David Keith (physicist)

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David Keith
Scientific career
FieldsApplied physics
InstitutionsHarvard University

David W. Keith is Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics for Harvard University's Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Professor of Public Policy for the Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University.[1] He is also board member and acting chief scientist at Carbon Engineering.[2]

Keith's research has spanned several domains, including climate-related technology assessment and policy analysis, technology development, atmospheric sciences, and physics.[3]

Early life[edit]

Keith grew up an only child in Ottawa Ontario in the home of a British-born field biologist and Canadian Wildlife Service civil servant. His stepmother was also a biologist. In 1986 he graduated with a B.S. in Physics from the University of Toronto. In 1991, he earned his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the field of Experimental Physics.[4]


Keith entered public life as a university professor in the early 1990s. As well as his academic pursuits, he also seeks commercial glory and has partnered with successful venture capitalists such as Bill Gates and N. Murray Edwards as well as Chevron Corporation, Occidental Petroleum, and mining conglomerate BHP.[5][6][7][8]

Academic career[edit]

In 1992, Keith worked at the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie-Mellon University.[9] In September 2010, Keith worked at the University of Calgary.[10][11] By October 2011, he worked in the Kennedy School at Harvard University.[12]

Keith has worked on solar geoengineering since 1992, when he wrote one of the first assessments of the technology and its policy implications.[9] Since Keith's 1992 paper, which introduced a structured comparison of cost and risk, and a later review paper that first described the moral hazard and set geoengineering in the post-war history of weather control,[citation needed] he has published:

  • in 2010 a method to reduce the amount of sulfur needed for a given radiative forcing;[11]
  • in 2010 a proposal for self-levitating photophoretic particles that might limit ozone loss;[10]
  • in 2011 he co-authored the first large-scale survey of public perception as to geoengineering;[12]
  • in 2012 the first quantitative analysis of "regional inequality" of "solar radiation management";[13]
  • he supervised the first economics Ph.D. to focus on geoengineering, and together with his student Moreno-Cruz in 2012 published an economic analysis of "optimal" decisions under result uncertainty.[14][15]
  • in 2013 he proposed a two-threshold system that combines "deployment moratoria" with a pathway for regulating "small-scale" (sic) research;[16][14]

In September 2013, Keith released a book, A Case for Climate Engineering, detailing a controversial strategy for slowing climate change. He wrote: "A leading scientist long concerned about climate change, David Keith offers no naïve proposal for an easy fix to what is perhaps the most challenging question of our time. But he argues that after decades during which very little progress has been made in reducing carbon emissions, we must put climate engineering on the table and consider it responsibly... This book provides a clear and accessible overview of the costs and risks, and how climate engineering might fit into a larger program for managing climate change."[17] The book garnered the attention of Stephen Colbert and he appeared in a 9 December 2013 segment on The Colbert Report in which he discussed his geoengineering idea to slow climate change by spraying reflective particles into the upper atmosphere.[18][19] He wanted to "have a fleet of planes deposit tons of sulfuric acid into the atmosphere."[20] His critics include a University of Chicago geophysicist named Raymond Pierrehumbert who termed the idea "wildly, utterly, howlingly barking mad,"[4] and the USA Today editorial board, amongst others.[21]

Keith is the co-director, with Gernot Wagner, of the Solar Geoengineering Research Program that was founded by Harvard University in 2017.[22]

Keith is one of the investigators together with principal investigator Frank Keutsch in the "sun-dimming" project SCoPEx, which aims to seed the atmosphere with particles that would reflect the sunlight and lead, if his calculations are correct, to reduced solar wattage and hence reduced ambient temperatures.[23] The project calls for a balloon to seed the stratosphere with a chemical and as of January 2020 was supposed to be launched in autumn 2020.[4]

In February 2021, the summer 2021 plan to launch a stratospheric seeder balloon from Kiruna's Esrange Space Center in Lapland ran into opposition from the Swedes who wrote a heated letter to Per Bolund, the Swedish minister for environment and the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), the latter of whom said "The flight will only be conducted provided that it is compliant with national and international regulations. The process to find out if this flight is legally compliant and ethically appropriate is ongoing. As of today we don’t know whether there will be a flight or not."[24] On 31 March 2021, the SSC "said it had decided not to conduct the technical test" in the face of opposition from the local Sami reindeer herders and other environmental groups such as the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, who thought the techniques "too dangerous to ever be used" in spite of the fact that the project was backed by Bill Gates.[25][26][27][28]

Commercial career[edit]

While teaching at the University of Calgary, in 2009 Keith founded Carbon Engineering, which seeks to capitalize on the removal of carbon dioxide from the air.[23]

Public comments[edit]

In 2010, Keith testified before committees of the US Congress and the UK Parliament. He presented to US National Academy meetings in 2000, 2009 and 2013 and was coauthor of the geoengineering sub-chapter (WG 2, 4.7) of the Third IPCC Report and served on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report committee.[14]

Keith was a member of the Geoengineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty working group for UK Royal Society's 2009 report,[29] as well as the 18-member Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) Climate Remediation Research report, which seems to have been published between 2010 and 2015.[30] The authors of the BPC report, which predated a National Academies report on the same subject, believe "the (US) federal government should embark on a focused and systematic program of research into climate remediation."[30]


Keith has been featured on the Discovery Channel,[31] did an interview on BBC News HARDTalk in November 2011,[32][33] has presented his thoughts to the TED forum in September 2007,[34] participated in a debate at the Royal Geographical Society in 2009,[35] and appeared in a documentary on geoengineering currently under production.[15]


Keith is sceptical about the benefits of fuel cell vehicles using compressed hydrogen.[36] He is bullish on solar energy.[37]


  1. ^ "Harvard Kennedy School - David Keith". Hks.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  2. ^ "People — Carbon Engineering". Carbonengineering.com. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  3. ^ Vidal, John (4 February 2018). bill-gates "How Bill Gates aims to clean up the planet" Check |url= value (help). the Guardian. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Montlake, Simon (23 January 2020). "Should we fiddle with Earth's thermostat? This man might know how". The Christian Science Monitor.
  5. ^ Hamilton, Tyler (8 October 2015). "Snatching CO2 back from the air". TheStar.com. Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd.
  6. ^ Eisenberg, Anne (2013-01-05). "Pulling Carbon Dioxide Out of Thin Air". New York Times. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  7. ^ Gunther, Marc (7 October 2011). "The business of cooling the planet". FORTUNE. Time Inc.
  8. ^ Silcoff, Sean (21 March 2019). "B.C.'s Carbon Engineering secures $68-million to commercialize CO2-removal technology". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  9. ^ a b Keith, David W.; Dowlatabadi, Hadi (July 7, 1992). "A Serious Look at Geoengineering" (PDF). Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union. 73 (27): 289 and 292–293. Bibcode:1992EOSTr..73..289K. doi:10.1029/91eo00231. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 1, 2015. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  10. ^ a b Keith, D. W. (2010). "Photophoretic levitation of engineered aerosols for geoengineering". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107 (38): 16428–16431. Bibcode:2010PNAS..10716428K. doi:10.1073/pnas.1009519107. PMC 2944714. PMID 20823254.
  11. ^ a b Pierce, Jeffrey R.; Weisenstein, Debra K.; Heckendorn, Patricia; Peter, Thomas; Keith, David W. (2010). "Efficient formation of stratospheric aerosol for climate engineering by emission of condensible vapor from aircraft". Geophysical Research Letters. 37 (18): L18805. Bibcode:2010GeoRL..3718805P. doi:10.1029/2010GL043975.
  12. ^ a b Mercer, A. M.; Keith, D. W.; Sharp, J. D. (2011-10-24). "Public understanding of solar radiation management - IOPscience". Environmental Research Letters. 6 (4): 044006. Bibcode:2011ERL.....6d4006M. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/6/4/044006.
  13. ^ Moreno-Cruz, Juan B.; Ricke, Katharine L.; Keith, David W. (2012). "A simple model to account for regional inequalities in the effectiveness of solar radiation management". Climatic Change. 110 (3–4): 649–668. doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0103-z. S2CID 18903547.
  14. ^ a b c "Solar Geoenginering — David Keith". Keith.seas.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  15. ^ a b Moreno-Cruz, Juan B.; Keith, David W. (2012-05-17). "Climate policy under uncertainty: a case for solar geoengineering". Climatic Change. 121 (3): 431–444. doi:10.1007/s10584-012-0487-4.
  16. ^ Parson, Edward A.; Keith, David W. (2013). "End the Deadlock on Governance of Geoengineering Research" (PDF). Science. Keith.seas.harvard.edu. 339 (6125): 1278–9. Bibcode:2013Sci...339.1278P. doi:10.1126/science.1232527. PMID 23493699. S2CID 206546509. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  17. ^ Keith, David (2015-09-30). "A Case for Climate Engineering". The MIT Press.
  18. ^ "David Keith - Video Clip | Comedy Central". Cc.com. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  19. ^ "The Colbert Report (2005–2014) - David Keith". IMDb.com, an Amazon company. 9 December 2013.
  20. ^ DAY, PATRICK KEVIN (10 December 2013). "Stephen Colbert's guest says sulfuric acid could stop global warming". Los Angeles Times.
  21. ^ "Geoengineering won't solve climate change: One View". Reno Gazette Journal. 18 February 2015. |first1= missing |last1= (help)
  22. ^ "Harvard Scientists Moving Ahead on Plans for Atmospheric Geoengineering Experiment". MIT Technology Review. March 24, 2017. Retrieved 2017-12-19.
  23. ^ a b Tollefson, Jeff (2018). "First sun-dimming experiment will test a way to cool Earth". Nature. 563 (7733): 613–615. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-07533-4. PMID 30479388.
  24. ^ Greenfield, Patrick (8 February 2021). "Balloon test flight plan under fire over solar geoengineering fears". Guardian News & Media Limited.
  25. ^ "Sweden rejects pioneering test of solar geoengineering tech". Reuters. 31 March 2021.
  26. ^ Fountain, Henry; Flavelle, Christopher (2 April 2021). "Test Flight for Sunlight-Blocking Research Is Canceled". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Blakely, Rhys (8 April 2021). "Space agency ditches Scopex plan to dim the sun with dust". Times of London.
  28. ^ Louise, Nickie (3 April 2021). "Sweden canceled Bill Gates' controversial climate geoengineering project (SCoPEx) aiming to block the sun to stop global warming". TechStartups.com.
  29. ^ "Geoengineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty" (PDF). 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2015.
  30. ^ a b "Task Force on Climate Remediation Research" (PDF). Bipartisanpolicy.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  31. ^ "Geo-engineering: Removing carbon from air - Discovery Channel". Geo-engineering.blogspot.com. 2008-10-23. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  32. ^ "BBC News Channel - HARDtalk, David Keith, environmental scientist". Bbc.co.uk. 2011-11-14. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  33. ^ "The original David Keith Interview on BBC Hard talk show Host - Stephen Sackur". YouTube. 2012-01-22. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  34. ^ "David Keith: A critical look at geoengineering against climate change | TED Talk". TED.com. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  35. ^ [1] Archived April 28, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-01. Retrieved 2016-03-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  37. ^ Keith, David. "I Was Wrong About the Limits of Solar. PV Is Becoming Dirt Cheap". Greentech Media. Retrieved 7 February 2018.

External links[edit]