A recent study that appeared in the Environmental Research Letters journal suggests strong public support for continued research into geoengineering technology to reverse the effects of climate change. Since this was just a preliminary internet survey of only 3105 individuals in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the survey’s conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt. However, the results of the survey can still be used to spark public discussion over geoengineering, which has been gaining increasing attention over the past few years.
Generally when scientists talk about geoengineering in reference to climate change, they are referring to two potential approaches: CO2 removal or Solar Radiation Management (SRM). Each approach hosts a variety of technologies.
For instance, CO2 removal could be accomplished through the installation of “scrubbing towers” on the ground, which suck up air from the bottom and release it at the top, removing CO2 in the process. An example of SRM would be the installation of mirrors outside the atmosphere which would reflect incoming solar radiation away from the Earth.
The survey found that 72% of respondents were supportive of SRM – but a full 75% of respondents also believed that the Earth’s climate system was too complicated to be “fixed” with one technology.
Therefore, the survey revealed a surprisingly highly public perception of geoengineering solutions, although public opinion was mixed on whether geoengineering would actually work.
But as outlandish as geoengineering may seem, many scientists are beginning to believe it may be the only way to avert the disastrous consequences associated with climate change. Already, the Bipartisan Research Center has made an urgent call for more research into geoengineering in case we can’t curb greenhouse gas emissions in time.
What are my thoughts on geoengineering?
Well, in short, I have a hard time fully endorsing geoengineering as a solution to climate change, although I realize it may one day be the only option we have left.
The reason is that the Earth is immensely complicated, and we will only truly know the consequences of our actions once they have been implemented on a large scale. How do we know that implementing a particular geoengineering ‘fix’ won’t disrupt other parts of the Earth’s natural systems, that will in turn also require a “fix”? Things could get very out of hand very quickly, and unfortunately we only have one planet to work with.
For instance, if we were to implement SRM technologies, such as the installation of mirrors outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, what would we do about increasing CO2 emissions? One little known fact about CO2 emissions is that they are also having a huge impact on our oceans. An article published in Science a few years ago revealed that increasing CO2 concentrations are leading to Ocean Acidification, which is slowly killing off crucial marine organisms such as phytoplankton and krill. Although reflecting solar radiation back into space may lower the Earth’s temperatures, it doesn’t help the oceans, and it doesn’t tackle the root of our problem: increasing CO2 emissions.
In my opinion, the only way to truly return our climate system back to normal is to tackle that root cause. Everything else is simply a band-aid fix, which may help for a while, but could turn into a disaster if we don’t simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
What are your thoughts on geoengineering? Do you think we will eventually need to implement geoengineering ‘fixes’ to avoid the negative consequences associated with climate change?
Image credit: Nasa. An oceanic phytoplankton bloom in the South Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Argentina. It is thought that encouraging such blooms with iron fertilization could lock up carbon on the seabed.