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Geoengineering Expert: Tinkering with Climate is Tempting, also 'Kind of Insane'

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Organic Transitions page.

The thermostat. What an invention! Your house gets too hot, just crank the thermostat down a few degrees and you're good to go.

Now, what if we could put a thermostat on our too-hot planet?

As it happens, we could. A few billion dollars is all it would take to deploy a version of solar-radiation management (SRM), a form of geoengineering that would seed the stratosphere with reflective aerosols, creating a sort of sunshade for the planet.

The idea has been bouncing around at least since the 1960s, when advisers to President Lyndon Johnson suggested SRM to reflect sunlight back into space as a method for managing the climate. Heck, "fixing the sky" dates back to the Greek mythology of Phaeton and Helios. The thermostat idea is not new; we just keep coming up with shiny-new models.

One of the leading proponents of studying SRM and other geoengineering strategies is Granger Morgan, a researcher and the director of the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making at Carnegie Mellon University. Morgan has been studying SRM since the early 1990s, and he says it should be approached with a great deal of caution.

"Your reaction that (geoengineering) is kind of insane is a healthy reaction," Morgan told us. "It's the reaction that anyone with their head screwed on straight has almost immediately."

Even so, he says, it's something we need to understand. Increasingly, geoengineering strategies are being openly discussed in scientific and policy circles as a hypothetical option for dealing with a runaway rise in global temperatures. And there's a certain logic to it: If you knew that in two years all Arctic ice would melt without an immediate geoengineering intervention, what would you do?
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