Bright lines, however, have a way of fading, particularly when it comes to dedicated research programs. In 1983, President Reagan created the Strategic Defense Initiative, a program devoted to developing technologies that would protect the American homeland from nuclear attack. Despite large costs and widespread opposition from many of the nation's leading scientists, Reagan's initiative has survived for more than a quarter-century, focusing on different technologies and wrapping itself in different purposes. It has led the United States to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, increased international tensions on numerous occasions, and siphoned money away from valuable uses toward technological fantasies. Large research initiatives can be tougher to kill than vampires: They feed fortunes, careers, and reputations. As with the Strategic Defense Initiative, a dedicated geoengineering research program risks creating a self-amplifying cycle of interest groups and lobbies, building momentum toward eventual deployment as a way of justifying the research.
Geoengineering is fraught with risk, but some technologies may have a place in our portfolio of responses. They will have to compete against renewable energy projects, conservation, adaptation programs, and other alternatives on the grounds of cost, feasibility, and moral and political acceptability. This amounts to abandoning the Promethean dream and entering the messy world of climate politics. We have created a problem of climate change and we must mobilize all of our resources in addressing it. But John Wayne is dead, and there is no Colt 45 peacemaker in sight.
TODAY IN SLATE
More Than Scottish Pride
Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself.
What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture
Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You
If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter
The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge
The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems
Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.
Giving Up on Goodell
How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.