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Hack the Planet: Science's Best Hope - or Worst Nightmare - for Averting Climate Catastrophe 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0470524268
ISBN-10: 047052426X
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  • Hack the Planet: Science's Best Hope - or Worst Nightmare - for Averting Climate Catastrophe
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. At one time a fringe notion, the idea of geoengineering-using radical means to change the climate deliberately-is gaining traction in scientific conferences and even in the White House, where doubts are growing regarding the efficacy of mainstream strategies (conservation, alternative energy, "storing carbon dioxide from coal plants in the ground"). In this fascinating wake-up call, Science magazine writer Kintisch begins with the startling notion that "clean air could kill us," because tiny particles in the atmosphere scatter sunlight and cool the planet; a proposal mimicking the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, which cooled the earth by a half degree, would release 5.3 million tons of sulfur into the atmosphere per year to counter global warming. Opponents argue that the unforeseen consequences of this and similar efforts could prove more disastrous than the original problems; Kintisch also suggests that conservatives embracing radical solutions like large-scale ocean algae blooms are simply trying to block profit-threatening regulation and alternative energy development. By no means a run-of-the-mill survey of climate change solutions, this volume takes a engaged but balanced look at humanity's life-or-death situation, providing numerous angles on the role of cutting-edge science as either "our downfall or our savior."

Review

* ""Geoengineering is generally defined as the application of engineering techniques to alter the planet as a whole...as Mr. Kintisch relates, these remedies are not necessarily simple and even their easy-to-envision consequences can be alarming.""
New York Times
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047052426X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470524268
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #877,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Kravitz on April 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Hack the Planet is a scary read, cataloguing the history of the unpleasant idea of geoengineering. It's filled with paranoia about potential disasters to the climate and the biosphere. It shows us nightmares about governance and the potential for future climate wars regarding setting the global thermostat. Unfortunately, such paranoia is well justified.

In reading this book, it's obvious Kintisch has done his homework. His knowledge of climate science is spot-on, as is his history of geoengineering. One can tell he's been reading about this sobering subject for quite a while. He's traveled the world to meetings and talked to just about everyone in the field. If anyone could ever present a holistic, balanced picture of geoengineering, Kintisch certainly has the credentials, and he does not fail to deliver.

One of my favorite things about the book is his witty choice to precede each chapter with an interesting anecdote about how man's efforts to shape the climate around him has often led to ecological disaster. After reading these, one would think twice before approaching climate modification with even a shred of hubris.

He also brings home the important point about the very nature of scientific research, in that we will never know everything. Any uncertainties will always be critical to our understanding of such a complex, interrelated system.

That said, some of the concerns Kintisch addresses are overblown, especially regarding confidence in climate model predictions. He devotes a great deal of time to explaining how the uncertainty in our knowledge of the climate sensitivity could lead us to distrust the predictive power of our best tool for studying geoengineering, which is far from necessary.
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Format: Hardcover
Geoengineering is getting increased attention within the scientific community and, increasingly, policy communities as the Global Warming picture becomes ever more dire and serious climate change mitigation action seems to becoming ever less a near-term likelihood.

Kintisch is an excellent writer who provides a review of the risks and, potentially, opportunities in the extreme option of geoengineering to avoid catastrophic climate chaos.
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Format: Hardcover
Kintisch is a climate-writing triple threat: He knows the science as well as anyone, he can put the science in a political context, and he has a writing style that can turn an informative scientific survey into a page-turner. A very worthwhile read for anyone who wants ahead-of-the-curve knowledge of a subject that will be getting major public attention in the not-too-distant future.
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In a nutshell, the above statement is the basic thesis of this book. Should we be playing with the natural systems of the planet to control the effects of global warming? And, if so, which of the various options offers the best possible outcome with the least possible unintended damage?

The author covers several different types of geophysical engineering in the book. The first is the idea to recreate, by artificial means, the effects of volcanoes. It has been known for some time that after a volcano erupts, the planet is cooled for a period of time afterward. This is due to the lofting of compounds high into the atmosphere. So, the scientists studying this propose to send large amounts of sulpher dioxide into the stratosphere where it is believed it will turn to sulphric acid droplets which will reflect sunlight back into space. With solar radiation reflected, the earth should cool. There are numerous problems with this concept which are laid out in the book.

The next idea is to "fertilize " patches of the ocean with iron oxide to cause algae to bloom. As algae are plants, they will suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and hence lower the amounts of green house gases present It is also hoped that the algae will either die or be eaten and sink to the bottom of the ocean, tying up the carbon forever.. Although some small experiments have been attempted using this process, the end results are unknown.

The third idea is carbon sequestration inside the earth itself. There are several ways to accomplish this goal. The carbon dioxide could be captured at the emissions point of power plants and be used to help propel oil from slow or low producing wells.
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I bristled when I saw the title, but bought the book in association with my own talk to Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE) on "Hacking Humanity." I've put the book down glad I did not give up in the early pages, and thoroughly impressed by the author, clearly among the smartest of skeptics.

Although I was suprised to find no mention of HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) which is striving for openness but still appears to have an unnerving patina of weather change and earthquake triggering potential--in my uninformed view. I'd love the author's informed opinion on HAARP.

What the author does provide in this book is a totally superb overview with multiple drill-downs of what is now called "geoengineering." Geo-systems are not in this book, and that is the greatest flaw with any contemplation of geo-engineering--you cannot engineer what you cannot understand.

The arrogance of those proposing "methods" to "hack" the Earth is truly outstanding, an arrogance I am glad to see that the author does not share.
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