Is Geo-engineering the Answer?

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Avid DeSmogBlog readers will have seen a conversation breaking out in the Comment section on whether humans have the stomach and discipline for “geo-engineering ” – that is, whether we have what it takes to change the world’s climate on purpose rather than merely screwing it up as an accidental side effect of burning fossil fuels.

Reader Wayne Hall has provided some interesting links, which I repeat here for convenience sake. A good general explanation of geo-engineering can be found here, and this is a terrific article by Gregory Benford, who some may recall from a DeSmogBlog podcast last May in which he was touting the notion of broadcasting reflective chaff into the atmosphere. Reader Eric Knight also nominated a whole set of links in this comment, the most interesting concerning Terra Preta .

Finally, Hall contributes a short discussion about some of the issues of aggressive, engineering-heavy climate change remediation in this article.

This whole discussion is a little unnerving. Many of the world’s evils have arisen because of the unintended consequences of human activity; certainly, whenever government gets involved, it seems to be the stuff that happens by accident that gets us in the most trouble. So there is a serious risk that an “engineered cure” for climate change might turn out to be worse than the disease.

There is also what I might call the Lipitor Conundrum. Excess weight and high blood pressure are two huge risk factors for heart disease. Knowing this, humans are ill-inclined to diet and highly likely to gulp down blood pressure medication with their Big Macs. Now, we have Mr. Hall advocating that we jump straight into engineered remediation, when it would seem prudent, in the case of an overly carbonated earth, that we should reduce CO2 in the planetary diet as a first order of business.

That said, we have already broadcast a huge amnount of CO2 into the atmosphere and, given what President G.W. Bush calls our “addiction” to oil, we aren’t going to stop soon. Some large-scale engineered remediation seems inevitable. Certainly, Hall is right about one thing: we should be talking about it.

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