What are the risks of engineering Earth’s climate? “Can We Cool The Planet?” on NOVA – April 27 at 9 pm

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Can We Cool the Planet? NOVA Explores New

Technologies and Their Unintended Consequences

Wednesday, April 27 at 9 pm


Since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has been running an experiment in the Earth’s atmosphere, pushing the climate to new extremes.

With the Earth’s temperature on the rise, researchers are working urgently not only to stop CO2 from being released into the atmosphere but also to remove or counteract the warming from the CO2 that is there already.

In Can We Cool the Planet? NOVA introduces scientists and engineers from around the world who are developing new technologies to mimic Earth’s operating system — from manipulating our atmosphere to reflect more sunlight, to building machines that suck carbon dioxide right out of the air, to planting trees to do the job for us.

person standing in front of a multicolor climate mapMore than 50 researchers and scientists in the US, Canada, Iceland and Switzerland were interviewed for the film, which took 14 months to produce.

“The film certainly asserts that the first and most urgent solution is to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions,” said NOVA Co-Executive Producer Chris Schmidt. “But what if we can’t do that fast enough? We have a legacy of more than 150 years of CO2 emissions,” he said. “What if we have already passed a tipping point? What do we do about that problem?”

But the technologies that are being explored today raise some controversial questions, including cost, scalability and environmental impact. They also may bring with them some unintended consequences.

“There needs to be a conversation right now about if and how we develop some of these technologies,” said NOVA Producer Caitlin Saks. “We don’t fully understand what effect they may have on the planet or to society. But we want to inform the public about what these other options are because the time to have the conversation is now, not in 20 or 30 years,” she said.

Even with a much talked-about topic as climate change, there is still more to learn. “I was surprised by the scale of the issues — I never really thought about the sheer volume of the atmosphere and the scale of machinery we would need to alter it,” Schmidt said. “I was surprised about the negatives, particularly when it came to planting trees,” he said.

CGI image from space with sun's rays ligting planet earth“Part of NOVA’s mission is to excite the public about the promise of new technologies, as well as warn about the potential pitfalls.” Saks said. “There’s no one perfect solution,” she said. “Even the things that sound simple and obvious, aren’t.”

So can we cool the planet?

“Yes, but we can’t just leave it up to individual actors,” Schmidt said. “It’s got to be something that at least a majority of the people on the planet try to effect because different parts of the planet have different tools at their disposal,” he said.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that we can develop technology to cool the planet—we have the scientific toolkit to do it,” Saks said. “We need to have the discussion about if, when and how we do it so that it is safe and equitable. That’s the real challenge.”