Is geoengineering the climate a policy option?
The current issue of the American magazine Foreign Affairs has a thought-provoking piece that asks if the geoengineering option shouldn’t be used as a last resort in the battle against climate change. You can see the introduction to the article here (but will need to be a registered user to read all of it online).
Climate geoengineering is a thinly explored branch of science which to date has seen little in the way of peer-reviewed research. Some of its advocates envision global systems which would launch reflective particles into the atmosphere or position sunshades to cool the earth.
Another approach is to dump iron dust into the sea to spur the growth of algae that absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air. When algae die, they fall to the seabed and so remove carbon.
Part of the controversy around the subject stems from the fact that many environmentalists and policy-makers view geoengineering as an “easy fix” that governments might be tempted to take instead of the hard option of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“Many scientists have been reluctant to raise the issue for fear that it might create a moral hazard: encouraging governments to deploy geoengineering rather than invest in cutting emissions,” write the authors, who include David G. Victor of Stanford Law School and M. Granger Morgan, director of the Climate Decision Making Center.
There are also concerns about unforeseen side effects — a worry with almost any new technology that is perhaps greater when humanity intentionally tampers with the environment.
But the authors argue that the challenge of climate change is too great not to try everything at our disposal.
“Humans have already engaged in a dangerous geophysical exercise by pumping massive amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The best and safest strategy for reversing climate change is to halt this buildup … but this solution will take time,” they say.
“Meanwhile, the dangers are mounting. In a few decades, the option of geoengineering could look less ugly for some countries than unchecked changes in the climate.”
It is noteworthy that this argument has been made in the pages of Foreign Affairs, which is sober, influential and often features analysts who are ahead of the curve. This alone signals that geoengineering is emerging from the fringe.
What do you think? Is geoengineering an option that should be used in the struggle against climate change? Or do the risks outweigh any possible benefits?
(Photo: The Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E), a high-resolution passive microwave Instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows the state of Arctic sea ice on September 10, 2008. Could geoengineering be used to help stop climate change consequences such as melting sea ice? REUTERS/NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio/Handout (UNITED STATES)