The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.
Restoring a healthy planet requires planning–and we didn’t plan well over the last 50 years. That has led us to the start of run-away climate change. Climate change now requires serious planning.
Planning involves looking at what could go wrong, and preparing for that eventuality. This is often discomfiting, especially when it involves the survival of our planet as we have gotten to know and love it. In the end, I find, after doing the planning, there is often joy–having a plan in hand for that feared circumstance that had put a knot in my stomach. And then that knot in my stomach is gone.
Plan B is a conversation we humans naturally avoid. When we plan a vacation, a marriage or a project, we focus on what we want to happen, and how to make it happen. In most cases we assume that when things just don’t work out, some responsible party, perhaps mother nature, will present a plan B we can invoke, and send us back out onto our next adventure. That is what we have collectively done with the climate.
When it comes to saving our planet, what is our plan B?
Twenty years ago our climate plan A was rapid emissions reduction. And since then millions of committed people have devoted themselves to achieving that. We thought that if perchance we were too slow reducing emissions, technology and biology would come to our rescue and allow us to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) was the designated plan B.
At the 2015 Paris climate summit, carbon dioxide removal graduated to part of plan A, as the IPCC announced that there is no viable pathway to a future healthy climate without CDR. With CDR now a required part of plan A, what is our new plan B?
What will our children do if the climate continues getting worse, and getting worse faster than almost any scientist predicted twenty, ten, or even two years ago? We are already seeing the collapse of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, and the polar ice cap is nearly gone now. The Gulf Stream is beginning its collapse, and permafrost melting is increasing exponentially as polar temperatures soar 20-30° F. above normal. What if this evidence that our beloved planet is crossing the climate tipping points is real, not just a bad dream?
We are committed to giving a healthy climate to our children and grandchildren. Will we keep that commitment, and make a plan to keep it, based on science, not just hope?
Who is designing our Plan B?
When I ask climate experts these questions, they give me pained looks and tell me that they’re working hard to reduce emissions and to sequester carbon. In other words, “I’m already doing all I can. Someone else must make plans for the unthinkable.” That is, almost no one is designing our Plan B so far. It’s time for us to support them in that serious process.
Adapting to a warmer, less hospitable planet is not our only option. Elon Musk is planning a space colony on Mars, and many rich families are buying land at higher elevations and higher latitudes.
What about the rest of us? There are serious alternatives: Reflecting more sunlight into space during the day, radiating more heat out into space at night, and using the cold, deep ocean as a temporary heat sink while we repair our atmosphere with CDR. Although there are many practical ways to implement these methods, the idea of purposefully cooling the planet is new and profoundly uncomfortable. Scientists and investors tend to be conservative and particularly sensitive to public discomfort, and that means that Plan B, cooling the planet on purpose, gets practically zero funding, and practically zero planning so far.
Cynics label purposefully cooling the earth “geoengineering”, which has alarmist connotations. It’s revealing that they don’t also use the term for warming the earth–as we are currently doing.
Importantly, many of these cooling methods appear to be inexpensive to implement, roughly the cost of one or two large power plants to cool the whole planet. This means that the reason we’re not preparing Plan B is not lack of money–it’s lack of courage and boldness. We can fix that–we can summon up courage and boldness. And we should call the process “cooling”; the opposite of warming, rather than the frightening ‘g’ word.
Now is the time to expand our courageous leadership. We could continue hoping that our beautiful planet and civilization does not require a Plan B, but meanwhile some of us would be wise, and appreciated by our children, if we designed a suitable Plan B-and a Plan C, just in case.