Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

The G word*

Posted by Daniel Hall on October 26, 2007

Ken Caldeira had an op-ed this week in the NYTimes that argued we should have more funding for geoengineering:

Seeding the stratosphere might not work perfectly. But it would be cheap and easy enough and is worth investigating.

This is not to say that we should give up trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ninety-nine percent of the $3 billion federal Climate Change Technology Program should still go toward developing climate-friendly energy systems. But 1 percent of that money could be put toward working out geoengineered climate fixes…

Think of it as an insurance policy, a backup plan for climate change.

I am in broad agreement with this thought. Particularly if the impacts from climate change turn out to be far worse than median projections, it will be useful to have a back-up plan to save our skin (if not much else).

RealClimate has a more skeptical — but extremely thoughtful — take on the issue. I urge you to read the whole thing, but want to highlight this:

The problem is that geoengineering a sunshade is being sold as insurance long before anybody has any idea whether it would work and what the unintended consequences would be. It’s not really insurance. It’s more like building a lifeboat, but a lifeboat based on a design that has never been used before which has to work more or less perfectly the first time the panicked passengers are loaded into it.

To my mind geoengineering is worth researching because of the option value it creates — we don’t have to deploy it, but we can if we need to. But as RC points out, there is a pretty tremendous value in not having to take that option in the first place.

*I wanted to call this post something else, but couldn’t stand the thought of how much (likely vile) spam I would receive.

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