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Climate change will happen, it is an inevitable consequence of humanity’s addition to fossil fuels. To combat climate change, humanity must quit its filthy habit. Unfortunately quitting takes time. Geo-engineering makes this transition more comfortable. But humanity must be wary, geo-engineering is also addictive.
An immediate and total global reduction in carbon emissions is the most effective way to counter the effects of climate change. The reality is that is unlikely to happen. If all the goals of the 2010 Copenhagen accord are met (a highly unlikely turn of events) the International Energy Agency still predicts the world will warm by 3.5˚C by 2100. For comparison the difference in average global temperature from the last ice age to the pre-industrial age was 6˚C.
Climate change will be uncomfortable for humanity. Droughts, heat waves, flooding, more intense storms, and the migration and conflict these changes cause will be painful. Enter geo-engineering.
Geo-engineering is defined as “the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, in order to moderate global warming.” There are two main categories in this practice. One is to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and the other is to reflect sunlight that would otherwise heat the globe back into space.
Geo-engineering can ease the pain as humanity slowly weans itself from fossil fuels. But geo-engineering comes with its downsides. Therefore these efforts must remain a sideshow, the priority must remain a collective effort to wean humanity from its fossil-fuel addiction. Geo-engineering can be act as a ‘nicotine-patch,’ making the change more comfortable.
An attempt to remove carbon from the atmosphere goes bad
To date there has only been one geo-engineering action. In late July of 2012 a rogue duo – the American entrepreneur Russ George and the Haida First Nation private company Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation – dumped more than 100 metric tonnes of iron into the ocean off the coast of British Columbia. The Haida Chiefs and Councils have since distanced themselves from the experiment. Iron can stimulate phytoplankton growth. The hope was that by dumping iron into the ocean, an increased phytoplankton could both revive of the salmon population and counter climate change by sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. The hope was that the iron would stimulate phytoplankton growth because phytoplankton would trap carbon in the ocean, rather than the atmosphere.
The worldwide scientific community has since condemned the action. Stimulating mass phytoplankton growth does more harm than good. By creating a new ecosystem, one inevitably destroys the existing one. Too much phytoplankton can kill fish and marine mammals. It can also produce methane-gas – this means is not even certain this process limits overall carbon emissions. This geo-engineering action was a foolish one, however the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation continues to defend its actions. (www.haidasalmon.net)
A reflecting-sunlight strategy looks more promising
More promising is the work being done to stop hurricanes from forming. Hurricanes form when sunlight heats the ocean’s surface, causing evaporation. As the moist air rises it cools and creates condensation, the newly formed liquid heats the air once again. Thus this process feeds off itself, creating powerful winds and storms.
Much of the world warm enough for hurricanes to form is covered by clouds (30% or so) which reflects the sunlight and prevents the hurricane-forming process from beginning. By spraying seawater into the atmosphere, scientists hope to stimulate cloud-forming. The newly formed clouds would reduce the amount of hurricanes that form, and reduce the intensity of those that do. This effort could also mitigate global warming as it reflects earth-heating sunlight. Teams have already used computer-simulators to predict that unmanned solar-powered boats could spray seawater into the atmosphere and successfully limit the intensity of storms (see image). But this strategy still comes with its downsides, to not interfere with the world’s rainfalls the practice will need to be limited.
What is certain is that as the climate warms, we will see more geo-engineering attempts to cool the earth. But don’t forget, reducing emissions must remain the ultimate goal. If humanity loses sight of the this goal, we may become collectively addicted to geo-engineering in addition to fossil-fuels. Oil would then only be a gateway drug.
by Dylan F