Geoengineering options cost-benefits


The Royal Society created an amazing cost/benefit map of possible geo-engineering solutions to reverse climate change that summarizes an impressive new report. It’s one of the clearest, most succinct diagrams on this topic. Stratospheric aerosols (such as simulated volcanoes) are their winners; in general, isolated, directed solutions are favored over choices that are integrated into existing behaviors or technologies.

For instance regarding surface albedo (reflective surfaces), the Royal Society assumes entirely new costs for recoating every 10 years, rather than recognizing ongoing expenditures for building materials and maintenance. Consequently, lightening urban surfaces is shown to be the most unaffordable option, when in fact, it could be one of the cheapest options. Furthermore, they say it’s rapidly effective once implemented. Well that’s a winner! We can begin on that work today (it’s already part of LEED).

While clearly the Royal Society’s report work is important, it no doubt contains various assumptions. We need to review the options broadly and in terms of ethics, risks, consequences, effectiveness, and our potential to implement solutions.

  1. Get input by both publics and experts from multiple fields, an interdisciplinary approach.
  2. Look inside the assumptions to see what preferences are built in – every field has blind spots – and broaden and build on these solutions.
  3. Consider what we can improve in the built environment now.
  4. Take a systems approach to considering change beyond a narrow set of parameters.
  5. Acknowledge the potential of many people working together - particularly thru mechanisms like green building codes - as well as large-scale top-down solutions.
  6. Openly debate and analyze the ethical and long-term implications of each option.
  7. Ask broad environmental and ethical questions: What sort of earth are we making? How can we let the planet do some of the heavy lifting? What are the minimal interventions that achieve the most favorable results? Who or what is being favored?

To clean up the mess we made unintentionally, I think it’s going to take both/and, not either/or solutions. Geo-engineering is happening now; it’s time to ramp up the debate.

What are the Ethics of Geoengineering Planet Earth?

To reverse climate change, scientist say that we havegone too far to simply change ourbehavior,beyondthe ability to simplyprevent ormitigate further damage. We have torepairproblems that have already occurred and which will emerge in the coming decadesvia a climate lag of 20-30 years.Proposed solutions mimic naturalphenomena such as algae, clouds, and volcanoes. 


Climate change sets us up for some nasty ethical decisions because we must literally operate on ourselves, there are no precedents, and we only have one body – Earth.


Jamais Cascio,Hacking the Earth, defines geoethics as:


The set of guidelines pertaining to humanbehaviors that can affect larger planetary geophysical systems, including atmospheric, oceanic, geological, and plant/animal ecosystems. . . .[and] require a consideration of repercussions and so-called“second-oder effects(that is, the usually-unintended consequences arising from the interaction of the changed system and other connected systems.



The BBC News reported today that the UK Royal Societybelieves such remedies are technically feasible and could be effective.