Whose Hand Controls the Global Thermostat?

A good report here, from the Economist, on a recent geoengineering summit in Asilomar, Calif. (which, unsurprisingly, had its detractors before it was ever held). The article’s final paragraph gets at something we’ve touched on before, in SuperFreakonomics and on this blog: that if global warming gets bad enough to require a geoengineering intervention, the actual science may well not be the hardest part:

Producing plausible policies and ways for the public to have a say on them will be hard — harder, perhaps, than the practical problem of coming up with ways to suck up a bit of carbon or reduce incoming sunshine. As Andrew Mathews, an anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, puts it, it is not just a matter of constructing a switch, it is a matter of constructing a hand you trust to flip it.

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  1. Michael says:

    More geoengineering? Look, instead of endless attempts to be iconoclastic, why don’t you guys spend a little more time discussing real solutions? I read your polymath-squared solar article, which was as error-ridden as your original chapter – how about talking to someone who actually knows something about solar? (For example, modern solar cells are way more efficient than 9-12%.)

    Geoengineering is, frankly, as likely as not to cause more problems – our massive “geoengineering experiment” of carbon emissions is what created the problem in the first place. The environmental advocacy community – for all it’s flaws – gets that, which is why nobody serious is talking about geoengineering. Sometimes ideas aren’t popular for good reason.

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  2. Wonks Anonymous says:

    Yet another problem with this proposal to terraform the earth.

    Wouldn’t it be simpler to start a gradually increasing carbon tax right now, something that adds a few pennies to the cost of gasoline today, a few more pennies in six months and so on.

    This would give us a gradual, predictable increase in the cost of carbon intensive activities which, as any reasonable price theorist will tell you, will lead to gradual adaptations that conserve carbon and lower the CO2 burden in the atmosphere.

    No central planning or weird government agencies required and the science and engineering will be created by thousands of self-interested individuals.

    What is not to like?

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  3. Brett says:

    Working in corporate offices for the past decade has taught me that people will always complain about the thermostat. Some people want it cooler, some people want it warmer, and a manager can be inundated with the whining about people changing the settings.

    For corporate offices, the best answer will always be “leave the thermostat alone”. I have to think that’s the best thing for the global thermostat as well.

    Maybe once mankind can agree on an easily controlled climate like an office building, then maybe we can consider trying to exert control over a climate that is infinitely more complex, more expensive to (attempt to) modify, and more difficult to reverse if mistakes are made.

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  4. Been There says:

    And then there is the story about the corporation that put non-working thermostats in each employee’s office — even though the employees could not actually change the temperature, they felt better because they had the illusion of having control over their environment…

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  5. doug garr says:

    Men who pay utility bills turn the lights off when the room is not in use. Children and soccer moms do not. This is the human engineering that needs change, and if complete households could make this change, it will save billions of dollars in kilowatt hours not used, not to mention the tons of carbon not released into the atmosphere.

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  6. Michael Dennis Mooney, Albany, NY says:

    Off-Shore Drilling

    We need to drill huge holes
    In which to bury carbon waste
    Then cap them with plantings

    Live where you work
    Make it a liveable nabe
    Shop where you live
    Walk to work
    Ride your bike
    Travel by kayak
    Like an Inuit ~ MDM


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  7. ck says:

    What about getting rid of the military and all their weapons, bombs that blow up the earth and destroy the environment. Forget a few lights on , Why not go after the real beast itself , WAR!

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  8. blake says:

    Seriously, price carbon, that’s it. If you generate it, you pay, if you sequester it, you get a tax credit. It’s not a tough call, actually we should probably replace our whole current tax system with just that, it’s not like the tax system we use now is amazingly good for anything, it’s terrible. The practical problem for dealing with carbon emissions is that there is no money in it at all, not that the technology isn’t there.

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