Wed 4 Nov 2009
So, 2009 is the year of Geo-engineering.
All the debate aside, I think it is an absolute certainty that something like this will be tried at some point. Even though we are becoming, as a species, more efficient, it isn’t fast enough to negate the effects that have already been charted out by the IPCC. So we have two scenarios:
1. The world passes some kind of global warming pact.
2. The world does not, or only a few countries do.
Both of these scenarios will result in an almost overwhelming incentive to use geo-engineering. The problem is that even though “global warming pact” is seen as a substitute for “crazy geo-engineering,” it really isn’t, at least not for the next 50 years. Even if we cut all emissions today (haha), the earth is still going to warm quite a bit over the next few decades. I haven’t read Superfreakonomics because a certain member of my household keeps monopolizing it, but I’m sure they mention this. Anthropogenic warming deniers can say it was just natural, but whatever: it is going to happen and we will need to do something about it. And it will be extremely tempting to use one of these relatively low cost methods to deal with it, because even if we do come up with an amazing Kyoto-esque agreement, it’s not going to really impact the near-term warming.
So ironically, it becomes precisely the loudest advocates of “we must do something about global warming” who are ignoring solutions to near-term warming — because even according to the data we all agree is right (the IPCC) there is nothing their solutions (emissions cutting) will do to affect it (near-term warming). It’s not like there won’t still be things to work on: you will still have toxic waste, run-off, smog and air pollution that we will want to cure. But Levitt and Dubner are the first to make the point explicitly (more importantly, in a popular book) that these are separate problems that require separate solutions. If the problem is “the earth is getting warmer over the next 50 years” then you must examine geo-engineering as a solution. And if the effects of this warming are as dire as people think, then there is no doubt they will use it.