Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 35: The Global Politics of Geoengineering
David Humphreys In August 2010 the Oxford University Press announced the words that would appear for the first time in the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English. Making its debut – alongside “credit crunch,” “microblogging,” and “vuvuzela” (the shrill horn that was the sound of the 2010 football World Cup) – was “geoengineering,” defined as “the deliberate large-scale manipulation of environmental process that affects the earth’s climate, in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming.”1 While its inclusion represented a coming of age of sorts, marking a recognition of the widespread use of the term, geoengineering remains an idea rather than an actually existing strategy or set of practices. Nonetheless, many scientists and policy-makers are concluding that with the increasing unlikelihood that mitigation measures will occur fast enough to avoid catastrophic climate change it is now time to think of a “Plan B.” Climate change can be understood as a process that takes place due to changes in two main variables: atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and the albedo, or reflectivity, of the planet. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and water vapor, trap long-wave radiation, leading to climatic warming. They do not trap incoming short-wave solar radiation or short-wave radiation reflected from highly reflective surfaces, such as ice sheets, which have a high albedo. Albedo is a quantitative measure of the radiation reflected from a body or surface on a scale from 0 to 1. A perfect black surface absorbs...
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