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Menopausal Mother Nature

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Opinion | How Best to Save the Planet – The New York Times

Marcia Bjornerud
Appleton, Wis.
The writer is a professor of geosciences at Lawrence University.

To the Editor:

David Keith appropriately calls for greater research and public debate on solar geoengineering. But he trivializes substantial global governance questions that should be thoroughly addressed before any real-world interventions are undertaken.

Injecting sulfur into the atmosphere, a pollutant and precursor to acid rain, could set back half a century’s efforts to improve air quality. That would also risk the stratospheric ozone layer, a fragile but essential resource that is now healing only thanks to a multi-decade global effort. As Dr. Keith acknowledges, issues of global social justice are interwoven throughout any meaningful discussion.

But what institution is to decide what are the tolerable environmental harms, or the priorities of the world’s poor? For one state or rogue private actor, however well intentioned, to put solar radiation management proposals into operation could cement these outcomes literally for the entire planet.

The upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow is the forum in which these proposals should be set out and debated before altering the planet in ways that could have unintended and irreversible consequences.

David Wirth
Newton, Mass.
The writer, a professor at Boston College Law School, served in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser, negotiating international environmental agreements on acid rain and ozone depletion.

To the Editor:

David Keith outlines quite a compelling argument for the use of solar geoengineering to mitigate our warming world. But aside from the potential unintended climatic and ecological consequences of seeding the stratosphere with sulfuric acid droplets, I can’t help but wonder how such a project would fare given the current political climate. What sort of conspiracy theories could we expect to precipitate into our daily discourse?

Michelle Shafrir
Santa Rosa, Calif.

To the Editor:

We are just starting to experience some of the disasters that have been predicted for years by climate scientists, and we may have turned a corner from which no recovery is possible without technological intervention. Just the release of ginormous quantities of methane from the now melting permafrost could accelerate global warming far beyond current predictions. As pessimistic as are current reports, we may soon regard them as having been far too sanguine.

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