Geo-engineering: fixing climate for just US$6 billion

What's the best way to deal with climate change?

Some engineers think that geo-engineering, or re-engineering the planet, is a far more cost-effective way of tackling climate change than market mechanisms, like emissions trading schemes or Australia's carbon tax.

One model suggests that a technique called "cloud brightening" could counter all of the 21st century's projected temperature rises, for a cost of just US$6 billion. To put that into perspective, that's around the price being paid for 24 F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighters by the Royal Australian Air Force.

Whether that model is accurate or not, it's starting to become clear that market mechanisms and Kyoto-style negotiations won't be enough.

On this week's Patch Monday podcast, you'll hear from two enthusiasts for geo-engineering who spoke at the Centre for Independent Studies' recent "Consilium" conference.

"Even if we do reduce carbon emissions drastically, it's going to be a very long time before we see any of the effects of that, and it will be very costly and slow," said Dr Caspar Hewett, visiting researcher at the University of Newcastle in the UK.

"These other techniques that we're talking about are probably going to be necessary anyway, even if we do reduce carbon," he said.

The techniques include grand engineering schemes, such as artificial volcanoes that inject sulphur particles into the atmosphere to seed clouds, and even placing millions of smart mirrors into orbit around the earth, like a giant pergola.

But simple, small-scale techniques can also produce significant effects, such as planting trees and painting the rooftops of buildings white to reflect sunlight.

"If you paint a quarter of all London rooftops white, you could probably reduce heat wave temperatures by 10 degrees centigrade — so lots of impact at very low cost. Let's think about that," said Danish author and political scientist Dr Bjørn Lomberg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre in Washington.

Needless to say, these schemes are controversial. Both Hewett and Lomberg are calling for large-scale experiments to validate the mathematical models.

To leave an audio comment on the program, Skype to stilgherrian, or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

Running time: 20 minutes, 44 seconds.

Stilgherrian was a guest speaker at Consilium.