[Via Dan W’s comment at TNC]
The president’s new science adviser said Wednesday that global warming is so dire, the Obama administration is discussing radical technologies to cool Earth’s air.
John Holdren told The Associated Press in his first interview since being confirmed last month that the idea of geoengineering the climate is being discussed. One such extreme option includes shooting pollution particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun’s rays. Holdren said such an experimental measure would only be used as a last resort.
“It’s got to be looked at,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of taking any approach off the table.”
There is a lot of skepticism- much of it well-founded, some of it hysterical and unreasoned- surrounding geo-engineering. Many view it along with CCS as nothing more than a more sophisticated attempt to move the goal posts on emissions reductions further still into the future even as we accumulate ever more of them in our atmosphere. I confess to having had similar doubts, especially when proponents of geo-engineering seem to miss completely the non-warming negative effects of increasing carbon levels (e.g. ocean acidification) or of the additional problems their proposed solutions can pose to issues relating to international law and security.
However, like Holdren, I think that we are reaching the point where we need to do due diligence regarding its exploration, provided mitigation and adaptation are still as aggressively pursued as possible. Moreover, a serious examination of geo-engineering as a possible tool to combat climate change can only serve to bring the severity of less-recognized consequences of failing to mitigate to the fore.
We’re in a situation where this issue has become partisan to the point where self-identified members of the opposition party in the US in large numbers reject climate science’s mainstream (and possibly overly-conservative- e.g. the AR4) conclusions: anthropogenic climate change is happening; the consequences beyond 2-3C of warming will be on the balance negative; the costs of action are likely significantly less than inaction.
Moving the issue away from the Inhofe–Bachman–Shimkus–Limbaugh–Will idiocy and into serious discussions of what tools we have at our disposal can, at this point, only be for the good. There exists a rather tedious meme that in order to address climate change, “enviros” have to be willing to sacrifice a few sacred cows (even as, from old-growth forests to a nuclear “revolution”, such claims are largely unfounded). In the cases of CCS and geo-engineering, however, there may be some small grain of truth to it. Not inasmuch as these should become the primary focus of mainstream efforts to combat climate change- but rather that they can no longer be deemed a priori verbotten if we are going to ever seriously move towards meaningful action.
If preventing disastrous climatic change is your serious goal, you should welcome an honest appraisal of every tool in the collective kit. If CCS and geo-engineering are truly the smokescreens some claim they are, the truth will out. If CCS can eventually be a legitimate component of emissions-reduction based mitigation, then we should embrace it if only conditionally upon concurrent changes to coal usage. If geo-engineering proves to be viable only as a last resort due to its own negative consequences, better to have that knowledge sooner rather than later and redouble efforts to get some sort of treaty in place as soon as possible.
Disinformation will continue to be put forth and I plan on continuing to push back in response. But I would much rather see us, in terms of policy, pushing forward. An honest appraisal of all of our options going forward cannot be anyone’s sacred cow.
[UPDATE: Holdren is walking back the idea that he was discussing Administration policy:
I said that the approaches that have been surfaced so far seem problematic in terms of both efficacy and side effects, but we have to look at the possibilities and understand them because if we get desperate enough it will be considered. I also made clear that this was my personal view, not Administration policy. Asked whether I had mentioned geo-engineering in any White House discussions, though, I said that I had. This is NOT the same thing as saying the White House is giving serious consideration to geo-engineering – which it isn’t – and I am disappointed that the headline and the text of the article suggest otherwise.
Fair enough. I didn’t think there was anything particularly outrageous about the comments as reported by the AP, but I guess this shows what a sensitive subject geo-engineering remains. And with reports that DARPA is looking into it and some hints of disillusionment with what the US will be willing to offer at Copenhagen, it’s certainly understandable why the Administration would be quick to squash any notion among fellow negotiators that it was actively pursuing geo-engineering as a strategy.]