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Our World in the Year 2020

Environment

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environment

— Viktor Koen

THE GREAT HEAT WAVE OF 2016: It all but destroyed the nation's corn crop, causing Congress to spend billions to help rein in the runawayclimate. Meanwhile Milwaukee and Buffalo are enjoying a real-estate boom as southern residents flee ever-hotter summers and deepening drought.

Here's the unsettling thing about climate change: No one knows exactly how the earth will respond to accumulating greenhouse gases. Still, many scientists and policy experts believe we'll have to tinker with the planet by "fertilizing" the ocean with iron to encourage the growth of carbon-capturing phytoplankton, building "artificial trees" to absorb carbon dioxide, or shooting seawater into the air to produce sunlight-reflecting clouds. Many fear unintended consequences from such geo ­ engineering, but journalist Eli Kintisch, author of Hack the Planet, points out that the National Academy of Sciences and the American Geophysical Union both favor studying the idea. "While getting to a renewable energy future is critically important," he says, "putting up solar panels or driving electric cars won't stop the Arctic from melting if it's melting tomorrow."

Economist Matthew Kahn of the University of Cali ­ for ­ nia at Los Angeles worries about geoengineering for another reason: If people think there's a technological fix for climate change, they might not support carbon-cutting policies. "Climate-change adaptation," Kahn says, "comes down to whether we are Mr. Spock or Homer Simpson" — proactive logicians or lazy procrastinators. In his new book, Climatopolis, he picks possible winners in a warming world — such as Detroit, with its mild summers, plentiful water, and cheap real estate. The Spocks could make a killing selling land there to the Homers. "Desperation creates huge economic opportunities," he says.

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