Geoengineering, Carbon Dioxide, and Inventing Our Way Out of Climate Change : The New Yorker
We’ve failed collectively. As Ryan Lizza explained in miserable detail in 2010, the United States government couldn’t pass a tepid, eviscerated law. Activists have failed. We’ve all failed morally: a problem created by the world’s rich will now crush the world’s poor. In a grand sense it’s also a failure of the creators, and deniers, of climate change: the Exxon-Mobils, say, or the Wall Street Journal editorial page. A victory isn’t worth much if your children and grandchildren will one day think of you with anger and shame.
...We should design our cities for a future with terrible weather. But solving the problem of climate change through the U.N. is like a small man with olive oil on his hands trying to pull a whale from the water.
Asking for personal sacrifice is fine for the west. We should ride bikes, turn off the lights, and eat less meat. But the number of people in the world who want cars, lights, and meat increases every day—and most are in countries that did very little to get us to four hundred. We can ask that China do a little better; there are a million little things that make emissions lower and our lives better. But the west created this problem through gluttony; we can’t solve it by demanding the asceticism of others.
Ultimately, we have to invent our way out. Everything we use that emits carbon dioxide needs to be replaced with something that doesn’t, whether a car or a cooking stove. Many people are working toward this goal. Many more need to. And then there’s the dangerous, fraught, and potentially essential prospect of geoengineering. Can we suck carbon dioxide or methane down from the atmosphere? Can we shoot something up there that reduces the temperature? Every option is dangerous and complicated. But every option should be studied and tested. Geoengineering, as Michael Specter wrote last year, is the scientific equivalent of chemotherapy: it’s dreadful but it may be the only way to prevent mass calamity.