Prudence alone should lead you to ask the scientific establishment to study new, less costly methods of dealing with a global problem—the possibility of climate change. It is time to require more inventive thinking on this issue.
In his recent letter to you, William Calvin pointed out that shifting ocean currents could trigger big shifts in weather. Rather than fixate on controlling greenhouse gases, which are politically hard to suppress, I suggest a new, innovative research program directed at the central global problem: warming. A partial cure can come from simple methods, until now little studied.
1) Increase the overall reflection of sunlight from the planet as a whole. Here simple methods may work well. Trigger more cloud cover over the tropical oceans. Color rooftops and blacktop roads lighter, to lessen absorption. These ideas are fairly simple, and some field work on them has been done. They do need study to make them efficient and effective.
2) Hide carbon in the deep oceans. This keeps it from making carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for about 1000 years. Most biospheric carbon is already in the oceans anyway, and they can take a good deal more.
3) Push innovative energy research. Hand Ray Orbach at DOE the paper by Hoffert et al, in Science 298, (p 981, 2002) and ask him to implement its suggestions. You should also probably help develop nuclear power in the most needy areas of the developing nations. With safeguards against nuclear proliferation, this could cut down on the default choice many are using—coal burning plants.
These approaches need further research, and should be fashioned into off-the-shelf technologies. If in the next decade alarm bells go off, warning of an approaching big wrench in our global climate, we can then reach for these methods. Whatever one's position on global warming, it is prudent to be prepared with a strategy that goes beyond just nay-saying to the Kyoto Protocols.
Professor of Physics at University of California, Irvine
Author of Deep Time