"1. Because large-scale geoengineering is dangerous, it will only become a live option when emission control efforts have clearly failed and things have reached a crisis: hundreds of thousands dying every year in droughts, hurricanes, coastal floods and so on. The polar bears will already have gone. Whoever does it will need cast-iron political cover against the unforeseen consequences – including the risk of killing millions more.
2. For the same reasons, the measures cannot be national or regional in scale. They will be inherently global in their effects, even if carried out by or in a single country. The political cover accordingly has to be global.
3. There’s only a little room for experiment – primarily to test engineering feasibility and cost (say of Venetian blinds in space.) There’s so much noise in the climate system that the effects of small-scale pilot projects won’t be properly measurable. It will have to be live or nothing.
4. The knowledge required to manage an emergency global geoengineering scheme is very considerable, and very rapid and expensive action will be essential when things go wrong, as they probably will. Accordingly the scheme cannot be run democratically with any hope of success, only technocratically. Thought experiment: you have a project running on ocean fertilisation with iron in the Pacific. Evidence has come up that this is pumping up the El Niño cycle, with droughts and fires in Australia and the collapse of Peruvian fisheries. Do you suspend or not?"
"In theory the USA could run the geoengineering show alone as an imperial power: and it would provide the bulk of the expertise. But in that case it would assume all the political risks, including excess deaths on a possibly genocidal scale. The initial situation will ex hypothesi be terrible, with mass deaths anyway, and the geoengineers will likely be blamed for these even if they are not in fact responsible. The other problem is the unworkability of the US Constitution for emergencies. A plan like the Manhattan Project is conceivable on a a Presidential, executive basis, but not one that leaves the US Senate with a veto on stuff they and their constituents won’t understand. Would either the US polity or the rest of the world accept the US President as global climate dictator?"
"Opponents of rapid and coordinated emissions cuts might think about this. These are clearly near the limit of what can be achieved by conventional intergovernmental cooperation, and maybe beyond it. But if emission control fails, the alternative is something completely different: in this one field, it means (on current knowledge) world government of an extreme and unaccountable type. Try to obstruct the Executive Subcommittee &c? Black helicopters will land on your lawn, disgorging stormtroopers in iridescent camo bearing the spaceship-and sun insignia of the Empire IPCC. You valiantly resist, but they draw their phasers….
My own fear is not that this will happen but that it won’t. The Romans were historically unusual in their willingness to do what was necessary to survive: create war dictators, abandon the republic for an autocracy. The general pattern, documented by Jared Diamond, is to prefer collective suicide to paradigm change."
Non-technical Briefing Notes for a Workshop
At the Council on Foreign Relations
Washington DC, May 05, 2008
"The hydrological impacts of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 were measured by