In Keith’s case, this is good pollution: sulphate or sulphuric acid aerosols that could be dispersed in the stratosphere 20 kilometres above us and reflect the Sun’s warming rays – in roughly the same way as clouds – and counteract the warming effects of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Like many climate change debates in the past ten years, Keith begins with a bang: ‘This single technology could increase the productivity of ecosystems across the planet and stop global warming; it could increase crop yields, particularly those in the hottest and poorest parts of the world. It is hyperbolic but not inaccurate to call it a cheap tool that could green the world.’
This readable and engaging case – that we should be focusing on geoengineering as a potential, if temporary, fix to increased global temperatures – is brimming with caution rather than naivety. Fighting pollution-caused climate change with more pollution would be ‘quick-and-dirty’ and a ‘brutally ugly technical fix’, but a potential fix nonetheless.
As we continue on in our warming world, spiralling ever deeper into the doldrums of climate arguments fuelled by self-interested parties, the case for geoengineering may slide from a morally contentious option to a necessary question, or, perhaps, as Keith remarks, just ‘an easy out’. But with few great strides being taken to address – let alone rationally discuss – climate change, Keith’s case for geoengineering should at least be on the table.
‘With or without geoengineering,’ Keith concludes, ‘it’s the end of nature with a capital “N”, the romantic ideal of nature wholly separate from civilization.’
A CASE FOR CLIMATE ENGINEERING by David Keith, MIT Press, £10.95