Are Governments Thinking of Geoengineering Earth to Adjust to Climate Change?

Doug Saunders in today’s Globe and Mail has written “the idea of geoengineering planet-scale projects to reverse climate change…has recently gained a lot more mainstream credibility in both scientific and policy circles.” He goes on to talk about a major breakthrough, the convening of a blue ribbon panel consisting of scientists from the U.S. National Research Council, NASA, U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to evaluate potential geoengineering projects.

Whether these are projects aimed at mitigating climate change impact or reversing the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere, the proposed ideas have already been shown to be short on science. Talk about a bull in a china shop approach to the problem of global warming. The panel will toss around the idea of putting more chemicals into the atmosphere to make it more reflective so that solar heat doesn’t get trapped as much by the methane and CO2 that we currently are emitting from industry, transportation, and energy creation. Another is seeding the ocean with iron to increase the capacity of the water to absorb CO2. And the third is treating soils with massive amounts of charcoal or biochar to trap CO2. The trillions of dollars we will ultimately spend on all of these remediation technologies represents a distinct human flaw. Instead of preemptive strategies these blue ribbon scientists would rather deal with the after-the-fact consequences of rising atmospheric temperatures and conduct a planet-wide geoengineering experiment.

Not to point out one of the obvious flaws in this blue ribbon panel but where is the representation from the rest of the planet? All the organizations gathered at this group discussion were American. A global remedy is not something one nation can undertake without involving the rest of the planet.

And why should nations speak for all of humanity when discussing the issue of climate change? Since the Kyoto Protocol they have proven to be woefully hopeless in developing collective climate change strategies. Instead we have a surge of environmental social network activists forming guerrilla movements to reverse human induced climate change. And municipalities both small and large have become activists as well in the fight to reverse global warming. Meanwhile national governments more concerned with GDP growth fail to see that carbon remediation represents a significant economic opportunity. A few days ago I wrote about the first four years of the carbon tax in the Province of British Columbia and how the end result has been a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions with no impact on economic growth.

But better we should conduct a planet-wide experiment seeding the oceans with iron (which by the way doesn’t work as we recently discovered), or putting more reflective chemicals into the atmosphere without thinking about negative chemical impacts on the biology of the planet, or burning biomass to create biochar and the heat load from burning and its impact on the atmosphere.

Today our climate models are as sophisticated as the super computers that run them. We have more than a century-and-a-half of collected weather data. But in truth we still don’t know enough to accurately forecast what we will experience in coming decades as CO2 levels creep upward from today’s 400 parts per million to 450 by mid-century. All we know is both the atmosphere and ocean are warmer than they have been in recorded history and that the last two decades have seen a startling spike in temperature data. The spike correlates closely with the rise in CO2. So the answer is really simple. Stop creating more CO2. Move rapidly to a smaller carbon footprint. Create awareness along with action by introducing policies that move us away from burning carbon as rapidly as possible. And do this with the same dedication we have shown in waging war.



Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...