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We Need to Talk About Geoengineering

Although climate change is primarily caused by excess greenhouse-gas emissions, there are many links in the chain between economic activities and the real-world effects of planetary warming. Each of these can be addressed in different ways, and all options should at least be on the table.

NEW YORK – There ultimately is no way to stabilize the climate without addressing the fact that humans are emitting far too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, year after year. But cutting emissions is not the only response to the climate crisis, nor was it the one that scientists proposed over half a century ago in the first-ever government report on climate change.

To address the problem of “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,” noted US President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee, the “solution” could not be to emit less of the stuff, because that apparently seemed unimaginably costly and difficult to do. Instead, the committee suggested that the effects of excessive CO2 in the atmosphere might be mitigated by brightening the world’s oceans to radiate more heat back into space.

Since then, many additional methods of “geoengineering” have been proposed by both scientists and science-fiction authors alike. Some ideas are more realistic than others, and none can substitute for the top-order priority of severing the link between economic activity and CO2 emissions. Nonetheless, emissions represent only the first of many links in the long causal chain from economic activity to climate crisis.