Among the geoengineering approaches Goodell explores in his book are spraying seawater into ocean clouds to alter their reflectivity, and spraying tiny sulfate particles into the air to offset the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. He said the latter approach could be relatively inexpensive and quickly delivered. On the other hand, the sulfate particles could agglomerate into big chunks once released, proving useless.

Another often-ignored aspect of geoengineering is that, even if it worked, there could be losers as well as winners. If successful, the plan would lower the globe’s mean temperature, but global climate is a complex system. Rain patterns can shift as dramatically as temperature, for example. Will there be some mechanism to compensate farmers in the Sahel, where temperatures have been moderated, but whose crops are now desiccated stumps?

According to Goodell, the state of knowledge of the brave-new-world field of geoengineering is so low that it is dangerous to do anything beyond aggressively funding research in the area. But no matter how we proceed, we need to stop distancing ourselves from the consequences of our actions, he added. This applies to journalists covering the new new thing without context or criticism, or to individuals gorging on their laptop and iPhone while attacking the coal industry. As Time’s Walsh noted, one thing is for certain: “The energy path we’re on is not sustainable for a planet [soon to have] nine billion people.”

Susan Moran is a freelance journalist currently on a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT. She's typically based in Colorado, where she writes about energy development, climate change, agriculture, environmental health, and sustainable business for The New York Times, The Economist, and other publications.