In the fight against climate change, the world can’t afford to limit its options.
Apocalyptic scenes open “The Ministry for the Future,” the latest novel by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. India is hit with a calamitous heatwave — one so sweltering, with humidity so high, that bodies struggle to sweat, and therefore to survive. Thousands die in the sun-heated waters of a lake where they had sought refuge. In the end, 20 million perish.
Grappling with the upheaval and fury that follow, India breaks an international agreement governing climate engineering and injects vast quantities of sulfur particles into the atmosphere in a desperate attempt to cool the subcontinent. “Everyone knows, but no one acts,” an official says. “So we are taking matters into our own hands.”
Robinson’s tale is fictional. But it is set only a few years into the future, and the climate disaster he describes, along with the technology and diplomatic conundrum, are not made up. Those are all too real. Insufficient understanding and the underdeveloped governance of such options means the world is no better prepared in reality than in fiction when it comes to radical interventions, in particular when it comes to the contentious question of solar geoengineering.
But does that mean, as a group of scientists have argued in an article published last month, that we should effectively ban the nascent technique now?