September 22, 2009 – "Climate Engineering: A Necessary Tool for Managing Climate Risks"
David Keith, Director, Energy and Environmental Systems Group, Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment, and Economy, University of Calgary
The combination of high inertia and high uncertainty makes the coupled climate-economic system dangerously hard to control. If the climate's sensitivity is at the high end of current estimates, it may be too late to avert dramatic consequences for human societies or natural ecosystems even if we could cut emissions to zero in a few decades. Emissions cuts are necessary but not sufficient to manage climate risks; prudence demands that we study methods that offer the hope of limiting the environmental risks posed by the accumulation of fossil carbon in the atmosphere. The engineered alteration of the earth's radiation budget--geooengineering--offers a fast means of managing climate risk, but entails a host of new risks and cannot fully compensate for the risk posed by carbon in the air. I will argue that systematic management of climate risks requires the capability to geoengineer and discuss the technology and policy a geoengineering research program needed to build such capability.
David Keith has worked near the interface between climate science, energy technology and public policy for twenty years. His work in technology and policy assessment has centered on the capture and storage of CO2, the technology and implications of global climate engineering, the economics and climatic impacts of large-scale wind power and the prospects for hydrogen fuel.