Managing the climate in the face of global warming is a wicked problem with almost no precedent. Given the global nature of the problem, no one nation can solve it without getting virtually all other nations involved. Even if Americans stopped driving cars and eating meat en masse tomorrow, it would not make much of a dent if the Chinese kept burning coal at their mad pace. India, Japan, even Canada all play outsized roles.
The problem demands engaging almost every independent nation in a highly coordinated manner. Therein lies one aspect of the climate management problem: coming up with global governing systems that could monitor and coordinate in ways that are far beyond the capabilities of our current international institutions.
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Another aspect of climate management is geoengineering. Some studying the changes in our climate think that we already may have gone too far in dumping global warming pollution into the atmosphere — that even with drastic cuts to carbon, we will still be unable to avoid huge climate changes. They and others are contemplating ideas such as “solar radiation management”– blocking out something like 3 percent of the sun’s light by, for example, spreading and maintaining particles of sulphur dioxide in the upper atmosphere, similar to what happens when volcanos erupt.
It gets potentially more complicated because such a geoengineering project in the upper atmosphere could lead to unintended changes to regional climate conditions, and potentially be seen as a threatening action. And it wouldn’t take a superpower to make geoengineering happen — a wealthy private sector actor who wants to “save the Earth” (Nathan Myhrvold and other tech titans have talked about similar projects) could do it. So could any country with a small air force, such as India, Saudi Arabia, even Belgium.
During this roundtable we will face up to this extremely difficult problem and talk about how to Reinvent Climate Management. What would a system of global governance look like that’s up to the true challenges ahead? What kind of authority would it need? If actors like rogue nations or geoengineering tech titans broke the rules, what could be done? We’ll look at a range of possibilities, including those that don’t involve big government. Is there a bottom-up way forward? One led by corporations?
This roundtable will be driven by Jamais Cascio, a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, who is author of Hacking the Earth: Understanding the Consequences of Geoengineering, and who is now at work on his second book.
We’ll be filling up the roundtable with other systems thinkers in the weeks ahead.
Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as one of their Top 100 Global Thinkers, Jamais Cascio specializes in the design and creation of plausible scenarios of the future, focusing on the intersection of emerging technologies, environmental dilemmas, and cultural transformation. Cascio’s work appears in publications as diverse as the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, and Foreign Policy, and he has been featured in a variety of television programs on future issues. Cascio speaks about future possibilities around the world, at venues including the Aspen Environment Forum, Guardian Activate Summit in London, the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC, and TED.
In 2009, Cascio published his first non-fiction book, Hacking the Earth: Understanding the Consequences of Geoengineering, and is at work on his second. Cascio is presently a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, and also serves as Senior Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. In 2003, he co-founded WorldChanging.com, the award-winning website dedicated to finding and calling attention to models, tools and ideas for building a “bright green” future. In March, 2006, he started Open the Future as his online home, writing about subjects as diverse as robot ethics and the carbon footprint of cheeseburgers.