We have a few researchers talking about how to put something in our atmosphere to protect us from the sun’s warmth and rising temperatures and/or how to remove carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere and sequester it safely somewhere. These are the main two areas of emphasis of ‘climate engineering’.
Most scientists believe that climate engineering, or intentionally manipulating the global climate, is not desirable and would be our last option. While they completely discount removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequestering it underground as ineffective given the size of the effort involved, they are concerned that putting something in the atmosphere to increase reflectivity will be tried and be very dangerous.
A broad range of options have been suggested as to how we can modify our atmosphere to increase its reflectivity where sunlight is directed back into space. These include injecting sulphate particles into the stratosphere mimicing the natural cooling effects of volcanic ash and/or spraying seawater into the air to brighten clouds and reflect more sunlight back into space. Thoughts have gone so far as even to suggest placing giant mirrors into orbit to reflect sunlight before it reaches Earth.
One of the first suggestions was from Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize for his work to understand the stratospheric chemistry to which our ozone is subject. He suggested we inject tiny particles of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to shield Earth from solar radiation that would warm our planet.
The problem is that while Crutzen’s suggestion has spawned much talk of research, according to Anders Levermann (see article below), a Berlin-based climate scientist and Physics Professor, while it might cool the planet on average, it would do nothing to reverse the effect of greenhouse gases. In a Huffington Post article published on May 8, 2015 entitled “Why Climate Engineering Won’t Work” he outlines the problem as he sees it.
He states, “The reason is as simple as fundamental: The extra abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere does not change our climate in a uniform manner. The Arctic, for example, is warming almost twice as much as the tropics. This has to do with a well-known effect called polar amplification. The main reason for this is that warming enhances the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which then snows-off in the dry and cold polar region where it releases energy and warms the atmosphere. Now if this sounds too complicated, one just has to hold up a thermometer in the Arctic and another one in the tropics: They show that temperature up North rises faster than at the equator.”
He continued, “Now reflecting sunlight back into space would have the exact opposite pattern. It would do a lot in the tropics where sunlight is strong, and less in the Arctic and Antarctic. This is fundamentally true and cannot be fixed. So, reflecting radiation back into space could cool the planet on average, but it cannot reverse the effect of the greenhouse gases – not even remotely.”
A recent New York Times article quotes Newt Gingrich, our former House speaker, in 2008 as saying “Instead of penalizing ordinary Americans, we would have an option to address global warming by rewarding scientific invention.” He later added it would “Bring on American ingenuity.” No matter how uninformed his observation, it is attractive for all since it removes the burden of changing anything, instead replacing it with a false hope.
A concern is that the political forces will rally around climate engineering or putting something in the atmosphere because it is “new business” for someone as opposed to reducing existing greenhouse gas emissions through changes in energy sources or usage that is costly for existing industries. Existing industries are powerful lobbying sources that will use their political influence to focus efforts on others or push for climate engineering. Companies small and large, researchers far and wide and entrepreneurs will vie for money and opportunity.
In February of 2015 a committee of the National Academy of Science (NAS) called for study of geoengineering options including federal funding for demonstration projects to test assumptions. This does not mean however that the NAS views geoengineering positively.
In fact, the committee chairwoman, Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science Magazine and a former director of the U.S. Geological Survey, is quoted as telling The Associated Press on an Opinion Page of the New York Times “The public should read this report and say ‘This is downright scary.’ And they should say, ‘If this is our Hail Mary, what a scary, scary place we are in.’ ”
Ms. McNutt’s concern echoes that of futurist Jamais Cascio. He suggested, “Global delays in reducing carbon emissions will likely force the human race to embark upon a set of geoengineering-based responses, not as the complete solution, but simply as a disaster-avoidance measure.”
Both have undoubtedly read a February 25, 2014 study published in Nature magazine that showed that geoengineering would not work. They used an Earth system model and looked at the effectiveness of afforestation, artificial ocean upwelling, ocean iron fertilization, ocean alkalinization and solar radiation management during a high carbon dioxide-emission scenario.
The study team stated, “We find that even when applied continuously and at scales as large as currently deemed possible, all methods are, individually, either relatively ineffective with limited (<8%) warming reductions, or they have potentially severe side effects and cannot be stopped without causing rapid climate change. Our simulations suggest that the potential for these types of climate engineering to make up for failed mitigation may be very limited.”
The evidence is in, existing geoengineering approaches will not work because the costs are too high, the approaches have been proven to be insufficient or with the complexity of the world atmosphere, we will certainly exchange one group of problems for another. This only serves to delay the inevitable until it is too late.
There is a lot of talk about climate change and a lot of delay between discussion and action. We all know we can control climate change by changing the way we live. There is a serious question of whether we will. The big questions are when will we act and what option will we choose.
We must follow our best scientific advice. The scientists have said that “mitigation” or reducing the carbon dioxide modern society puts into the atmosphere is our best option. It unfortunately requires a large change in how various industries conduct their business and in how we live. But we must choose this option and we must do it now. We cannot wait any longer.
Use the following links to access additional information or the source documents for this article.