The University of Arizona

SWCCN Book Club: Geoengineering-Could it Save the Day?

February 16, 2012
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Are greenhouse gas emissions going up or down? Are governments and international agreements working to grapple effectively with moving to a low- or zero-carbon economy?

Up and no.

Third question: Is the climate getting weirder and more dangerous? Yes.

Even climate activists like Bill McKibben are starting to talk about geoengineering as a serious option that we may be forced to turn to if climate and weather patterns get even scarier even faster.

After being numb to the climate issue during the Bush years, I re-engaged on the issue after reading this report on geoengineering from the Royal Society. It makes for bracing and sobering reading. Check out this link to a summary, then read the report if you want...

http://royalsociety.org/policy/publications/2009/geoengineering-climate/

For a time, I thought geoengineering would be my next book project, but then I read Hack the Planet and How to Cool the Planet, both good reads and important overviews of this controversial approach to the climate problem. I also attended a conference on geoengineering and wrote about it for The American Scholar.

My take-away? There is much debate and a lot of thoughtful consideration among those who are thinking about geoengineering. That was reassuring. But a lot remains unsettling–such as the regional climate consequences of some forms of geoengineering. 

I’m most interested in SRM techniques–solar radiation management, which promises to be cheap, fast and effective, if also, as it happens, really disturbing.

Maybe I’ve read too much science fiction, but I almost expect in my lifetime to see a sky gone yellow because we were forced by our own inertia to throw up a screen of heat-scattering particles in the air. A dangerous umbrella, as it were.

Who decides when it’s time to do this? Who are the winners and losers? How long do we engage in some form of SRM till we get our act together? Who controls geoengineering projects? Will some nations–or even individuals!–pursue large-scale geoengineering on their own? Will just talking about this freak us out so much that we’ll begin to reduce emissions more rapidly? What field research can or should take place?

If you care about the fate of the biosphere, you have to know about geoengineering. Not because it’s a good thing to do. But because it may be the only thing we’re able to do–to buy us time for smarter options.

Join us as we talk this over on Friday, tomorrow, from 2-4 in Marshall 531.

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