: How to cool the planet (9780618990610) : Jeff Goodell : Books
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How To Cool The Planet

by Jeff Goodell
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publishing date: 15/04/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780618990610
  • ISBN: 0618990615


Product Description
When Jeff Goodell first encountered the term "geoengineering," he had a vague sense that it involved outlandish schemes to counteract global warming. As a journalist, he was deeply skeptical. But he was also intrigued. The planet was in trouble. Could geoengineers help?

Climate change may well be the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. Temperatures in some regions of the world could increase by as much as fifteen degrees by the end of the century, causing rising sea levels and severe droughts. But change could also happen much more suddenly. What if we had a real climate emergency, the ecological equivalent of the subprime mortgage meltdown--how could we cool the planet in a hurry?

As Goodell shows in this bracing book, even if we could muster the political will for it, cutting greenhouse gas emissions alone may not be enough to reduce the risk of climate catastrophe. This has led some scientists to pursue extreme solutions: huge contraptions that would suck CO2 from the air, machines that would brighten clouds and deflect sunlight away from the earth, even artificial volcanoes that would spray heat-reflecting particles into the atmosphere.

In How to Cool the Planet, Goodell explores the scientific, political, financial, and moral aspects of geoengineering. How are we to change the temperature of whole regions if we can't even predict next week's weather? What if a wealthy entrepreneur shots particles into the stratosphere on his own? What about wars waged with climate control as the primary weapon? What happens to our relationship with nature when, as Goodell puts it, we all find ourselves living in a giant terrarium?

And our options are dwindling. Maybe, Goodell suggests, we need to start taking geoengineering seriously. Maybe it's Plan B for the planet. And if it is, we need to know enough to get it right.

Thoroughly reported and convincingly argued, How to Cool the Planet is a compelling tale of scientific hubris and technical daring. But it is also a thoughtful, even-handed look at a deeply complex and controversial issue. It's a book that will surely jump-start the next big debate about the future of life on earth.

A Q&A with Jeff Goodell, Author of How to Cool the Planet

Q: What is geoengineering?

A: It's the idea of manipulating the earth's climate as a way to reduce the risks from global warming. If that sounds dangerous and scary and downright crazy, it is. But I argue in my book that we're likely to end up doing it anyway--in part because the effort to reduce emissions has been such a failure, in part because we love quick fixes, and in part because the survival of civilization may eventually depend on it. The real question is, how soon will we begin, and will we do it well or do it badly?

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: Two things, really. After I completed my previous book, Big Coal, which was about the costs and consequences of burning coal for energy, it became clear to me that we are not going to reduce our emissions anywhere near fast enough to avoid the risks of a climate catastrophe. What will we do if someday we have the climatic equivalent of the subprime mortgage meltdown?

Shortly after I began thinking about this, I met a few highly respected scientists who were quietly exploring ideas for how we might cool the planet in an emergency. I was intrigued. I grew up in Silicon Valley, after all--I'm a big believer in exploring new technology to help solve human problems. In addition, the idea of deliberately taking charge of the earth's climate brings up a lot of interesting questions about our relationship with nature. But I think I was most interested in the human side of the story. I wanted to know: Were the scientists who were exploring these ideas crazy or not?

Q: So, are these geoengineering scientists mad?

A: Well, some of them clearly are nuts. But not all of them. In fact, the narrative of the book is really about getting to know these scientists as human beings. I mean, we are talking about messing around with the climate system of the entire planet here! You've got to have a big ego and a healthy dose of hubris even to consider it. Besides trying to understand the technological, political, economic, and moral complexities of all this, I also wanted to know, on a basic human level, whether we could trust these people. And as it turned out, I met some pretty fascinating characters.

Q: Who are some of the leading scientists in the field?

A: One of them, David Keith, is a Canadian physicist who has started a company to design and build machines that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. David is an ardent environmentalist--among other things, he spends a lot of time hiking and skiing in the high Arctic. One of the reasons he's involved in geoengineering is that he believes it may be the only way to save the Arctic from a complete meltdown.

Another character I was intrigued by is Stephen Salter, a cranky but brilliant Scottish engineer who seems to have stepped out of a Jules Verne novel. Salter has designed boats that would spray billions of tiny droplets of seawater into the clouds to brighten them, so they will reflect more sunlight away from the earth.

Finally, there's Lowell Wood, a protégé of Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb. On one level, Wood is the embodiment of Big Science gone awry. But he's also a very smart and entertaining guy who challenged many of my easy assumptions about geoengineering.

(Photo © Eric Etheridge)

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    From Amazon

    This is a book for those who are committed to the beliefs that global warming is: (1) a consistent verifiable trend caused by accumulation of carbon dioxide in the stratosphere, or (2) those who don't believe that and want to see what it is that believers have in store for the planet, and for we non-believers. Author Jeff Goodell is a believer. So much so that he has given up (essentially) on the idea that we earthlings can believe and bond so as to adequately reduce emissions of carbon dioxide in a time of consequence to the planet's health. Goodell believes, instead, that major surgery is / will be needed, absent that unexpected reduction of emissions. Major surgery, for those who believe as does Goodell, is called geoengineering. Geoengineering means to manage, or tinker, with the entire planet so that its climate is modified to achieve desired effects. This book is about how this might be done, who might do it, when it might be done, why it should or should not be done, who would pay for it, what R&D needs to be done to support it, how to control it and whom does that, and just what those effects might be or not be. Goodell highlights two approaches as the most feasible for geoengineering as seeding clouds with particles to make them more reflective of UV light, and stimulating the oceans to grow more plankton as that organism devours carbon dioxide. Everyone noted in this book is a believer, super intelligent, accomplished, and committed to something associated with geoengineering. Some of note to those familiar with engineering and science are Lowell Wood (a disciple of Edward Teller), James Lovelock (who formed the "Gaia" hypothesis that the earth and its population are a self-correcting organism), and Steven Salter (who invented "Salter's Duck" which is a device for recovering electrical energy from wave motion). Interesting people with interesting opinions; all believers. The uniformity and apparently unquestioning agreement of believers about global warming, is the weakness of both the phalanx of believers, and this book. The PR explosion in the spring of 2010 about the certainty of global warming science must have happened to late for recognition, or was ignored. Goodell's approach is that geoengineering will be done, the planet saved, all despite the views and rights of un-believers. Goodell believes, apparently, in my words, that all who aren't believers are right wing nuts whose views are ignored or silenced. To author Goodell's credit, he notes that among believers and non-believers no one has a clue about what's normal for our planet's climate and what recent measurements and experiences mean for the future of us. In summary, this 200-odd page book is an easy and good read about the future as defined by one point of view. For believers, 5 stars; for non-believers, 4 stars for ignoring us.

  • Thoughtful discussion on a huge topic
    From Amazon

    Jeff Goodell, a writer for Rolling Stone, tackles the complex subject of geoengineering in How to Cool The Planet. Goodell, while concerned about the dangers of geoengineering, presents it as perhaps the only possible solution to the global warming crisis. He interviews a number of brilliant scientists who have plans to cool the Earth in a number of ways-everything from shooting particles of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to creating more clouds to reflect the sunlight. This is an important book that is also fun to read.

  • Lacks Credibility -
    From Amazon

    Goodell tells readers that studies indicate that U.S. temperatures could increase as much as 15 degrees by the end of the century, and that James Hansen, godfather of global warming science, says that seas could rise as much as 9' by the same time. That gets one's attention, though the numbers are higher than I've read elsewhere and therefore subject to question. The book's basic concern is that the ocean's thermal inertia, combined with CO2's ability to stay in the atmosphere for decades, may make such major change inevitable - even if we stop producing CO2 immediately. Geo-engineering would be faster - eg. solar radiation management (scatter more of the sunlight hitting the planet back into space), or removing CO2 from the air. However, that approach would be vulnerable to creating unintended consequences, and undoubtedly delay taking action on the real problem - excessive CO2 generation. An important topic, and hopefully a fruitful approach. Goodell, however, does not have the scientific or engineering background to address the topic with credibility, and wastes a lot of words postulating about possible approaches that make only a minor impact. It was useful, however, to have pointed out that CO2 comprises only about 4% of the air, making significant removal more difficult than otherwise. Bottom-Line: Read something else.

  • Can Geoengineering Really Help Solve the Global Warming Crisis?
    From Amazon

    According to many scientists that are involved with climate change research, we may already be at or very near the point of no return due to the amount of carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere. If that is the case, are we already doomed to massive rises in ocean levels, changes in monsoon patterns, increased drought and any other number of possible side effects of global warming? These are the questions that the author of this book attempts to answer by interviewing a number of experts in the field of global climate change. One of the answers that has been proposed is that we "geoengineer" the planet by trying a number of different techniques to lessen the amount of sun light that is striking the earth. Some of the ideas have been outlandish: dropping millions of styrofoam balls in the ocean, sending giant umbrellas into space to "shade" the earth, and other equally weird proposals. Some of the ideas, however, are much simpler and much more likely to be cost effective and effective in lowering the amount of sun hitting the planet. Included in these ideas are pumping small particulate matter into the upper atmosphere, increasing the reflectivity of clouds and dumping thousand of tons of iron into the ocean to increase the amount of plankton, which would absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The author explores these ideas and provides a background into the history of geoengineering as well interviewing key players that have been involved in trying to find a solution to climate change. The author also explores the ethical and moral obligations that geoengineering would hold, as well as how the concept would be regulated and by whom. The book is well written and provides a glimpse into the possible solutions that may be proposed if we are, in fact, past the tipping point. If you don't believe global warming exists, then there will be nothing in this book for you. If, however, you do believe in global warming I would highly recommend this book, as it offers a glimpse into what the future may hold.

  • Disappointed.
    From Amazon

    I enjoyed Mr. Goodell's writing for the most part--he is clever and imaginative--and it seems he has done hundreds of high-profile interviews with the main players in this field. However, I often found myself wondering why the generally accepted assumptions about our need to save human life were not challenged. Yes, of course, we care about the suffering of other humans and we grieve especially about loss of life. But, the reality is that our numbers are already far beyond the earth's carrying capacity. I often read estimates of the need to reduce our numbers by 70 to 90% for sustainability. If so much damage hadn't already been done to our oceans, soils, fresh water resources, etc., the reduction needed would not be so severe, I'm told. Mr. Goodell's book fails because it doesn't question our assumption that we must continue to resist the workings of nature. It fails to pose the question sufficiently: Why can't we bear the thought of letting nature take its course? It takes too strong of a stance for resistance. Mother Nature, if she lets us persist beyond, say, year 2100 will find ways to cull billions of us in the coming decades so that we can. We need talented writers like Mr. Goodell to no only help us understand the ways those in power might further foul our nest, as he has, but also understand how to adjust our underlying assumptions to be aligned to the extremely disquieting reality of our unsustainable numbers.

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