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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.

The book is well written and provides a glimpse into the possible solutions that may be proposed if we are, in fact, past the tipping point. If you don't believe global warming exists, then there will be nothing in this book for you. If, however, you do believe in global warming I would highly recommend this book, as it offers a glimpse into what the future may hold.
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on August 19, 2014
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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on June 27, 2010
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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VINE VOICEon November 27, 2014
...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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on March 29, 2012
This is a well-written and thoughtful book on what may be the most important topic of the 21st century.

The author got the idea for the book from Nobel-laurete Paul Crutzen's 2006 paper about injecting sulfur into the upper atmosphere to offset global warming. Crutzen wrote that paper because he believes that counting on nations to reduce CO2 emissions is a "pious wish"; and because it may already be too late to stave off disaster by simply cutting emissions since too much CO2 may have already been emitted (CO2 can remain in the upper atmosphere for thousands of years).

The author profiles some of the key players in the emerging geo-engineering field and discusses various technologies such as sulfur injection, cloud reflectivity and CO2 extraction (directly from the air or by adding iron to the ocean to promote plankton). In various interludes, he also recounts the history of geo-engineering (going back to 19th century rainmakers) and the modern parallels with nuclear weapons. In fact, Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb, was an early proponent of geo-engineering. Even without concerns of global warming, it seems that geo-engineering will be an emerging technology because of potential military uses and mankind's long dream to control weather.

There's relatively little discussion on the science of global warming: up-front, the author says the book is not for skeptics or deniers. However, some interesting facts about the debate come up. While drawing parallels between GW and ozone depletion, the author reveals that computer models of ozone depletion during the 1980s were wrong! They showed no threat from CFCs - it wasn't until scientists actually made real measurements that they discovered the ozone hole over Antarctica. The author also notes that "climate sensitivity" (largely determined by clouds) to CO2 is poorly understood. The guesstimate is that it ranges from 2 to 10C for a doubling of CO2- but if the real figure is at the low-end, then GW won't be a major concern after all.

So I think it's sheer arrogance for the left to insist that GW will be a disaster; or for the right to deny the earth is even warming at the other extreme- no one knows how it'll play out because GW is truly like an onion with endless layers of complexity. Personally, I think the left have the stronger case since the Arctic is in fact melting (at an unprecedented rate that was not predicted by computer models).

One recurring fear that comes up again and again in the book is the sobering fact that if rapid, runaway warming occurs, then sulfur injection is the only "fix" that can be deployed quickly enough to save human civilization. (Most people assume GW, if it's even happening, will occur gradually over decades, but it's possible that it could be a sudden shift into an entirely different climate state- more like an earthquake- once a "tipping point" is reached.) So for that reason alone, geo-engineering won't go away, and in fact, may be a necessary evil. As Crutzen says, "we must prepare for the worst".
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on November 24, 2013
It is disturbing that is has come to this: We have messed up the atmosphere with one set of technologies (i.e., fossil fuel burning machines and power plants) and then attempt to "fix" the problem with another set of bizarre geo-engineering technologies. As pointed out in Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won't Save Us Or the Environment, techno-fixes such as geo-engineering won't offer long-term satisfying solutions because they have unintended consequences that are inherently unpredictable by science and they don't address root causes (i.e., fossil fuel burning), thereby delaying the implementation of lasting solutions.

The Kaya equation, which is similar to the I=PAT equation, can be used to analyze the root causes of CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions are the product of "population" (number of people or consumers) times "material affluence" (GDP per person or per capita GDP) times "carbon intensity of the economy" (tons of CO2 emitted per GPD generated). We can reduce the carbon intensity by having more fuel efficient cars and power plants and by switching to renewable, carbon-neutral energy sources (Factor Five: Transforming the Global Economy through 80% Improvements in Resource Productivity). We can stop the endless growth of material and carbon-intensive affluence by transitioning to a steady-state economy, as advocated by Herman Daly (Steady-State Economics: Second Edition With New Essays,Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development) and others (Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources) for decades. And, as one reviewer pointed out, we can reduce carbon emissions by reducing the number of consumers by having clear population policies, a subject that seems taboo (Juggernaut: Growth on a Finite Planet). However, according to an analysis by Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax ("Reproduction and the Carbon Legacies of Individuals", Global Environmental Change, 19:14-20, 2009), avoiding the birth of a single child has a much a greater effect on reducing CO2 emissions than environmentally conscious consumer behavior. For example, it is estimated that an average citizen participating in personal conservation measures could reduce his/her lifetime carbon dioxide emissions by 486 tons, which is 20 times LESS than the CO2 emissions avoided by choosing to have one fewer child.

Clearly, there are more constructive ways of mitigating climate change than tinkering with geo-engineering, the ultimate techno-fix.
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on May 16, 2011
The book How to Cool the Planet" by Jeff Goodell gives interesting information not only about the science (geoengineering) but also about the scientists(e.g. prof. Keit). It is easy to read due to its journalist style. It is not much valuable for scientist seeking new technical information about geoengineering. However, it gives good idea how to teach principles of geoengineering and consider the related ethic problems, considering it as a "safety brake" in case when the worse impacts of climate change take place.
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on May 25, 2010
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. He concludes that the best approach would be to do small experiments to decide what the effects and benefits of any particular technology might be, develop an international body to oversee research and its uses, and increase vigilance about and reduction of CO2 .

I've read quite a bit about climate change, and this book gave me a welcome added dimension into the options we have. Goodell's audience is the well-informed general reader who is already convinced of the seriousness of our climate situation. (NOTE: the edition I read was an advance reading copy provided electronically via [...).
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on May 3, 2010
This is a book about a fascinating topic, geoengineering, but I can't recommend it because the author is not a good writer. The author's attitude rapidly vacillates ('gee whiz! engineering the climate is neat' to 'oh no, commercialization of iron fertilization is scary' and back several times). The final, 'grand synthesis' chapter is particularly bad: the author frames the discussion using his wife's vegetable garden and in vitro fertilization. Here's a quote from that chapter that illustrates the author's general weakness, "I don't want to say that the idea of monkeying around with the climate is like a big video game to us, but sometimes it does feel that way" (p. 216).

To the author's credit, he was clearly ahead of the curve in his interest in geoengineering - the interviews go back to 2006.
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All humans should be required to know several things from this book:

There are three approaches to cooling the planet.
1. Stop doing all the things we did to warm the planet (especially burning coal, cars, and all forms of combustion).
2. Ask forgiveness of Mother Earth (the Gaia hypothesis) or intervention from a higher power (prayer)
3. Geoengineering; ways to remove carbon from the air or block sunlight from the earth.

What I didn't value about the book: The author makes fun of 1 and 2, which sort of hurts my feelings. I am a spiritual person who values science so I don't need a book on science to tell me that prayer is no better than burying your head in the sand, or that people who think Gaia is really aware are kooks. He says Mother Nature is a b___h and would wipe out humanity without a tear... The author has no faith that humanity can change to consume and pollute less. I got over being offended about these things because the scientific content of the book is very important.

What is very valuable about the book: The author interviews experts on global warming and gives unbiased reporting of their ranges of views. The author gives what appears to be a realistic forecast of the future of Earth, given our social and political climate. He's right; politicians are not likely to write laws that prevent burning coal, cars, and combustion because nobody would vote for them if they did. People are currently consuming far more energy and making far more pollution than can be sustained. Given these two trends that are likely to continue, the only means left to maintaining life on the planet seem to be the "Audacious" and cheap dirty fixes. Here are several that the author outlines:

1. shooting aluminum dust into the stratosphere to reflect more sunlight away from the earth. (doesn't aluminum cause alzheimer's? Is nano-dust hard for people with respiratory conditions?)
2. making whiter clouds that reflect more sunlight away from the earth.
3. machines that remove carbon from the air (where it can be buried)
4. seeding oceans with iron fertilizer so that planktons make more shells, which fall to the ocean bottom, sequestering carbon from the air and storing it at the bottom of the ocean.

Of these, shooting dust into the stratosphere is the cheapest and most likely to work, quickly cooling the planet. Because it is cheap and works quickly, politicians are likely to promote it to the public because its effects could promote their careers.

These are ugly facts! The author acknowledges that these ideas are terrible alternatives, and should only be used in an emergency. But we may be already in an emergency. If the arctic melts, the tundra under the ice will compost and add far more greenhouse gasses to the air, multiplying the speed at which the earth warms. The author and all the experts interviewed acknowledge these are all temporary fixes

If you can get through some long meandering chapters with diversions that have nothing to do with the facts, I highly recommend you read it. Should be required reading for all high school seniors in "Contemporary World Problems," liberal arts students for combining social and hard sciences and humanities. The book either lacks understanding of ethics, or thinks that ethics does not play a part in our world's forecast.

My personal belief is that cooling the planet will require all three: 1 changing our behavior to consume and pollute less, 2. asking forgiveness from, and committing to respect Nature, Earth, and requesting the intervention of Intelligences higher than human (even if you don't think they exist, it couldn't hurt to ask humbly), and 3. scientific temporary fixes through geoengineering.
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