Geoengineering’s Day in the Sun?

Photo by flickr user n0ll used under a Creative Commons license.

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This weekend, the Washington Post reported on a simple step Americans can take to mitigate the effects of climate change: painting our roofs white.

Energy Secretary Stephen Chu explained that white paint “changes the reflectivity…of the Earth, so the sunlight comes in, it’s reflected back into space,” pointing out that roof painting is “something very simple that we can do immediately.” He’s right. Small-scale bright, green ideas like painting our roofs white and keeping our tires inflated are not only easy, they’re also pretty cheap. 

Matt Yglesias also supports the white-roof strategy, but worries that it could lead to more obstructive tactics like blocking out the sun and changing the structure of clouds which “could have extremely dangerous unintended consequences and pose all sorts of problems.”

Yikes. I’m not convinced that roof painting is a slippery slope toward geoengineering. But Yglesias is right that these ideas have been gaining traction. John Holdren, one of President Obama’s top science advisors, told the AP in April that we might consider sending pollution particles into the atmosphere to deflect the sun’s rays before they reach earth. Even though this method could have dangerous side effects, Holdren said, “we might get desperate enough to want to use it.” And the US responded to a 2007 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with a statement saying that “modifying solar radiance may be an important strategy” to battle climate change. 

Hasn’t anyone else seen The Simpsons? Anyone?

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