Eli Kintisch – Is Planet-Hacking Inevitable?

April 9, 2010

For two decades now, we’ve failed to seriously address climate change. So the planet just keeps warming—and it could get very bad. Picture major droughts, calving of gigantic ice sheets, increasingly dramatic sea level rise, and much more.

Against this backdrop, the idea of a technological fix to solve the problem—like seeding the stratosphere with reflective sulfur particles, so as to reduce sunlight—starts to sound pretty attractive. Interest in so-called “geoengineering” is growing, and so is media attention to the idea. There are even conspiracy theorists who think a secret government plan to geoengineer the planet is already afoot.

Leading scientists, meanwhile, have begun to seriously study our geoengineering options—not necessarily because they want to, but because they fear there may be no other choice.

This week’s episode of Point of Inquiry with host Chris Mooney features Eli Kintisch, who has followed these scientists’ endeavors—and their ethical quandaries—like perhaps no other journalist. He has broken stories about Bill Gates’ funding of geoengineering research, DARPA’s exploration of the idea, and recently attended the historic scientific meeting in Asilomar, California, where researchers gathered to discuss how to establish guidelines for geoengineering research.

And now, the full story is related in Kintisch’s new book Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope—or Worst Nightmare—for Averting Climate Catastrophe.

Eli Kintisch is a staff writer for Science magazine, and has also written for Slate, Discover, Technology Review, and The New Republic. He has worked as a Washington correspondent for the Forward and a science reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In 2005 he won the Space Journalism prize for a series of articles on private spaceflight. He lives in Washington, D.C.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, April 9th, 2010. 

Welcome the point of inquiry. 

I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grassroots. Vaccines and autism, stem cell research, global warming evolution. Such were some of the leading science battles of the 2000s. And while we’re hardly past them yet, it’s safe to expect new battles around new topics to erupt in the coming decade. I’m betting one of them will concern the subject of today’s show, so-called geoengineering. The reason is simple. For two decades, we failed to seriously address climate change. So the planet just keeps warming. And it could get very bad. We’re talking major droughts, calving of ice sheets and increasingly dramatic sea level rise. In this context, the idea of a technological fix like, say, seeding the stratosphere with reflective sulfate particles to reduce incoming sunlight becomes attractive. Interest in it grows and so does media attention. And the scientists who might once have looked at the notion with abhorrence start saying to themselves, well, if there’s nothing else we can do, maybe we should at least research the possibility. And so the more we fail to fix the climate problem, the more the techno fix comes into style. The more we dawdle, the more the idea of tinkering with the planet goes mainstream. Just as the activists who were already holding street protests to oppose Jue engineering, some even espouse the wacky notion that it’s happening already. As part of a vast government conspiracy. Here’s one of them protesting outside a recent scientific meeting. 

Foreigners are getting all timers now cause we’re looking at the sky sky to the sky contrail. 

This sounds like something skeptical Inquirer really ought to look into. Here to talk with us about the more serious side of geoengineering, I’m excited to have Science magazine staff writer Eli Kintisch. For the past several years, no reporter has covered the emerging story of geo engineering in the way that Kintisch has. He’s broken stories about Bill Gates funding of geoengineering research. DARPA’s exploration of the idea and much more. 

Now it’s all pulled together into a book entitled And I love this title, Hack the Planet. So we caught up with Eli just as his new book is appearing in stores. Eli Kintisch welcomed the point of inquiry. 

Hey, Chris, thanks for having me on. 

We’re here to talk about your new book, which is entitled Hack the Planet Science’s Best Hope or Worst Nightmare for Averting Climate Catastrophe. And I guess the hope here or the nightmare is something called geoengineering, which is still a new enough concept that I think my first question for you is just to ask you to define it. 

I would say the best definition for geoengineering is large scale, deliberate manipulation of the climate or major earth processes. The word was first used in the late 70s by a scientist who was proposing to actually store massive amounts of carbon dioxide by the Strait of Gibraltar in what he called the giga mixer. Basically storing liquid carbon dioxide on the floor of the ocean. But the truth is that scientists have been thinking about large scale manipulation of the world’s climate for more than 100 years. But it’s only in the last 30 or so that they’ve had a name geoengineering. That seems to fit. And recently, it’s obviously become more of an issue for scientists. 

And how does this the more modern form geoengineering differ from what we’ve been doing to the planet since, say, the industrial revolution? Because we’ve clearly been you have been changing the planet. This is partly based on a question that came up in the point of inquiry forums. 

I think it’s a good question because the truth is that the modern era like none before it. You have a life form on earth affecting the planet on on a major scale, and that life form is us. And while the early photos, synthesizers certainly set the stage for the modern planet the way it is. There’s nothing like the way that humans have completely dominated this planet. And so certainly we have forested, huge tracts of the planet’s forests and we have added trace metals to its waters and we have polluted its skies. And most notably, we have added this surprisingly pernicious trace gas, carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and warmed the planet as a result. But I would argue that’s not engineering. That’s making a big mess. And the difference with geoengineering is that scientists are trying to, in a way, clean up that mess. They may in the end fail or they may have bad intentions or they may be misguided. But there’s a big difference from inadvertently warming up the planet by simply burning fossil fuel and purposely trying to reverse that through geoengineering. 

Right. And one of the arguments against that, of course, is that they’re just going to make a bigger mess. And intentionality does not mean that suddenly we’re going to do a better job than we’ve done before. But nowadays, the would be geo engineers or at least the would be geoengineering. Researchers have at least some preferred candidates for how they would like to maybe do it that they think would work and might be cost effective. What are the what are the leading approaches? 

There’s two basic types of geoengineering concepts. One concept is to remove greenhouse gases from the sky. This could be done by enormous scale, growing trees or growing trees that have that specially taken carbon dioxide with more carbonaceous cells or leave or altering the ocean chemistry so as to speed up the natural process called weathering in which the water takes on hardness, which are carbonate ions, or taking in carbon dioxide on a massive scale with machines and taking it out of the sky and storing it in the ground. These are all carbon removal techniques which directly get at the source of the problem, which are these greenhouse gases which are warming the planet. Even more radical than those are some blocking methods which increase the brightness of the planet by reflecting away from the surface of the earth. Solar radiation. And there’s a variety of wild schemes that scientists have come up with starting from the surface of the planet. You might float white plastic sort of plastic floats along the Arctic to reflect sunlight away from the dark surface of the exposed water in the Arctic to try to lower the temperature of the surface of the Arctic. 

Yeah, I was thinking the Arctic’s kind of white, but then actually it’s melting. So it’s turn kind of dark. So who is right? 

The Arctic is the fastest warming part of the earth because ever every square foot of ice that disappears, you’re taking a reflective surface and adding a dark surface which absorbs that that solar radiation. So one idea would be to whiten the surface of the earth, to wrap dark ground with plastic wrap to, you know, on a huge. Scale and ruse. And then scientists have also thought of brightening clouds, which naturally reflect back a small fraction of the of the sun’s rays. Finally, probably the most radical means of sun blocking would be to alter the stratosphere and to mimic the cooling effect that volcanoes have by putting little particles into the upper atmosphere. 

And that’s what you call the Pinatubo option. And we know this will work because we were able to study so closely the climatic effect after the eruption of Pinatubo in what? In the Philippines in 1991, I believe. And so we know that it cools the planet. We know that it cools the planet. 

And with each of these, there’s sort of a natural analog. You know, we know that low level sea clouds contribute to keeping the planet at a certain temperature. We know that albedo of the of the Earth’s surface, the brightness of the earth surface plays a role. We know that particles in the stratosphere, you know, have a contribution to the balance of energy that the earth gets. The question, though, is doing it on a mass scale, on purpose. What sort of side effects might occur? 

And something I think that’s going to be of real interest for the point of inquiry audience. Here is how does geoengineering play religiously? We know there’s already opposition, but is it religiously driven? Are religious folks going to say this is hubristic? This is playing God? This was not humans were not intended to do this. What do you think about that question? 

I think that’s a really important question, Chris. We don’t know yet how the natural sort of revulsion that one usually gets, the gut feeling that one gets what one thinks of scientists actually altering the planet’s atmospheres or hacking the planet’s ocean. We don’t know how that’s going to play on a mass scale. I’m sure that some are maybe a big, big part of the opposition to this idea that I expect to come in in the coming years will be people simply saying we cannot play God. We have to solve this problem with more modest means. You’ve seen, for example, the opposition to genetically modified crops in Europe. Some of that, I think, is a natural sense that, well, scientists have made mistakes in the past or, you know, scientists can’t be trusted or there’s a kind of specific technical issue that the public has with genetically modified crops. They might get out. You know, they might mix with other species and cut and create super crops, super weeds. But I think underlying that is a sense that we just shouldn’t be making, you know, made to order plants and arguments that, well, we’ve been breeding plants all along with traditional breeding techniques just don’t wash with a certain fraction of the population, people who simply say we shouldn’t be playing God. And there are aspects to that argument I think are really correct. 

I think if I think of Hollywood makes the geoengineering movie, I think that the word playing God is going to be uttered by either, you know, by the bad guy who then suddenly dies or by the good guy who’s accusing the bad guy of playing God and then the bad guy later dies. I think that I think that we can see how this one’s going to go. Well, I’d like to alert our listeners that you like into his new book on Geoengineering Act. The planet is available through our Web site, Point of Inquiry, Dawg. You should head on over there and order yourself a copy. Now, Eli, you’re actually this is an interesting situation publishing wise. You’re competing with Jeff Goodell of Rolling Stone and other publications, who has a book out pretty much simultaneously entitled How to Cool the Planet. This double publishing whammies is kind of proof that this issue is getting more attention, isn’t it? 

Yeah. I mean, I think that it really reflects that, that a reporter from Science magazine would be writing about Planet Hacking and that a reporter from Rolling Stone would be writing about Planet Hacking, I think reflects the kind of wildness of this issue and the fact that there is a kind of inherent revulsion to the idea. I think there’s a kind of inherent fascination to the idea that scientists are actually thinking about these ideas. 

There’s an inherent sexiness to it. I mean, you know, this is like sci fi. I, I, I’ve given talks, public talks. I’ll just throw up a geo engineering slide about something I might need to think about in the future. And people’s eyes light up and then that’s what they ask the questions about because they’ve all seen the sci fi movies and they can just picture the sci fi movie that has this in it. 

Yeah. I mean, I actually think that you need a broad conversation about these ideas. Scientists cannot be expecting to talk among themselves about something as controversial and as radical as geo engineering and expect that in the end it’ll be a fruitful conversation. I think we’ve seen in other spheres that, you know, when when scientists sequester themselves and can’t communicate what they’re doing effectively to the public, you get the kind of problems that led to this so-called climate gate where I think we’ve shown that climate scientists. Are just not there there’s there’s a level of distrust and a kind of weak foundation to this idea that climate science is accepted in the public. I think there’s a real problem there. 

Yeah, but I could flip that on geoengineering. You’re saying that the scientists need to communicate better, but the counter argument is that someone like you are you were her goodo. By writing a book like this, you’re drawing attention away from the hard work of cutting our greenhouse gas emissions and suggesting that there might be a simpler option. And so we don’t need to do that hard work. And so geoengineering and whatever side effects it brings if we do it, is basically the fault of journalists whose who’ve gone gaga for this. What do you what do you say to that? 

No, I. I mean, I think that’s a real risk. The real reason I wanted to write this book in part was that I saw that as a real danger of popular interest in geoengineering. And in fact, I have a whole chapter in my book to studying how conservatives are misusing the idea of geoengineering to score points on a kind of classic debates about cutting greenhouse gas emissions. I do think that that journalists have a responsibility not to, as you put it, go gaga about these wild ideas because they need scrutiny. I want to make this crystal clear. You must cut greenhouse gas emissions before even thinking about trying the geo engineering schemes that I talk about in my book that’s put you off and stop. 

Well, I mean, I think this is a good, good transition to politics, geoengineering, as as we’ve already mentioned, it’s gaining momentum in terms of journalistic attention and it’s gaining momentum in part because we keep failing to cut our global emissions, whether it’s in Copenhagen or in the U.S. Congress. But it’s not quite mainstream. Something I’d like to ask you is what is it going to take for geoengineering to take the next leap where President Obama is talking about it or people are giving speeches against it in U.S. Congress? What could trigger that? 

I think it’s a fascinating question because there’s actually a lot more talk about geoengineering behind the scenes in places like Washington and probably places like New York with companies starting to think about, you know, what’s next after Copenhagen and probably even in countries like China who are thinking seriously about, you know, what it’s going to take in this next century to kind of continue to progress economically. There’s an idea among some that liberals hate geoengineering. I’ve read that liberals actually want to control the economy by passing cap and trade systems and setting up a socialist energy system. The truth is there are a number of leading liberals who have very seriously said that we need to study geoengineering. President Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren, was one of the organizers of a very important 2007 meeting on geoengineering that I went to. And this was years before he went to the White House. Environmental Defense Fund has just announced that they’ve set up a new task force on geoengineering. And that’s a you know, that’s a top shelf environmental organization and more centrist, actually, than some of the other ones. Yeah. No, very centrist. And I’ve talked to a number of other environmentalists working in organizations in Washington. And I can list for you other figures in the Obama administration who believe that we need to start studying this. 

What about suppose that we have I mean, studying? It’s one thing and it seems like that’s already starting to happen. But what if we have sooner than expected some type of climate emergency? I’m imagining some rather large, you know, gigantic carving of ice from Greenland or something like that, which catches everybody’s attention. Maybe sea level goes goes up a little bit in a noticeable way. Do we then suddenly race out the geoengineering schemes? 

Yeah, it’s very frightening to think of the kind of big events that might sort of trigger countries to consider some of these really disturbing concepts. It might be that we start to notice a lot more methane coming out of the Arctic or the permafrost or maybe a prolonged drought or famines, you know, go on for five, eight years with massive effects. And scientists are, you know, sort of connect that to global warming. One of the disturbing aspects of some of these geoengineering schemes is just the relative ease to which they could be deployed. You would use the word worked before. You know, we know it would we know that the Pinatubo option would work because we could deploy it in the stratosphere. We know that it would be effective, at least at first. We’ve yet to understand quite what the side effects would be. And so one of the reasons that scientists want to start studying this immediately is that the Worst-Case scenario is that you decide to start doing the Pinatubo option and you learn that there’s some deal breaker that makes you have to stop it immediately because then the planet’s temperature might skyrocket. You know, in a matter of years after being cooled gradually by that by the Pinatubo option. 

So after it, you know, it sort of snaps back after a few if you cool only. A little while, then you can suddenly get a dramatic heat returning if you stop. 

Yeah, especially if you’ve been continuing to emit greenhouse gases. Right. Right. Frankly, I you know, we did. We just don’t know, hey, what countries are going to do. And there’s few clues right now that there’s going to be the kind of aggressive cuts that would really need to be made to make an appreciable difference in the 21st century. Or we don’t know what natural feedbacks like the methane coming out or the release of carbon from, you know, the rainforest. We don’t know what sort of natural greenhouse gas emissions triggered by the warming might follow on. 

This is why. Why are you on this show? This is why I’m betting that it’s not the last time we’re going to talk about this. That almost seems like it’s sort of coming. The political and the climatic dynamics are pushing it. 

I mean, some some climate models, they’re losing credibility. But some climate models do show that you could double CO2, which is seeming more and more like a like a foregone conclusion in the 21st century. They show that a doubling of CO2 leads to a modest warming. You know, maybe another degree and a half centigrade or two degrees Fahrenheit. It could have profound effects. I mean, we’re at point eight degrees centigrade now and we’ve seen some some serious effects. But maybe that the Worst-Case scenarios don’t happen and we will just have developed geoengineering as a failsafe as as an emergency procedure that we end up not using. 

Well, let’s hope so. Yeah. 

But what my book focuses on is the possibility that we might be unlucky and that the planet may be even more sensitive than we than than sort of the middle of the models show. 

Yeah, that’s my sense. We’re talking to the scientists. They’re not they’re not betting. We’re gonna be lucky. It’s not safe to. And let’s talk about the scientists. They are not only getting more interested in the topic of geoengineering, at least is something they want to research. But in fact, they called this recent Asilomar meeting, which I believe that you attended, in order to sort of decide what. Well, maybe you can explain better than I. What happened that Sylmar. But decide what the scientific community’s approach to the topic should be. 

The first thing I’d like to say about the role of the scientists is what I’ve seen as I’ve started to talk to scientists is a real revolution on this idea. In the last only three or four years in they in 2007, a scientist named David Battisti went to this key meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And he really thought that when everyone arrived in Cambridge, the geoengineering folks would give their presentation. And these high level climate scientists who had met to sort of consider the idea DU Engineering would shoot down their idea and say, no, no, this is still too early. We don’t need to be thinking about this. This this sort of unthinkable option. But exactly the opposite happened. And so scientists are now in a position similar to the researchers who were who went to the Manhattan Project of having to study something that they hope will never be used. So how does a Sylmar fit in? In 1975, the Asilomar Retreat Center outside Monterey on the part of the Pacific Coast was the host of a famous meeting of genetic genetic scientists who were thinking about how recombinant DNA technologies might be dangerous in the future. And at that meeting in 1975, these biomedical scientists laid out the principles which even to this day continue to govern how we deal with dangerous pathogens. And so the analogy with the Sylmar 2010 was let’s have a meeting where we start to lay out rules and regulations and well, or sort of voluntary guidelines so that as we think about doing geoengineering experiments on a small scale in nature, we can do them safely and with appropriate ethical considerations and we can involve the public. And it’s really the start of a new conversation about this, these kinds of radical experiments that scientists are finding themselves having to think about. 

But there are experiments where I mean, one of the things in your book is you talk about a group of Soviet scientists who basically, you know, take up take up a helicopter and start firing sulfates out the back of it and seeing, you know, if it cuts the sunlight to the ground. I mean, there already people who are trying this out on the small scale. 

Right. There are no rules right now preventing geoengineering experiments in the sky or if the rules exist, they’re connected to, you know, international treaties which have never been shown to be effective or never really been exercised. And so, yeah, the Soviets were basically shooting off flares that are usually used in military operations. They were just shooting them off to see how they would affect sunlight. I should say Russians are not they’re not Soviets, but they’re using Soviet equipment like. 

Anthrax. 

Well, I mean, you know, they the it’s interesting you say Soviet, because actually one of the chapters in my book deals with the history of these ideas. And, you know, in the 50s and 60s, the Soviets were trying to improve their their climate. And they were trying to warm up the Siberia. And now geoengineering is an option not to improve the climate, but to try to mitigate or to reverse what could be, you know, damage in the near future. 

What’s the takeaway from Asilomar? I mean, do you feel that scientists are going to be effective in trying to self regulate this before basically the public calls for real regulation, which is what the fear was with recombinant DNA? Do you think it’s going to go that way or do you think that the issues ultimately are not that parallel? 

Well, the Asilomar meeting was a real success in 1975 because when Congress was considering sort of passing laws to to stop certain recombinant DNA experiments, advocates for biomedical science were able to point to the Asilomar guidelines and say the scientists are regulating themselves. And we they’ve led to these regulations. And so the scientists at Asilomar 2010 or Asilomar to, as they called it, are hoping that they could succeed at convincing the public that they can be trusted to do these small-scale experiments. But I’m almost positive that there’s going to be an enormous backlash to these sorts of efforts. And we’ve seen we’ve seen the beginning of the backlash in last year, 2009. There was a joint German Indian expedition to the Southern Ocean which rings Antarctica. And the goal there was to study how spreading iron in the water might catalyze the growth of big algae blooms and suck the carbon dioxide right out of the sky. But due to fight within the German government over this particular experiment, they almost had to halt the whole thing and come back home empty handed. In the end, there was a big sort of to do and political fight, which I described in my book. And these scientists were able to ultimately do their experiment. But that, I think, is a prelude to the kind of struggles we’re going to have over this idea soon. 

Now, I was gonna ask you to talk about, you know, conservatives and how they’re strategically using geo engineering. But since we’re talking about opposition, let’s talk about the left wing and how it’s sort of starting to really, really try to make a lot of noise in opposition to geo engineering. So tell us a little bit about the ATC group or the etc group. And also, I guess at the extreme, the people who believe in something called chem trails. 

I think the idea of scientists deliberately controlling the atmosphere plays into some sort of fundamental fears that many people have in terms of how the government acts. And I think some of those fears are, frankly, have been shown in the past that the government can act in a covert and nefarious way. And so when scientists are meeting to talk about geoengineering, I think there’s a kind of natural inclination on the part of some activists to see that as that there’s really no way that the scientists could have anything but evil intentions there. And there have already been allegations by this group. You mentioned EDC group that there is a so-called geoengineering lobby that is trying for big money and that they’ve got patents that they want to sell related to this this idea. 

Is anybody making money? I mean, that’s a good question. Is there a company that’s eyeing this salivating and thinking, you know, this is going to happen and we’re going to have the technology ready to license it? 

I think there’s no question that in the future, as this becomes more of a real concept, there will be companies that that offer themselves as key to the sky hose company. 

You know, we can we can build your sky hose and we can, you know, get the stratosphere full of sulfur dioxide. 

Yeah, I mean, there’s already, I think, a real fear that there is some kind of conspiracy going on. I was at the triple A ask the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Diego, this kind of yearly meeting on a variety of scientific topics. And there were these chem trails, activists who were outside protesting because there was a session on geoengineering inside the convention center. And I think that you’re going to have more and more of these sort of left wing conspiracy theorists who have talked about this idea in the past, believing that now that the National Academies is probably in a call for Jew engineering and the Royal Society has called for Jew engineering research, they’re going to say, aha, we were right all along. 

Now, we’ll not take a step back here, though. Chem trails. This is a you called it a conspiracy theory. What are they? What do they believe exactly? What do they believe is going on? We’re already geoengineering, but it’s a secret. 

There’s a few ideas that one, there’s the the theory that the government is been doing geoengineering to cool the planet because Bush was unwilling to cut greenhouse gases and instead instructed the Air Force or even commercial air. Aircraft to add particles to the atmosphere that are providing this cooling benefit so that we don’t need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions. I think that’s a bunch of baloney. And the second thing is that actually the government is using chem trails to somehow actually just just treat the public with various chemicals for various nefarious reasons to make us all better shoppers, better consumers. 

Well, let’s talk about that. I want to I cannot leave out the right wing. 

So it’s this is one of the most fascinating chapters of your book, Conservatives who embrace geoengineering as an excuse for doing nothing on climate change. It turns out that Bjorn Lomborg loves geoengineering. And you kind of chronicle how all the right wing think tanks in DC are sort of stumbling over themselves to find Left-Wing scientists to come in and lecture about geoengineering. What’s going on here? 

I mean, I noticed that in 2008 when the American Enterprise Institute held what was actually one of the first public meetings on geoengineering in Washington, that their website raised questions as to whether manmade greenhouse gas warming was real. And so you have the website raising questions about whether anthropogenic warming is true and you’re pitching this idea of geoengineering as a solution to the problem, at least in the future. But that’s not the only instance of conservatives who have been questioning this idea that we need to cut greenhouse emissions, embracing Jue engineering. I think that the idea of a technological solution, a relatively simple one, as they like to call it, it’s useful as a conservative talking point a number of ways. I found first, if you can talk about geoengineering as a technical solution, you can isolate the global warming challenge as a problem with temperature, not as a problem of carbon dioxide. And in fact, the Freakonomics guys, Super Freakonomics guys in their book last year raised questions as to whether carbon dioxide was actually the main culprit, as they put it, for greenhouse gas warming. And credible scientists know that’s the case. 

Yeah, they made fools of themselves when they were attacked. 

Tellingly, they said they were criticized by, quote, carbon crazies. 

I can Oliner says there’s people who don’t think humans are causing global warming but think we should geo engineer, which has unknown side effects. And this is a coherent political position. 

Well, it hasn’t been yet tested in Washington. I would say. However, understand that when Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that geoengineering could be a good solution to global warming while denigrating the usefulness. 

It was 1997, a time he was denigrating the usefulness of the Kyoto Protocol for cutting emissions. 

He also said, just in case it might be useful, in case there’s an ice age. 

So he was saying, let’s study geoengineering in case this warming turns out to be real. And in case there’s global cooling. 

So there’s planet heating schemes, too, that he was cooking up. Right. To melt ice. Are any of the conservatives blowing kisses at your book so far? I mean, are they using you as an ally now or not so much? 

Well, I don’t think that’s too likely, but I actually think that this is an important enough issue, that it’s important, first of all, that the idea of planetary geoengineering is not used as a club to go after cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which is the most important thing right now. But I also think that it’s an important thing that this issue not get demagogued because it’s a controversial enough idea. You don’t want geoengineering to be something that, you know, liberal scientists are considering, you know, cooking up in their labs. You have enough popular sentiment against scientists. You really don’t want something as important as studying geoengineering to get made into a left wing concept. 

Also, we can’t get you on Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or O’Reilly. You wouldn’t do it. 

I mean, if you’ve got them in your cell phone. 

I would love to be on their shows, but I’d love you to educate them. 

I don’t think it’s gonna happen, but it would certainly wouldn’t hurt to try. 

Well, let me ask you one final question. This is from the forums. I meant to use more forum questions, this show and I am sorry that I didn’t, but this was from Jackson. My adaptation is just asking the question in some form at some time on some planet, isn’t geoengineering basically inevitable? 

I think it’s a great question that Jackson asks. I think there’s a way in which here on Earth geoengineering is the solution that we deserve. In a way, it’s frightening. It’s akin, I say, to, you know, finding your son, smoking cigarets. And so you lock him in the closet and make him smoke 10 of them. There’s a way in which we sort of deserve this radical and frightening possible solution to a problem that we’ve caused. And on my bad days, I do think it’s inevitable. I think we’re going to have little little choice in the future because the ease that. One country could have in deploying the Pinatubo option you may have in the future, some country decide that it has no choice but to start cooling the planet. 

And they could start doing it. And we’d have to see if there is any way short of war to stop them. 

Right. If in the future there’s some debate over whether or not to do geoengineering, given the relative ease. I mean, just a couple million tons of sulfur a year could have profound effects. And so if there’s some debate in the future over whether or not to do it, one countries could simply co-opt the whole debate and begin. 

Well, we could be going into. Well, we already know we’re going into a messed up world in the future. And this may be just one more way in which it will be a messed up world. Well, I’d like to thank you, Eli, for being with us. And I want to once again remind listeners that Eli’s new book on geoengineering, Hack the Planet, can be acquired through our website Point of Inquiry, Dawg. And thanks to everyone for listening. 

Thanks, Chris. Good being on. 

You’ve been listening to point of inquiry. 

The views expressed on today’s program aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on the show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry. Dot org. And finally, Eli Kintisch has agreed to take part in the discussion about this episode on our online forums. So make sure to visit Center for Inquiry dot net slash forums and then click on Point of Inquiry to continue the conversation. 

Inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in New York, and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Microwave. Today’s show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Chris Mooney.