Perhaps geoengineering is like a fire extinguisher—something you would be delighted to use in an emergency that you hope will never occur. Or perhaps it’s more like the cyanide capsules that Nazis wore beneath their lapels—something whose use can only be justified when delight and hope have become irrelevant concepts.
Within a few weeks, as reported by Arthur Neslen of The Guardian, scientists affiliated with Harvard University’s Solar Engineering Research Program will begin injecting the stratosphere with aerosols. Just small amounts, and just water at first. They plan to follow up with calcium carbonate particles within a few years—again, just small amounts. The goal is to determine whether geoengineering can mimic volcanic eruptions’ ability to safely cool the Earth.
Well, when you put it that way, the project sounds as reasonable as a fire extinguisher. But not everyone puts it that way. Kevin Trenberth, for example—a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research—says that “[c]utting incoming solar radiation affects the weather and … promotes drought. It … could cause wars. The side effects are many and our models are just not good enough to predict the outcomes.” Cyanide.
All parties agree that cutting carbon emissions to zero is the most important step in the climate fight. They disagree on how to address the very real possibility of failure.
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