current acceptance of millions of people starving, especially in Africa, due to climate related harvest failures.

When we raise our goal to restoring a healthy climate, events like we’re seeing now will become unacceptable, and corrections will be demanded. The first step is to raise our expectations.


Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) at 50 Gt/year would get atmospheric CO2 back to 300 ppm by about 2050. This could be achieved by any one or two of about eight techniques. On land, direct air capture of CO2 can be scaled as needed for costs estimated from $15-$100/ton CO2. The captured CO2 can be utilized in making aggregate or other materials, or it can be permanently sequestered in basalt fields.

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Ocean primary productivity can be restored, restoring fisheries, feeding billions of people, and sequestering 20-50 Gt CO2/year. Revenue derived from fishing and other products could pay the costs of doing this.

Several viable techniques for temporarily cooling the planet are ready for serious research, but wise engineering implementations will have to wait until the UN adopts a goal of climate restoration so that it is clear that cooling will be needed for only a few decades, and so that the public expects and demands a safe and healthy climate from the engineers and project managers working on climate restoration.

The rapid development of CDR, cooling, and governance all hinge on the adoption of a meaningful climate goal, such as getting back to 300 ppm by 2050. Conversely, the existing solutions, such as those mentioned here, appear impractical when viewed from the context of the existing 1.5 to 2 degree warming Paris goal.

Raise our expectations: Encourage our climate leadership--the UN, religious organizations, NGOs, scientists, and Congress to commit to giving our children the same climate our grandparents gave us, 300 ppm by 2050.

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