Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Evaluating the efficacy and equity of environmental stopgap measures

Abstract

Contemporary environmental policy is replete with measures that do not fully resolve a problem but are proposed instead to ‘buy time’ for the development of more-durable solutions. We define such measures as ‘stopgap measures’ and examine examples from wildfire risk management, hydrochlorofluorocarbon regulation and Colorado River water management. We introduce an analytical framework to assess stopgaps and apply this framework to solar geoengineering, a controversial stopgap for reducing emissions. Studying stopgaps as a distinct response to environmental crises can help us weigh their merits in comparison to alternative policy and management measures.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Data availability

Descriptions of the case studies considered appear in the Supplementary Information. Full materials are available from the corresponding author.

References

  1. Steffen, W. et al. Trajectories of the Earth system in the Anthropocene. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 115, 8252–8259 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Sato, C. F. & Lindenmeyer, D. B. Meeting the global ecosystem collapse challenge. Conserv. Lett. 11, e12348 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Pielke, R. A. Jr, Prins, G., Rayner, S. & Sarewitz, D. Lifting the taboo on adaptation. Nature 445, 597–598 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Schipper, E. L. F. Conceptual history of adaptation in the UNFCCC process. Rev. Eur. Community Int. Law 15, 82–92 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Wilson, K. A. & Law, E. A. Ethics of conservation triage. Front. Ecol. Evol. 4, 112 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Holling, C. S. (ed.) Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management (Wiley, 1978).

  7. Walters, C. J. Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources (MacMillan, 1986).

  8. Lee, K. N. Compass and Gyroscope: Integrating Science and Politics for the Environment (Island Press, 1993).

  9. Dietz, T., Ostrom, E. & Stern, P. C. The struggle to govern the commons. Science 302, 1907–1912 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Folke, C., Hahn, T., Olsson, P. & Norberg, J. Adaptive governance of socio-ecological systems. Annu. Rev. Env. Resour. 30, 441–473 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Chaffin, B. C., Gosnell, H. & Cosens, B. A. A decade of adaptive governance scholarship: synthesis and future directions. Ecol. Soc. 19, 56 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Harvey, D. The Limits to Capital (Verso, 2006).

  13. Bok, R. ‘By our metaphors you shall know us’: the ‘fix’ of geographical political economy. Prog. Hum. Geog. 43, 1087–1108 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Ekers, M. & Prudham, S. Towards the socio- ecological fix. Env. Plan. A 47, 2438–2445 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Kemp, R. & Rotmans, J. in Towards Environmental Innovation Systems (eds Weber, M. & Hemmelskemp, J.) 33–55 (Springer, 2005).

  16. Geels, F. W. & Schot, J. W. Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Res. Policy 36, 399–417 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Meadowcroft, J. What about the politics? Sustainable development, transition management, and long term energy transitions. Policy Sci. 42, 323–340 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Cagle, S. California power shut offs: when your public utility is owned by private investors. The Guardian (12 October 2019); https://go.nature.com/2TtKoXs

  19. Roberts, D. 3 key solutions to California’s wildfire safety blackout mess. Vox (22 October 2019); https://go.nature.com/3ao3ZPI

  20. McNamara, J. California wildfires and power outages signal long road ahead, but climate ambition sets the right course. Union of Concerned Scientists Blog (1 November 2019); https://go.nature.com/38eHCdO

  21. Koran, M. California power outages could cost region more than $2bn, some experts say. The Guardian (11 October 2019); https://go.nature.com/2PIiwxI

  22. Swain, D. Fire season continues with dry conditions persisting. The California Weather Blog (18 October 2019); https://weatherwest.com/archives/6912

  23. Parson, E. A. Protecting the Ozone Layer: Science and Strategy (Oxford Univ. Press, 2003).

  24. Montreal Protocol Copenhagen Amendment, UN Treaty Collection (UNEP, 2003); https://go.nature.com/38lFe4W

  25. Maxwell, J. & Wiener, F. B. There’s money in the air: the CFC ban and Dupont’s regulatory strategy. Bus. Strategy Environ. 6, 276–286 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. James, I. States sign short-term Colorado River drought plan, but global warming looms over long-term solutions. Arizona Republic (20 May 2019); https://go.nature.com/39mMDCv

  27. Shepherd, H. Implementing the human right to water in the Colorado River Basin. Willamette L. Rev. 47, 425–466 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Sullivan, A., White, D. D. & Hanemann, M. Designing collaborative governance: Insights from the drought contingency planning process for the lower Colorado River basin. Environ. Sci. Policy 91, 39–49 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. National Research Council Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth (National Academies Press, 2015).

  30. IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (eds Masson-Delmotte, V. et al.) (WMO, 2018).

  31. Long, J. C. S. & Shepherd, J. G. in Global Environmental Change. Handbook of Global Environmental Pollution Vol. 1 (ed. Freedman, B.) 757–770 (Springer, 2014); https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-5784-4_24

  32. Asayama, S. & Hulme, M. Engineering climate debt: temperature overshoot and peak-shaving as risky subprime mortgage lending. Clim. Policy 19, 937–946 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. MacMartin, D. G., Ricke, K. L. & Keith, D. W. Solar geoengineering as part of an overall strategy for meeting the 1.5°C Paris target. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 376, 20160454 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Tilmes, S., Müller, R. & Salawitch, R. The sensitivity of polar ozone depletion to proposed geoengineering schemes. Science 320, 1201–1204 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Visioni, D., Pitari, G., di Genova, G., Tilmes, S. & Cionni, I. Upper tropospheric ice sensitivity to sulfate geoengineering. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 18, 14867–14887 (2018).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Tilmes, S. et al. The hydrological impact of geoengineering in the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP). J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 11036–11058 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Mercado, L. M. et al. Impact of changes in diffuse radiation on the global land carbon sink. Nature 458, 1014–1017 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Jones, A. et al. The impact of abrupt suspension of solar radiation management (termination effect) in experiment G2 of the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP). J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 9743–9752 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Kravitz, B. et al. Comparing surface and stratospheric impacts of geoengineering with different SO2 injection strategies. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 124, 7900–7918 (2019).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Whyte, K. in Engineering the Climate: The Ethics of Solar Radiation Management (ed. Preston, C. J.) 65–76 (Lexington Books, 2012).

  41. McLaren, D. Mitigation deterrence and the ‘moral hazard’ in solar radiation management. Earth’s Future 4, 596–602 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Horton, J. & Keith, D. W. in Climate Justice and Geoengineering: Ethics and Policy in the Atmospheric Anthropocene (ed. Preston, C. J.) 79–92 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

  43. Williamson, P. & Turley, C. Ocean acidification in a geoengineering context. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 370, 4317–4342 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Parson, E. A. & Ernst, L. International governance of climate engineering. Theor. Inq. Law 14, 307–338 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  45. Kravitz, B. et al. First simulations of designing stratospheric sulfate aerosol geoengineering to meet multiple simultaneous climate objectives. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 122, 12616–12634 (2017).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Emissions Gap Report 2019. Executive Summary (UNEP, 2019).

  47. Hulme, M. Why We Disagree about Climate Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009).

  48. Geden, O. The Paris Agreement and the inherent inconsistency of climate policymaking. WIREs Clim. Change 7, 790–797 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Primary funding was supplied by UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and The Nature Conservancy NatureNet Science Fellows program. B.K. was supported in part by the National Science Foundation through agreement CBET-1931641, the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute, and the ‘Prepared for Environmental Change’ Grand Challenge initiative. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is operated for the US Department of Energy by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC05-76RL01830. E.A.P. was supported in part by the Open Philanthropy Project.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

H.J.B. coordinated the paper. L.J.M. contributed to the organization and writing of the paper. O.G., P.K., L.K., W.K., B.K., J.N., E.A.P., C.J.P., D.L.S., L.S. and S.T. contributed substantially to the development of the framework and its presentation.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Holly Jean Buck.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Discussion

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Buck, H.J., Martin, L.J., Geden, O. et al. Evaluating the efficacy and equity of environmental stopgap measures. Nat Sustain 3, 499–504 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0497-6

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0497-6

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing