Geoengineering is the idea of applying planetary engineering to Earth. This can be traced to the early years of the Cold War, when scientists in both the United States and the Soviet Union devoted considerable funds to controlling the weather as part of their military strategy. Some early geoengineering proposals included the damming of the Strait of Gibraltar and the Bering Strait as a way to warm the Arctic, making Siberia more habitable.
The climate change crisis has seen interest in geoengineering reignited. Governments around the world are thinking seriously about how the climate can be manipulated to slow or even stop runaway climate change. Some geoengineering proposals focus on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Some examples include: ocean fertilisation, where iron dust dumped into the open ocean would 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 geoengineering 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 it our tweaking of our climate that has got us into this mess in the first place? Should we consider attempting further tweaking of our climate to cover up our other mistakes?
But there is also a growing group of scientists who think that we have left it too late to address climate change in any other way. They believe that climate change is now out of our control, that current actions will be too slow and ineffective, 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.
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