President George W. Bush averted a nasty rift when he agreed in the final hours of the recent G8 summit to “consider seriously” the need to halve the world’s emissions of global-warming gases by 2050. Canada, the European Union and Japan had already embraced that goal, leaving America the dirty stand-out. The deeper truth is that these eight industrial countries control only part of the world’s emissions, and the industrial activities that cause emissions are slow to change. Coal will be the hardest to tame because it is so cheap and abundant. Many coal-power plants coming online today will still be in service by 2050, and advanced plants that store effluent safely underground won’t be used widely for many more decades. The geopolitical hurdles are also high. The plan introduced with much fanfare earlier this month by China, which next year will become the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, contains nothing beyond what Beijing already had in place. The world, therefore, is in for some warming.
Pessimism about stopping global warming is leading some scientists to wonder out loud if it is possible through “geoengineering” to force the Earth to cool. The idea is not entirely new and is fraught with dangers, but it is likely to get more attention in coming years. At least since the 1950s, weather makers have dreamed of steering clouds and rain to crops (though they failed in practice). From there it was a small step to dreaming on the global scale.