Geoengineering, for the lullz

While we’re on new words for oil markets, here is a new term for one of the big challenges around geoengineering, from Matthew E. Kahn at Environmental and Urban Economics: the lulling hypothesis:

Child proof safety caps on medicine lull people into not hiding medicine from kids and kids break into the pills. Diabetic medicines for fighting high blood sugar lull diabetics into thinking they can eat lots of sweets. Will geoengineering have the same effect? Do expectations of future technology fixes diminish our desire to “go low carbon” today?

Geoengineering has been gaining a lot of attention this year. In fact. since White House science advisor John Holdren suggested in April that the US adminstration might consider it, we’ve seen not only arguments from the usual contrarian suspects (step forward, Freakonomics and Bjorn Lomborg), but also the launch of some of the first serious studies into whether the geoengineering could be safe and effective. (One early report, however, doesn’t look good).

One problem with geoengineering is very little is known about the most popular and dramatic proposals, such as shooting sulphur into the air. Another is that even if it is possible to engineer away some of the effects of a atmospheric warming, other effects of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – such as ocean acidification – might remain untouched.

But probably the biggest fear for environmentalists – even those who concede that geoengineering should be considered – is that the (possible) promise of relatively cheap technology problems will reduce the imperative to tackle CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. And what if geoengineering doesn’t work, or doesn’t address all the effects of climate change, or has some nasty and unforeseen ramifications for other aspects of the environment? The big fear is that we might not find out if the lulling effect is a real danger until it’s too late.

Related links:

The sobering news about geoengineering (FT Energy Source, 02/09/09)
Geoengineering the planet: The possibilities and pitfalls (Yale 360, 21/10/09)
Geoengineering to get mainstream scientific support (FT Energy Source, 21/07/09)
Re-engineering the earth (The Atlantic, July/August 2009)

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