Printed: 2017-11-20

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Hacking the Earth

Jamais Cascio

The Futurist

June 29, 2009

Some of the most thoughtful work on the topic of climate change appears in Jamais Cascio’s new e-book, Hacking the Earth. Cascio is a Bay Area futurist who worked with Global Business Network during the 1990s and is currently a research affiliate at the Institute for the Future, a global futures strategist at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, and a fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.

This review by Bob Olson, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Alternative Futures, originally appeared in The Futurist.

Big Ideas for Saving the Earth

The actual pace of climate change seems likely to be faster than in even the gloomiest scenarios in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 Assessment Report, Cascio notes. Greenhouse gas emissions increased much more quickly than anticipated before they were trimmed back by the global recession. Higher temperatures are now expected to trigger self-amplifying feedback effects that were not taken into account in the 2007 report, such as melting permafrost in the Arctic releasing large amounts of methane, which is 20–25 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Recent research also suggests that the world’s oceans have less ability to moderate global warming by soaking up both carbon and heat than previously estimated.

Meanwhile, few political leaders understand the scale of effort needed to prevent dangerous climate change. Accelerating climate change and weak political responses are leading a growing number of people to conclude that we need to seriously consider the possibility of using geoengineering to offset and temporarily delay global warming. Major articles on geoengineering have recently appeared in publications ranging from NewScientist to Foreign Affairs.

While geoengineering technologies are the context for Cascio’s book, they are not the focus. For his purposes, all we really need to know is that geoengineering schemes to damp the greenhouse effect range from low-tech to sci-fi, and they all work by either reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface or by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it in the oceans, plants, soil, or geological formations. . .


Jamais Cascio is a Senior Fellow of the IEET, and a professional futurist. He writes the popular blog Open the Future.


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