A solid look at the (crucial)(freaky) topic of geoengineering

Hovering around the edges of the ongoing global conversation about climate change is the (specter)(promise) of geoengineering.  Many of us are (cautiously hopeful)(deeply unsettled) by the whole idea.  How about you?

2016.01.28 Remaking the Planet

This is one of those topics that every (informed)(caring) human will want to stay in touch with over the coming decade or so.  It’s hard to imagine a 2025 scenario short of total breakdown in which the need to compensate for our decades of feet-dragging hasn’t pushed geoengineering into the center of public discourse.

In the spirit of staying informed, this recent interview with Oliver Morton of The Economist is one of the best quick overviews that I’ve seen in the past year or so.  For starters, he reminds us that climate is not the first global system that we’ve purposefully engineered:

(The nitrogen cycle) was once driven by soil bacteria, but has been absolutely taken over by human fertilizer factories. That wasn’t something that just happened. It was something that senior chemists wanted to happen. It was something that institutions like the Rockefeller Foundation, and the U.S. government, and the Central Committee of China’s Communist Party wanted to happen. This was a willed thing.

While Morton strongly stresses that geoengineering must not be an excuse for continuing to ignore the need to reduce our carbon emissions, he also thinks it’s unlikely that we can get to zero-carbon with the speed that’s necessary to avoid excessive climate disruption:

In the beginning of the 20th century, no one lived the sort of life that well-off people in developing countries live or aspire to. Now about 1.6 to 2 billion people live that kind of life. And that’s great, but there are 5 billion people who aren’t leading that kind of life. They are going to use a lot of energy.

At the end of this century there will be 9 or 10 billion people on the face of the planet. You would kind of hope that in a century’s time, they would all have the access to energy that you and I enjoy. That would mean going from 2 billion people with access to 10 billion, a much larger increase than we saw during the 20th century.

Of course, there’s a huge amount that we can do with better energy technology over the course of the 21st century. But as the world develops, I think there’s still going to be an awful lot of fossil fuels burned. I think it’s a fundamental mistake to think that with just a bit more political will, you can suddenly go to a zero-carbon world.

The interview has a lot of meat in a nice quick read; it’s a great way to keep this important topic on your radar. Morton’s new book, The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World, looks like a good place to turn if you want to get a better idea of how the first (thoughtful)(reckless) steps toward a geoengineered world may begin to unfold in the coming decade or so.

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