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Living On (and Hacking the) Earth

Last month, I was interviewed for the syndicated "Living on Earth" program (typically heard on NPR stations) on the subject of geoengineering. That interview was run this past weekend, and is now available -- with transcript -- at the Living on Earth website.

(Direct link to the MP3.)

YOUNG: What do you think is the likelihood that we might need a geo-engineering approach?

CASCIO: I think it's more likely than not, unfortunately because...

YOUNG: Now wait a minute, you spent all this time telling me how it's a disaster, now you're saying we might have to use it?

CASCIO: Well, yes. It's because over the past few decades we simply have been ignoring the problem of global warming. We're in a situation where we simply no longer have the best option available to us. The best option would have been to deal with this 20 years ago.

And so, what we're stuck with [is] a selection of less good options. Are we talking rapid decarbonization and what that's going to the economy? Are we talking about making major changes to our energy infrastructure? Useful, but again, disruptive. These other alternatives are so seemingly unpalatable. It's very likely that we're going to be stuck in a situation where we will feel ourselves forced to take radical action.

Emphasis in that last paragraph on the "seemingly," btw.


Jimmy Carter had a goal of 20% of our energy from renewables by the year 2000. That would have made a significant difference in terms of climate change.

Reagan was elected and shut all of that foolishness down. Reagan killed us.

We already live in a geoengineered world. We geoengineered the ozone hole. We geoengineered the level of CO2 and most other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The principal problem with geoengineering is that once you begin you have to continue.

Maybe now we can begin to geoengineer with a little forethought and planning instead of accidentally and without thinking.

We like to believe we are Prometheus the Titan stealing fire from the gods to bring it to the cold and helpless when we are actually Epimetheus opening Pandora's Box. They were brothers and their names meant "forethought" and "afterthought." I'll let you guess who was who.

Rapid decarbonization through determined efficiency gains may be "disruptive," but some "disruptions" have been, on the whole, beneficial think the personal-computer revolution. Factor-10 efficiency improvements still look like the first and foremost strategy to push, and to hell with all the "Woe is me, we can't do it." We don't have a choice. Yes, some well-vetted geo-engineering schemes likely will be needed, but let's keep decarbonization at the forefront of our "thinking about the unthinkable."

Wow Jamais,
For that interview you had a "the glass is about 95% empty" kind of attitude (as opposed to 1/2 full).

Its like being a cancer patient and hearing you may have to undergo radiation treatment that will have really bad "side effects" but won't actually cure the problem. It might buy enough time for the real treatment to work.

I don't think we are going to see much government action up until the very last second at this point simply because there are more immediate and urgent concerns for both the US and Chinese governments in the near future than global warming.

And before anyone howls at that in protest, consider that it is a pretty defensible argument that the US government needs to worry more about the US economy imploding and the current military deployments (and their cost) than it does about a future environmental threat. Regardless of how we feel about that.

Is this short sighted? Maybe. But it doesn't change the fact that it's where we are likely looking for the next few years. Consider that the upcoming three year clamp on discretionary spending by federal agencies in the US not only affects things like social programs but also NASA, DoE, NOAA, and other institutions that are important to combat climate change.

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All comments go through moderation, so if it doesn't show up immediately, I'm not available to click the "okiedoke" button. Comments telling me that global warming isn't real, that evolution isn't real, that I really need to follow [insert religion here], that the world is flat, or similar bits of inanity are more likely to be deleted than approved. Yes, it's unfair. Deal. It's my blog, I make the rules, and I really don't have time to hand-hold people unwilling to face reality.


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