In 1979, physicist Freeman Dyson, in his characteristically prescient manner, proposed the deliberate, large-scale introduction of such fine particles into the upper atmosphere to offset global warming, which he thought even then would eventually become a human concern. Some of my colleagues and I have recently surveyed the current technological prospects for such an introduction. We estimated the costs involved and presented our results last August at the Twenty-second International Seminar on Planetary Emergencies. The most expensive such “geoengineering” option appears to be the one long ago proposed by Mr. Dyson, which may cost as much as $1 billion a year. More technologically advanced options along the same lines might cost $100 million.
That’s between 0.1 and 1.0 percent of the $100 billion a year it is estimated would be required to price-ration fossil fuel usage back down to 1990 levels in the United States alone. As the National Academy of Sciences commented a few years ago in a landmark report,
|Let us play to our uniquely American strengths in innovation and technology, offsetting any global warming by the least costly means possible.|
“Perhaps one of the surprises of this analysis is the relatively low costs at which some of the geoengineering options might be implemented.” Indeed, the director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Coordination Office has been promoting such geoengineering for three decades. But for some reason, this option isn’t as fashionable as all-out war on fossil fuels and the people who use them.
Yet if the politics of global warming require that “something must be done” while we still don’t know whether anything really needs to be done–let alone what exactly–let us play to our uniquely American strengths in innovation and technology to offset any global warming by the least costly means possible. While scientists continue research into any global climatic effects of greenhouse gases, we ought to study ways to offset any possible ill effects.
Injecting sunlight-scattering particles into the stratosphere appears to be a promising approach. Why not do that?