Geoengineering: "The Horrifying Idea Whose Time Has Come"?

In Washington, D.C., this morning, the New America Foundation (in partnership with Arizona State University and Slate) is holding a “Future Tense Event” called “Geoengineering: The Horrifying Idea Whose Time Has Come?” Past blog posts on the topic can be found here.

Discussants at the event include Congressman Bart Gordon (D.-Tenn.), David Keith, Brad Allenby, Jeff Goodell, Thomas Schelling and Stewart Brand. A preview:

Is it time for humanity to go on offense against global warming? Can we? Should we? Curtailing economic activity, altering lifestyles and well-intentioned talk in Copenhagen has not accomplished much. That’s why serious people are now considering Plan B, to intentionally tinker with the planet’s climate to correct for industrialization-induced warming. The hubris of “hacking the planet” is astounding, as are the implications for everything from military strategy to agriculture.

The subject is unsettling, almost taboo in certain environmental advocacy circles.? And yet nations and entrepreneurs are proceeding with geoengineering research and experiments. Join us in assessing the state of these efforts and in considering the politics and ethics of playing God with the climate.

Meanwhile, Slate has published a special issue on the topic, addressing the history of geoengineering, the politics and policy implications.
(HT: Daniel Lippman)

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  1. Brett says:

    I really hope this falls through in every way… we can’t go very long without a recall on cars, phones, or even eggs. What makes anyone think we can alter the climate and not wish we could issue a ‘recall’ at some point? Obviously we’d be unable to do so in a satisfactory way and the impact would be incredibly devastating.

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  2. Ian Kemmish says:

    In the long run, we’re all dead.

    The quicker we go extinct, the less collateral damage we cause the rest of the universe. I’m happy to embrace climate change as long as I’m one of the last to go.

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  3. DaveyNC says:

    This ought to be good.

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  4. Mark Rich says:

    Yes, the subject is unsettling, but it is not one particle more unsettling than the fact that we are already geoengineering the planet through our carbon emissions. We have been fully engaged in unplanned, even unconscious geoengineering for many decades. So now we’re not sure whether we should do it, now that we’re suddenly conscious of doing it? So now we will close the barn door of policy after the horses of carbon emissions have stampeded out? (Okay, the metaphor’s clumsy, but you get the point.)

    The debate now has to be over how to geoengineer, not whether.

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  5. Ben Jardine says:

    Almost correct Kemmish – but we don’t all have to go extinct in order to live in a balanced environment. Simply remove religion from the equation and downsize humanity; selectively of course!
    Part of the problem is that the type of people who pretend to be environmentalists won’t even contemplate the above. They’d rather send aid to Africa/India than condoms.

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  6. bob says:

    Yeah, of course we should trade unconscious tinkering for intentional tinkering. At least there won’t be any political issues that could result in a half effort which derails any effective plan from the start.

    I think we should avoid a Malthusian approach. The sky isn’t falling yet. Instead of investing millions into projects which never come to fruition, why don’t we start with fixing actual measurable problems. Like water and food supplies to the entire world.

    In a world where 10s of 1000s of children starve to death every day without global warming being the cause, I’d say we need to fix that first. When that problem is solved, then you can interest me in a political argument about which giant megacorp we should pay billions to tinker with our environment without any regulation.

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  7. Nosybear says:

    We’ve been geo-engineering since the first proto-human set fire to a savannah to drive game to hunters. At least now we have the tools to model the effects and the capability to see the results of our actions. Whether or not we choose consciously to “geo-engineer” the planet, we are doing so. It makes sense to me to create policy and methods to do so as wisely as we imperfect humans can.

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  8. assumo says:

    The alternative is to re-engineer our cities that are threatened by sea level rise. Even if the potential damage from losing a few hundred feet of coastline is in the hundreds of billions (or trillions) would adaptation strategies be more or less expensive than “geoengineering” in the long-run? Anyways, moving highways and buildings en masse seems more within the repertoire of human possibility than controlling the weather. On the other hand, while we’re building our weather-control device, we can simultaneously perfect our technique at turning lead to gold to fund R&D on our new time machine!

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