This week, as reported by Andy Revkin, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson said something heroically, world-historically stupid: “If we could come up with a geoengineering answer to this problem, then Copenhagen wouldn’t be necessary. We could carry on flying our planes and driving our cars.” Sir Richard was talking about removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. He’s not alone. The authors of the upcoming book SuperFreakonomics also think that geoengineering is a cheap, easy way to avoid the work of fashioning a more sustainable society. (See Joe Romm for much, much more on the errors in that book.)

I’ve been writing too many wordy posts lately, so instead, here are some pictures. These first two come from the preface of Gus Speth‘s book The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. Pardon the somewhat crude scans.

planetary limits

planetary limits

Notice a theme?

This one is from our story on a recent paper in Nature: “Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity.”

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If you cannot see this graphic, please see this one.


Lesson: the problems humanity faces are systemic and interrelated. The idea that sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere will save us is akin to the hope that a math equation can be solved by erasing one of the numbers.