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A cool idea or hot air?

June 28, 2008

Re "Resetting Earth's thermostat," Opinion, June 23

Samuel Thernstrom's survey of geo-engineering is correct, yet many scientists still oppose even researching its possibilities.

I took part in several of the conferences he describes. The most striking work came not from climate scientists but from economists, including a Nobelist. No economist thought the carbon dioxide restriction strategy could work in time.

Carbon caps and the like ask billions of people to act against their interests for many decades. Demanding that billions in India, China and other countries abort their dreams will not save us. Geo-engineering (which might better be called "climate control") can buy us time.

Gregory Benford

Irvine

The writer is a professor of physics at UC Irvine.

Geo-engineering has long been a popular topic in science fiction, where it is referred to as "terraforming," or making an un-Earth-like planet Earth-like by modifying its surface and atmosphere. Through the process of climate change resulting from human activities, we have been un-terraforming our own Earth.

We are a very long way from the ability to successfully geo-engineer our planet. The physics and chemistry involved are extraordinarily complicated.

Consider California's relatively ingenious, century-long, trillion-dollar effort to redistribute water within our state. Although largely successful thanks to the time and money expended and the simplicity of the physics and chemistry involved, we in Southern California continue to have a perennial water shortage while the Sacramento region is a Katrina-like disaster waiting to happen.

Let us not allow calls for geo-engineering research to distract us from simpler, less expensive and more predictable efforts, such as decreasing fossil fuel consumption.

Donovan Steutel

Pasadena

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