Climate Solutions: A Debate on Solar Geoengineering - Rolling Stone
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The Climate Debates: How Dangerous Is Solar Geoengineering?

Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell hosts a series of debates on climate solutions. For this installment, he speaks with Harvard’s David Keith and author Alex Steffen about geoengineering

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

More and more people have come to understand the urgency of the climate crisis in recent years, and Americans have elected a president in Joe Biden who has pledged to make addressing climate the centerpiece of his administration, but there is much debate about exactly how we should go about confronting our collective climate challenge. Choices we make today will echo for generations into the future.

In the run-up to Earth Day, Rolling Stone held a series of three debates, each focusing on a different contentious climate solution: solar geoengineering, carbon removal, and how quickly we can and should stop using natural gas.

Geoengineering may be the biggest, most controversial idea that scientists and engineers have cooked up since the nuclear bomb. In this debate, we focus on solar engineering, technology that would cool the planet’s temperature by spraying particles into the stratosphere to reflect away a fraction of the sunlight that is hitting the Earth. Building a sun shade for the planet is one way to think about it.

We discuss some of the central issues: Is the climate crisis so far gone that we need to consider risky ideas like solar engineering? Is solar engineering a hubristic dream of techno-elitists or the best tool we have to reduce the impacts of a warming climate for millions of people in the developing world? Who would be the winners and losers in a geoengineered world?

Joining Rolling Stone for the debate are David Keith and Alex Steffen. Keith has been thinking about and researching geoengineering for as long as anyone (I first met him while reporting my 2011 book How to Cool the Planet). He is a professor of applied physics at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, as well as a professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. In 2013, he wrote A Case for Climate Engineering, which is a nuts-and bolts tour of the potential risks and benefits of geoengineering. You can follow his work on Twitter @DKeithClimate.

Alex Steffen is an award-winning writer and futurist who has spent the last 30 years or so exploring the growing planetary crisis and what lies ahead for humanity. Steffen’s books include Worldchanging, Carbon Zero and the forthcoming The Snap Forward: Climate Leadership in the Real World. You can follow his work on Twitter @alexsteffen.

Watch the debate on carbon removal, featuring Julio Friedmann and Elizabeth Yeampierre, here. Watch the debate on natural gas, featuring Julian Brave NoiseCat and Arvind Ravikumar, here.

In This Article: Climate Change, Climate Crisis

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