In this short and readable book, Mike Hulme, author of Why We Disagree about Climate Change, explores one particular Plan B – reflecting sunlight back into space using stratospheric aerosol injection. Across five chapters, he lays out the science and technology of this particular form of geoengineering, which he likens to creating a ‘thermostat in the sky’, before arguing against it, and finally proposing a different kind of role for science in tackling climate change.
The simplicity of geoengineering may seem attractive, and certainly some have argued strongly for it. However, in practice, stratospheric aerosol injection would be unworkable. The ‘thermostat’ would be ungovernable and a long-term international agreement would be required to put it in place, which seems unlikely given our current stalemate over emissions limits.
The complexity of the climate system could lead to unintended consequences; climate change isn’t indexed against rising global temperature: its impacts are unevenly distributed around the world. Hulme argues that science’s role should be grounded in pragmatism, recognising that there’s no quick fix and that we need to get on with investing in infrastructural adaptation and creating low-carbon and zero-carbon energy technologies.
Hulme concludes that we should ‘attend to liberty, justice and human security on the ground and not delude ourselves that utopias can be engineered in the sky’.
CAN SCIENCE FIX CLIMATE CHANGE? by Mike Hulme, Polity, £9.99