M-RCBG Senior Fellow-Led Study Group: Wake Smith

Session 1: A vision of the world on the threshold of solar geoengineering deployment 
September 26, 4:00 – 5:30, M-RCBG Conference Room, B-503

Session 2:  Things to fear if we geoengineer (and things not to)
October 17, 4:00 – 5:30, M-RCBG Conference Room, B-503 

Climate change is coming, and we will not entirely prevent it.  Although mitigation (the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions) remains essential and adaptation (adjusting to an altered climate) will become urgent, mankind may increasingly look to climate intervention to reduce climate change and/or its impacts.  Geoengineering refers broadly to two categories of interventions – those intended to remove and sequester greenhouse gases, and those intended to change the earth’s radiative balance (solar geoengineering) by deflecting a small fraction of the incoming sunlight.  There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that solar geoengineering would be feasible, inexpensive, and effective at cooling the earth.  Nonetheless, there remain myriad unanswered questions, not merely about physical impacts and potential unintended consequences, but also about governance: who decides whether to proceed; who manages the program and sets the targets; who pays; how are harmed parties compensated; what are the stopping rules.

This study group seeks to explore some of the key governance questions surrounding solar geoengineering.  

Session 1: (September 26) A vision of the world on the threshold of solar geoengineering deployment
Synopsis: This session will explore the circumstances that could lead to deployment, including:

•    The pre-deployment research program
•    Parameters of the initial deployment mission
•    Deployment technologies and costs
•    Geography of deployment and impacts
•    Political conditions necessary for successful deployment
•    Political scenarios that could lead to deployment
•    Possible organizational structures

Session 2: (October 17) Things to fear if we geoengineer (and things not to)
Synopsis:  A critical examination of the true hazards that confront solar geoengineering governance

Misdirected Anxiety

•    Moral hazard
•    Slippery slope
•    Technological lock-in
•    The nuclear analogy
•    Rogue actors/covert deployment (“greenfinger”)

Things to fear

•    Heterogeneous effects
•    Attribution uncertainty
•    Termination shock
•    "Shoulda known" unknowns
•    Multiple simultaneous deployment efforts
•    Counter geoengineering
•    Military conflict resulting from any of the above
•    Fossil fuel capture
•    Paralysis due to side payment demands

Both sessions will commence with a presentation, followed by comments and discussion from the floor.  Participants may join either or both sessions.

Wake Smith wearing glen plaid jacket and blue t-shirt in front of shelves of booksWake Smith is a Lecturer in Yale College, where he teaches an undergraduate survey course on geoengineering.  As a Senior Fellow at the M-RCBG, he conducts research on the practical aspects of solar geoengineering deployment, including aerosol lofting tactics, financing requirements, and organizational structure.  He finished his business career as a Senior Industry Partner at New State Capital Partners, a New York based middle market private equity firm.  He previously led the buyout of Pemco World Air Services, a global leader in aircraft modifications, where he served as both President and Chairman.  Former positions included Chief Operating Officer of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, and President of the training division of Boeing.  He started his aviation career as a bankruptcy consultant, advising on the restructurings of Pan Am, TWA, Continental, Eastern Airlines, and America West among others.  He holds a BA in History from Yale and an MBA from Harvard.  His faculty sponsor is Joseph Aldy, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Email: ​wakesmith@hks.harvard.edu