GROWINGPAINSHow do we feed the world withoutdestroying the planet? As thepopulation approaches 9 billion,we need some answers—and fast.STORY Naomi Seck PHOTO Wallace Rollins
nxiety, blurred mer a visio usto n, s thec ev e er aus eh c e ay ad m ac el he lab so n” rd gree izzinThis “ ess, a n exaggerated O NER n a recent Sunday afternoon, Denise Culver stood motionless, hands on her hips, surveying the towering IE WAR array of choices in the cleaning products aisle at her local Wal-Mart Supercenter in Broom eld, Colo. sen A N MEL A working mom with three boys, Culver wants to buy “earth-friendly” products, as she puts it. Instead, h. by se art she often goes home with the “old stu that’s probably bad for you.” Like millions of other consumers, of E Culver isn’t sure if the products tagged as green really are. w he ell And who could blame her? et -be av ng On one end of the aisle, a Green Works dishwashing liquid sports both an EPA Design for the Environment seal and a i s Sierra Club logo. A few steps away, the Nature’s Source toilet bowl cleaner assures customers it’s adhering to the “Greenlist” ,y to aw ire nin g, i des process. And Palmolive’s Eco-plus dishwasher detergent claims it’s “better for lakes and streams.” rrita eased “I’ve tried this before,” says Culver, motioning toward the Scott Naturals toilet paper (“green done right”) on the other bility, an a decr d/or side of the aisle. “But it’s only 40 percent recycled, so I’m not sure if that’s good.” Continued on next page…
e tumultuous outcome of the Copenhagen summit drives home two clear facts: e political struggles around how we respond to global climate disruption are enormously complex—and the resulting delays are bringing us dangerously close to disaster. is disaster may not unfold in the way we expect. Accelerating changes to the global climate may render even the most aggressive carbon reductions insu cient. But there’s a good chance that the action taken will be in the form of geoengineering, or the intentional modi cation of geophysical systems to reduce the impacts of climate change. However, the clashes around geoengineering will make COP15 look ami- cable. Done carelessly, geoengineering could cause unintended environmental damage. It could also undermine the health and security of millions of people, and drive political wedges between powerful nations. Geoengineering could even push us to the brink of war. While we know geoengineering would be enormously risky, we’re likely to try it anyway. We can’t eliminate the risks entirely, but if we act wisely, we can make the risks more manageable. Here, I lay out a few ideas for making sure that any geoengineering e orts are done in ways that reduce the risks ofILLUSTRATIONS: MARK THOBURN both environmental harm and political con ict. e idea of geoengineering has been around for some time—often imagined in science ction and futurist tomes as giant orbiting mirrors blocking the sun. But as the dangers of global warming have become more evident, while e orts to reduce carbon emissions continued to stall, the concept has moved from the scienti c fringes to the mainstream.