Geoengineering to Have Its Day in the Sun

Most readers of this blog are probably aware of the tit-for-tat between us and some critics of our global-warming chapter in SuperFreakonomics. In the larger scheme of things the dispute is practically meaningless, at best a very distant second to the actual climate issues on the table.

To that end, the best news I’ve heard recently is that Congress will next week hold its first-ever hearing on geoengineering solutions to global warming. I’m grateful to Ken Caldeira for alerting us to this hearing; he will be among the climate scientists to testify.

While there is a lot of room for a lot of legitimate debate about many aspects of global warming, let us say one thing here: we believe that anyone who reads our chapter without an agenda wouldn’t even find it particularly controversial. They will see that we routinely address the concerns that critics accuse us of ignoring (the problem of ocean acidification, e.g., — touched upon in the previous chapter — and the “excuse to pollute” that geoengineering solutions might afford), and that we neither “misrepresent” climate scientists nor flub the facts.

The attacks have been noisy, as is now the backlash. In recent days, the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and even Jon Stewart have jumped in to defend what we wrote. USA Today also published our op-ed on the topic.

It seems the global-warming rhetoric is cooling. The Union of Concerned Scientists, for instance, seems to no longer think that we are quite so daft. Levitt and I recently spent a day in Washington talking about the book. During an interview on the Diane Rehm Show (with Terry Smith filling in), we spoke with Dr. Peter Frumhoff, the U.C.S.’s director of Science and Policy. It was a productive and civil discussion. Later in the evening, we had a talk/book signing at the Washington Post Conference Center. During the Q&A session, Aaron Huertas, a press secretary for the U.C.S., took the microphone. (The Union of UnConcerned Scientists, predictably, were a no-show.) Huertas said he liked what he heard about global warming during our lecture and interviews and that he looked forward to keeping the dialogue going. The next morning, Huertas posted a similar comment on the Journal editorial, while again calling for further discussion.

We’d love the discussion to continue! That’s the point of our chapter: to show that the current proposed path for dealing with global warming is inadequate, and to explore better solutions. I know that congressional hearings are often better known for drama than for science, but here’s hoping that the upcoming geoengineering discussions will throw some bright light on this topic.

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  1. Point of View says:

    A pessimist says that the glass is half empty.

    An optomist says that the glass is half full.

    An engineer says that the glass is too big.

    A Geo-engineer pumps the water full of C02, sells it in recyclable glass bottles, retires, and takes up organic farming.

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  2. Bart Simpsons says:

    I just read your book, and was expecting the chapter on geoengineering to show off the law of how a professors competence falls of with the square of the distance of his own topic, but I found it a quite good read. I’d just like to point out that by saying that mankind only contributes 2 % of the annual output of CO2 is a misleading statement, since it is the net addition that counts, and there mankind is way up.

    Thanks for a good read!

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  3. Ben D says:

    What, exactly, is “the current proposed path for dealing with global warming?”

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  4. TsaiCMS says:

    The world is engaging in trading and production processes and procedures that have led to an extremely large externality to deal with, global warming. Simplifying the law of thermodynamics and laws of conservation of mass, stuff cannot be destroyed or gotten rid off. This has left us an enormous task of “cleaning up” our Earth. We have to “reverse pump” all toxic pollutants into some sort of nonhazardous product, while consuming energy in the process. First such process of consuming energy without damaging the environment needs to be discovered or invented for us to accomplish such goal.

    A way to prevent environmental catastrophes would be to live off interest, meaning to live off what the core of something produces, without risk of the core ever running out. For example, use wood from trees that grow outside a certain forest perimeter. This, of course, would greatly slow down economic growth, but significantly contribute to the effort against global warming. Its up to the human intellect if a system to control global warming is developed before we must resort to living off interest of resources.

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  5. charles says:

    It scares me that none of this stuff had broken into the mainstream discussion prior to the book. There’s this CO2 glass ceiling that had to be broken. Thank you.

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  6. Quinton says:

    I haven’t had a chance to purchase/read the book yet (I will, I will) so I’ll apologize if I’m going over something that’s been covered. What about the law of unintended consequences? I’m all for researching and exploring geoengineering , especially if a catastrophe scenario has a legitimate possibility but it seems like this type of thing could cause many an unexpected problem. The best example I could think of (and I’ll grant this is generally not nearly as sophisticated) is when a non-native species is introduced to control over-breeding. I wouldn’t say all of those backfire but I’ve never heard of a successful example. Do they build this risk into the cost benefit analysis? I don’t necessarily expect a response but if there’s a Q & A I’d appreciate if some version of this question could be presented. Appreciate the work.

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  7. james says:

    Does this book have any other chapters?

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  8. Nosybear says:

    I read “SuperFreakonomics” while running from the Denver snowstorm. Interesting in the discussion of walking vs. driving drunk the subject of relative mileage walked to mileage driven never comes up but later in the book, you fastidiously mention that far more miles are driven today than 40 years ago in the discussion of seat belt safety…. But I digress. The chapter on global warming: Excellently written; however, I’d like to point out that the automobile was an accidental solution to the problem of horse manure in cities. There is no guarantee that any of these solutions you mention will work – I hope they do. I didn’t read the words of climate change deniers; however, I did read a technological optimism I can only very cautiously share. We found a way out of the horseshit around the turn of the century but I don’t think our leaders ever will, nor will the common man who is far more concerned with having enough money to pay off their mastercard bill than in how hot the midwest will be in fifty years. Not to mention the flatulence that passes for debate in 21st Century America – were that real rather than metaphoric, the surface of our planet would more closely resemble Venus than any other planet in the solar system.

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