Thursday, June 18, 2009

Geoengineering: A Legitimate Approach to Addressing Climate Change?

From the "somewhat stranger than fiction" file: Should scientists begin undertaking measures to cool the planet?

Jamais Cascio, a senior fellow at the California-based Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, seems to think so as he explains in a piece in The Wall Street Journal ("It's Time to Cool the Planet," June 15, 2009).

Geoengineering, as Mr. Cascio explains, is aimed at "lowering the temperatures of the Earth itself." One concept involves increasing the amount of sunlight reflected by the Earth. Among the ways this could be done, according to Mr. Cascio, are: (1) inserting particles into the atmosphere that would reflect sunlight; and (2) increasing the amount and thickness of clouds.

He describes various societal and political issues that might arise from these efforts. And then he moves to the "more mundane questions of liability" (one wonders, "mundane to who?"). As he puts it:
If, for example, South Asia experiences an unusual drought during cyclone season after geoengineering begins, who gets blamed? Who gets sued? Would all 'odd' weather patterns be ascribed to the geoengineering effort? If so, would the issue of what would have happened absent geoengineering be considered relevant?"
While Mr. Cascio might be considered a "futurist" in some circles, one wonders whether he has ever heard of the American Trial Lawyers' Association (now known as the American Association for Justice). Talk about "manna from heaven"...The trial lawyers would be all over this like kittens on cap-nip.

Clearly climate change is a serious matter and Mr. Cascio has an interesting point of view. But coming up with large scale ways to cool the earth? That's likely to work about as well as when I try to get my cat Paco's attention when he's stalking a bird.

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