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A Case for Climate Engineering (Boston Review Books) Hardcover – September 20, 2013

2.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Keith's proposal is audacious at first, but in the course of this brief book he makes a convincing case.


Keith manages to keep the tone sober without ever sounding dull. His chapter on ethics deftly summarises some of the competing moral claims…Reading about proposals to alter the climate of an entire planet on purpose is dizzying. Yet scientists already talk of the dawning of a new geological age, the Anthropocene, named because humans, or rather, the industrial civilisation they have created, have become the main factor driving the evolution of Earth. [ The Case for Climate Engineering emphasises] just how seriously the idea of deliberately altering the climate is being considered, both in scientific journals and among some governments…[Keith is] a guide for the undecided.

(The Economist)

Keith deserves credit for directing attention to ideas he knows are dangerous. Accepting the concept of the Anthropocene means accepting that humans have the responsibility to find technological fixes for disasters they have created. But little progress has been made toward a process for rationally supervising such activity on a global scale. We need a more open discussion about a seemingly outlandish but real geopolitical risk: war over climate engineering.

(Eli Kintisch Technology Review)

About the Author

David Keith has worked near the interface between climate science, energy technology, and public policy for twenty years. He is currently the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at Harvard University and Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.


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Product Details

  • Series: Boston Review Books
  • Hardcover: 112 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (September 20, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262019825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262019828
  • Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.6 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,774 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Keith makes his case for climate engineering clearly. He recognizes the objections of critics, doesn't dismiss them, but responds. He is very clear that geoengineering should never, ever be used as a substitute for cutting carbon emissions. His position is that the risks and impacts of climate change may be so serious that geoengineering needs to be considered even though it has its own risks. To reduce those risks, he argues we need to begin some small scale testing if, for nothing else, to find out what should be avoided. For example, he wants to do an experiment to see if a tiny amount of sulphate released into the stratosphere depletes ozone in the area where it's released. If ozone is depleted, then the most discussed form of geoengineering, injecting sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect away some of the sun's radiation, would have to be ruled out as endangering the ozone layer that protects life on Earth from the UV-B radiation in sunlight. Many scientists who believe geoengineering needs to be explored see it as a last ditch emergency option that would only be used to head off an imminent climate catastrophe. Keith views it as an earlier use option to reduce the risks of climate change. After a decade or two of research and smaller scale testing, he would like to see us begin to gradually phase geoengineering in, reducing the rate of global warming rather than reversing it, watching all the while for negative impacts. Eventually, after preventing the Earth's average temperature from going too high, the geoengineering effort would be slowly phased down over several generations as greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere declined. Another form of geoengineering, Carbon Dioxide Removal, might be used on a large scale to speed the process.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is not a review of the different approaches to climate engineering but a reasonably complete discussion of solar radiation management. It could have been a long essay rather than a book.

The author is clearly enamored with the lost cost, ease of implementation and tunability of SRM. But, IMHO, there is too little discussion of the different response of the earth to addition of CO2 versus reduction in solar radiation. The latter may enable adjustment of the average temperature of the earth, prevent melting of glaciers, halt sea level rise, etc. These are the most visible current issues in global warming due to CO2 increase. They are likely to dominate the political thinking and response, which IMHO may be very shortsighted.

Here is just one issue that needs to be considered in much more depth before proceeding with any climate engineering. A major response to increased CO2 is acidification of the ocean. And, lowering the temperature will increase CO2 absorption into seawater, thus increasing acidification. The choice of a low cost, easily implemented SRM approach instead of a much higher cost, massive CO2 removal approach may actually worsen the calamity that humans are bringing on by making the oceans less able to support life.
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Format: Hardcover
I am very much of two minds when it comes to this book. On the one hand, I find the idea of geoengineering the atmosphere a sort of supreme hubris, while on the other hand I can see that - if it is accepted as nothing more than a short term patch (50 to 100 years) while we get off fossil fuels - it has merit. We have, at least if you accept science and not propaganda, severely impacted the atmosphere with CO2 pollution. There is no denying that fact, unless you are a climate change denier.
The author, throughout the book, argues not only for a geoengineering option but also for emission reductions. I agree with him on this. My fear is that acceptance of a geoengineering strategy will turn out to be much like the behavior of a diabetic I worked with (past tense). Although the diabetic loved his sweets - donuts, cookies, and cakes - he had this "I'll just need to take more insulin" attitude. This is my fear. If geoengineering works and reduces heating will we become like this diabetic? I can keep on eating cookies (burning coal) if only I just use a bit more insulin after each doctor check-up. The problem here is that, like kidneys that can be ruined, ocean acidification is not resolved by atmospheric geoengineering. So we can keep the temperature down, but we will continue to pollute via ocean acidification and so poison the seas.
As much as people oppose nuclear energy, I support James Lovelock's position that it is the only assured option that is carbon free. By assured I mean it works 24-7. Not from sun up to sun down, not just on breezy days. I do not oppose solar or wind, in fact I support them, but I simply believe that nuclear is a better option for assured energy over the next 100 years.
One other thing, the author mentions briefly the possible use of space-based solar shades.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This small book is literally riddled with typos--many dozens of misspelled words and missing words. (In fairness, I was always able to figure out what Keith meant to say.)

One would hope for much better than this in a book published by a branch of MIT Press and written by a Harvard professor. I couldn't help but wonder whether this book was hastily brought to press in response to Clive Hamilton's excellent "Earthmasters, The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering," published by Yale Univ. Press earlier in 2013. In "Earthmasters" Hamilton makes devastating arguments against geoengineering (another name for climate engineering), and he makes them movingly, persuasively, clearly, and without typos.

Hamilton's "Earthmasters" book makes the point that many of geoengineering's most vocal supporters have a financial interest in the area. There is a lot of money to be made if the idea of climate engineering ever takes off. Keith acknowledges at the outset that he indeed does have such a financial interest (in a company working on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere), but then brushes that aside by saying his financial interest is not in solar-radiation management, which is the focus of his book. But I'd prefer to see a thoughtful analysis by a scholar with no financial interest in geoengineering at all.

All that aside, "A Case for Climate Engineering" does make some interesting points and is useful to read to see what prospective climate engineers are thinking. I was not persuaded, but I do have a better understanding of the arguments for climate engineering after reading this book. Let's hope MIT Press will clean up the typos in future editions, if there are any. In the meantime, I highly recommend "Earthmasters."
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