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Technically Speaking: Hacking the Planet

There's plenty of controversy swirling around the idea of climate intervention—and no shortage of new words

3 min read
I think one should be very, very careful about throwing iron filings into the troubled waters.
—novelist Ian McEwan

Solutions to the problem of man-made climate change are legion, but none have quite the audacity, the sheer technological chutzpah, of the various ideas that fall under the rubric of geoengineering. This term, which has been around for several decades, refers to the deliberate, planetwide manipulation of the climate to reduce or reverse the effects of global warming. It’s also called planetary engineering, climate engineering, climate intervention, or more to the point (and somewhat hopefully), climate restoration. Scientists who apparently also moonlight as poets call it gardening the Earth.

The scientific, technological, political, and even moral aspects of geoengineering are fascinating, but they’re well beyond the scope of this humble column. My goal here, as usual, is to focus on the new language being generated by geoengineers and others in this burgeoning field, and there’s plenty of it.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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