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Geoengineering the Climate

There are two types of “geoengineering” that can be done to mitigate climate change, and in turn global warming:

1. Increase the earth’s albedo, which is a way of increasing the reflectivity of the atmosphere and the surface of the earth. Large volcanic eruptions do this, as the sulfur dioxide reflects light, and in turn heat, back into space. Right now, the polar ice caps serve as a massive mirror to solar radiation, but as they shrink, the earth becomes warmer…which starts a feedback loop of increased warming and even more shrinking of the ice caps.

2. Capture the  greenhouse gases, usually in the form of carbon-capture and storage (CCS). Technologies to doing anything referring to carbon sequestration like the “clean coal” power plants are designed to do just this, along with other devices like artificial trees meant to capture CO2 from the atmosphere.

The concept of geoengineering the planet to reduce global warming is a scary thought to me because, while I think we should take every effort to reduce emissions so we don’t have to resort to such extreme measures, it only treats the problem instead of preventing it. It also poses the risk of a country acting on its own (unilaterally) to combat climate change and possibly messing up the climate and atmosphere around their neighboring countries in the area of cloud seeding or pumping other things into the atmosphere. If one country decides it needs more rain, that means the water falling on its country is not falling on another one and thus depriving them of water they would otherwise have. If enough alteration of climate occurs, severe consequences will emerge. Many recent papers on geoengineering take into account mostly the moral/political aspects of the issue.

At dinner, some of the U of M students and myself joked about how geoengineering the planet is the equivalent of taking those pills that used to be sold to “trap the fat” in the food you eat. First of all, the pills do not work, and second, wouldn’t it be better to just exercise and undergo some behavioral changes(provided those are why you need to lose weight in the first place and not from a medical condition or disorder) than risk suffering side effects from pills.

Some articles on geoengineering covering both what it is precisely and what it means for the world if it were used:

Foreign Affairs Magazine

Science Daily

Technology Review by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Time Magazine discussing the book SuperFreakonomics and its discussion of geoengineering

The Guardian (UK) Article

— Adam


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