Changing The Planet

by Stuart Shapiro

At the recent climate change summit in Doha Qatar, little was accomplished.  Sadly, this barely qualifies as news.  With temperatures rising (scientists now say that a 3.6 degree rise is nearly inevitable) and extreme weather inflicting worse and worse damage, some have begun to advocate for geo-engineering.  Geo-engineering refers to attempts to alter the Earth’s atmosphere.  Many decry these plans as crazy and dangerous.  Kim Stanley Robinson says not so fast:

Objections to geoengineering appeared immediately. Many people have expressed doubt that the proposals would work, or believe that a string of negative unintended consequences could follow. Merely discussing these ideas, it has been said, risks giving us the false hope of a “silver bullet” solution to climate change in the near future—thus reducing the pressure to stem carbon emissions here and now.

These are valid concerns, but the fact remains: Our current technologies are already geoengineering the planet—albeit accidentally and negatively. Consider that significant percentages of the world’s wetlands have been drained, and large swaths of its forests cut down. Ecosystems have been devastated by overdevelopment. We’ve raised atmospheric CO2 levels by about 100 parts per million, and average global temperatures have gone up accordingly. Our oceans have soaked up so much of the carbon we’ve dumped into the atmosphere that the seas have measurably acidified. On land, hundreds of species have gone extinct. And far worse damage is sure to follow if this inadvertent geoengineering campaign of ours is allowed to continue.

I worry about plans like taking CO2 from the atmosphere and putting it underground or shooting things into the sky to absorb carbon.  But the fact that we have gotten to the point where these are becoming practical options should scare all of us into action.  It won’t.

About Stuart Shapiro

Stuart Shapiro Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels. Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

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