Geoengineering: A Climate Change Manhattan Project

53 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2012

See all articles by Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson

Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Brown University - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior

Date Written: January 16, 1998


This article argues that the lack of success in climate change policy stems from the exclusive focus of policymakers on various forms of preventive regulation. Because climate change regulation requires an extraordinary amount of will and coordination, and because uncertainty, cost, equity, and other factors threaten the effective implementation of a regulatory regime, a regulation-only approach is dangerously myopic.

Because of these structural problems, the time has now come to expand our policy horizons to include geoengineering, the direct manipulation of the Earth's climatic feedback system, as a serious alternative to ineffective and contentious regulation. Once derided as science fiction, geoengineering has lately begun to merit serious debate in academic, scientific, and econometric literature, and some geoengineering technologies appear to be feasible. This article presents the first scholarly legal/policy analysis of geoengineering. From a policy perspective, geoengineering, though perhaps counterintuitive, should be very attractive to both greenhouse “True Believers” and the most ardent of skeptics. To the skeptic, geoengineering offers a relatively painless, relatively cheap alternative to costly and unpopular regulation To the greenhouse True Believer, geoengineering offers both hope and despair: hope for a solution to climate change, despair at retreating from prevention as that solution. To any thoughtful environmentalist, geoengineering is woefully counterintuitive it treats symptoms, not causes, and allows the rapacious consumerism of the West to progress unchecked. Indeed, that is what makes it popular with skeptics. The technology is uncertain, and there may be serious secondary effects.

But because a geoengineering policy avoids the pitfalls of a traditional, regulation-based climate change strategy, the True Believer should still be convinced. Climate Change “Marshall Plans,” designed to curtail greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, tend to fail before they begin. Only geoengineering can offset already existing anthropogenic interference with the Earth's systems. In the post-Kyoto world, we need more than promises of emissions cuts and tradeable permits. We need a Climate Change Manhattan Project.

Keywords: climate change, greenhouse effect, international law, environmental law, geoengineering, climate management

JEL Classification: K32, K31, A13

Suggested Citation

Michaelson, Jay and Michaelson, Jay, Geoengineering: A Climate Change Manhattan Project (January 16, 1998). Stanford Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 17, No. 73, 1998, Available at SSRN:

Jay Michaelson (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior ( email )

Providence, RI 02912
United States

Hebrew University of Jerusalem ( email )

Mount Scopus
Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91905

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