, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 291-302

Geoengineering: Could— or should— we do it?

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Abstract

Schemes to modify large-scale environment systems or to control climate have been seriously proposed for over 50 years, some to (1) increase temperatures in high latitudes, (2) increase precipitation, (3) decrease sea ice, (4) create irrigation opportunities or to offset potential global warming by spreading dust in the stratosphere to reflect away an equivalent amount of solar energy. These and other proposed geoengineering schemes are briefly reviewed from a historical perspective. More recently, many such schemes to advertently modify climate have been proposed as cheaper methods to counteract inadvertent climatic modifications than conventional mitigation techniques such as carbon taxes or pollutant emissions regulations. Whereas proponents argue cost effectiveness, critics of geoengineering argue that there is too much uncertainty to either (1) be confident that any geoengineering scheme would work as planned, or (2) that the many decades of international political stability and cooperation needed for the continuous maintenance of such schemes to offset century long inadvertent efforts is problematic. Moreover, there is potential for transboundary conflicts should negative climatic events occur during geoengineering activities since, given all the large uncertainties, it could not be assured to victims of such events that the schemes were entirely unrelated to their damages. Nevertheless, although I believe it would be irresponsible to implement any large-scale geoengineering scheme until scientific, legal and management uncertainties are substantially narrowed, I do agree that, given the potential for large inadvertent climatic changes now being built into the earth system, more systematic study of the potential for geoengineering is probably needed.