Geoengineering is a long and tricky word. It’s the idea of applying planetary engineering to Earth. This can be traced to the early years of the Cold War. Scientists in both the United States and the Soviet Union spent a lot of money trying to control the weather as part of their military strategy.
The climate change crisis has seen interest in geoengineering reignited. Governments around the world are thinking seriously about how the climate can be altered to slow climate change. Some proposals focus on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Some examples include ocean fertilization. With this, iron dust is dumped into the open ocean to trigger vast algal blooms that would absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide. This has been trailed with limited success. Crops modified to increase carbon uptake; forests planted specifically to absorb carbon dioxide; and carbon capture and storage – also trialed with limited success.
Other solutions focus on stopping solar heat from entering the atmosphere. Examples of this approach include: spraying seawater thousands of metres into the air to seed the formation of stratocumulus clouds that will deflect sunlight; installing sun-shields or mirrors in space to reflect the sun; or injecting sun-blocking particulates into space.
Sounding all a bit crazy? Sound like we are sweeping another problem under the already lumpy carpet?
There are plenty of people in the science community who think these are terrible ideas that we should leave well alone. Isn’t mucking around with our climate the reason got into this mess in the first place? Should we muck around further to cover up our other mistakes?
There is also a growing group of scientists who think that we may have left it too late to address climate change in any other way. They believe that climate change is now beyond our control. Current actions may be too slow and that we need a Plan B: they believe our planet needs geoengineering.
Tweaking the climate through geoengineering won’t mean that the climate will be ‘fixed’ and returned to how it was before. Instead, the best hope for Plan B is that the climate will be stabilised and the worst impacts of climate change will be avoided.
But there will still be winners and losers, and like climate change, no one can say who those winners and losers might be.