Indeed, as noted by all responsible authors who have addressed this problem, much is technically uncertain and geo-engineering could be a 'cure worse than the disease' (Schneider & Mesirow 1976), given our current level of ignorance of both advertent and inadvertent climate modifications. But, there is also the potential for human conflict associated with the fact that deliberate intervention in the climate system could, as noted more than 30 years ago, coincide with seriously damaging climatic events that may or may not have been connected to the modification scheme and likely could not conclusively be shown to be connected to or disconnected from that modification. This potential for conflicts poses serious social and political obstacles to would-be climate controllers, regardless of how technically or cost effective the engineering schemes may eventually turn out to be. Of course, this has to be traded off against the potential for conflicts from the uneven distribution of climate impacts from unabated emissions that will drive global warming.
Fortunately, the seemingly staggering costs - trillions of dollars - of mitigation that substitutes non-carbon-emitting sources for conventional fossil-fuel-burning devices represent a mere year or so delay in being some 500 per cent richer a century from now with 450 ppm CO2 with stringent climate mitigation versus a potentially dangerous 900 ppm concentration if there are no significant mitigation policies deployed (see Azar & Schneider 2002). Thus, repeated assertions that society will not invest in mitigation - and thus geo-engineering will be needed -seem as premature as arguing for near-term deployment of still-untested geo-engineering schemes. Moreover, the potential for climate policy to be implemented will probably intensify as severe climate impacts occur and people become more aware of the short delay times to be equally well off associated with conventional mitigation.
Institutions currently do not exist with the firm authority to assess or enforce responsible use of the global commons (Nanda & Moore 1983; Choucri 1994). There are some partially successful examples (e.g. the Montreal Protocol and its extensions to control ozone-depleting substances, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty or the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty) of nation states willing to cede some national sovereignty to international authorities for the global good. However, it would require a significant increase in 'global-mindedness' on the part of all nations to set up institutions to attempt to control climate and to compensate any potential losers should the interventions possibly backfire - or even be perceived to have gone awry. Moreover, such an institution would need the resources, skills and authority to inject continuously, and monitor over a century or two, measured amounts of dust in the stratosphere, iron in the oceans or sea-salt aerosols into clouds in order to counteract the inadvertent enhanced heat-trapping effects of long-lived constituents such as CO2.
I, for one, am highly dubious about the likelihood of a sufficient and sustainable degree of global-scale international cooperation needed to assure a high probability that world climate control and compensation authorities (e.g. see Schneider & Mesirow 1976) could be maintained without interruption by wars or ideological disputes for the next two centuries. Just imagine if we needed to do all this in 1900 and then the rest of twentieth-century history unfolded as it actually did! Would climate control have been rationally maintained, or would gaps and rapid transient reactions have been the experience?
In Schneider (1996), I proposed the following health metaphor as apt: it is better to cure heroin addiction by paced medical care that weans the victim slowly and surely from drug addiction than by massive substitution of methadone or some other 'more benign' or lower-cost narcotic. For me, a more rapid implementation of energy-efficient technologies, alternative, less polluting agricultural or energy production systems (e.g. Johansson etal. 1993), better population planning, wildlife habitat protection (particularly for threatened ecosystems) and commodity pricing that reflects not simply the traditional costs of labour, production, marketing and distribution but also the potential 'external' costs from a modified environment (e.g. NAS 1992 ; IPCC 2007c) are the kinds of lasting measures that can cure 'addiction' to polluting practices without risking the potential side effects of geo-engineering -planetary methadone in my metaphor. Rather than pin our hopes on the gamble that geo-engineering will prove to be inexpensive, benign and administratively sustainable over centuries - none of which can remotely be assured now - in my value system, I - and most of the authors of this volume as well - would prefer to start to lower the human impact on the Earth through more conventional means.
However, critics have asked, is it not one's reluctance to embrace manipulations of nature at a large scale, ignoring the potential consequences of 'geosocial engineering', implicit in changing the culture away from its fossil-fuel-based growth and development habits? Do we not know comparably little about the social consequence of carbon taxes, such critics suggest, and are not the potential human consequences of manipulating the world's economy potentially worse than the politics or environmental implications of geo-engineering? In Schneider (1996), I had several responses to these legitimate concerns. First, although in principle these are empirically determinable comparisons between the relative consequences of 'geo' versus 'social' engineering, in practice both are sufficiently unprecedented on the scales being considered here that estimates of impacts will remain highly uncertain and subjective for some time to come. Moreover, values will dominate the trade-off: for example, risk aversion versus risk proneness or the precautionary principle for protecting nature versus the unfettered capacity of enterprising individuals, firms or nations to act to improve their economic conditions.
Second, I do not plead guilty to the charge of nature-centric bias by ignoring the cultural consequences of emissions policies. One who worries more about potential side effects of geo-engineering countermeasures to inadvertent modification of nature than about side effects of manipulating the world's energy economy via, say, carbon taxes is simply recognising that it was humans, not nature, that began the spiral of difficulties in the first place by indulging in inadvertent modifications of the environment. Rather, the bias is on the anthropocentrists, since they ignore that searching for solutions to human disturbances to nature that do not raise yet additional risks for coupled human natural systems (Liu et al. 2007) is a way of balancing anthropocentric and nature-centric values. Carbon taxes are simply one possible way to internalise into human economics the potential external damages (or 'externalities') of our activities. So too are the mild versions of geo-engineering -carbon removal from the climate system.
To be sure, flexibility is essential for any policy to be both effective and fair, plus it needs to be capable of being reversed if unforeseen negative outcomes materialise. But, since human systems have already disturbed nature in the first place, it seems to me that the risks of countering inadvertent human impacts on nature should next be borne by humans, not an already besieged nature.
Nevertheless, I do (somewhat reluctantly) agree that study of geo-engineering potential is clearly needed, given our growing inadvertent impacts on the planet (negative impacts that are already being borne unfairly in vulnerable places such as Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa - and even the Gulf Coast of the USA). But, I must conclude with a caveat: I would prefer to get slowly unhooked from our economic dependence on massive increases in carbon fuels than to try to cover the potential side effects of business-as-usual development with decades of sulphuric acid injections into the atmosphere or iron into the oceans or aerosols into the marine boundary layer, to say nothing of Buck Rogers schemes in space.
But, deep-Earth sequestration, CO2 removal in biological processes and alternative non-carbon-emitting fuels - also discussed in this volume - clearly do not suffer from the side effects of more aggressive radiative forcing offset geo-engineering schemes, or the who-controls-the-climate problems, and are obvious candidates for rapid learning-by-doing efforts.
In short, my personal prescription for climate policies can be summarized in five sequenced steps.
(i) Adaptation is essential now to assist those who will likely be harmed by 'in the pipeline' climate change. Actions that simultaneously enhance 'sustainable development' would seem the most attractive options.
(ii) Performance standards required of buildings, appliances, machines and vehicles to wring the maximum potential for cost-effective engineering energy efficiency need to be mandatory and widespread.
(iii) A 'learning-by-doing feeding frenzy' needs to emerge, where we set up public-private partnerships to fashion incentives to help us 'invent our way out' of the problem of high-emitting technological and social systems.
(iv) A shadow price on carbon has to be established to ensure that the full costs of any energy production or end use system is part of the price of doing business. Cap-and-trade and carbon taxes are the prime examples of such schemes to internalise external risks from business-as-usual emissions, but these schemes must recognise the special problems they may pose for certain groups: poor people and coal miners or SUV workers. So, in addition to internalising these externalities to protect the environmental commons, we need to consider side payments or other compensation schemes to be fair to the losers of the mitigation policies and to provide a transition for them to a softer economic landing, so to speak.
(v) Finally, my last policy category in the sequence is to consider deploying geo-engineering schemes. However, as has been said by all in this volume, and as I fully agree, R&D is needed and should be an early part of the climate policy investment sequencing, even if deployment of the more aggressive schemes to offset radiative forcing is the last resort.
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