• 09.02.09

Should We Geoengineer the Climate to Stop Global Warming?


The Royal Society, which is headed up by famed astrophysicist Martin Rees, believes that geoengineering is imperative, especially if we fail to cut our emissions to half of what they were in 1990. And if talks at this fall’s Copenhagen climate summit don’t produce results, there’s a good chance that we will fail.

Little real-world testing has been done with promising geoengineering technologies like synthetic CO2 absorbing trees and cloud-spraying ships, so the Society suggests that $16 million be spent each year in the U.K. on experimentation. That’s about 10 times less than what is currently spent on climate change research, but 10 times more than what is spent on geoengineering.

The Society also questions if geoengineering should only be the plan of last resort, asking: “Assuming that acceptable standards for effectiveness, safety, public acceptance and cost were established, why should appropriate geoengineering options not be added to the portfolio of options that society will need and may wish to use to combat the challenges posed by climate change?”

One reason is that swift implementation of geoengineering could demoralize the public in taking real steps to lower emissions, but the Society questions that as well, acknowledging that, “Although this prospect should be taken seriously, there is as yet little empirical evidence on whether the prospect of climate intervention galvanizes or undermines efforts to reduce emissions. The moral hazard argument requires further investigation to establish how important an issue this should be for decision makers.” It’s a good point, and one that should probably be explored further while testing is completed to determine which geoengineering techniques are feasible. Whether or not we ever choose to use geoengineering, we should at least get the technology down pat in case we need it.

[The Royal Society]AS