With big global companies decades behind the pace necessary to avert really bad alterations in the climate, it’s perhaps unsurprising to learn scientists are coming up with schemes for massive tinkering with the climate through technology.
Hmmm… wasn’t that how we got into this mess in the first place? We seem perpetually convinced we can engineer our way out of just about anything.
And yet, reading Scott Canon’s story in the Kansas City Star on so-called “geoengineering” to avert climate catastrophe, some of the meaures seem benign enough. Painting all our roofs white? Simple enough.
But what about sending up aircraft to spew sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere? We know it would probably cool the planet — it replicates what happens when a big volcano blows. You get a masking of the atmosphere from incoming solar rays. It’s exactly what happened when Mount Pinatubo did its thing in 1991.
Even atmospheric scientist Alan Robock, who recently broached this idea, has his doubts, though. He notes that there are almost bound to be side effects we don’t anticipate, Canon wrote:
Robock said seeding the stratosphere is a bad idea. It easily could trigger droughts, deplete the atmosphere’s ozone layer, make less energy available for solar power systems, obscure the stars to astronomers and possibly destroy great swaths of ocean life. The sky would even be less blue, Robock said.
Now, some of these geoengineering ideas seem just too good to be true. Take the recent analysis by a chap from the American Enterprise Institute and an assistant professor at the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. They propose handling all the problems from global warming by spending $9 billion on ships that would spray seawater into the air. This would thicken clouds, which would — like the soot from Pinatubo — reflect a bit of the solar radiation back into space.
That idea got some attention in a recent Time magazine piece, although University of Colorado climate researcher Roger Pielke disputed its effectiveness in a critique that says it would be cheaper to just pull the CO2 out of the air.
Some of the proposals seem very Rube Goldberg, like putting massive mirrors on satellites. Or recall that a few years ago some folks were talking about dumping massive gazillions of tons of iron into the seas to help them absorb carbon dioxide. Not long after that we found out the oceans have been doing that quite effectively already — but it’s leading to ocean acification that threatens much of humanity’s food supply. (And it turns out that iron-dumping thing doesn’t work anyway.)
Politically, enviros and scientists who see the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fear that all this talk of geoengineering could torpedo legislative and diplomatic efforts to get a handle on global warming.
That’s a legitimate fear, perhaps. But as Dateline Earth has said before, and more than once, we need to find the 100 1 percent solutions to global warming. So it seems some form of geoengineering as least should be considered. Sane and sober climate scientists are saying that. As Simone Tilmes, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Canon:
Just trying to get greenhouse gases reduced might not be enough. It’s definitely worth looking at alternatives.