May 18, 2017 - Energy & Environment
Expert Voices

We need to ensure a geoengineering cure isn't worse than the disease

Our Axios Voices conversation on geoengineering.

There may come a time where it would be immoral not to intervene to stop the Earth's temperature from rising. But engineering the climate by injecting particles into the stratosphere to reflect the sun's light is ambitious and risky. Before we do this, it would be important to know that the cure is not worse than the disease.

How to test the unknowns: The Earth system is complex. A path forward might include a series of experiments, with appropriate governance, that start at a very small (meter, kilogram) scale. Early work should not perturb the climate but rather teach us about, for example, potential chemical effects of injection.

Big questions: How are the benefits and costs balanced, economically, socially and morally? If rainfall increases in the Sahel but reduces in the Amazon, what do we do to compensate for those differences? These technologies could affect the most vulnerable, who are also likely to be the least culpable. How do we protect them?

Bottom line: One thing is clear, there is no rapid path back to pre-industrial equilibrium. If we do attempt to take control of the Earth's climate, we'll need to be more mindful, altruistic and empathetic as a species than we've been to date.

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