Planning for Plan B

Nature Reports Climate Change takes a look at the need for regulations for geoengineering, and their complexity, in Planning for plan B.

There is strong concern about rapidly increasing temperatures, perhaps as much as 4°C within 5 decades, and the paths are mitigation, geoengineering, or catastrophe. Re the 2nd path (which is likely to include overlap with the 3rd):

the legislative situation — hazy and full of holes — means that any nation or company, or even an individual with the will and financial means to do so, could start to interfere with the climate.

There are concerns about commercial interests:

the possibility of profit from carbon credits has led to fears that the cash incentive could push geoengineering ahead too fast, or in the wrong directions. Already, evidence exists that the profit motive can lure unscrupulous companies into the market. In November, the US Securities and Exchange Commission charged a Pennsylvania-based company, the Mantria Corporation, with operating what regulators called “a $30 million dollar Ponzi scheme”, saying it used exaggerated claims and aggressive marketing to con people into investing in biochar sequestration.

And governments:

Suppose, says [Granger] Morgan, [an engineer and director of Carnegie Mellon’s Climate Decision Making Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania], “a major state finds that because of climate change it can’t feed its people and starts doing [geoengineering], or decides it’s a lot cheaper than mitigation”. Then the world could face tough decisions about whether to condone geoengineering or try to stop it. “If we haven’t done the research,” Morgan says, “the international community has to fall back on a moral argument, as opposed to a science-based argument.”

While most climatologists feel mitigation is less risky and cheaper, now there is “real concern that mitigation is simply not going to be effective enough to halt catastrophic effects of climate change”, according to Phil Willis, chair of the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

Simulating volcanos
Simulating volcanos can create other problems. And it isn’t cheap.

Mitigation is better. Perhaps our governments will see that. Perhaps people who elect the governments (in countries where that is an option) will make clear to legislators that we want a strong mitigation response to climate change. But the widespread belief in the climate community is that geoengineering will look increasingly attractive as governments and the world’s population fail.

“Geoengineering is the most serious governance concern that we’re going to be facing in the next couple of decades,” argues Maria Ivanova, director of Yale University’s Global Environmental Governance Project. “It’s really about planetary survival.”

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