World leaders are meeting in Copenhagen this December to forge a new pact to tackle global warming. Should they continue with plans to make carbon-cutting promises that are unlikely to be fulfilled? Should they instead delay reductions for 20 years? What could be achieved by planting more trees, cutting methane, or reducing black soot emissions? Is it sensible to focus on a technological solution to warming? Or should we just adapt to a warmer world?
Much of the current policy debate remains focused on cutting carbon, but there are many ways to go about repairing the global climate. ….
A groundbreaking paper by economists Eric Bickel and Lee Lane is one of the first – and certainly the most comprehensive – study of the costs and benefits of climate engineering. ….
Bickel and Lane offer compelling evidence that a tiny investment in climate engineering might be able to reduce as much of global warming’s effects as trillions of dollars spent on carbon emission reductions.
Bjørn Lomborg, “Global Warming’s Cheap, Effective Solution”, Project Syndicate, August 2009.
Danish statistician Bjørn Lomborg (1965-) is best-known for his controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist. This climate change skeptic now concedes that global warming is a serious problem that requires immediate attention, and he actively supports the idea of forging a global agreement at this year’s meeting in Copenhagen.
The paper that Lomborg refers to is an un-refereed report, “An Analysis of Climate Engineering as a Response to Global Warming”, drafted by economists by J Eric Bickel (University of Texas) and Lee Lane (American Enterprise Institute) and recently released by his Copenhagen Consensus Center. The full report can be downloaded here. Bickel and Lane find large net benefits for three specific technologies: injection of aerosols (such as sulfur dioxide or soot) into the stratosphere, increase of marine cloud albedo (by spraying seawater droplets into marine clouds to make them reflect more sunlight), and deployment of a space sunshade (composed of trillions of tiny autonomous spacecraft). In reference to the space sunshade, the authors (p. 47) frankly admit that “the sheer scale of this project boggles the mind”. J.
Meteorologist Alan Robock of Rutgers University commented on the Bickel/Lane report. He concludes:
It may be that the benefits of geoengineering will outweigh the negative aspects, and that most of the problems can be dealt with, but the paper from Lomborg’s center ignores the real consensus among all responsible geoengineering researchers. The real consensus … is that mitigation needs to be our first and overwhelming response to global warming, and that whether geoengineering can even be considered as an emergency measure in the future should climate change become too dangerous is not now known. Policymakers will only be able to make such decisions after they see results from an intensive research program. Lomborg’s report should have stopped at the need for a research program, and not issued its flawed and premature conclusions.
In all fairness, the report’s authors would agree that more research is needed. Bickel and Lane stress that they provide only “a preliminary and exploratory assessment of the potential benefits and costs of climate engineering”.
Tags: global warming