Pandora’s Toolbox offers readers an accessible and authoritative introduction to both the hopes and hazards of climate intervention & some of humanity’s most controversial technologies, which may nevertheless provide the key to saving our world.



About the Author

As a lecturer at Yale University, Wake Smith teaches a world-leading undergraduate course on climate intervention, the syllabus of which forms the basis of this book. Smith is also a Senior Fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School, writing scholarly articles on the aeronautics, costs, and governance of solar geoengineering.

Wake Smith
Author, Lecturer, Geoengineering Researcher


Getting down to brass tacks, Pandora’s Toolbox provides a balanced and sophisticated examination of climate interventions. The reader will takeaway a rigorous understanding of the engineering, economic, ethical, social, political, and international relations dimensions of climate engineering tools and an informed appreciation for how deployment of a broad range of tools can most effectively reduce the human misery caused by climate change.

Joseph Aldy
Professor of the Practice of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, MA

A well-written, accurate, and entertaining guide to climate change and climate intervention techniques that gives readers all the keys to make up their own minds on the topic.

Olivier Boucher
Climatologist, Sorbonne Université, Paris

With careful explanations of the technologies, policies, governance issues, and ethical dilemmas involved, Pandora’s Toolbox emerges as ‘must reading’ for all who seek to understand the pathways to a successful global response to climate change.

Daniel Esty
Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, Yale University, New Haven, CT

Smith’s book is the first-of-its-kind textbook introduction to Carbon Dioxide Removal embedding the topic in the full spectrum of currently discussed responses reaching from mitigation and adaptation all the way to Solar Radiation Management. It paves the way for the societal discourse we so urgently need to have now.

Sabine Fuss
Group Leader, Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin

In the Greek myth Pandora was curious and she opened a box thus releasing evils into the world. Here we explore the contents of the box more carefully. In it we find tools useful for climate repair. This great book gives us a ray of hope in a situation where everything looks rather bleak.

Hugh Hunt
Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Pandora’s Toolbox introduces the reader to climate intervention – if you haven’t heard of this yet, you will, because the author makes a compelling case that managing a future world with climate change will need a bigger toolbox. Wake Smith has a remarkable gift for making his subject accessible.

Douglas Graham MacMartin
Senior Lecturer, Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

At last, a realistic and unflinching view of the hard reality of climate choices that are coming. Smith’s treatise is that avoiding a dystopian nightmare future requires levels of political courage in our scientific convictions not seen since the Second World War.

John Moore
Chief Scientist at the College of Global Change and Earth System Science, Beijing Normal University

An overview of climate change and the array of possible responses that manages to be simultaneously comprehensive, detailed, and accessible. It’s jam-packed with the sort of specific, practical detail that is usually missing in such overviews. A valuable contribution and an impressive achievement.

Edward A. Parson
Dan and Rae Emmett Professor of Environmental Law, University of California, Los Angeles

Preview: Pandora's Toolbox


Climate Introduction

Here we will review the basics of climate change – where we currently stand; climate science 101; expected impacts of climate change on humans and natural systems; climate diplomacy and the Paris Agreement; and the surprising conclusions that derive from climate economics.

Full Book Preview

For a sneak peek of Pandora's Toolbox, click the button below to view the chapter outlines and content previews.

Book Preview

Responses to Climate Change

Having defined the problem in section I, we focus here on the customary solutions set. We clarify why transitioning away from fossil fuels will prove necessary and urgent, but also difficult and therefore slow. We will also consider the set of actions required to eliminate the one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions that derive from activities other than burning fossil fuels, including industry, agriculture, and our waste streams. We will pivot to the ways in which people, nations, and the natural world can adapt to whatever degree of climate change we prove unable to avoid. We conclude with the recognition that the entire customary toolset is unlikely to prevent unacceptable levels of climate change and climate damages from accruing late in this century. Net Zero is unlikely to arrive soon enough to save us from a substantially degraded climate. Our grandchildren will need further tools to navigate the world after net zero.


Carbon Removal

One category in this expanded toolset is carbon removal, by which we can both speed the path to net zero and then repair what may be a profoundly damaged climate after net zero. While trees and other biological capture mechanisms are likely to play an important role, their capacity is too limited and their storage reservoirs are too fragile for them to take center stage. In fact, they are to a substantial degree simply greenwashing. We will need to build a huge new industry roughly the size of the current global fossil fuel industry first to scrub carbon from smokestacks and eventually directly from ambient air. All that captured carbon will thereafter need to be pumped back down into the earth’s crust, which is ironically where we got it from. Think of it a bit like reverse oil drilling to clean up the toxic waste dump we have made of our atmosphere and oceans.


Solar Radiation Management

Unfortunately, the climate repair process via carbon capture and sequestration may take a century or more to complete, and the people alive during that atmospheric clean-up may suffer temperatures and related climate damages they consider unbearable. They would likely seek ways to immediately reduce temperatures in a manner that carbon capture does not. That brings us to the other side of our toolbox – solar radiation management. These technologies would seek to reflect back out to space a small fraction of the incoming sunlight and thereby immediately cool the planet. In theory, we could do that on the earth’s surface, or by making clouds more reflective, or by deploying giant mirrors in space. However, the most feasible and efficient way to increase the earth’s reflectivity would be to spray aerosol particles into the lower stratosphere. This appears to be doable and relatively inexpensive, but may prove to be a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences. We would need to ensure we don’t opt for a cure worse than the disease.


Social Ramifications of Climate Intervention

Utilizing the climate repair and harm reduction tools on either side of Pandora’s Toolbox would present the world with unprecedented challenges in the realm of governance. Who would organize and pay for the huge carbon removal industry that would comprise a significant fraction of global GDP over the span of a century or more? How would those funding obligations be allocated among the peoples and nations of the earth? If we seek to increase the earth’s reflectivity, whose hand would be on the global thermostat and whose preferences would be expressed? How would we guard against unintended consequences and who would compensate any harmed parties? Are our ethics sufficiently evolved to fairly navigate the distributive, procedural, and intergenerational justice minefield in which such climate interventions would be situated? If we knew all the right answers, could rally the public support in the political arena to implement them? The full array of social science questions that would arise in the context of climate interventions is explored here.


Prospective Research Agenda

We end by surveying the go-forward research agenda on both sides of our climate interventions toolbox and seek to fathom how we proceed from here.

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