Saturday, June 19, 2010

mini review: HOW TO COOL THE PLANET: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate

by Jeff Goodell. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010. 277 pages.
Goodell also wrote Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future.

Geoengineering is the kind of word that wins spelling bees, or stuns someone you've just met at a party if you throw it off casually enough. A very impressive word.

What it means, in this book at least, is either removing CO2 from the atmosphere by binding it to particles, or deflecting solar rays back into space. Goodell's opinion of it is not high. "Geoengineering," he says, " is about turning the earth into the planetary equivalent of industrial farmland." Perhaps fortunately, none of the schemes come up with so far have much chance of working.

How to Cool the Planet is engagingly written, by a journalist, not an academic, which means it's easy to read. It's not written in journalistic form, however, but is a rumination covering history, utopian ideas, and tech fixes that didn't work, as well as current science. It includes a charming portrait of James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia theory.

Goodell ends with the warning question of who will control geoengineering. What if the military chooses to use it? Human nature may be the greatest risk here. The reader concludes that the author is a good, thoughtful, moral man. His ideas are well worth pondering. But his book can be safely skimmed.

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