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

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

by Eli Kintisch
 

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An inside tour of the incredible—and probably dangerous—plans to counteract the effects of climate change through experiments that range from the plausible to the fantastic

David Battisti had arrived in Cambridge expecting a bloodbath. So had many of the other scientists who had joined him for an invitation-only workshop on climate science in

Overview


An inside tour of the incredible—and probably dangerous—plans to counteract the effects of climate change through experiments that range from the plausible to the fantastic

David Battisti had arrived in Cambridge expecting a bloodbath. So had many of the other scientists who had joined him for an invitation-only workshop on climate science in 2007, with geoengineering at the top of the agenda. We can't take deliberately altering the atmosphere seriously, he thought, because there’s no way we'll ever know enough to control it. But by the second day, with bad climate news piling on bad climate news, he was having second thoughts. When the scientists voted in a straw poll on whether to support geoengineering research, Battisti, filled with fear about the future, voted in favor.

While the pernicious effects of global warming are clear, efforts to reduce the carbon emissions that cause it have fallen far short of what’s needed. Some scientists have started exploring more direct and radical ways to cool the planet, such as:

  • Pouring reflective pollution into the upper atmosphere
  • Making clouds brighter
  • Growing enormous blooms of algae in the ocean

Schemes that were science fiction just a few years ago have become earnest plans being studied by alarmed scientists, determined to avoid a climate catastrophe. In Hack the Planet, Science magazine reporter Eli Kintisch looks more closely at this array of ideas and characters, asking if these risky schemes will work, and just how geoengineering is changing the world.

Scientists are developing geoengineering techniques for worst-case scenarios. But what would those desperate times look like? Kintisch outlines four circumstances: collapsing ice sheets, megadroughts, a catastrophic methane release, and slowing of the global ocean conveyor belt.

As incredible and outlandish as many of these plans may seem, could they soon become our only hope for avoiding calamity? Or will the plans of brilliant and well-intentioned scientists cause unforeseeable disasters as they play out in the real world? And does the advent of geoengineering mean that humanity has failed in its role as steward of the planet—or taken on a new responsibility? Kintisch lays out the possibilities and dangers of geoengineering in a time of planetary tipping points. His investigation is required reading as the debate over global warming shifts to whether humanity should Hack the Planet.

Editorial Reviews

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."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From the Publisher

* ""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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780470524268
Publisher:
Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
04/19/2010
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Hack the Planet is a superbly written and reported chronicle of a remarkable story. In just a few years 'geoengineering' fixes to climate change--simulating volcanoes, CO2-sucking, cloud-brightening--have gone from crackpot to considered ideas. Eli Kintisch's book is boundlessly smarter and more deeply researched on this topic than Superfreakonomics. Expect to hear much more in coming years from the planet-hackers--and from Kintisch."
—Eric Roston, author of The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element Has Become Civilization's Greatest Threat

"As climate change goes unmitigated and continues to worsen, it seems we can no longer avoid a public debate on the prospect of planetary geoengineering--doing something probably bad to the planet to avert something even worse. It will be an Earth-changing discussion, and no one should feel competent to participate without having first read Eli Kintisch’s Hack the Planet, an indispensable introduction to the topic. The scientific ideas he explains and characters he depicts are compelling and occasionally riveting."
—Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science and Unscientific America

"Anyone who considers themselves scientifically literate had better get versed in the new discipline of geo-engineering--or planethacking, as Eli Kintisch calls it in this nuanced and useful new account. This discussion is not going to go away anytime soon!"
—Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making A Life on a Tough New Planet

"Loathe or love it, geoengineering has come in from the fringe. Is rewiring the atmosphere the riskiest weapon against global climate change or the only realistic one--or both? It's hard to imagine a more thorough and accessible guide to the science, and the stakes, than Eli Kintisch has provided."
—Jonathan Rauch, senior writer, National Journal and contributing editor, The Atlantic

Meet the Author

ELI KINTISCH is a reporter for Science magazine. He has also written for Slate, Discover, and the New Republic. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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