Can Geoengineering Really Fix Climate Change?

climate_change_geoengineering_NASAEveryone seems to be wracking their brains about how to combat climate change these days. From the conservatively pragmatic to the impressively ambitious, there seem to be no end of theories on what will ultimately slow the heating of the atmosphere. While most of us have already heard of, and probably implemented, solutions like less driving and paring down on landfill refuse, there’s a whole lot of other ideas on the table these days that take a more imaginative tact.

One concept that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has proposed is called geoengineering: a fascinating collection of brainstorms that would mostly be relegated to the extreme of impressively ambitious goals. One approach that you probably heard about a few years ago involved wrapping Greenland in a huge blanket to reduce glacier melt.

While the success of this idea is still being measured, there have been lots of other ideas proposed as well. They include:

  • Creating giant solar buffers, or shields
  • Pumping spurts of aerosols into the atmosphere to cool the temp.
  • Erecting giant stand-alone cloud seeders on the surface of the ocean
  • Mining the earth’s vast storage of silicate rocks

The interesting thing is that the IPCC has actually thrown its weight behind some of the ideas. One proposal the IPCC has entertained involves carbon capture methods that essentially block the carbon from being re-emitted to the atmosphere. The captured carbon could then be stored in capsules underground.

It’s no surprise that this type of geoeneneering has received a fair amount of push back in recent years, as well. Critics argue that using unproven science to engineer the atmosphere comes with its own unknown risks – risks that could make the problem worse, rather than better.

Aerosols, Scientific American pointed out way back in 2008, could actually worsen droughts, not improve them. And remember that phenomena that Canadian environmentalists discovered years ago called acid rain? Tampering with the content of our atmosphere could change what falls to the earth.

But what’s really interesting is that both sides of this argument are pretty much airing the same criticisms of the other: Neither side feels putting all the eggs in the other one’s basket is a good idea. Both are afraid that human inertia will win out over the other side’s ability to reverse climate change. Those who feel that renewable energy sources, reducing carbon emissions and other human-directed methods is the answer aren’t sure they want to put the fate of the planet in the hands of industries driven by novel design. Those who support geoengineering aren’t sure humans have the motivation or the organization to drastically change the way we live. And both sides predict disaster if something isn’t done quickly.

And unfortunately, both may right.

There’s tremendous risk in innovation. As University of Washington Professor Stephen Gardiner points out, ethics have to be at the forefront of geoengineering concepts. Political inertia has affected our ability to implement global policies, but using geoengineering as an “intervention” could still herald the same effect.

“We might try and adopt a quick technological fix but one that holds the worst impacts for a few decades without much attention to what happens after that,” said Gardiner in an interview with the Guardian.

Ethics is also at the core of what controls our ability to reshape the way we live. It’s far harder to implement global policies that cut profits from carbon sources than it is to try to come up with a quick fix that someone else designs.

But as scientists have pointed out, we’re fast reaching the age of consequences when revamping human nature may not have the impact we would hope. It has taken generations to put better cars on the road, despite the fact that we have had the technology for decades.

And sitting in an apartment in Vancouver, one of the greenest cities in the world, with green bylaws and landfill reduction policies in force and a mountain of challenges clearly still being met, it seems abundantly clear that human nature, like technology works or fails based on the ethical policies that drive the innovation.

Geoengineering can work if those innovations are driven by the same policy that drives success in how we handle carbon emissions and our garbage: ethical, sustainable management, not profit margins and Nobel Prize-sized notoriety.

And that’s the catch. Irrespective of the answer applied, it all comes back to how we look at our relationship to the future. If Mother Nature has taught us anything, it’s the fact that there are no quick fixes. Stopping climate change requires making sure that the technology we investigate and policies we choose  will be sustainable not only for us, but for future generations.

 Image credit: NASA Goddard Flight Photostream

Jan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

51 responses

  1. Climate change is as natural as the tides. It has been going on since our Atmosphere formed billions of years ago. Nothing can stop it. It will go on till Sol becomes a Red Giant and burns the Earth to a cinder in several billion years.

    1. Current CC is occurring much faster than past natural climate change. Your same old argument over and over again. Stop this silly denial of science and support efforts to slow down CC including research on practical geo-engineering methods.

      1. Well seems like the IPCC got it wrong about the oceans warming according to the latest BASA report and shows most methane released into the atmosphere is caused by a natural formation in the USA and a study shows that climate change models overstate CO2 emmissons form plants by 17%
        What else have the so called models gotten wrong?

        1. Thank you for posting the link. In about two seconds I saw how you misunderstood the article and then used it as a misinformed backing point for your ignorance. This is one of the three types of information deniers use to back up their ridiculous platform: Cherry picking it is called. The other two are misinformation and blatant lies.

        2. It’s idiots like you that can’t even begin to comprehend what you read, what part of this from the NASA article you don’t understand, I bet the whole thing, In the 21st century, greenhouse gases have continued to accumulate in the atmosphere, just as they did in the 20th century, but global average surface air temperatures have stopped rising in tandem with the gases. The temperature of the top half of the world’s oceans — above the 1.24-mile mark — is still climbing, but not fast enough to account for the stalled air temperatures.

          Many processes on land, air and sea have been invoked to explain what is happening to the “missing” heat. One of the most prominent ideas is that the bottom half of the ocean is taking up the slack, but supporting evidence is slim.

          the scientist have no Idea what is going on just unproven theories…….

        3. Saw 1st 10 articles. After removing those over 10 years old, down to 7. removed those dealing with paleoclimatology , down to 5. 3 of those had to do with things the author wanted included in climate modeling, two had to do with possible explanations for temperature trends in specific portions of ocean or atmosphere not discussed in prior modeling. No anti-AGW articles in 1st 10. Im sure the other 1490 about the same. Wont bother reading them all. So you are welcome.

        4. Jeffronimo, you reasons for removing papers does not make any sense. I suggest reading the rebuttals section:

          Criticism: Papers on the list are outdated.

          Rebuttal: The age of any scientific paper is irrelevant. Using this argument would mean dismissing Svante Arrhenius’s 1896 paper “On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground” and the basis for greenhouse theory. Regardless, there are over 1000 papers published since 2000 and over 1250 papers published since 1990 on the list.

          Criticism: Papers on the list do not argue against AGW.

          Rebuttal: This is a strawman argument as the list not only includes papers that support skeptic arguments against ACC/AGW but also Alarmism. Thus, a paper does not have to argue against AGW to still support skeptic arguments against alarmist conclusions (e.g. Hurricanes are getting worse due to global warming). Valid skeptic arguments include that AGW is exaggerated or inconsequential, such as those made by Richard S. Lindzen Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Science at MIT and John R. Christy Ph.D. Professor of Atmospheric Science at UHA.

          I suggest reading comprehension next time.

        5. I never misinformed anyone
          Just because you don’t like the facts you still can’t deny them

          The article clearly states there has been no significant warming of the oceans below a mile of the surface.

          My wasn’t cherry picking at all

        6. Well you can read what you want and others can also

          Fact of the matter is that is that NASA says the oceans have risen in temperature in the last 12-15 years.

          If you want to say NASA scientist are cherry picking go ahead

      2. Junk science and falsifying data to get Government grant money so those “scientists” can keep getting a paycheck has got you eco-nuts still riled up. Wise up dope, the Earth and the forces of nature are too powerful for all of you climate change alarmists put together to do anything about it. Now go fashion a new tin-foil hat.

        1. BS. Learn some science. Scientists are ethical and do not falsify data . You fools probably do not agree that an all out nuclear war would destroy civilization. You call scientists “alarmists”, as if they do not know what they are doing.

        2. Scientists ARE human
          and vote their pocketbook
          and align with their
          CLOSEST peers, as such.

          You’re pretty naive
          for being an
          armchair Political “scientist”.

        3. they do when grant money is at stake . when the check comes from the Government that expects a certain outcome .

        4. Denial of science = lack of knowledge + too much Rush Limbaugh x hatred of democrats – all common sense

    2. Why do you make idiotic comments like this? What is your point? You’re an apologist, likely paid, for industry and the status quo. The current round of climate change us caused by humans, period. That is NOT BEING DEBATED by anyone serious.

    3. You have mechanistic deterministic frames in your head. It’s not as purely mechanistic or deterministic as you think. Read some chaos theory and quantum physics…even human biology is a lot more plastic then we think because of things like epigenetics, neuroplasticity and morphic fields. We need an Enlightenment of the Enlightenment.

  2. If you read the “experts” they claim that the drop in temps between 1930 and 1980 was a result of dust particles in the air from manufacturing – all the smoke from factories actually reflecting light back into space. Now, with all the geniuses we have, we are supposed to believe that no one is smart enough to develop inert particle that reflects sunlight but is transparent to infrared. A 0.25% increase in reflected sunlight might be more than enough to save the world!

  3. Wake up.
    CO2 is NOT pollution.
    Ice for Ages is
    BAD for living things;
    especially those CO2-gobbling
    Botanical Entities!

    Wake UP!
    You are supposed to be
    Physicists, not Political “scientists”!
    If you are not,
    get out of the pool.
    (Your urine is NOT helping ;-)

  4. Trying to figure out how to slow down man made global
    warming is like trying to figure out how to slow down a tortoise.

    We have had no warming for 18 years. Of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
    Change models, only one, RCP8.5, predicts disastrous warming, the other models
    predict 0.8 to 2.1 degrees of warming. It
    has become obvious that even these over state the sensitivity to carbon

    Some innovative ideas will probably be in our future, but these
    need to make sense economically, and make sense for reasons other than
    addressing climate change.

  5. Geo-engineering is the use of weather weapons. If anything, geo-engineering is CAUSING climate change. Take some time to properly research this and you will be astounded at what you find.

  6. Hal Lewis’s take on the global warming scam is particularly interesting:It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS [American Physical Society] before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist.

  7. There is a simple and very cheap way to immediately cool down the Earth: just add a little (more) sun dimming pollution to the air. If you don’t like the results, then quit – it would wash out rather quickly from the air.

    To remove the excess carbon from the air and water, you need enough clean and almost free energy to do the job. Here is the trick:

    For instance: “There are many companies now racing to bring Low Energy Nuclear Reaction products to the marketplace. One notable company is Solar Hydrogen Trends, which claims to have accidentally discovered a way to use LENR to produce hydrogen gas from water at the energy equivalent of producing pollution free oil for about $5.00 a barrel. Their hydrogen gas producing reactor has been independently tested by two well known companies, AirKinetics, Inc. and TRC Solutions. Both companies found that the reactor works as promised, and the TRC Solutions PDF report is quite shocking. Solar Hydrogen Trends claims that their technology can be scaled down to power automobiles or scaled up to power jet aircraft, ships, and entire cities.”

  8. Due to the Sun’s de Vries cycle, German scientists Luedecke and Weiss predict that the earth’s heading back to climate conditions like the “little ice age” of the late 1800s.

  9. Hal Lewis’s take on the global warming scam is particularly interesting:It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS [American Physical Society] before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist.

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