Friday, February 22, 2013

Geo-engineering global politics

If participation means investment, and non-participation means one gets to keep the purse intact and still enjoy the fruits of the outcome, who wouldn’t participate? Guess again. A game-theoretic model developed by Ricke, Caldeira, and their colleague Juan Moreno-Cruz from the Georgia Institute of Technology showed that when it comes to geo-engineering, the opposite is true.
Solar geo-engineering is a proposed approach to reduce the effects of climate change due to greenhouse gasses by deflecting some of the sun's incoming radiation. This type of proposed solution carries with it a number of uncertainties, however, including geopolitical questions about who would be in charge of the activity and its goals. New modeling work from Carnegie's Katharine Ricke and Ken Caldeira shows that if a powerful coalition ever decided to deploy a geo-engineering system, they would have incentive to exclude other countries from participating in the decision-making process.
Their work is published by Environmental Research Letters and is available online.
Smaller coalitions would be more desirable to the participants, not less, because those members could set the target temperature to their liking without having to please as many parties. Likewise, countries that aren't included in the coalition would actually want to join so that they could move the thermostat, so to speak, in the direction that better suits their interests.
Large volcanic eruptions cool the planet by creating lots of small particles in the stratosphere, but the particles fall out within a couple of years and the planet heats up again. The idea behind solar geo-engineering is to constantly replenish a layer of small particles in the stratosphere, mimicking this volcanic aftermath and scattering sunlight back to space.
Goes to show how global concerns like climate change also have the scope to trigger global anarchy! Someone wants a cooler climer, someone else wants it warmer. How is one to arrive at a consensus? As Caldeira says, it is good to maintain openness and inclusiveness in geo-engineering coalitions, so that all people who want a voice in the decision-making process are able to have that voice. But in the power game between nations, will the smaller ones have a voice? Are we simply imagining newer kinds of conflicts here?

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