Strong science and economics give us high confidence that reducing greenhouse gases can be a sound investment. If we use the knowledge efficiently as we make decisions, we will be economically better off. But, we’re a little like a worker with an illness related to their job—the job brings great good as well as bad, and the same is true of fossil fuels.
If you go to a doctor with an illness, the doctor has lots of options. She may give you medicines that cure the disease, or others that lessen the symptoms. She may help you learn coping strategies to reduce the problems, and other actions to prevent additional illnesses or treat other difficulties that are making this illness worse.
In the same way, we can think about “curing” the global-warming problem by switching to other fuels that don’t raise the Earth’s temperature, or by putting CO2 back in the ground; such actions to reduce or eliminate the warming are often called mitigation. Or, we can look for ways to cope with the coming climate changes, by breeding heat-resistant crops, building walls against the rising sea or moving out of the way, and otherwise engaging in adaptation as the changes happen. We even can try to cover up the symptoms, using geoengineering to block the sun. And, we can encourage research, education and innovation to help make the transition.
How do we really do any of these? What decisions need to be made? What other issues are involved? Let’s go policy-wonking!