Science and Governance of Climate Intervention (also called Geoengineering)

Alan Robock (Environmental Sciences)
Cymie Payne (Human Ecology)

Global warming is real, caused by humans, and will be bad for most people—not to mention other living beings. How should society react? To stop global warming, mitigation (using energy more efficiently and green sources of energy) as well as adaptation will be necessary. But if those measures are not sufficient, is there a technological solution to global warming to buy society time to find a permanent fix? Can we actually control the climate with a cloud in the stratosphere to reflect sunlight, brightening clouds over the ocean, putting mirrors in space, or painting roofs white?  If we could implement climate intervention, should we, and how would it be governed? Who should decide? The United Nations Security Council, representing humanity as a whole? Individual rich nations? Billionaires trying to save the world? Besides depleting the ozone layer, geoengineering has the potential to produce political conflict. What if Canada wanted the climate a couple of degrees warmer and India wanted it a couple of degrees cooler? Could a small group of nations act without a global consensus? What international law would apply, and how well could it be enforced? Should decisions be based on science, ethics, political preferences? Farmers have tried to control rainfall through ritual and chemistry; the military has tried to use weather as a weapon. The history of human attempts to control weather and climate—and the response by the public—may tell us something useful as we prepare to make the decision whether to engineer Earth in this way. In this course we will describe the science of global warming and consider some of these geoengineering schemes as well as the consequences they might have, both positive and negative, on society and global warming. We will discuss the history of attempts at weather and climate modification, and the current global legal framework for the implementation and governance of any such schemes.  You will leave this course with a better understanding of all these issues, to inform your voting this fall and your future actions to address the issue of global warming, which will influence the rest of your life.

Course Number
11:090:101 section 05
Fall 2020
Transfer Course