New Article on Solar Radiation Management Geoengineering

An excellent piece supporting a research program on solar radiation management geoengineering was published this week by the journal Nature, David W. Keith, Edward Parson & M. Granger Morgan, Research on Global Sun Block Needed Now, 463 Nature 426-27 (2010) (accessible without subscription).

Among the takeaways from the article:

  1. Solar radiation management (SRM) geoengineering (defined as adding light-scattering aerosols to the upper atmosphere or increasing the lifetime and reflectivity of low-altitude clouds to exert a cooling effect) could offset projected temperature increases this century at a cost 100x less than through emissions cuts, or merely a few billions annually;
  2. Research on SRM has been extremely limited to date, largely restricted to a handful of climate-model studies using very simple parameterizations of aerosol microphysics; the potential hazards of SRM (which the article indicates includes potentially less precipitation and less evaporation, potentially creating regional “winners” and “losers” can only be assessed through in-situ testing, which will cost millions of dollars;
  3. It would be “reckless” to conduct the first large-scale SRM tests under an emergency scenario; we shoudl expand experiments gradually to scales big enough to produce barely detectable climate effects, and to reveal unexpected problems, but small enough to limit risks;
  4. Research should be conducted using a “blue team/red team” approach, in which one team proposes an approach and the other works to identify risks and why proposals might not prove effective;
  5. A better alternative to hasty pursuit of international regulation would be seeking to engender international cooperation and norms from the bottom up, as occurred with the landmine convention; this should include an international program of research and risk assessment by multiple independent teams;
  6. While some fear that geoengineering research and potential deployment could lead to a “moral hazard,” i.e. weaken a commitment to mitigation, there’s a great threat to mitigation effort by allowing for the possibility of SRM without scrutiny of actual requirements, limitations and risks; moreover, if SRM proves unworkable or poses unacceptable risks, the sooner we discover this, the less of a moral hazard geoengineering will pose.

This piece would provide an excellent foundation for discussing geoengineering options. Among the potential questions for students that could flow from it include the following:

  • Is it realistic to believe that an SRM program could be shut down once substantial research programs ensued, i.e. isn’t their a danger of a “political lock in” that would make deployment inevitable at some point, exacerbating the potential threat of moral hazard?;
  • What is the potential moral hazard threat the geoengineering might pose for adaptation efforts?;
  • Even if a bottom-up research approach is optimal, would we ultimately need international governance should we proceed with full-scale deployment, and if yes, what would be the appropriate regime(s) to do so?;
  • Should any proposals for full-scale deployment of geoengineering include a liability mechanism for potential damages to the interests of some States?

Related posts:

  1. Geoengineering: The Potential Role of Solar Radiation Management Schemes
  2. Research Needs for Solar Radiation Management (Climate Geoengineering)
  3. Geoengineering and Solar Radiation Management
  4. Solar Radiation Management Geoengineering and Climate Sensitivity
  5. New Resource on Geoengineering

4 thoughts on “New Article on Solar Radiation Management Geoengineering

  1. I've read this article in Nature and I honestly doubt that SRM will make its way to public. Today it's all about emission cuts and all the money goes there. Unfortunately business took over this issue.

    Regards, Gaz

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