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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The possibility of employing geoengineering could help break the political deadlock on a global climate change deal, according to a new paper.

Why it matters: Deliberately trying to engineer the climate to offset warming is risky and as yet untested. But with the effects of climate change compounding and further international agreements stalled, there may be no choice but to try — or at least threaten to do so.

As climate change worsens and climate politics remain polarized, the door opens for solar geoengineering, which would involve injecting aerosols into the atmosphere to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth and directly slow warming.

  • Solar geoengineering would be much cheaper than drastically cutting carbon emissions, but it carries with it as yet unknown risks of side effects. That's why many environmentalists remain opposed to even experimenting with geoengineering.

Yes, but: A new paper in the journal Humanities & Social Sciences Communications suggests that the possibility of geoengineering could reframe the climate debate.

  • Using game theory (more or less as described in this scene from "A Beautiful Mind"), Gernot Wagner and Adrien Fabre make the case that countries most vulnerable to climate change and most willing to engage in deep emissions cuts might prefer trying geoengineering, even with all its risks, rather than accept insufficient climate action.
  • At the same time, those countries less worried about climate change might be more willing to compromise on deeper emission cuts if they fear that the other side would choose geoengineering over a weaker climate deal.
  • The upshot is that just the existence of the option of geoengineering can nudge the two opposing sides into agreeing on tougher climate action.

Yes, but: Game theory aside, the worse climate change gets, the more likely one or more countries might try geoengineering to save themselves. That's why we'd be better off ramping up experiments on geoengineering now, so we know better what it can do — and what it shouldn't do.

  • "We need to know whether or not this should be part of the climate portfolio," says Kelly Wanser, the executive director of SilverLining, a nonprofit focused on averting near-term climate risk.

Go deeper: Geoengineering might work best in small doses

Go deeper

California moves to phase out new gasoline-powered cars

California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is issuing an executive order that seeks to eliminate sales of new gasoline-powered cars in his state by 2035, a move the White House said President Trump "won't stand for."

Why it matters: California is the largest auto market in the U.S., and transportation is the biggest source of carbon emissions in the state and nationwide.

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.