Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Climate change and Geoengineering

In an effort to avoid being painted as an alarmist, Al Gore excluded any detailed mention of tipping points in the movie An Inconvenient Truth. However, tipping points feature prominently in this recent update.

As the outlook has gotten gloomier and policy makers have been stuck in neutral, scientists have returned to the technological, geoengineering solutions initially proposed (and discredited) in the 1980's.

Now the NY Times has a round up of 4 new books that focus on the use of technology to deal with the climate problem.

By Eli Kintisch Wiley, $25.95, 288 pages.

By James Rodger Fleming Columbia University Press, $27.95, 344 pages.

By Claire L. Parkinson Rowman & Littlefield, $24.95, 432 pages.

By Roger Pielke Jr. Basic Books, $26, 272 pages.

Many of these ideas have been around for a long time and there are significant down sides to most of them. But they are getting renewed attention and lots of coverage in the popular press because the international community has been unable to create a structure that puts a realistic price on carbon. Desperate times lead to desperate measures.

Aside from the geek attraction factor (solving the problem with a shiny, technological silver bullet), these ideas are comparatively quick to implement and, in some cases, inexpensive. There is also the possibility that small island nations, faced with the existential threat of a rising sea, will unilaterally take such action themselves. In short, much as I hate to go down this path, it may be time to undertake small scale trials of some of these approaches in order to identify the problems and reduce the uncertainties. If you're going to make a pact with the devil, you should get to know him first and not cut the deal on the first date.

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