The Anthropocene Epoch
Earth. Image courtesy of NASA.
At the American Chemical Society (ACS) Boston meeting I attended last week, some leading scientists convened to discuss the consequences of climate change.
Despite some disagreements—one of the speakers, John Christy, is not convinced that there is yet sufficient proof for climate change—all agreed on the need to change some of the ways we produce and get energy. I found the dialogue between Christy and Robert Socolow, a mechanical engineer, particularly fascinating. Christy said that his group had tested some scenarios—including building 1,000 nuclear plants that would cut 10% of carbon dioxide emissions—and found that this would reduce CO2 by only a tenth of one percent. Not much of an impact there. Socolow agreed, saying if we take only one action there won’t be much change, but if we take many different actions then we can make a difference. Christy in turn agreed that it's smart to pursue as many energy paths as possible. The two moved from disagreement on climate change to agreement on energy changes.
One of the goals of the ACS is to start a broad dialogue about climate change and what sort of actions might be needed to prevent worst-case scenarios. Interestingly, no one mentioned climate engineering as one way of avoiding a worst-case scenario, though Socolow has briefly discussed it elsewhere. And this is a topic that history can speak to. James R. Fleming, a historian of meteorology and climate change, has written about just this subject for our magazine. It’s an idea to ponder, though I think it’s fair to say that caution is his watchword.