Essay on Global Warming
Global temperatures have been on the rise and have not stopped, despite the numerous emission reduction plans put into effect. Scientists and economists have been coming together, working on ways that can help put the world back on track without spending too much money. Geoengineering started gaining in recognition as a potential method that could possibly provide a safe way to lower the global temperatures that seem to be rising dangerously. However, there are lots of dissenting opinions on the uncertainties of geoengineering, and if it is needed now or later in the future. From an economics standpoint, geoengineering is worth spending money on because emission reductions alone are not enough to lower temperatures, and spending money on selective aspects like research and testing while also reducing emissions will help prepare scientists for possibly using geoengineering if needed for future use.
Although emission reductions have been put into place, they are not enough to decrease the rising temperatures. As Eli Kintisch explains in his novel Hack the Planet, carbon emissions are not slowing down at all. In recent simulations, the “concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere [could be] rising from its current level of 387 parts per million to 560 parts per million — that’s twice the preindustrial concentration and considered likely” (Kintisch 22). In this scenario, a jump in carbon dioxide emissions could cause tremendous changes compared to how the world was pre industrial era. The world has started to see the effects of these emissions raising temperatures to high levels. In Europe, “fifty two thousand people lost their lives as a result of heat stress” in 2003 (Kintisch 46). With the climate already changing and impacting the world as a whole, emission reductions have been put in place to try and cut the rate of emission reductions. However, carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere can not just be taken out of the atmosphere naturally. Using sustainable resources will not decrease the amount of carbon emissions already present in the atmosphere — it will only decrease the rate of increase. Already, the emissions have been rising in the atmosphere, and “the planet’s natural cleaning system can’t keep up” (Kintisch 27). Although carbon emission reductions are beneficial, the actual carbon reduction from the atmosphere is becoming a larger priority. Geoengineering can be very expensive in the long term, but with the addition of carbon emission reductions already in place, it might be very useful. It is worth spending money on geoengineering because of the precariousness of climate change and the need to act on the pressing problem immediately. Martin Wetizman, an economist and Professor at Harvard University, explains in his paper, Some Basic Economics of Extreme Climate Change, that “fast geoengineering is not a replacement for curtailing [Greenhouse gas] emissions, because it is too risky to be used as a mainline defence and it has too many other bad consequences. . . [but] it still might play an important niche role as an emergency-preparedness fallback component in a balanced portfolio” (Weitzman 25). Carbon emission reductions are already in place, and with geoengineering, the emissions can decrease at a faster rate. Geoengineering by itself is “risky”, as Weitzman states, but with the help of emission reductions already occurring, the world can be in a better position to fight climate change, especially in dire circumstances.
With geoengineering, money can be spent wisely to make sure it is as beneficial as it can be. With all of the uncertainties around geoengineering, spending money on research and further tests will only benefit the world to see if it is a viable option. Geoengineering can be very expensive, as “intellectual ventures” could cost “$24 million to build and $10 million to operate per year” (Kintisch 65). Weitzman emphasizes the need to do something about climate change in the situation that the consequences become extreme. Due to the unpredictability with geoengineering, Weitzman suggests it is important to “[support] a well-funded research program . . . to determine the feasibility, environmental side effects, and cost-effectiveness of fast geoengineering preparedness” (Weitzman 25). Action must be taken, and while emission reductions of methane and other heat trapping gasses are on the right track, spending money on research and testing can add more knowledge about geoengineering and put the world in a safer position for the incalculable future. The current models of climate change are very unstable and unreliable. Some models have very varying different global temperature readings for the future, with some saying “the globe would warm by 3℉ [and] some say 8℉” (Kintisch 69). With differing opinions even on the future of temperature increase, more research would definitely help to find a more stable plan for geoengineering, as it would be a protective investment for the future. Economically, with a more sound plan, economists would be more willing to offer their input on geoengineering and not be scared away due to its uncertainties and risks involved.
Some may argue that the risks of geoengineering are too excessive, and that it is too much of a risk to be worth spending money on. The Pinatubo Option, one of the geoengineering plans mentioned in detail in Hack the Planet, has many risks with its effects on the globe. Based on modeling, “droplets would cause a perceptible bleaching of the sky . . . because the droplets would scatter all visible wavelengths of light equally, making a whitish color” (Kintisch 59). Some may use this argument to say that permanent, irreversible damage could be done with geoengineering, as the natural blue color of the sky could be taken away with an aggressive method like such. Risks with climate change are also very unpredictable, and so it is hard to get started. Although the risks with geoengineering are prevalent, these uncertainties should be perceived with the opposite mindset. Weitzman presents these “wildly-uncertain unbelievably-crude [risks] . . . must be imprecise [as] this is a significant part of the climate-change economic-analysis problem, whose strong implications have thus far largely been ignored” (Weitzman 9). The “imprecise” nature of geoengineering and climate change should incentivize scientists and economists to work on understanding geoengineering more to figure out a solution, instead of discrediting “wildy-uncertain” risks by saying they are not likely to occur. Some may also argue that geoengineering needs to be investigated later in the future and not now, as it is not a priority. However, with the overwhelming uncertainty of climate change, it would be nearly impossible to make an accurate assumption of climate change and its economic effects in the future. Weitzman states that no matter what, “the long fat tail of climate sensitivity is disturbing. This is Exhibit B in my case that conventional [Cost Benefit Analysis] and [Integrated Assessment Model] may not adequately cover the deep structural uncertainties associated with climate change” (Weitzman 9). With the disturbing uncertainty of how inimical climate change could really get, doing CBAs and IAMs may be harder to assess. The sooner spending on geoengineering occurs, the better prepared the world can be in case the “long fat tail” occurs. By doing more research and adding testing sites to test how geoengineering can be effective sooner than later, the better prepared the world is for the extreme side of climate change.
Geoengineering is worth spending money on because emission reductions by itself will not be enough to lower the effects of climate change, and spending money on research and testing is a wise preventative investment for the uncertain future. Although the risks of geoengineering are overwhelming, and climate change is too unpredictable to say if geoengineering is really needed, it is better to take the chance on geoengineering then to wait.