Why geoengineering is like chemo: Nasty but necessary

I'm pleased to let you know that my book, Suck It Up: How capturing carbon from the air can help solve the climate crisis, is being published today as an Amazon Kindle Single. Please buy the e-book here for just $1.99.

The book reflects two years of reporting and my best thinking about three topics that matter: climate change, geoengineering and a technology called direct air capture of CO2. It explains why we've made so little progress (none, actually) in dealing with the climate threat, and how that might change. Part of the answer is to look for ways to recycle and reuse CO2.

I'm going to print the introduction to the book below, but first a word about the publishing process. As the newspapers, magazines and book publishers that traditionally support long-form journalism are struggling, exciting new outlets like blogs and ebooks are opening up. I'm the publisher as well as the author of Suck It Up, with a big assist from Amazon, which has selected the book as a Kindle Single.

The Kindle Single allows writers to tell stories that are longer than a magazine article and shorter than a book. Suck It Up is about 17,000 words long, the equivalent of 60 to 70 double-spaced typewritten pages. It's intended to be read in one or two sittings, and it's priced so the ideas in it will spread. If you don't own a Kindle, you can read the book on your smart phone, iPad or laptop. Just download the free Kindle software here.

I'd like to sell lots of copies of Suck It Up not just because I think it's a good read about an important topic, but because I want to make the e-book business model work. It's an exciting new platform for in-depth reporting.

So, please read the intro, check out the book and if you like it, help me spread the word through social media or the old-fashioned way -- tell a friend about the book.

Introduction

This book may depress some people. It shouldn't. To the contrary, I'd like to stimulate a conversation about new ways to think about global warming, the most daunting problem facing humanity. To start, we need to face a grim reality: Governments, businesses and environmentalists have failed miserably to deal with the threat of climate change.

This June will bring the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There, officials negotiated a treaty -- it's known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -- in which they agreed to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." Some 192 countries, including the United States and China, ratified the convention. Since then, annual global emissions have grown by nearly 45 percent. Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are rising steadily. The risks posed by climate change grow every day.

In the U.S., climate regulation appeared tantalizingly close just a few years ago. More than a dozen FORTUNE 500 companies, including GE, Ford, Shell and Duke Energy, joined with influential environmental groups to form the U.S. Climate Action Partnership to press Congress to "enact strong national legislation to require significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions." In 2008, presidential candidates Obama and McCain supported legislation to cap carbon emissions. But President Obama made the economy and health care his priorities, and the Republicans morphed into implacable opponents of climate regulation. A weak cap-and-trade bill barely cleared the U.S. House of Representatives and never came to a vote in the Senate.

What's maddening about the lack of progress is that we know what to do about global warming -- or at least we think we do. Back in 2004, physicist Robert Socolow and ecologist Stephen Pacala, both of Princeton, wrote an influential paper in Science: They argued that energy efficiency, nuclear power, low-carbon fuels, avoided deforestation and other current technologies that they called "climate wedges" could be deployed right away to stabilize emissions.

"Humanity," they wrote, "already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century."

Since then, Socolow is among those who have been dismayed by the resistance to climate action.

"I know no one who predicted that the climate change message would be rejected on a scale that it is now," he says. "Scientists and environmentalists interested in getting climate taken seriously have failed beyond their wildest imaginations.... We are losing the argument with the general public, big time."

This no accident. But the reasons why climate regulation has failed are not widely understood. Yes, the recession made it hard for Congress to pass a costly scheme to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, fossil-fuel interests spent a fortune opposing cap-and-trade. Yes, partisan media like Fox News gave a platform to climate skeptics and the mainstream press found it hard to sound an alarm about an invisible, slow-moving threat.

But the obstacles that stand in the way of a climate regulation are bigger than any of that.