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How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate Hardcover – April 15, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Product Description
When Jeff Goodell first encountered the term "geoengineering," he had a vague sense that it involved outlandish schemes to counteract global warming. As a journalist, he was deeply skeptical. But he was also intrigued. The planet was in trouble. Could geoengineers help?

Climate change may well be the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. Temperatures in some regions of the world could increase by as much as fifteen degrees by the end of the century, causing rising sea levels and severe droughts. But change could also happen much more suddenly. What if we had a real climate emergency, the ecological equivalent of the subprime mortgage meltdown--how could we cool the planet in a hurry?

As Goodell shows in this bracing book, even if we could muster the political will for it, cutting greenhouse gas emissions alone may not be enough to reduce the risk of climate catastrophe. This has led some scientists to pursue extreme solutions: huge contraptions that would suck CO2 from the air, machines that would brighten clouds and deflect sunlight away from the earth, even artificial volcanoes that would spray heat-reflecting particles into the atmosphere.

In How to Cool the Planet, Goodell explores the scientific, political, financial, and moral aspects of geoengineering. How are we to change the temperature of whole regions if we can't even predict next week's weather? What if a wealthy entrepreneur shots particles into the stratosphere on his own? What about wars waged with climate control as the primary weapon? What happens to our relationship with nature when, as Goodell puts it, we all find ourselves living in a giant terrarium?

And our options are dwindling. Maybe, Goodell suggests, we need to start taking geoengineering seriously. Maybe it's Plan B for the planet. And if it is, we need to know enough to get it right.

Thoroughly reported and convincingly argued, How to Cool the Planet is a compelling tale of scientific hubris and technical daring. But it is also a thoughtful, even-handed look at a deeply complex and controversial issue. It's a book that will surely jump-start the next big debate about the future of life on earth.

A Q&A with Jeff Goodell, Author of How to Cool the Planet

Q: What is geoengineering?

A: It's the idea of manipulating the earth's climate as a way to reduce the risks from global warming. If that sounds dangerous and scary and downright crazy, it is. But I argue in my book that we're likely to end up doing it anyway--in part because the effort to reduce emissions has been such a failure, in part because we love quick fixes, and in part because the survival of civilization may eventually depend on it. The real question is, how soon will we begin, and will we do it well or do it badly?

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: Two things, really. After I completed my previous book, Big Coal, which was about the costs and consequences of burning coal for energy, it became clear to me that we are not going to reduce our emissions anywhere near fast enough to avoid the risks of a climate catastrophe. What will we do if someday we have the climatic equivalent of the subprime mortgage meltdown?

Shortly after I began thinking about this, I met a few highly respected scientists who were quietly exploring ideas for how we might cool the planet in an emergency. I was intrigued. I grew up in Silicon Valley, after all--I'm a big believer in exploring new technology to help solve human problems. In addition, the idea of deliberately taking charge of the earth's climate brings up a lot of interesting questions about our relationship with nature. But I think I was most interested in the human side of the story. I wanted to know: Were the scientists who were exploring these ideas crazy or not?

Q: So, are these geoengineering scientists mad?

A: Well, some of them clearly are nuts. But not all of them. In fact, the narrative of the book is really about getting to know these scientists as human beings. I mean, we are talking about messing around with the climate system of the entire planet here! You've got to have a big ego and a healthy dose of hubris even to consider it. Besides trying to understand the technological, political, economic, and moral complexities of all this, I also wanted to know, on a basic human level, whether we could trust these people. And as it turned out, I met some pretty fascinating characters.

Q: Who are some of the leading scientists in the field?

A: One of them, David Keith, is a Canadian physicist who has started a company to design and build machines that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. David is an ardent environmentalist--among other things, he spends a lot of time hiking and skiing in the high Arctic. One of the reasons he's involved in geoengineering is that he believes it may be the only way to save the Arctic from a complete meltdown.

Another character I was intrigued by is Stephen Salter, a cranky but brilliant Scottish engineer who seems to have stepped out of a Jules Verne novel. Salter has designed boats that would spray billions of tiny droplets of seawater into the clouds to brighten them, so they will reflect more sunlight away from the earth.

Finally, there's Lowell Wood, a protégé of Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb. On one level, Wood is the embodiment of Big Science gone awry. But he's also a very smart and entertaining guy who challenged many of my easy assumptions about geoengineering.

(Photo © Eric Etheridge)

From Publishers Weekly

Goodell (Big Coal) investigates the viability of geoengineering: ambitious, mostly unproven strategies to deliberately engineer the earth's climate to counteract global warming. Despite his promise to avoid the wacky ideas proposed by wannabe geoengineers, Goodell has trouble avoiding eccentric characters like Edward Teller's protégé, flamboyant Lowell Wood, nicknamed Dr. Evil, and such grandiose and questionable schemes as ocean fertilization, that raise the question: at what point does the urgent and heroic goal of fixing the planet become just another excuse to make a quick buck? Even a down-to-earth scientist like David Keith, whose machine extracts carbon dioxide from the air, estimates that an optimized system would still require thousands of these scrubbers, with costs around $150 per ton of CO2. In a genre dominated by doomsday scenarios, Goodell's treatment is refreshingly lighthearted, but two questions haunt him: what kind of person dreams of engineering the entire planet? And can we trust him? He warns, [T]echnology has taken us farther away from nature, not drawn us closer to it, and his provocative account achieves a fine balance between the inventor's enthusiasm and the scientist's skepticism. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (April 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618990615
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618990610
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,708,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

JEFF GOODELL is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Our Story: 77 Hours That Tested Our Friendship and Our Faith. Goodell's memoir, Sunnyvale: The Rise and Fall of a Silicon Valley Family, was a New York Times Notable Book. The New York Times called his most recent book, Big Coal, "a compelling indictment of one of the country's biggest, most powerful and most antiquated industries . . . well-written, timely, and powerful."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Frederick S. Goethel VINE VOICE on June 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
According to many scientists that are involved with climate change research, we may already be at or very near the point of no return due to the amount of carbon dioxide already present in the atmosphere. If that is the case, are we already doomed to massive rises in ocean levels, changes in monsoon patterns, increased drought and any other number of possible side effects of global warming? These are the questions that the author of this book attempts to answer by interviewing a number of experts in the field of global climate change.

One of the answers that has been proposed is that we "geoengineer" the planet by trying a number of different techniques to lessen the amount of sun light that is striking the earth. Some of the ideas have been outlandish: dropping millions of styrofoam balls in the ocean, sending giant umbrellas into space to "shade" the earth, and other equally weird proposals. Some of the ideas, however, are much simpler and much more likely to be cost effective and effective in lowering the amount of sun hitting the planet. Included in these ideas are pumping small particulate matter into the upper atmosphere, increasing the reflectivity of clouds and dumping thousand of tons of iron into the ocean to increase the amount of plankton, which would absorb carbon dioxide from the air.

The author explores these ideas and provides a background into the history of geoengineering as well interviewing key players that have been involved in trying to find a solution to climate change. The author also explores the ethical and moral obligations that geoengineering would hold, as well as how the concept would be regulated and by whom.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Davis on June 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Jeff Goodell, a writer for Rolling Stone, tackles the complex subject of geoengineering in How to Cool The Planet. Goodell, while concerned about the dangers of geoengineering, presents it as perhaps the only possible solution to the global warming crisis. He interviews a number of brilliant scientists who have plans to cool the Earth in a number of ways-everything from shooting particles of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to creating more clouds to reflect the sunlight. This is an important book that is also fun to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By William Hopke on August 19, 2014
Format: Paperback
I read this book as primer of sorts on the subject of geoengineering before starting David Keith's A Case for Climate Engineering. The book makes a good case for trials of geoengineering on a small scale basis as a learning experience prior to the necessity for global implementation. The problem I see with these global cooling ideas is that, while they could cool the planet, only CO2 extraction addresses the causes of the heating. The rest of the proposals are cooling techniques but do not address CO2 production. So you might have brighter clouds and cooler temps but still excessive levels of CO2 leading to increased ocean acidification. The book is a good intro to the field of geoengineering and as such serves as a basis for better grasping such works as Clive Hamilton's Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering or Keith's A Case for Climate Engineering. Thumbs up for this book.
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By Librum VINE VOICE on November 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover
...yet obviously indicated. Have we really reached the point where the survival of humanity may rely on the mass seeding of oceans, on painting the planet white, on making bright clouds brighter? It seems we have. This book explains why, and gives a decent overview of the science of the different interventions in question. A well written, interesting, and provocative book.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Bailey on May 25, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Despite the unfortunate subtitle, this is a serious look at the history and current research being done into using technology to alter the climate to counteract the effects of global warming. The focus of the book is limited to "serious ideas that may be workable in the near term" (i.e., 50 years or so). This eliminates some extremely long-term and expensive ideas which nevertheless have promise, such as placing giant mirrors into orbit. Some ideas have potentially massive effects, others would be at most modestly successful but also less costly.

Technologies discussed at length would work towards either
-- increasing the earth's albedo (reflectivity): for example, injecting clouds or the atmosphere with various substances to increase brightness, or painting roofs and roads white;
-- removing CO2 from the atmosphere (including ideas to increase plankton in ocean deserts by dumping in massive loads of iron)

Aside from the ethical, moral and religious reasons for favoring or opposing various techniques, there is the worry that one or more methods could be used for military, political, or even terrorist purposes, not to mention greed as a motivation for non-regulated climate forcing. Without international agreement and oversight, geoengineering would probably be dangerous, and there is the fear that encouraging such techniques would lull us into a business-as-usual attitude regarding CO2 pollution. Goodell also points out that geoengineering would be messing with a system we don't really understand.
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