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Geoengineering – a possible solution to climate change?

Published on 21 May 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

The New Yorker has a real corker of a story online on possible tech fixes to combat climate change. Titled ‘The Climate Fixers,’ the article examines so-called ‘geoengineering’ efforts to halt increasing global temperatures that are a result of carbon dioxide emissions. It’s a fascinating and essential read for anyone who, well, hopes to still be living on this planet for the next 50 years or so.

‘Geoengineering’ is the general idea of attempting to ‘ameliorate global warming by deliberately altering the climate of the earth.’ Just the thought of that, I must admit, makes my mind spin. Is this really possible?  And is it a good idea?

Thankfully, Michael Specter’s piece does a splendid job of answering these questions from several angles. His answers seem to be, in brief: 1) it is very likely possible, and 2) it has risks, but it is probably better than the alternative of doing nothing against climate change.

The bulk of the article focuses on ‘solar-radiation management,’ which means limiting solar radiation and thus keeping the planet cool. In practical terms, this would likely mean pumping large amounts of sulfates into the atmosphere, preventing the full effect of the sun’s rays from reaching the surface of the earth. This seems to be the most likely possibility to ‘succeed,’ but also very disruptive in terms of other climate-based activities on the planet.

Specter also looks at ways of capturing carbon dioxide at the source or in the atmosphere and removing it to a benign location. The technology for this seems less certain, but if it can succeed, would apparently be less disruptive to society as a whole (except for the cost).

The whole thing is a bit of a depressing read, as Specter points out that the most effective and certain strategy would be to drastically cut down on burning fossil fuels and locate alternative sources of energy. But since efforts to achieve that are technologically or politically unfeasible at present, we need to consider a Plan B, which may have to be a geoengineering solution.

Unfortunately, geoengineering also faces major political and policy hurdles before it can be implemented. Yet ironically, ‘the least risky approach politically is also the most dangerous: do nothing until the world is faced with a cataclysm and then slip into a frenzied crisis mode.’

The question is, will we able to find the political will to take some kind of action against climate change before that cataclysm occurs?

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4 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Hello, I just came across
    Hello, I just came across this blog. The concern for climate change is one of the reasons why I turned vegetarian. I needed a clean and pure environment, that’s why I moved to Morocco. Read my whole story at my blog http://www.vegetarianstories.com

  2. Mary Murphy
    Mary Murphy says:

    ‘In Alaska, entire towns have
    ‘In Alaska, entire towns have begun to shift in the loosening permafrost.’

    In a previous life, I spent quite a while in Alaska. To see the glaciers receding (not in real-time obviously) but to look at a field of ice and see its limits and then to look at a photo of the same spot 20 years earlier – the difference was tangible. And yet the dots weren’t joined. It was simply something shrinking. The consequences were not underlined. Do we need to adjust how we communicate about climate change?

  3. Steven Nelson
    Steven Nelson says:

    Thanks for the comment JC.
    Thanks for the comment JC. As a vegetarian for over 20 years, I completely agree with you. In fact, I’ve referred many people to Livestock’s Long Shadow. Maybe I’ll do a separate blog post on this issue.

  4. JC
    JC says:

    “As environmental science has
    “As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

    “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

    “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

    Why would someone choose to be vegan? To slow global warming for one! Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE and https://www.veganvideo.org


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