The deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the earth's climate to offset global warming - is a nightmare fix for climate change - Jeff Goodell
Let's pretend that the US didn't recently pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Let's also pretend that all the other countries that scolded it for withdrawing also met their Paris pledges on deadline. Heck, let's pretend that that everyone in the whole world did their very best to cut emissions, starting today. Even if all that make-believing came true, the world would still get very hot.
Fact is, if you add up all the emissions cuts every country promised in their Paris pledges, it still wouldn't keep the planet's temperature from rising beyond the agreement's goals—to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2˚ C higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution, and as close to 1.5˚ C as possible. If Earthlings want to avoid a heat-soaked, tide-swamped, and war-clouded future, they need to do more. This raises the specter of geoengineering: things like seeding the stratosphere with sulfur, or using ice crystals to dissolve heat-trapping clouds. But geoengineering is a dirty word many climate scientists and climate policy experts avoid, because humans meddling with nature doesn't have the best track record. Which is why they say world leaders need to come up with some rules about geoengineering ASAP, before desperation over the coming climate catastrophe forces humanity to do something it might well regret.
Geoengineering strategies generally fall into two categories: removing carbon dioxide and reducing heat. The former problem has vexed researchers for years. Sure, they can do it on small scales—carbon scrubbers are essential life support aboard closed systems like the International Space Station and submarines. But installing systems large enough make a dent in all those parts per million is functionally impossible. It would be expensive, energy-intensive, and also nobody really knows how to do it. Doing the same with reforestation would require covering nearly half of all world’s landmass with trees. Not likely to happen. And despite the hype, carbon capture and storage—sucking the stuff up before it leaves the smokestack and pumping it underground—is still in its infancy.
Heat reduction is currently more practical. You can do it many ways, and all of them involve either blocking the sun's heat from coming into Earth’s atmosphere, or allowing more of Earth's heat to radiate into space. For blocking heat, sulfur injections are probably the most likely to work. "It scatters and reflects solar radiation back into space," says Ulrike Niemeier, a climate scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, and co-author of a new paper in Science discussing that geoengineering technology and its risks. The concept comes from volcanic eruptions. Large ones send gobs of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, triggering temporary global cooling events. After Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, scientists measured 17 million tons1 of additional sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. The Northern Hemisphere cooled by about 0.5˚ to 0.6° C in the aftermath.
Compared to carbon removal, sulfur injection isn't so hard. The basic technology already exists: High-flying jets capable of carrying tanks of sulfur into the stratosphere. The difficulty arises when you consider the scale at which you'd have to deploy those jets in order to get meaningful cooling. Niemeier and her co-author estimate that 1˚ C of cooling would require 6,700 flights a day. Over the course of a year, that would cost around $20 billion.
OK, how about that other tack, letting Earth shed more heat into space? Similarly, this strategy would involve high-flying jets. Their targets would be cirrus clouds, those wispy strokes of white common on pleasant days. Cirrus clouds form high in the atmosphere, and are made from particles of ice. "The cirrus clouds that form at high altitudes absorb some of the radiation that would otherwise be emitted to space. In that sense they act similar to greenhouse gases," says Ulrike Lohmann. That’s a different Ulrike than the author of the previous paper; Ulrike was just a popular name for girls in north Germany for a while, and this one is a climate scientist at ETH Zurich's Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Science and co-author of a separate Science paper describing how eliminating these high altitude cirrus clouds could cool the planet.
The concept is sort of counterintuitive. Cirrus clouds are made of ice. In order to prevent them from forming, jets would have to seed the atmosphere with tiny particles like desert dust or pollen. These act as nuclei for ice to form around. The idea is that these particles will cause fewer, but larger ice crystals to form than would in a typical high altitude cirrus cloud. "This reduces both the amount of scattered sunlight and allows more longwave radiation to escape to space," says Lohmann.
Of course, sending a fleet of planes to wage war on high altitude clouds would be a similarly expensive endeavor. But Lohmann points out that it would probably be a better option. In addition to allowing radiation to escape, the large ice crystals would take up more of the water vapor present in the upper atmosphere. "Since water vapor is also a greenhouse gas, reducing water vapor in the upper troposphere also contributes to reducing the warming effect," she says.
Geoengineering, what could go wrong?
That said, neither she nor Niemeier advocates employing either technology at the moment. Too many unknowns. Suddenly cooling the planet could cause freaky weather all over the world. It could interrupt India's annual monsoon. The globe's wind patterns could change completely. Plus, you'd have to keep flying planes into the stratosphere for a very long time—remember, all that carbon dioxide is still in the atmosphere, releasing trapped heat. Also, poisoning the ocean.
But the technical challenges of geoengineering are minimal compared to the challenges governments face in deciding when, if, and how to deploy these technologies. The biggest worry of all is that some desperate country, or group of countries, might decide to do some geoengineering all on their own. "Imagine if somebody starts flying planes in the atmosphere full of sulfur dust, and then India's monsoons are late. This would be a geopolitical crisis," says Janos Pasztor, the executive director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative, and co-author of yet another Science paper, this one specifically addressing the policy implications raised by the former two.
Source: Nick Stockton, Climate Change Is Here. It’s Time to Talk About Geoengineering, Wired, July 28, 2017.
Heavy , heavy terraforming
Some experts contend we may be approaching a moment when nothing other than geoengineering can meet the international community’s promise—made when signing the UN Climate Change Convention at the Earth Summit in 1992...
Champions of solar radiation management (SRM) say this is the answer we’ve been looking for. SRM techniques cool the planet by reflecting sunlight away from it. The most discussed SRM technique involves continuously injecting tiny reflective particles – most often, sulphur – into the stratosphere to evenly cover the planet and shield us from the sun’s rays. However, there are reasons for caution, if not outright scepticism, about the wisdom of this techno-fix for climate change.
Scattering aerosols in the sky would cool the planet, but it would block crucial sunlight for plants.
Pumping aerosols into the stratosphere may buy us more time, but it’s no substitute for cutting carbon emissions—and we still don’t know enough to do it responsibly.
Dimming the sky won’t save the world’s harvests.
Geoengineering raises a host of scientific, political, and even moral and philosophical issues. While some may find it an interesting trick to solve our global climate problem, others view it as strange and disturbing. But climate change is not going away in the future, and it is time we started to talk about geoengineering as a possible part of the solution for our planet.
A group of Harvard scientists plans to tackle climate change through geoengineering by blocking out the sun. The concept of artificially reflecting sunlight has been around for decades, yet this will be the first real attempt at controlling Earth's temperature through solar engineering.
The project, called Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx), will spend $3 million to test their models by launching a steerable balloon in the southwest US 20 kilometers into the stratosphere. Once the balloon is in place, it will release small particles of calcium carbonate.
However, the gravest danger that geoengineering poses is that it only masks the real problem. We might spray sulfur into the atmosphere, but there would still be too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Therefore, if we were to stop geoengineering, the climate would snap back to where it was before, and likely get even worse, assuming that we didn’t stop emitting CO2.
Hands off Mother Earth!
In a widely-supported Manifesto released today, 23 international organizations, six “Alternative Nobel Prize” recipients, and 87 national organizations from five continents called for a halt to testing and political consideration of climate geoengineering. The signatories include Indigenous Peoples’ and farmers’ movements and climate justice and environmental networks, among others.
Humans have arguably been unintentionally "geoengineering" the planet for at least the past several decades or longer by pumping tons of methane, carbon dioxide and other climate-altering molecules into the atmosphere. But new research finds that trying to undo the effects of all those years of emissions with intentional geoengineering still risks doing more harm than good.
Nobody knows for sure how much time humanity has until global warming makes the planet unlivable for large numbers of people. What’s clearer is that such a moment in history is not only thinkable but also, without dramatic technological or political changes, approaching. The scientists I spoke to aren’t frantically yelling, “Pull the goalie!” They’re saying something more like this: It’s getting late in the game, and if we must do the unthinkable, let’s understand the risks—lest we fail to act before all is lost.
The impacts of geoengineering on the global scale are unknown, in part because no massive geoengineering project has been undertaken ― apart from human-induced climate change. But models are potentially troubling. Some suggest geoengineering will disrupt rainfall worldwide and damage the earth’s protective ozone layer. A Rutgers University study published in January suggested that suddenly stopping a large geoengineering project, once it has started, could lead to rapid warming, pushing species into extinction and accelerating climate change.
Solving the climate imperative will require cutting greenhouse gas emissions down to zero, ideally in this century, and probably sucking some out. But solar geoengineering could prove a critical complement to mitigation, giving humanity time to develop the political will and the technologies to achieve the needed decarbonization.
It might be worse than letting climate change play out.
With interest in such research rising, and the risks uncertain, that conservation needs to start now.
Scientists may finally put some of the basic principles to the test in 2018—and not everyone is happy about that.
Geoengineering — the idea of deliberately fiddling with the Earth's climate to reduce global warming — has long been seen as a preposterous notion. Surely we'd have to be truly desperate before we ever tried something like blotting out sunlight to cool the planet.
Right. But that's why it's so striking that many scientists now think we should at least consider the idea
Take our Futurography quiz!
Geoengineering comes in two distinct flavours. The first is greenhouse gas removal: those ideas that would seek to remove and store carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The second is solar radiation management: the ideas that would seek to reflect a level of sunlight away from the Earth.
It’s no longer science fiction to imagine altering the Earth’s atmosphere to try to cool the planet. In fact, several major “geoengineering” experiments are already underway.
The scientists pursuing them believe that there’s already too much carbon in the atmosphere — and that to avoid catastrophic climate change, we’ll need to resort to climate-cooling technologies.
Solar radiation management is an idea that can reduce some of the risks of global warming by blocking out a small amount of sunlight. It sounds like science fiction, and is only in the early stages of research, but it’s being taken seriously by climate scientists and environmentalists. Social scientists concerned with the potential effects of global warming are also taking an interest.
It involves spraying tiny reflective particles – such as sulphur dioxide – into the upper atmosphere, the stratosphere. They would remain up there for a year or two, reflecting away some of the energy from the sun before it reaches the Earth’s lower atmosphere.
Using technofixes to tinker with global climate systems is an excuse to avoid unpopular but necessary measures to reduce carbon emissions.
To solve the problem, we can do two things: find ways to reflect sun’s heat (solar-radiation management) or reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions (carbon management). Study after study show that the only way we can reach zero emissions without torpedoing the global economy is by investing in carbon-capture technologies.
TO HELP CURE the planet’s ailments, Zhen Dai suggests antacid. In powdered form, calcium carbonate—often used to relieve upset stomachs—can reflect light; by peppering the sky with the shiny white particles, the Harvard researcher thinks it might be possible to block just enough
In this excerpt from The Planet Remade, Oliver Morton imagines that a group of countries threatened by climate change go rogue.
As the threat of global warming grows more urgent, a few scientists are considering radical—and possibly extremely dangerous—schemes for reengineering the climate by brute force. Their ideas are technologically plausible and quite cheap. So cheap, in fact, that a rich and committed environmentalist could act on them tomorrow. And that’s the scariest part.
EVERY COUNTRY ON Earth, save for cough one, has banded together to cut emissions and stop the runaway heating of our only home. That’s nearly 200 countries working to keep the global average temperature from climbing 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
Phenomenal. But what if cooperation and emissions reduction aren’t enough?
Geoengineering, or tinkering with the atmosphere to address problems we have caused, is an unfortunate term that includes very different technologies under a catchall umbrella for large-scale ways to not crash the bus and leave future generations with an unmanageable climate.
The idea behind solar geoengineering is simple. For the last four decades, humanity has struggled to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas entering the atmosphere. We have decommissioned nuclear plants, introduced millions of new gasoline-burning cars to the roadway, and dawdled through treaty after treaty. Meanwhile, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has only risen.
LET'S PRETEND THAT the US didn't recently pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Let's also pretend that all the other countries that scolded it for withdrawing also met their Paris pledges on deadline. Heck, let's pretend that that everyone in the whole world did their very best to cut emissions, starting today. Even if all that make-believing came true, the world would still get very hot.
The climate system is continuing to unravel and the ongoing geoengineering programs are fueling the fire. The signs are everywhere and visible to all that are willing to open their eyes. As alarming as the climate meltdown is, the total denial of global geoengineering by the whole of the science community is just as concerning. We all find ourselves in a literal circus of insanity in which the patently obvious is categorically denied by the so called “experts”, climate engineering is the most important case in point.
LOOK UP! Now is the time to take back our skies. Our environment and our planet is on a dead end collision with the after effects of SRM and SAG Geoengineering that has already been going on for several decades. We are calling on all people from all around the world to participate in their local Global March Against Chemtrails And Geoengineering educational events.
UK SKY WATCH is a collective of concerned UK residents awakening to the fact that the geoengineering of our skies was the biggest issue, literally 'above' all others and 'affecting' all others, that needed immediate prioritised awareness-raising to bring to a halt. There are countless other wonderful chemtrails awareness groups in the UK and around the world with more starting up every day as people wake up from their denial.
Geoengineering is the intentional, large-scale technological manipulation of the Earth’s systems, often discussed as a techno-fix for combating climate change. Climate geoengineering technologies can be divided into three broad areas: so-called solar radiation management (reflecting sunlight to space), greenhouse gas removal and sequestration and weather modification.
The Federation of International Geo-Engineering Societies (FedIGS) is a collaborative forum within which learned societies or associations involved in engineering with, on, or in geo-materials can meet and interact. The purpose of the Federation is to facilitate interaction among the member societies, explore opportunities to promote their common interests and provide a unified response to common issues through effective collective actions that are more effective than individual responses of the members.
Geo-engineering is the study and implementation of technical ways to change (and arguably improve) things like weather patterns, river paths, soils, climates and sea currents on Earth. Recently, geo-engineering has received special attention for efforts to combat global warming.