David Keith Thumbnail

David Keith

David Keith, a prominent figure in the field of energy technology, has established himself as a leading voice in climate and energy research. With a distinguished career spanning academia, public policy, and entrepreneurship, Keith holds a professorship at Harvard University, where his work encompasses applied physics and public policy. His expertise focuses on climate-related technology, particularly solar geoengineering and carbon capture. Keith's contributions extend beyond academia. He founded Carbon Engineering, a company developing technology to capture CO2 from the atmosphere. His innovative approaches to mitigating climate change have garnered significant attention, leading to influential publications and numerous accolades. Deeply committed to practical solutions for climate change, Keith's work is characterized by a blend of rigorous scientific research and a pragmatic approach to environmental challenges. His endeavors continue to shape the discourse and development of energy technology, positioning him as a pivotal figure in the fight against climate change.

Books Mentioned on People I Mostly Admire #79 with David Keith:

Exploring the Controversies of Solar Geoengineering: Insights from “People I Mostly Admire” Podcast with David Keith

Introduction: Unveiling the Complex World of Solar Geoengineering

The “People I Mostly Admire” podcast, hosted by Steven Levitt, recently featured David Keith, a leading expert in solar radiation management and solar geoengineering. In this thought-provoking episode, Keith delves into the complexities, controversies, and potential of solar geoengineering as a tool to combat climate change.

Understanding Solar Geoengineering and Climate Change Strategies

Keith outlines four primary strategies for addressing climate change:

  1. Decarbonization: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Carbon Removal: Extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  3. Solar Geoengineering: Techniques like solar radiation management to lower Earth’s temperature independently of greenhouse gas concentrations.
  4. Adaptation: Developing methods to minimize damage if the other strategies fall short.

He emphasizes the simplicity of this framework, aiding in understanding the trade-offs and interconnectedness of these approaches.

The Debate Over Solar Geoengineering

The podcast sheds light on the contentious nature of solar geoengineering. Keith acknowledges its potential for quick, significant impact on climate change. However, he warns of the dangers of over-reliance on this approach while neglecting emission reductions. The conversation also touches on the backlash against the “Super Freakonomics” book, which proposed geoengineering as a critical solution, highlighting the need for careful presentation and context in discussing these topics.

Insights into Stratospheric Aerosol Injection

One specific solar geoengineering technique discussed is stratospheric aerosol injection. Keith explains that a fleet of aircraft could deliver sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, creating a cooling effect. The cost-effectiveness of this method is notable, but it also raises concerns about governance, trust, and the potential for abrupt cessation of the program.

Addressing Misconceptions and Challenges in Geoengineering

Keith addresses several misconceptions about solar geoengineering. He stresses that behavioral changes, while beneficial, cannot solely solve the climate crisis, which requires a transformation of our industrial infrastructure. The podcast also highlights the importance of legislation over individual action in driving significant environmental change.

The Future of Solar Geoengineering Research

Despite the controversy, Keith remains committed to researching solar geoengineering, citing its potential to reduce risks, particularly for vulnerable populations and ecosystems. He calls for more transparent, open science and cautions against the involvement of for-profit entities in decision-making processes related to solar geoengineering.

Diving Deeper into Solar Geoengineering

Continuing the enlightening discussion from the “People I Mostly Admire” podcast, host Steven Levitt and guest David Keith, a renowned expert in solar geoengineering, delve deeper into the intricate world of climate change mitigation strategies. This segment of the conversation explores the nuanced realities of solar geoengineering and its place within the broader context of climate policy.

The Economic and Environmental Dynamics of Solar Geoengineering

Keith and Levitt discuss the economic aspects of solar geoengineering, particularly stratospheric aerosol injection. Keith estimates a relatively low cost (around $5-10 billion per year) for implementing this strategy to cool the Earth by one degree. This figure starkly contrasts with the trillions needed for decarbonization efforts, underscoring the cost-effectiveness of geoengineering. However, Keith cautions against viewing solar geoengineering as a standalone solution, emphasizing its role as one component in a multifaceted approach to climate change.

Addressing the Risks and Governance of Geoengineering

A significant portion of the conversation revolves around the governance and potential risks of solar geoengineering. Keith highlights the challenge of ensuring that such a globally impactful technology is governed ethically and effectively. The podcast touches on the potential of a sudden stop in geoengineering efforts, leading to rapid climate change, and the importance of international cooperation and trust in managing these risks.

The Role of Behavioral Change in Climate Mitigation

Levitt and Keith explore the limitations of behavioral change as a solution to climate change. Keith argues that significant industrial transformation is necessary to achieve meaningful carbon reduction, rather than solely relying on individual behavior changes. This perspective shifts the focus from consumer actions to systemic changes in energy infrastructure and legislative action.

The Misconceptions Surrounding Carbon Offsets and Carbon Removal

The podcast addresses the current hype around carbon offsets and carbon removal technologies. Keith expresses skepticism about the effectiveness of the carbon offset market, pointing out the challenges in verifying the actual impact of these offsets. Regarding carbon removal, he acknowledges its potential but emphasizes that it should not distract from the immediate priority of reducing emissions.

Navigating the Ethical Terrain of Solar Geoengineering

In the final segment of the “People I Mostly Admire” podcast, host Steven Levitt continues his intriguing conversation with David Keith, a foremost authority on solar geoengineering. This part of the episode delves into the ethical quandaries, future prospects, and the often polarized debate surrounding solar geoengineering.

The Ethical Implications and Governance of Solar Geoengineering

Keith discusses the ethical implications of solar geoengineering, emphasizing the need for robust governance and international cooperation. He highlights the risks associated with sudden cessation of geoengineering programs and the necessity of a long-term commitment to these interventions. Keith also addresses the “moral hazard” of geoengineering, acknowledging the potential risk of it weakening societal motivation to reduce carbon emissions.

The Role of Public Trust and Open Science

A significant focus is on the importance of public trust and the role of open, transparent science in advancing solar geoengineering research. Keith advocates for the exclusion of for-profit entities from decision-making processes, stressing that solar geoengineering’s nature requires trust built through academic research and open scientific discourse.

The Controversial Nature of Geoengineering Research

Keith sheds light on the polarized nature of geoengineering research, discussing the backlash against it, including calls for bans on research and outdoor experiments. He argues for the necessity of continuing research despite these controversies, citing the potential benefits of geoengineering in mitigating climate risks, especially for the most vulnerable populations.

Carbon Offsets and Carbon Removal Technologies

The podcast also explores the current landscape of carbon offsets and carbon removal technologies. Keith expresses skepticism about the effectiveness and verifiability of carbon offset markets. He acknowledges the potential of carbon removal technologies but warns against over-reliance on them as a substitute for emission reduction.

Concluding Thoughts: A Multifaceted Approach to Climate Change

In conclusion, this segment provides a comprehensive overview of the complex and often contentious world of solar geoengineering. Keith’s insights highlight the need for a multifaceted approach to climate change, incorporating geoengineering as part of a broader strategy that includes emission reduction, carbon removal, and adaptation.