Hack the planet? The coming debate around geoengineering

Is it inevitable?


For those of you engaged in the climate change debate – and what ever side of the fence you sit on – you have come across the term “geoengineering“.  

Simply put, this describes proposals to deliberately manipulate the climate in order to counteract the effects of global warming. The US National Academy of Sciences describes it thus:  

“…These are options that would involve large-scale engineering of our environment in order to combat or counteract the effects of changes in atmospheric chemistry. Most of these options have to do with the possibility of compensating for a rise in global temperature, caused by an increase in greenhouse gases, by reflecting or scattering back a fraction of the incoming sunlight. Other geoengineering possibilities include reforesting the United States to increase the storage of carbon in vegetation, stimulating an increase in oceanic biomass as a means of increasing the storage and natural sequestering of carbon in the ocean, decreasing CO2 by direct absorption, and decreasing atmospheric halocarbons by direct destruction…”  

Chris Mooney over at Point of Inquiry conducted a fascinating interview with journalist Eli Kintisch on this topic covering such topics as what geoengineering is and how it relates to the politics of climate change:  

“…the idea of a technological fix to solve the problem—like seeding the stratosphere with reflective sulfur particles, so as to reduce sunlight—starts to sound pretty attractive. Interest in so-called “geoengineering” is growing, and so is media attention to the idea. There are even conspiracy theorists who think a secret government plan to engineer the planet is already afoot.   

Leading scientists, meanwhile, have begun to seriously study our geoengineering options—not necessarily because they want to, but because they fear there may be no other choice.”  

There are of course many concerns around geoengineering:  

  • It is untested and we may not know how it will work on a planetary scale
  • The publics uneasiness with such an option
  • How individual nations may go “rogue” and try to implement their own geoengineering efforts

However, people should be aware that geoengineering is being discussed amongst scientists and governments. There is no conspiracy here, it’s about addressing the “worst case scenario” if the world fails to scale back CO2 emissions and we head towards large scale temperature rises.  

What does this have to climate change scepticism?  

The interesting thing is many of the conservative think tanks that have been active in helping distort the climate change debate seem to be advocating for geoengineering (listen to the podcast for further explanation).  

On the one hand they question the science of global warming, and yet the other are starting to embrace geoengineering as a means to manage climate change.  

Ironic? Contradictory? Yes.  

But why adopt such contradictory positions? Mostly they will tout as an excuse not to cut emissions in the short term. Having accepted funding from energy interests for decades to help mislead the public, they know the impacts of climate change are going to be felt in the coming years. 

As consequence, they will need to change tact. This is how they will change their tune. 

Expect to hear the term a lot more in the future. As the planet continues to warm, and the effects of climate change become more noticeable geoengineering will be an option brought to the table.  

The debate will grow, however now is the time to get familiar with the science.

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