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To put it mildly, reducing carbon emissions to fend off the worst effects of climate change has been easier said than done. So, if things get desperate, will it be any easier to try to reverse that impact through geoengineering?

That’s the topic of a segment on this week’s EnergyNOW program:

It should come as no surprise that there’s a bit of a debate over this. The short version is that, on one hand, if we’ve passed the point where we can stabilize the climate through emission cuts alone, we need to consider drastic measures (like pumping particulates into the atmosphere to mimic the cooling effect of a volcano). On the other hand, we can’t rely on untested, last-ditch solutions, and if we do, who gets to control the thermostat? As one critic says, we’re already engaged, unintentionally, in a massive, uncontrolled experiment with the atmosphere. Why would we start another one on purpose?

These geoengineering ideas are not as distant and far-fetched as they seem. One technique, involving a high-altitude balloon and a 12-mile-long hose, is set to undergo testing in the UK this month.

Nor is this a new scientific debate. As Marc Gunther points out in an expansive piece on the subject in Fortune magazine, the first White House report recommending a serious look at geoengineering was back in 1965. And geoengineering technology is attracting a lot of capital — Bill Gates alone has pumped more than $4 million into research.

Technology to alter the earth’s climate is no longer the stuff of science fiction. It’s getting perilously close to reality. Will our policymakers be ready for it?

Ken Paulman

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

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