Magazine article The Futurist

Perils of Climate-Control Hubris

Magazine article The Futurist

Perils of Climate-Control Hubris

Article excerpt

Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering by Clive Hamilton. Yale University Press. 2013. 247 pages. $28.

As the effects of climate change grow more severe in coming years, mass movements among the public may back the use of geoengineering technologies to set things right, according to Charles Sturt University ethicist Clive Hamilton. These include mechanical devices that undo human-caused global warming by either suctioning greenhouse gases out of the air or restricting the amounts of sunlight that reach Earth's surface.

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The technologies are only in the conceptual stages now, but the research is accelerating rapidly; Hamilton finds good reason to expect that they will reach fruition later this century and make significant changes to our already-changed climate.

Those changes won't necessarily be for the better, however. In Earth-masters, Hamilton reviews the most popular ideas for "solar radiation management" measures--i.e., measures to block sunlight--cautioning that each one could significantly disrupt regional weather patterns, and some could seriously damage the ozone layer.

Hamilton assesses the public debate, which pits skeptical governments and climate researchers against pro-climate-engineering camps of technology researchers and entrepreneurs. Personality and politics greatly influence the whole discussion and, unfortunately, can compromise the science. Climate engineering can seem like an easy substitute for the hard work of cutting energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions; moreover, it appeals to wishful thinking, blind faith in technology, and ideological belief in human mastery over nature, Hamilton argues. …

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