Book review: The Planet Remade, by Oliver Morton

The Planet Remade, Oliver Morton
The Planet Remade, Oliver Morton
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Earlier this week, the world’s leaders gathered in Paris to attempt to hammer out a new global agreement on climate change. The goal, of course, is to try to achieve an international commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but is that really the only way of preventing our planet from overheating?

In this fascinating, thoroughly researched and exceedingly convincing book, the journalist Oliver Morton argues that no, it isn’t. There are other ways in which we might avoid a climate catastrophe, or at least postpone it, and given how cheap and straightforward some of them could turn out to be, it’s frankly incredible that they aren’t already a key part of the debate.

The field of geoengineering offers a range of possible planet-cooling solutions, and some of them, admittedly, are wackier than the wildest imaginings of Arthur C Clarke. The relatively simple one Morton favours, however, is veilmaking – that is, using specially-designed high-altitude aircraft to spray sulphur particles into the upper atmosphere, creating a thin layer which would bounce back just enough sunlight to offset the effects of man-made global warming.

“Half the computer models looked at for the most recent IPCC report,” he observes, “said that if the climate were to be kept below the two-degree limit, emissions would have to be negative by 2100. Humans would have to be actively taking carbon dioxide out of the air. So if people are serious about the two-degree limit, one or another form of geoengineering needs to be treated as a real possibility.”

We are already inadvertantly engaged in massive geoengineering projects, Morton argues – we need to get our heads around that fact. Geoengineering with veils, he writes, “is not an antidote to climate change.” Instead it should be viewed as a means of buying us a little extra time. Is it really the answer to the climate crisis? Who knows. But should it be part of the conversation? Absolutely.

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