Time to Geoengineer the Climate? Scientists Say We Should Get Prepared

Leading experts on climate change science and technology released a report recommending the US government begin considering radical alternatives to remediate Earth’s climate.

Techniques include scattering particles in the air to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes, stationing orbiting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, seeding the air with ocean water to form clouds, and literally vacuuming the carbon from the atmosphere using machines. 

The report emphasizes that it’s too early to deploy these technologies, but it’s time for a coordinated federal research program to explore their potential effectiveness, feasibility, and consequences in case "the climate system reaches a ‘tipping point’ and swift remedial action is required."

It also emphasizes that the highest priority is to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but political stalemate continues to prevent that.

The 18-member panel was convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a research organization founded by Democrats and Republicans – to offer policy advice to the government. Some of the panel members told the NY Times they hoped the mere discussion of such drastic steps would jolt policy makers into meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which they emphasize, are the highest priority.

"The report reflects a consensus view from experts in natural science, social science, science policy, foreign policy, national security, and the environment,"says Jason Grumet, President of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The panel offers two main reasons for the US to embark on a  several million dollar climate remediation research program:

  • The physical risks of climate change are real and growing.
  • The geopolitical and national security risks of deployment of climate remediation technologies by some other countries or actors are real.

"The United States needs to be able to judge whether particular climate remediation techniques could offer a meaningful response to the risks of climate change. But even if it decides not to deploy any climate remediation technology, the U.S. needs to evaluate steps others might take and be able to effectively participate in – and lead – the important international conversations that are likely to emerge around these issues and activities in the years ahead.

Research is underway in Britain, Germany and possibly other countries, and also in the private sector.

Stephen Rademaker, Task Force Co-Chair and Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, says "Some proposed climate remediation techniques, particularly solar radiation management, could be fast-acting, be deployed at very low cost, and have quite serious and uneven impacts – intended and unintended."

Many environmental groups call geoengineering misguided and potentially dangerous.

But we’re already geoengineering the environment by spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we’re just doing it accidentally, says Jane Long, associate director of  Lawrence Livermore National Lab and panel co-chair. 

Here’s the report:

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