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Geoengineering Books
Amanda Reed, 29 Jun 10

Geoengineering is fast becoming a mainstream debate.

For some, the most worrisome thing about geoengineering is the idea that, once people know about it, they will think of it as a technological quick fix that makes it unnecessary to control emissions of greenhouse gases, an effort everyone takes pains to point out is by far the most important step to be taken now...Still, if geoengineering is not yet an idea whose time has come, it is definitely gaining traction.

So writes Cornelia Dean in the New York Times. She reports on the new books out on geoengineering, including:

  • HACK THE PLANET, by Eli Kintisch
  • FIXING THE SKY, by James Rodger Fleming
  • COMING CLIMATE CRISIS, by Claire L. Parkinson

Additionally, Dean recounts her experience at the Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies and summarizes some the main, critical, political issues largely unaddressed in the geoengineering debate:

Meanwhile, there has been relatively little discussion so far about who would make geoengineering decisions — would the world accept an American president in charge of the decision to go ahead? Assuming we could tune the Earth to a desirable temperature, who would say what that temperature would be? What side effects would be acceptable? Who would be compensated for suffering them. And so on.

I attended the Cambridge meeting Mr. Kintisch describes at the beginning of his book. Afterward, I talked to participants about what it would take to devise and implement any geoengineering plan the world’s wildly diverse people and governments might buy into. And who would regulate it or police any “rogue state,” nonprofit or commercial venture ready to act on its own?

Participants I spoke with were at a loss. “World government,” one of them, finally, offered. The answer does not inspire confidence either.

All the while, humanity is already engaged in a gigantic geoengineering experiment, one that has been under way, however inadvertently, since people started large-scale burning of fossil fuels 150 years ago. So far, the world’s efforts to act together on the problem have been, to be charitable, unimpressive.

The lesson, as all three authors put it, might therefore lie not in figuring out how to “hack the planet” but rather to change things so that planetary hacking will not be needed at all.

Worldchanging has covered much of these points before; indeed we've had a lengthy and complex debate here about geoengineering and its promises and pitfalls. If you're interested in the topic, here are some great places to start:

  • Geoengineering: Plan B, Triage Method or Dangerous Illusion? (21 Mar 10): Alex Steffen responds to a debate on geoengineering between Andy Revkin and Joe Romm, ultimately making his case that the idea that geoengineering is a "plan b" is completely political spin and there is no "other" path than emissions reductions...
  • A Bright Green Argument for Geoengineering (14 Jun 09): Alex Steffen commends Jamais Cascio for writing an excellent opinion piece in the WSJ arguing for geoengineering research and experimentation. While he disagrees with Jamais's conclusion and finds geoengineering a poor strategy for getting us out the the troubles we're in, he thinks the piece is worth reading. Jamais manages to steer clear of offering political cover to denialists (who have been using the idea of geoengineering to deny the need for emissions reductions), yet makes a really cogent, clear argument about what he thinks geoengineering itself means, and can and cannot do...
  • Geoengineering and the New Climate Denialism (29 Apr 09): Alex Steffen argues that the idea of geoengineering is being used dishonestly and suggests ways to 'de-spin' it...
  • Geoengineering Megaprojects are Bad Planetary Management (9 Feb 09): Alex Steffen examines the argument of mega-project geoengineering proponents. He says that it's a brilliant political argument, raising a threat and then making those who oppose your response to that threat part of the threat itself, but the biggest problem with it as a policy argument is that it's riddled with inconsistencies, false assumptions and half-truths. He then goes through the argument and looks at what the bright green response would be...
  • Geoengineering: A Worldchanging Retrospective (20 Aug 08): Julia Levitt compiled a list of Worldchanging articles on Worldchanging and noted that Worldchanging Executive Editor Alex Steffen had become a respected voice of dissent in the global conversation about geo-engineering strategies...
  • How Do We Intelligently Discuss Politicized Geoengineering? (10 Jun 08): Alex Steffen worries that there is no space for nuanced political debate about geoengineering, and that "perhaps the best we can do for now is simply say even discussing geoengineering is totally off the table until we get climate change policy and carbon pricing in place"...
  • Planktos, Geoengineering and Politics (14 Feb 08): Alex Steffen engages with the two main positions held by credible people that run counter to his argument. The first is that geo-engineering is part of a menu of responses, and we ought to explore the range of our options, perhaps incorporating massive engineering as part of those responses. The second is that we need a backstop, some sort of last-ditch proposal should we at some point find that we have already pushed the climate past catastrophic tipping points. According to Alex, there are two giant problems with these positions...
  • Why Geo-Engineering is a Debate Whose Time Has Gone (21 Dec 07): Alex Steffen outlines a few reasons why he thinks the "intelligent stance regarding debate on these matters is one of extreme skepticism"...
  • Why Geo-Engineering is a Bad Fall-Back Strategy (10 Mar 06): An early piece by Alex Steffen in which he points out that debating geoengineering may provide a stalking horse for climate "skeptics"...

In addition, one of the more important, if underappreciated books on geoengineering is Worldchanging co-founder Jamais Cascio's Hacking the Earth, which you can buy online as a PDF.

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Right now we are engaged in a major regional geoengineering project as the Macondo wellhead keeps gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. So far, that destructive kind of activity is the only kind of geoengineering we've done.

Posted by: gmoke on 30 Jun 10

Geoengineering the atmosphere, specifically "scrubbing" and "sequestering" CO2 to return the atmosphere to its preindustrial chemistry is no longer a choice - it is now an imperative to continued human survival.

If the following four statements are true and there is no evidence to suggest they are not, we have lost our ability to chose our own path to a solution for climate change. For the past two decades it has been getting hotter. Also, for the past two decades, the worldwide inventory of ice has been in decline. Anthropogenic CO2 must be expected to remain in the atmosphere, at high levels, for thousands of years longer than it will take for all the ice to melt. Finally, a planet with no ice and 400ppm CO2 levels in the atmosphere is uninhabitable by humans.

The four factual statements shown above establish a "structural trend" which footprint reduction cannot prevent or avoid. The trend means that all of the ice on earth will soon melt and geoengineering is the only tool currently available that might alter that outcome.

Posted by: rich albertson on 1 Jul 10

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