EP 57 / Hacking the Climate

Mt. Pinatubo erupting in 1991
If climate change gets out of control and we need to resort to geoengineering the climate, who gets to decide what and how much?  This and related questions were discussed at length at side events during COP15 in December. An interesting portion of one of these is played in this episode.

In his State of the Union Speech Obama last week, President Obama focused on Nukes, Offshore Drilling and Biofuels.  A lot of people were bothered that he didn’t focus more on renewables. It seems that we can’t depend on the U.S. government to come to the rescue of the climate because they aren’t communicating the danger of climate change and they aren’t talking about how to stop it. In fact, they are mostly talking about jobs and the economy. So that leaves us with the same climate crisis we started with before the last election.

Ross Gelbspan is an author (his website here) and journalist who feels that it’s already too late to stop climate change.  Based on his 15 years of research, he has released a recent video that tells us we need to act now and plan to adapt and survive.  According to Gelbspan,

As the pace of global warming kicks into overdrive, the hollow optimism of climate activists, along with the desperate responses of some of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, are preventing us from focusing on the survival requirements of the human enterprise.

This brings up the idea of using geoengineering to help in a climate emergency.  People involved in geoengineering research stress that it’s not a substitute for mitigating carbon emissions but that it’s tool of last resort.  The question is, what kind of tool will it be, how can it be safely tested, and who should be making these decisions.  They emphasize this is not a substitute for mitigation.  Whether you think it’s good or bad, the research is expanding and growing right now.

CDR (carbon dioxide removal) and SRM (solar radiation management) are discussed in this episode according to recent articles in the journal Science.   (Articles here and here).  What are the risks of solar radiation management actions, which scientists feel would be potentially dangerous?

Bill Gates has been writing about climate change lately, and he’s putting his money where his keyboard is.  He’s investing in stopping hurricanes with his new patent and is talking about what our climate change targets should be. (more info after the break)

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The COP15 side events on geoengineering page is here.  The Side Event 3 (portion played in this episode) was recorded on December 18, 2009.

  • Watch the video of the full 90-minute event here, including presentations by John Shepherd and Jason Blackstock.
  • Event Moderator: Robin Lustig from BBC News’s The World Tonight
  • Discussants:

Related Resources

For a more detailed overview of the science underlying geoengineering concepts (including current understanding of the uncertainties and risks), please see: