The New York Times reports reports that a panel of scientists has recommended more research into geoengineering methods to control the Earth's temperature.
Members said they hoped that such extreme engineering techniques, which include scattering particles in the air to mimic the cooling effect of volcanoes or stationing orbiting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, would never be needed. But in its report, to be released on Tuesday, the panel said it is time to begin researching and testing such ideas in case “the climate system reaches a ‘tipping point’ and swift remedial action is required.”
The 18-member panel was convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a research organization based in Washington founded by four senators — Democrats and Republicans — to offer policy advice to the government. In interviews, some of the panel members said they hoped that the mere discussion of such drastic steps would jolt the public and policy makers into meaningful action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which they called the highest priority.
There is a fair bit of alarm about the recommendation, both about the very plausible outcome that such research might further weaken efforts to reduce emissions, and your standard-issue Frankenstein-scientism-hubris stuff. I don't disagree that tampering with the climate would be pretty complicated stuff of course, but can't begin to imagine why anyone would be convinced we couldn't do it fruitfully in a hundred years time, excepting of course that they convinced everyone else at the outset that it would be "playing God" or something to even think about it. [My take on that horrible phrase has always been, "Someone's gotta do it." Don't know who it's picked up from, but I find it enjoyable.]Nor is the the appeal to risk-aversion or the precautionary principle obviously in their favor. Does anyone think that green energy at reasonable output levels, costs and useful time frames is such a cert that we don't even need to think about alternatives? Could anyone say, for that matter, that it's not risky to tamper with rising third-world economies, on the scale that would be needed to keep Chinese or Indian emissions from becoming several times larger each than the American output? A paragraph giving Joe Romm's view caught my eye:
At the influential blog Climate Progress, Joe Romm, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, has made a similar point, likening geo-engineering to a dangerous course of chemotherapy and radiation to treat a condition curable through diet and exercise — or, in this case, emissions reduction.
This is a singularly infelicitous analogy. The big problem with climate change over the coming century isn't the US or Europe, it's India and China and South America and (one hopes!) Africa. None of those places are sanely characterized as requiring "diets." In a world where Romm and his readership didn't think about fighting climate change largely in moral terms, where the underlying conceptual framework wasn't getting Americans to be less fat and more continent, he wouldn't dream of saying something so bizarre.In practice presentism or Luddism are always as obviously weighty in prospect as they often are flimsy in hindsight - consider how many people said, quite seriously, back in 2007 that e-books would destroy the true pleasure of reading, consisting as it did in the smell of paper. But hand-wringing about test-tube babies or kindles is relatively inconsequential; delaying important avenues of research by decades with the climate in the balance is not.