April 19, 2019

The Pros and Cons of Geoengineering

“In 1883, Krakatoa erupted, spewing volcanic ash and gas into the stratosphere, making clouds more reflective and cooling the entire planet by roughly 1° C that year. In 2018, the UN reported that human activity has already raised Earth’s temperature by 1°, and if we don’t do something drastic soon, the results will be catastrophic.

The optimal solution is staring us in the face, of course; reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately this optimal solution is politically untenable and extremely expensive. A decade ago McKinsey estimated it would cost $1 trillion just to halve the growth of carbon emissions … in India alone. That’s still less than the cost of doing nothing — estimated at $20 trillion by Nature, which doesn’t include its toll on human lives — but it’s a cost which seems to make the necessary political decisions impossible.

There is another option. The root problem we face is not carbon concentrations but atmospheric temperature. There are other negative side effects of carbon emissions, like ocean acidification, but the temperature is the big one. We already know how to cool the planet without reducing carbon. The solution is so simple it’s almost laughable: just make our clouds a little more reflective, so they reflect more of the sun’s light, and thus reduce our heat. Volcanoes like Krakatoa do it all the time…”

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