Climatic Change

, Volume 109, Issue 3–4, pp 719–744 | Cite as

The economics (or lack thereof) of aerosol geoengineering

  • Marlos Goes
  • Nancy Tuana
  • Klaus KellerEmail author


Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are changing the Earth’s climate and impose substantial risks for current and future generations. What are scientifically sound, economically viable, and ethically defendable strategies to manage these climate risks? Ratified international agreements call for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Recent proposals, however, call for a different approach: to geoengineer climate by injecting aerosol precursors into the stratosphere. Published economic studies typically neglect the risks of aerosol geoengineering due to (i) the potential for a failure to sustain the aerosol forcing and (ii) the negative impacts associated with the aerosol forcing. Here we use a simple integrated assessment model of climate change to analyze potential economic impacts of aerosol geoengineering strategies over a wide range of uncertain parameters such as climate sensitivity, the economic damages due to climate change, and the economic damages due to aerosol geoengineering forcing. The simplicity of the model provides the advantages of parsimony and transparency, but it also imposes severe caveats on the interpretation of the results. For example, the analysis is based on a globally aggregated model and is hence silent on intragenerational distribution of costs and benefits. In addition, the analysis neglects the effects of learning and has a very simplistic representation of climate change impacts. Our analysis suggests three main conclusions. First, substituting aerosol geoengineering for CO2 abatement can be an economically ineffective strategy. One key to this finding is that a failure to sustain the aerosol forcing can lead to sizeable and abrupt climatic changes. The monetary damages due to such a discontinuous aerosol geoengineering can dominate the cost-benefit analysis because the monetary damages of climate change are expected to increase with the rate of change. Second, the relative contribution of aerosol geoengineering to an economically optimal portfolio hinges critically on, thus far, deeply uncertain estimates of the damages due to aerosol forcing. Even if we assume that aerosol forcing could be deployed continuously, the aerosol geoengineering does not considerably displace CO2 abatement in the simple economic optimal growth model until the damages due to the aerosol forcing are rather low. Third, substituting aerosol geoengineering for greenhouse gas emission abatement can fail an ethical test regarding intergenerational justice. Substituting aerosol geoengineering for greenhouse gas emissions abatements constitutes a conscious risk transfer to future generations, in violation of principles of intergenerational justice which demands that present generations should not create benefits for themselves in exchange for burdens on future generations.


Climate Sensitivity Abatement Cost Economic Damage Abatement Strategy Intergenerational Justice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams JB, Mann ME, Ammann CM (2003) Proxy evidence for an El Niño-like response to volcanic forcing. Nature 426:274–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alley RB, Marotzke J, Nordhaus W, Overpeck J, Pielke R, Pierrehumbert R, Rhines P, Stocker T, Talley L, Wallace JM (2002) Abrupt climate change: inevitable surprises. National Research CouncilGoogle Scholar
  3. Alley RB, Marotzke J, Nordhaus WD, Overpeck JT, Peteet DM, Pielke RA, Pierrehumbert RT, Rhines PB, Stocker TF, Talley LD, Wallace JM (2003) Abrupt climate change. Science 299:2005–2010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anthoff D, Tol RSJ, Yohe GW (2008) Risk aversion, time preference, and the social cost of carbon. Environ Res Lett 4(2009):024002Google Scholar
  5. Archer D, Brovkin V (2008) The millennial atmospheric lifetime of anthropogenic CO2. Clim Change 90:283–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barker T, Bashmakov I, Bernstein L, Bogner J, Bosch P, Dave R, Davidson O, Fisher B, Grubb M, Gupta S, Halsnaes K, Heij B, Ribeiro SK, Kobayashi S, Levine M, Martino D, Cerutti OM, Metz B, Meyer L, Nabuurs GJ, Najam A, Nakicenovic N, Rogner HH, Roy J, Sathaye J, Schock R, Shukla P, Sims R, Smith P, Swart R, Tirpak D, Urge-Vorsatz D, Dadi Z (2007) IPCC, 2007. Climate change 2007: mitigation. Contribution of working group III to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, summary for policymakers. IPCC Secretariat, c/o WMO, 7bis, Avenue de la Paix, C.P. N° 2300, 1211 Geneva 2, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  7. Barrett S (2008) The incredible economics of geoengineering. Environ Resour Econ 39:45–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bernoulli D (1738) Exposition of a new theory on the measurement of risk (english translation, 1954). Econometrica 22:23–36Google Scholar
  9. Bernstein L, Bosch P, Canziani O, Chen Z, Christ R, Davidson O, Hare W, Huq S, Karoly D, Kattsov V, Kundzewicz Z, Liu J, Lohmann U, Manning M, Matsuno T, Menne B, Metz B, Mirza M, Nicholls N, Nurse L, Pachauri R, Palutikof J, Parry M, Qin D, Ravindranath N, Reisinger A, Ren J, Riahi K, Rosenzweig C, Rusticucci M, Schneider S, Sokona Y, Solomon S, Stott P, Stouffer R, Sugiyama T, Swart R, Tirpak D, Vogel C, Yohe G (eds) (2008) IPCC, 2007: climate change 2007: synthesis report. Contribution of working groups I, II and III to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC, Geneva, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  10. Blackstock JJ, Battisti DS, Caldeira K, Eardley DM, Katz JI, Keith DW, Patrinos AAN, Schrag DP, Socolow RH, Koonin SE (2009) Climate engineering responses to climate emergencies. Novim, Santa BarbaraGoogle Scholar
  11. Bradford DF (1999) On the uses of benefit-cost reasoning in choosing policy toward global climate change. In Portney PR, Weyant JP (eds) Discounting and intergenerational equity. Resources for the Future, Washington, pp 37–44Google Scholar
  12. Broome J (1991) Utility. Econ Philos 7:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Broome J (1994) Discounting the future. Philos Public Aff 23:128–156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bunzl M (2008) An ethical assessment of geoengineering. Bull At Sci 64(2):18–18Google Scholar
  15. Carlin A (2007) Global climate change control: is there a better strategy than reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Univ PA Law Rev 155:1401–1497Google Scholar
  16. COSEPUP (1992) Policy implications of greenhouse warming: mitigation, adaptation, and the science base. National Academy of Science, Committee on Science Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP), National Academy PressGoogle Scholar
  17. Crutzen PJ (2006) Albedo enhancement by stratospheric sulfur injections: a contribution to resolve a policy dilemma? Clim Change 77:211–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. de Shalit A (1995) Why posterity matters: environmental policies and future generations. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Feely RA, Sabine CL, Lee K, Berelson W, Kleypas J, Fabry VJ, Millero FJ (2004) Impact of anthropogenic CO2 on the CaCO3 system in the oceans. Science 305:362–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Frame DJ, Booth BBB, Kettleborough JA, Stainforth DA, Gregory JM, CollinsM, AllenMR (2005) Constraining climate forecasts: the role of prior assumptions. Geophys Res Lett 32:L09702. doi: 10.1029/2004GL022241 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gardiner SM (2009) A contract on future generations? Axel Gosseries and Lukas H. Meyer Intergenerational justice. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  22. Helton JC, Davis FJ (2003) Latin hypercube sampling and the propagation of uncertainty in analyses of complex systems. Reliab Eng Syst Saf 81:23–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Irvine PJ, Ridgwell A, Lunt DJ (2010) Assessing the regional disparities in geoengineering impacts. Geophys Res Lett 37. doi: 10.1029/2010gl044447
  24. Jamieson D (1996) Ethics and intentional climate change. Clim Change 33:323–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Joos F, Mueller-Fuerstenberger G, Stephan G (1999) Correcting the carbon cycle representation: how important is it for the economics of climate change? Environ Model Assess 4:133–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kahneman D, Sugden R (2005) Experienced utility as a standard of policy evaluation. Environ Resour Econ 32:161–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Keith DW (2000) Geoengineering the climate: history and prospect. Annu Rev Energy Environ 25:245–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Keller K, Tan K, Morel FMM, Bradford DF (2000) Preserving the ocean circulation: implications for climate policy. Clim Change 47:17–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Keller K, Bolker BM, Bradford DF (2004) Uncertain climate thresholds and optimal economic growth. J Environ Econ Manage 48:723–741CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Keller K, Hall M, Kim SR, Bradford DF, Oppenheimer M (2005) Avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Clim Change 73:227–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Keller K, Robinson A, Bradford DF, Oppenheimer M (2007) The regrets of procrastination in climate policy. Environ Res Lett 2. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/1082/1082/024004
  32. Keller K, McInerney D, Bradford DF (2008a) Carbon dioxide sequestration: when and how much? Clim Change 88:267–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Keller K, Schlesinger M, Yohe G (2008b) Managing the risks of climate thresholds: uncertainties and information needs. Clim Change 91:5–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Knutti R, Hegerl G (2008) The equilibrium sensitivity of the Earth’s temperature to radiation changes. Nature Geosciences 1:735–743CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kriegler E (2005) Imprecise probability analysis for integrated assessment of climate change. PhD thesis, University of Potsdam, PotsdamGoogle Scholar
  36. Lempert RJ (2002) A new decision sciences for complex systems. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 99:7309–7313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lempert RJ, Schlesinger ME, Bankes SC, Andronova NG (2000) The impacts of climate variability on near-term policy choices and the value of information. Clim Change 45:129–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lempert R, Popper S, Bankes S (2002) Confronting surprise. Soc Sci Comput Rev 20:420–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Louis MES, Hess JJ (2008) Climate change impacts on and implications for global health. Am J Prev Med 35:527–538CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ludwig D, Brock WA, Carpenter SR (2005) Uncertainty in discount models and environmental accounting. Ecol Soc 10(2):13. Google Scholar
  41. Lunt DJ, Ridgwell A, Valdes PJ, Seale A (2008) Sunshade world: a fully coupled GCM evaluation of the climatic impacts of geoengineering. Geophys Res Lett 35:L12710. doi: 10.1029/2008GL033674 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Manne AS, Richels RG (1991) Buying greenhouse insurance. Energy Policy 19:543–552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Matthews HD, Caldeira K (2007) Transient climate-carbon simulations of planetary geoengineering. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:9949–9954CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McInerney D, Keller K (2008) Economically optimal risk reduction strategies in the face of uncertain climate thresholds. Clim Change 91:5–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Morrow DR, Kopp RE et al (2009) Toward ethical norms and institutions for climate engineering research. Environmental Research Letters 4(4)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Newell RG, Pizer WA (2004) Uncertain discount rates in climate policy analysis. Energy Policy 32:519–529CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Nordhaus WD (1992) An optimal transition path for controlling greenhouse gases. Science 258:1315–1319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Nordhaus WD (1994a) Expert opinion on climatic-change. Am Sci 82:45–51Google Scholar
  49. Nordhaus WD (1994b) Managing the global commons: the economics of climate change. The MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  50. Nordhaus WD (2001) Global warming economics. Science 294:1283–1284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nordhaus WD (2007) Alternative measures of output in global economic-environmental models: purchasing power parity or market exchange rates? Energy Econ 29(3):349–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Nordhaus W (2008) A question of balance. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  53. Nordhaus WD, Popp D (1997) What is the value of scientific knowledge? An application to global warming using the PRICE model. Energy J 18:1–45Google Scholar
  54. Oppenheimer M, O’Neill BC, Webster M (2008) Negative learning. Clim Change 89:155–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Page E (2006) Climate change, justice and future generations. Edward Elgar Publishing, CheltenhamGoogle Scholar
  56. Partridge E (1981) Responsibilities to future generations: environmental ethics. Prometheus Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  57. Pogge T (2002) World poverty and human rights: cosmopolitan responsibilities and reforms. Polity Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  58. Ramsey F (1928) A mathematical theory of saving. Econ J 37:543–559CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rasch PJ, Tilmes S, Turco RP, Robock A, Oman L, Chen CC, Stenchikov GL, Garcia RR (2008) An overview of geoengineering of climate using stratospheric sulphate aerosols. Philos Trans Royal Soc, Math Phys Eng Sci 366:4007–4037CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rawls J (1971) A theory of justice. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  61. Rawls J (2001) Justice as fairness. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  62. Rey G, Jougla E, Fouillet A, Pavillon G, Bessemoulin P, Frayssinet P, Clavel J, Hemon D (2007) The impact of major heat waves on all-cause and cause-specific mortality in France from 1971 to 2003. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 80:615–626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Ricke KL, Morgan G, Allen MR (2010) Regional climate response to solar-radiation management. Nature Geosci 3:537–541CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Robine JM, Cheung SLK, Le Roy S, Van Oyen H, Griffiths C, Michel JP, Herrmann FR (2008) Death toll exceeded 70,000 in Europe during the summer of 2003. Comptes Rendus Biologies 331:171–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Robock A (2000) Volcanic eruptions and climate. Rev Geophys 38:191–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Robock A (2008) 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. Bull At Sci 64:14–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Robock A, Oman L, Stenchikov G (2008) Regional climate responses to geoengineering with tropical and Arctic SO2 injections. J Geophys Res 113:D16101. doi: 10.1029/2008JD010050 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Savage LJ (1954) The foundations of statistics. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  69. Schelling TC (1996) The economic diplomacy of geoengineering. Clim Change 33:303–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Schneider SH (1996) Geoengineering: could or should we do it? Clim Change 33(3):291–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Schneider S, Broecker W (2007) Geoengineering may be risky but we need to explore it. New Sci 195:44–45Google Scholar
  72. Schneider SH, Semenov S, Patwardhan A, Burton I, Magadza CHD, Oppenheimer M, Pittock AB, Rahman A, Smith JB, Suarez A, Yamin F, Corfee-Morlot J, Finkel A, Füssel HM, Keller K, MacMynowski D, Mastrandrea MD, Todorov A, Sukumar R, van Ypersele J-P, Zillman J (2007) Assessing key vulnerabilities and the risk from climate change. In: Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof JP, van der Linden PJ, Hanson CE (eds) Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Contribution of working group II to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 779–810Google Scholar
  73. Schulz PA, Kasting JF (1997) Optimal reduction in CO2 emissions. Energy Policy 25:491–500CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Shepherd J et al (2009) Geoengineering the climate; science, governance and uncertainty. The Royal SocietyGoogle Scholar
  75. Shue H (2000) Climate, companion to environmental ethics. Blackwell Publishers, MaldenGoogle Scholar
  76. Solomon KR (2008) Effects of ozone depletion and UV-B radiation on humans and the environment. Atmos Ocean 46:185–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Stoll HM, Shimizu N, Archer D, Ziveri P (2007) Coccolithophore productivity response to greenhouse event of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Earth Planet Sci Lett 258:192–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Storn R, Price K (1997) Differential evolution - a simple and efficient heuristic for global optimization over continuous spaces. J Glob Optim 11:341–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Stott PA, Stone DA, Allen MR (2004) Human contribution to the European heatwave of 2003. Nature 432:610–614CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Teller E, Hyde R, Ishikawa M, Nuckolls J, Wood L (2003) Active stabilization of climate: Inexpensive, low risk, near term options for preventing global warming and ice ages via technologically varied solar radiative forcing. Lawrence Livermore National LaboratoryGoogle Scholar
  81. Tilmes S, Muller R, Salawitch R (2008) The sensitivity of polar ozone depletion to proposed geoengineering schemes. Science 320:1201–1204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Tol RSJ (1996) The damage costs of climate change - towards a dynamic representation. Ecol Econ 19:67–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Tol RSJ (2001) Equitable cost-benefit analysis of climate change policies. Ecol Econ 36:71–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Tol RSJ (2008a) Climate, development and malaria: an application of FUND. Clim Change 88:21–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Tol RSJ (2008b) Why worry about climate change? A research agenda. Environ Values 17:437–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Tol RSJ, Yohe GW (2007) Infinite uncertainty, forgotten feedbacks, and cost-benefit analysis of climate policy. Clim Change 83(4):429–442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Trenberth KE, Dai A (2007) Effects of Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption on the hydrological cycle as an analog of geoengineering. Geophys Res Lett 34:L15702. doi: 10.1029/2007GL030524 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Trigo RM, García-Herrera R, Díaz J, Trigo IF, Valente MA (2005) How exceptional was the early August 2003 heatwave in France? Geophys Res Lett 32:L10701. doi: 10.1029/2005GL022410 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. UNFCCC (1992) UN framework convention on climate change. Palais des Nations, Geneva.
  90. Urban NM, Keller K (2009) Complementary observational constraints on climate sensitivity. Geophys Res Lett 36:L04708. doi: 10.1029/2008GL036457 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Urban NM, Keller K (2010) Probabilistic hindcasts and projections of the coupled climate, carbon cycle, and Atlantic meridional overturning circulation system: a Bayesian fusion of century-scale observations with a simple model. Tellus 62A:737–750Google Scholar
  92. Vanderheiden SJ (2008) Atmospheric justice: a political theory of climate change. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  93. Varian HR (1974) Equity, envy, and efficiency. J Econ Theory 9:63–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Victor D, Granger Morgan M, Apt J, Steinbruner J, Ricke K (2009) The geoengineering option a last resort against global warming? Foreign Aff 88(2):64–76Google Scholar
  95. Wigley TML (2006) A combined mitigation/geoengineering approach to climate stabilization. Science 314:452–454CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Wolf C (2009) Intergenerational justice, human needs, and climate policy. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  97. Yohe GW, Andronova NG et al (2004) To hedge or not to hedge against an uncertain future climate. Science 306:416–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, NOAA, Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  3. 3.Department of PhilosophyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.Department of Geosciences and Earth and Environmental Systems InstituteUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations