Geoengineering and Climate Change Mitigation

There is no single “solution” to end climate change and reverse global warming. Ideally, we need to rethink global goals, we need to move past sustainability, towards regeneration and along the way reverse global warming. We need to change the way we do business from a system that is inherently exploitative and extractive to a new standard that is regenerative and restorative, specifically in the ways we get our energy. However, we have caused enough damage that even if we stopped all pollution, we would be facing the effects of our pollution for decades to come unless we do something

 

Geoengineering is the large-scale modification of the Earth’s systems to address and mitigate climate change. From cooling the atmosphere with sulfur aerosol injections to sucking carbon dioxide directly out of the atmosphere, there have been a number of proposed technologies that could theoretically alter our climate system and slow down or reverse global temperature increases.[1] These theoretical strategies may pose both benefits and risks, which is why they have been just that—theoretical. But as risky as it may be, the situation we have put ourselves in is so dire that crazy options such as replicating volcanic explosions are being considered necessary strategies moving forward to undo the immense, humanity threatening damage we have and continue to cause.

 

Presently there are two categories of geoengineering for climate mitigation and carbon emissions, each with their own unique regulatory concerns. The first is carbon removal using carbon-capture technology. The geologic security or permanence of underground carbon dioxide storage over time also has not been well studied. Acidification effects of carbon dioxide as well as cracks, faults, natural springs, and old wells could allow dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide to escape into ground water posing a threat to our environment and public health[2]. Implementing such technologies on a large scale, like carbon sequestration, requires large amounts of natural resources which is why the governance of this technology would most likely be controlled by national governments. The second category, solar geoengineering, holds regulatory concerns for the international community since they present a risk of unintended global climate consequences. The common proposed strategies involve spraying reflective aerosols into the atmosphere, where they would theoretically reflect sunlight away from the Earth thus cooling our atmosphere.[3]

Geoengineering has never been implemented on the full scale, raising uncertainty about the price, efficiency and unforeseen impacts of these strategies. Yes, these innovative technologies pose risks of negative impacts to the ozone layer, regional precipitation patterns, ecosystems, agriculture; but it is important to keep investing into further research into these technologies. Currently, there are many geoengineering projects being conducted, as many as 500.[4] One project that I think has immense potential is Project Stormfury, a hurricane research and modification research program that weakens tropical cyclones by seeding them with silver iodide.[5] Both deaths and damages to the storms targeted by Project Stormfury were reduced substantially, because the wind speeds decreased before making landfall.[6] As hurricanes and weather related disasters are predicted to be more damanging and intense, I think more programs like Project Stormfury will be implemented.

Due to the nature of these technologies, there are also challenges associated to international governance and the risk of international conflict. Still, if the cost of implementation is low and the efficacy of mitigation is high, then geoengineering may be a vital piece of a climate change risk management portfolio that keeps climate change impacts below dangerous levels. Discussing the aforementioned risks, and having a plan in place to manage them, are the next steps moving forward in developing and implementing geoengineering technologies.

Reaching an agreement on implementing these technologies will take time and international cooperation. Time is running out. Given the current economic, political, social problems we have today, it sounds unmanageable, but today’s science and society already knows what to do. We have existent, practical technologies and processes that can attain this. And best of all these solutions are already happening – they work – on small and large scales. What we need is to accelerate implementation and to change the discourse from one of panic and perplexity, which only leads to apathy, to one of understanding and opportunity.

 

Works Cited

[1]“What Is Geoengineering?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Feb. 2011, www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/feb/18/geo-engineering.

 

[2] G Little, Mark & B Jackson, Robert. (2010). Potential Impacts of Leakage from Deep CO2 Geosequestration on Overlying Freshwater Aquifers. Environmental science & technology. 44. 9225-32. 10.1021/es102235w.

[3]“Geoengineering.” Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, Harvard, 2019, geoengineering.environment.harvard.edu/geoengineering.

 

[4]“The Geoengineering Genie Is Out of the Bottle.” 21st Century Tech Blog, 7 Sept. 2018, www.21stcentech.com/geoengineering-genie-bottle/.

[5] Jr, James Franklin Lee. “Hurricane Hacking: Battling the Big Ones with Project Stormfury · ClimateViewer News.” Hurricane Hacking: Battling the Big Ones with Project Stormfury ·, 8 Nov. 2013, climateviewer.com/2013/11/08/hurricane-hacking-battling-the-big-ones-with-project-stormfury/.

[6] “Project STORMFURY.” Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratories, www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/hrd_sub/sfury.html.

 

8 thoughts on “Geoengineering and Climate Change Mitigation

  1. Well-written article Kelby! You do a nice job discussing the pros and cons of geoengineering while conveying the need for further research in this field. I agree with your sentiment that climate change is so severe that merely reducing future emissions is insufficient, creating the need for technologies that capture and store carbon. I was interested in your discussion of international cooperation and conflict on geoengineering, as the solar side of the field has global implications. I’m curious to hear if these conversations have occurred at the Conference of Parties (COP) since the signing of the Paris Agreement. While renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable practices certainly play an important role in achieving a low-carbon future, I’m glad that geoengineering is being discussed as another avenue to address the challenge of our time.

  2. I loved this blog! It was very informative about geoengineering as a whole. The explanations of carbon capture and sequestration versus solar geoengineering were very easy to follow and explained the issue fully, but I would have liked to hear your personal suggestion of which of these is more feasible or effective. A comparison would help me understand the differences, costs, and benefits of each. The sections you included about battling climate change as a whole were very impactful. The quote from the first paragraph, “we need to move past sustainability, towards regeneration and along the way reverse global warming. We need to change the way we do business from a system that is inherently exploitative and extractive to a new standard that is regenerative and restorative,” is extremely powerful. Reversal of climate change is increasingly more important in a time that sustainability is not doing enough; what are we sustaining?

  3. This blog post was a really interesting introduction to geoengineering and the implications it may have in the future. Before the geoengineering debate done in class, I’d never heard about the category of solar geoengineering, but had definitely known about carbon capture methods before. I think solar geoengineering is an incredibly interesting topic that rides on a lot of complex factors, in particular the role of technology and ethics. I thought it was interesting that you mentioned Project Stormfury, a program that has already been seen to have positive effects on disaster management, but with the technology that comes with these projects, I would pose the question of is it ethical to engineer the world in these “unnatural” ways? What is the risk of quote-on-quote “playing god” in this sense and controlling the processes of the Earth even further? Though these ventures may allow us to reverse the effects of anthropogenic climate change in the near future, what may be the risks and consequences down the line? Of course, these technologies and policies are difficult to implement as you mentioned, but I’m curious to see how things play out in the future of geoengineering, especially in this age where our time to create change is running out.

  4. Good overview of various geoengineering technologies and their risks/benefits! You mention how solar geoengineering would be difficult to implement, as the effects of aerosols in the atmosphere could not easily be contained within national borders. However, if carbon capture and sequestration technologies are not developed quickly, it might be our only option, especially considering the inability of renewables to reverse greenhouse gas emissions that have already occurred. Have there been any studies of the negative consequences of aerosol spraying? As far as human health, I would be concerned how such studies could be conducted ethically (think the zinc cadmium sulfide tests in the 1950s); predicting long-term effects on global climate might be easier with computational simulations. I’d be interested in seeing how national governments have discussed these possible global consequences.

  5. That was a great summary of the issue of geoengineering, the pros, cons, and current status of various levels of projects and research. From my research on this topic for the in-class debate, I looked at this from topic from the environmentalist point of view. One of the biggest concerns of the environmental activist community is that investing in geoengineering will give a cop out to the fossil fuel and biggest polluting industries. However, as is frequently stated alongside arguments for climate engineering, these solutions are not replacements for emission reductions, they are in addition. I just watched an interesting YouTube video on a startup that is removing CO2 from the air and selling it to greenhouses and coca-cola bottling plants. I think it will be interesting to see where these types of projects and research on these topics will lead to in the next several years.

  6. This is a good breakdown of a topic that could be particularly hard for someone with no prior knowledge to understand so I commend you for that! Geoenginnering offers a solution to climate mitigation through scientific and restorative means. There was a lot of natural disasters and geoenginnering that I had no knowledge of prior and this made it clear to me! It was important to speak on the opposition that will be brought up from not only the global sphere, but also the public. There could be immense backlash from the public about the possible unknown consequences to this type of solution. What would be your suggestion to mitigate this concerns and ensure the public and the administration that this solution would not cause any unforeseen weather or other consequences?

  7. Great blog post Kelby! The post was formatted well and very interesting to read about since I am very interested in climate change mitigation strategies like geoengineering. I think one of your many good points was that since hurricanes are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change, geoengineering initiatives like Project Stormfury are a good idea. I did not know that we can weaken tropical cyclones by seeding them with silver iodide.

    In a class I took last semester, we talked in depth about carbon capture and storage. Although there are significant benefits to carbon capture and storage technologies in that we reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere, there are definitely still disadvantages to the technology, as you partly discussed. Plans for a major new trial for carbon capture and storage technology at a cement factory in Norway sparked anger and divided the environmental movement. Normal citizens often worry about deadly carbon leaks that could occur after carbon is stored underground.

  8. This is a well-written and researched blog post. Nice work! Perhaps, it’s made even more interesting because it is written in the same urgent tone of any climate change post. I have not read or heard a lot about geoengineering, but I am skeptical of the concept. The urgency of this post made me reconsider my skepticism. Climate change is the most important issue facing us, and yes we will face the effects for years to come, so maybe geoengineering is the correct approach because mitigation does not seem to be working. I have to wonder about the potential negative effects of making environmental changes on a large scale because the only large scale environmental impact we’ve made is climate change itself. This method seems akin to fighting fire with fire, which lends itself easily to skepticism. I would also be curious about the political feasibility of geoengineering. Mitigation has already met such negative attitudes in politics, so why would geoengineering fare any better? Perhaps if it did not place a disproportionate burden of costs on the wealthy oil industry, it would actually be met well, but I would think that climate deniers and climate purists would actually join forces on the geoengineering front. It is an extremely interesting idea, and I do look forward to seeing it implemented on the small scale of weather events.

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