Proponents of greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions reductions have long assumed that such reductions alone are the only, or at least the best, approach to global climate change control. This Article argues that there are a number of major uncertainties that any approach to climate change control needs to take into account, but that some very important conclusions can nevertheless be reached about the usefulness of reducing GHG emissions for the purpose of controlling climate change in spite of these uncertainties and without ignoring them. This Article first outlines an extensive list of problems involved in attempting to use emissions reductions to solve climate change problems. Then it explores the need for new, more understandable, and effective goals for climate change control. Finally, it outlines an alternative approach to climate change control that appears to solve many of the problems of attempting to use emissions reductions, including the many critical uncertainties, while more effectively and efficiently achieving two of the goals of such reductions.
This Article finds that the emissions reduction approach would be ineffective at solving the dangerous climate change effects of global warming because it would be technically risky, inflexible, extremely expensive, and politically unrealistic, and would probably delay more effective and vastly less expensive measures using solar radiation management. This suggests the awful possibility that very large amounts of money may be spent in a fruitless attempt to reduce GHG emissions at the same time that all the possible adverse economic consequences of climate change are realized.
In attempting to control climate change, the world is faced with potentially catastrophic losses but also with very large uncertainties. Wisdom would be to build a flexible control system that can handle all significant risks inexpensively and with a high probability of success. Solar radiation management either alone or with GHG emissions reductions justifiable on other grounds, offers the best and probably only realistic alternative for controlling global temperatures and avoiding dangerous climate changes. Solar radiation management requires some development to optimize operational details, comparatively modest funding, a reliable command and control system, and a legal change—all of which has not started. Both GHG emissions reductions and solar radiation management need to be implemented with great caution given the risk of unintended consequences in both approaches. This is unlikely to happen if action is delayed until a future possible emergency occurs as a result of possible climate change. Controlling sea level rise would appear to be a more useful objective than GHG emissions control or carbon dioxide levels but needs research. Solar radiation management would not solve the potential ocean acidification problem, which needs additional research and probably future action once the problem and solutions to it are better understood.