GEOENGINEERING: POSSIBLE OR TOO RISKY? SILVIA LOPEZ BIOLOGY 338 DR. BROWN
INTRODUCTION â€˘ In recent years we have faced a global issue that puts our continued existence on this planet at risk. Global warming due to anthropogenic accelerated climate change was a concept ignored by the human race for years, it was denied, and in contemporary politics it is still a common debate topic. Within the past several decades there has been a rise in global temperatures, an increase in storm intensities, and a growing risk of sea level rise (Launder, et al). Climate change occurs and has occurred naturally, it is a method used by the earth as a way of it cooling and heating itself and its surface. Climate change has been experienced since the beginning of the planet, the difference with climate change being experienced today is that it is occurring at accelerated speeds and it is not giving ecosystems time to adjust.
For example, it is believed that the planet is experiencing the sixth great extinction, within the last several decades the planet has lost a great number of species. Many species are being lost because they do not have time to adjust to the increasing temperatures and some do not have the capabilities to adjust to such drastic changes. The Polar bears for example, are the poster species for global warming. The planet has lost the majority of its polar bears within the last several years, this is mainly due to their inability to fish where they used to because the glaciers or ice that would aid them in reaching the fish has melted. In addition, the rising temperatures in the polar regions has caused heat exhaustion in polar bears, many do not have access to fresh water and the rising temperatures have caused dehydration (WWF).
Due to these risks and damages there is a rise in environmental awareness and advocacy for a halt of the warming of the planet. Geo-engineering is a concept that was created several decades ago (What is Geo-engineering?) there are many definitions for geo-engineering, however, it is commonly defined as technology developed to decrease the rate at which global warming is occurring or an attempt to halt the increase of temperatures. Victor Galaz author of Geoengineering, Governance, and Social-Ecological Systems: Critical Issues and Joint Research Needs, defines geo-engineering as “intentional, technological largescale interventions in the climate system to mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic climate change” (Galaz). There are many perspective large-scale projects for geo-engineering and there are several different approaches.
• Two common approaches include: Solar Radiation Management, referred to as SRM and the second is Carbon Dioxide Reduction or CDR. Carbon dioxide radiation does not receive much publicity because it does not alter the atmosphere rather, is calls for a decrease in the release of carbon dioxide from the anthropogenic perspective. Solar Radiation Management is on the fore front of geo-engineering, SRM includes the spraying of aerosols into the stratosphere to serve as an aiding agent to the Albedo effect and reflect more solar radiation back to space. As the amount of solar radiation reflected back to space increases as opposed to the amount being absorbed by the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, the planet will experience a cooling stage and there will be a decrease in the rate of global warming (P. J. Cutzo). This decrease will allow ecosystems to adjust and the rate of extinction will decrease allowing for the growth of biodiversity and species survival rates (Galaz).
ADVANTAGES â€˘ The decrease rate of global warming is one of the any advantages to geo-engineering, the decreased rate would allow ecosystems to adjust to an environment that will change faster than it is used to and it would decrease the rate at which we risk sea level rise due to melting polar ice caps. Apart from slowing down the polar ice caps melting rate, geo-engineering offers the ability for scientist to provoke rain in areas that prone to drought, in the distant future there are possibilities that humans would be able to live in areas that were previously uninhabitable due to the inability to grow crops. â€˘
Geo-engineering would allow humanity to shift and create an environment that is adequate for habitation. For example, the middle east is known to having a dry climate and its inhabitants face water scarcity. The use of geo-engineering could help cool the climate and increase precipitation to produce habitable regions. The method of spraying aerosols into the atmosphere is a quick solution, it is expected to begin changing the environment as soon as the particles are released, it is expected that the reversal will commence immediately. This serves as an advantage because it serves as a last minute solution as well as a temporary solution which will give scientist time to find a long term solution (Zeitoun).
In addition, solar radiation management geo-engineering allows us to maintain our lifestyles instead of having to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions we are exerting due to high consumption rates. There is however, debates as to whether the solar radiation management type of geo-engineering will only function as a temporary and short term solution to the amount of carbon dioxide that is being exerted into the atmosphere.
Several carbon dioxide reducing geo-engineering schemes include: “the designing and construction of machines capable of pulling greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere using plastic polymers, increasing the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean by adding large amounts of lime to the water” (What is geoengineering?). In addition, there are plans to use “grazing cattle in a way designed to turn grasslands into giant carbon sinks, plans to make and bury large amounts of charcoal to lock carbon into the soil, and harnessing the capacity of trees and plants to absorb carbon dioxide from the air by burning large quantities of wood in power plants with carbon-capture technology” (What is Geo-engineering?).
Several solar radiation management schemes include: “firing sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back to outer space, the use of unmanned ships to increase above ocean cloud by spraying sea water into the air, painting the worlds roofs white to increase reflectivity, and floating thousands of tiny mirrors in space between earth and sun” (What is Geo-engineering?).
DISADVANTAGES â€˘ There are several environmental, economic, and socio-economic disadvantages to geo-engineering. Geo-engineering offers the opportunity to inhabit regions that suffer water scarcity by allowing the increase of precipitation in drought prone regions. However, while one nation benefits another could be suffering repercussions. Geo-engineering could pose potentially dangerous risks to the environment due to a lack of knowledge and studies in the field (L. Bengtsson). As discussed previously, there are several different methods of geo-engineering, such as, the spraying of particles into the stratosphere for cooling and the distinct methods of carbon dioxide removal. â€˘ A disadvantage of spraying aerosols into the stratosphere is the cost, this process would be expensive and it would have to be continuous for many years in order to avoid ecosystem damage, there would have to be consistency in the atmospheric injections. This process would have to last hundreds of years in order to reverse anthropogenic changes, this would be expensive and it would lead to concerns about who dictates the point at which the reversal has been completed (Dunbar). This would also lead to question who will declare the amount of aerosols needed to reverse anthropogenic impact. Countries will have to come to an agreement on where, how, and the amount of aerosols that should be released since they would spread globally, crossing international lines.
• Another disadvantage to both types of geo-engineering is that the consequences cannot be measured and the models could not be tested thoroughly. Potential dangers with these methods of geoengineering include atmospheric damage as well as, potential irreversible changes in weather and climate patterns (Galaz). It is currently unknown whether the anthropogenic damages could be reversed and it is believed that it would take hundreds of years of consistent treatment to compensate for the damages. • As stated in the article The Geo-engineering Option, “once headed in the wrong direction, the climate system is slow to respond to attempts at reversal” (Victor, et al). As we enter the Anthropocene era the changes caused by humans are exposed and after hundreds of years of extracting, degrading, and overconsuming earth’s resources we are experiencing the repercussions.
â€˘ Geo-engineering is expensive, short-term, and unpredictable. It is expensive because it would take hundreds of years of consistent aerosol injections to revert to preanthropogenic changes in the environment. It is short-term because it is believed to mask the problem instead of solving the problem. Geo-engineering is unpredictable since there is no certainty that the models will be projected onto the atmosphere perfectly since there are thousands of changing factors within our atmosphere and stratosphere. â€˘
Political, global, and international concerns would arise. Countries would be concerned with being on a disadvantage while another country benefits. Political issues would be of great concern since there are constantly changing wind and ocean current patterns that might affect a nation that did not want to participate (Victor et al). In addition, there is a fear of an increase in ocean acidification which would continue to decrease biodiversity within ocean ecosystems. Ocean acidification leads to the diminishing of coral reefs which are vital to ocean ecosystems and aid in providing oxygen for our atmosphere (Galaz). Many nations depend on their oceans and beaches for their economy through tourism, therefore, the destruction of oceanic ecosystems would place them at risk leading to possible wars.
CONCLUSION • Climate change and global warming due to the overconsumption and resource depletion by humans is indisputable and self-evident, how we choose to resolve these issues is up to us. We can either choose to mask the problem and use short-term and highly risky methods such as geo-engineering or we could choose to resolve the problem and reduce the amount of anthropogenic carbon dioxide that is being released onto the atmosphere. Geo-engineering is a quick “Band-Aid,” it will allow countries to determine the type of climate they would benefit most from and there is also the possibility that we could cause irreversible changes on climate and weather patterns. • In my opinion, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Geo-engineering is not a sustainable idea nor is it safe, we don’t know the outcome possibilities and the predictions state that it is not a reliable method. There would be a rise in national and international political concerns and issues. Geoengineering could be used in warfare. For example, when at war the attacking country would benefit while the other would be at a disadvantage. • An important question to ask is what happens if two countries that have access to this technology decide to simultaneously attack one another, could this technology be potentially more dangerous than nuclear weapons? I believe that a much safer attempt at reversing anthropogenic changes would be to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We can focus of halting the rise of carbon dioxide emissions from developed countries and simultaneously develop methods for developing countries to use instead of adopting western methods. Population growth and the growth of nations are inevitable; it is up to us to keep the environment in consideration so we can continue to inhabit the earth.
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