Danish Think Tank Calls to Focus on Geoengineering Solutions to Global Warming

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 4, 2009

The Copenhagen Consensus Center, a controversial Denmark-based think tank focused on the environment and international development, proposed Thursday that world leaders should focus on a geoengineered solution to climate change in the near term rather than mandating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The group, headed by statistician Bjorn Lomborg, issued a report by five economists that suggested it made more sense to spend money on marine cloud whitening research and green energy development than to protect forests, clean up diesel emissions or significantly raise the price of carbon.

"You need to find a short-term way -- meaning the next 50 to a hundred years -- to deal with climate change," Lomborg said, adding that making artificial clouds by spraying seawater into the atmosphere could address global warming at a cost of $9 billion. Theoretically, these clouds could reflect sunlight back into space and, therefore, curb global temperature rise. "If it's that simple, we would want to do it. We need to check out if it's that simple."

Several scientists questioned whether focusing on geoengineered solutions at the expense of major carbon reductions would adequately address the effects of climate change. Carnegie Institution senior scientist Ken Caldeira, a geoengineering expert, said such a strategy "misses the point."

"Geoengineering is not an alternative to carbon emissions reductions," he said. "If emissions keep going up and up, and you use geoengineering as a way to deal with it, it's pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly."

Brad Warren, who directs the ocean health program at the advocacy group Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, noted that even if marine cloud whitening worked, it would fail to address the fact that human-generated carbon emissions are making the seas more acidic and threatening marine life.

"I haven't seen anything in the area of geoengineering that protects the ocean from the chemical consequences of greenhouse gas emissions," Warren said.

The panel Lomborg commissioned to set the center's climate priorities had five economists, including three Nobel laureates. One of them, Finn Kydland of the University of California at Santa Barbara, joined Lomborg in a meeting Thursday with Joe Aldy, special assistant to the president for energy and the environment, to brief him on the report.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt confirmed the meeting but did not comment on how administration officials viewed the center's findings. "Administration officials meet with individuals and organizations who hold a wide variety of views about energy and environmental policy to listen to their ideas," LaBolt said.

Lomborg's center first sparked controversy five years ago when it suggested that humanity would be better off spending billions fighting HIV/AIDS, micronutrient malnutrition and malaria as opposed to global warming.

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