The Astronomic Costs of Reversing Climate Change 

The Wall Street Journal – The Experts
October 3, 2014
By Dr. Ariel Cohen

ARIEL COHEN: While energy experts love to discuss climate change, they often disregard the actual costs and benefits of this phenomenon. As political violence rises globally, addressing, let alone reversing, climate change, is becoming increasingly challenging. Whether climate change is man-made or not, the economic cost of any proposed systemic solution can be exorbitant. On the one hand, climate change can reduce available natural resources in some regions, increase costs and harm health through the spread of tropical diseases. But on the other, in regions such as the northern belts of Eurasia and North America, it may improve agricultural potential of colder climate countries.

Climate change cannot be reversed unless the developed world takes radical steps – at astronomic costs. A 2009 NOAA report claimed, even if emissions stopped immediately, the current carbon dioxide concentration will not dissipate for 1,000 years. Assuming climate change is a man-made feature, nothing short of geoengineering, the artificial manipulation of planetary climate processes, would be required to cut back the human impact. Examples of geoengineering include inducing volcanic explosions and ocean fertilization. The latter method uses iron to create algal blooms on the surface of the ocean that absorb carbon dioxide. When the algae die, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean, sequestering it into sediment.

On costs, senior fellow of the Adam Smith Institute Tim Worstall offers some educated estimates: if we assume 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide can be sequestered in one ton of iron (the actual ratio is disputed), and one ton of fine iron powder costs $500 to $1,000, then removing 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide with algal blooms would cost approximately $500 to $1,000, not including labor.

Reversing all fossil-fuel-generated carbon dioxide since the 18th century (est. 392 billion tons) would supposedly require $196 billion – $392 billion total, labor excluded. Taking into account the World Bank cost estimate that adapting to climate change will cost $70 billion – 100 billion per year through 2050, ocean fertilization may be the most economical reversal option. Clearly, the biggest polluter – China – would have to bear the lion’s share of costs.

Ariel Cohen (@Dr_Ariel_Cohen) is director of the Center for Energy Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.