BOOKS: Wake Smith, Yale professor, senior fellow at Harvard, and climate intervention researcher, says that if we don’t do something fast, reaching net zero emissions will only be the beginning of our climate struggles.
For a long time, public discourse around climate change has been fixated on reaching net zero emissions. But Wake Smith argues in his new book Pandora’s Toolbox: The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention that for centuries after reaching net zero, temperatures will remain elevated; climate damages will continue to accrue, and sea levels will continue to rise.
What will be needed after we reach net zero? His book raises questions of ethics and governance beyond net zero: covering some of humanity’s most controversial technologies including carbon removal and storage, and unproven and potentially risky climate interventions.
The Fifth Estate asked Wake Smith what the key messages was from his book. None, sadly, are very positive.
“If the path to net zero emissions is difficult, expensive, and therefore slow (as I’m afraid is the way to bet)… we will have to live with those higher temperatures and related impacts for centuries,” he said.
“The process by which Mother Nature will remove our excess CO2 from the climate system is agonisingly slow, so the climate problem doesn’t end with net zero.
“As for ethical, political, and economic consequences, future climate repair via industrial carbon capture and sequestration will likely require annual expenditures of trillions of dollars.
“We are therefore exporting to the future an enormous financial burden from which we – the contemporary generation – got the benefit.
“The global north is also creating a problem, the most dire consequences of which will be felt in the global south, which will have fewer resources with which to adapt.
“It is hard to justify any of that ethically.
“The governance of climate solutions will prove to be very difficult. Let’s hope it is not impossible.”
Pandora’s Toolbox: The Hopes and Hazards of Climate Intervention by Wake Smith is published by Cambridge University Press.