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On Wednesday, October 28, the award-winning PBS science series NOVA, a production of GBH Boston, will debut CAN WE COOL THE PLANET? a one-hour special that takes a fresh approach to covering the climate change crisis.

"For over three decades, NOVA has produced films documenting the growing climate crisis and what we can do about it. Now is a crucial moment for our planet, and NOVA is continuing  the conversation from whether climate change is happening, to how we are going to solve it—even after we reduce carbon emissions to near-zero," explains NOVA Co-Executive Producer Chris Schmidt.

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As wildfires rage in the American West and extreme weather sparks civil unrest around the globe, it is clear that emission reductions alone may not prevent the dire effects of climate change. By investigating new technologies that may help delay the most devastating impacts. 

In response, scientists and engineers are opening another front in the battle to combat climate change by developing technologies that can help us cool the planet—from enhancing  our atmosphere's natural ability to reflect sunlight, to sucking carbon dioxide right out of the air, to enlisting plants.

NOVA joins scientists and skeptics alike to explore the controversial landscape of geoengineering—the effort to build controls for Earth's thermostat. As the calls for action become more urgent, do we understand the potential risks of these unproven technologies? 

Experts agree that the first step for cooling the planet is preventing CO2 from entering the atmosphere. At the same time, we can find ways to remove it.

Throughout the special, viewers discover the different ways that scientists and engineers are trying to tackle carbon, including Jan Wurzbacher of Climeworks whose industrial fans vacuum CO2 out of thin air; Sandra Snæbjörnsdóttirof CarbFix, who is working to turn captured CO2 into solid stone; Aldo Steinfeld of ETH Zurich, whose tech creates liquid carbon fuels out of sunlight and thin air; and Apoorv Sinha at Carbon Upcycling Technologies, who is working to recycle atmospheric CO2 to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete. But, even if these new technologies can scale up to their full potential individually they could only offset a fraction of the world's emissions. 

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As scientist David Keith explains, "We will get to the day where there'll be global celebrations, where we get to net zero day where we bring human CO2 emissions to zero … But on that day, we have not solved the climate problem. All we've done is stop making it worse ..."

If we can't reduce our carbon emissions fast enough, are there technologies that can offer a backstop to extreme climate risks?  

One method scientists are exploring is changing the reflectivity of the planet—making Earth cooler, for example, by brightening clouds. Clouds play a critical role in controlling Earth's temperature by reflecting solar radiation back into space. Sarah Doherty and Armand Neukermans of the Marine Cloud Brightening Project are researching whether we can enhance this phenomena to bounce more light, and heat, back into space.

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They are designing a nozzle system to produce saltwater particles of an optimal size and speed to propel them into marine clouds. Research into the side effects of this method on the surrounding ecosystems is still developing, but outdoor experiments have already begun near the Great Barrier Reef in efforts to cool the waters surrounding the coral. Marine Cloud Brightening is designed to produce localized cooling, but David Keith and Frank Keutsch at Harvard are exploring whether adding reflective particles to the stratosphere could cool the entire planet. To better understand the effects of this form of solar geoengineering, Keutsch and Keith are designing a first of its kind experiment called SCoPEx. 

But with so much uncertainty, some scientists think we are better off investing in a different kind of machine, one developed over millions of years  in nature's own laboratory, with a proven record of safely drawing down CO2 levels: trees. 

CAN WE COOL THE PLANET? introduces scientists exploring natural methods of carbon-capture, from NASA research scientist Lola Fatoyinbo-Agueh, who uses terrestrial and space-based lasers to measure the amount of  carbon stored within forests; to the team at the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich, which employs artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify where forests can be expanded globally to draw down carbon dioxide and to predict exactly how many trees we could plant and how much CO2 they could absorb; to Whendee Silver, who turns agricultural waste into compost, reducing methane emissions and boosting carbon uptake in soil. 

Throughout the film, experts Scott Denning of Colorado State University,Jane Long from The California Council of Science & Technology, Sheila Jasanoff of Harvard's Kennedy School and Steve Pacala from Princeton University analyze these emerging technologies and offer perspective on each solution's capacity to address the world's rising temperatures and control heat in the stratosphere on a global scale. 

"During production, each scientist we followed echoed more or less this sentiment: 'There is no silver bullet to solving climate change, only silver buckshot.' That sums up what we learned in CAN WE COOL THE PLANET? While it's natural to look to these fresh new ideas with hope and optimism, so many of them are still in their infancy. As every scientist in this film agrees, no technology on its own can fix the problem we face," says filmmaker Ben Kalina. 

"That said, as climate change ripples across the planet, the question has shifted from 'should we research these unknown technologies' to 'which technology can scale up most quickly and be the least disruptive?' adds filmmaker Jen Schneider. "We must be hopeful, but also cautious and data-focused as we think about stepping into this new era of climate risk management—and a geoengineered world." 

While no singular technology offers a silver bullet, rapid changes to Earth's climate mean we have already reached a dangerous tipping point, and as a result, public demand for alternative solutions is rising. As technologies once considered futuristic or taboo enter the mainstream, it's critical that we evaluate them soberly, with optimism for the potential they offer, as well as appropriate caution for the risks they carry. 

CAN WE COOL THE PLANET? pushes scientists and viewers to ask the hard questions as time runs out on conventional solutions to climate change, such as, Can geoengineering can really work? How much would it cost? And what are the risks of engineering Earth's climate? If there is one thing experts can agree on it's that there is no perfect solution, but we have to start really looking at what can scale up, and be maintained for decades, if not centuries.

CAN WE COOL THE PLANET? premieres Wednesday, October 28, at 9 p.m. ET/8C on PBS and will be available for streaming online and on the PBS video app.

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CAN WE COOL THE PLANET? is a NOVA Production by Mangrove Media LLC for GBH Boston in association with ARTE France. Produced by Ben Kalina. Co-Produced by Frauke Levin. Director of Cinematography is Jen Schneider. Edited by Rob Tinsworth. Written and Directed by Ben Kalina and Jen Schneider. Senior Producer for NOVA is Caitlin Saks. Executive Producers for NOVA are Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt. NOVA is a production of GBH Boston.

National corporate funding for NOVA is provided by Draper. Major funding for NOVA is provided by the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers. Additional funding is provided by the NOVA Science Trust.

 About NOVA

NOVA is the most popular primetime science series on American television, demystifying the scientific and technological concepts that shape and define our lives, our planet, and our universe. The PBS series is also one of the most widely distributed science programs around the world, and is a multimedia, multiplatform brand reaching more than 55 million Americans every year on TV and online. NOVA's important and inspiring stories of human ingenuity, exploration, and the quest for knowledge are regularly recognized with the industry's most prestigious awards. As part of its mission to make the scientific enterprise accessible to all, NOVA is committed to diversity and inclusiveness in all its work, from the production process to the range of stories we tell and voices we feature. In addition, science educators across the country rely on NOVA for resources used in the classroom as well as in museums, libraries, and after-school programs. NOVA is a production of WGBH Boston; more information can be found at, or by following NOVA on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

About PBS

PBS, with nearly 350 member stations, offers all Americans the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and digital content. Each month, PBS reaches nearly 100 million people through television and nearly 28 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS' broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry's most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. Decades of research confirms that PBS' premier children's media service, PBS KIDS, helps children build critical literacy, math and social-emotional skills, enabling them to find success in school and life. Delivered through member stations, PBS KIDS offers high-quality educational content on TV – including a new 24/7 channel, online at, via an array of mobile apps and in communities across America. More information about PBS is available at, one of the leading dot-org websites on the internet, or by following PBS on Twitter, Facebook or through our apps for mobile and connected devices. Specific program information and updates for press are available at or by following PBS Pressroom on Twitter.

About GBH 

GBH is the leading multiplatform creator for public media in America. As the largest producer of content for PBS and partner to NPR and PRX, GBH delivers compelling experiences, stories and information to audiences wherever they are. GBH produces digital and broadcast programming that engages, illuminates and inspires, through drama and science, history, arts, culture and journalism.

It is the creator of such signature programs as MASTERPIECE, ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, FRONTLINE, NOVA, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, Arthur and Molly of Denali, as well as WORLD Channel and a catalog of streaming series, podcasts and on-demand video. With studios and a newsroom headquartered in Boston, GBH reaches across New England with GBH 89.7, Boston's Local NPR®; CRB Classical 99.5; and CAI, the Cape and Islands NPR® station.

Dedicated to making media accessible to and inclusive of our diverse culture, GBH is a pioneer in delivering media to those who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired. GBH creates curriculum-based digital content for educators nationwide with PBS Learning Media and has been recognized with hundreds of the nation's premier broadcast, digital and journalism awards. Find more information at

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