Saturday, January 18, 2014

Geoengineering isn’t worth the risk

Roger Williamson in ...It’s easy to see why geoengineering is attractive to scientists. Finding a technological fix for climate change is a nice, big, juicy project, with lots of scope for lucrative research applications and the chance of a place in the pantheon of scientific greats or even a Nobel Prize. And from the point of view of diplomats too, at a time when climate talks are in trouble, it is tempting to hope for a solution that avoids excessive negotiations.

But the implications of such grandiose engineering projects are far from clear. So, as well as considering the statutory regulation of geoengineering research, policymakers should think over the ethics of investing in such strategies — given their uncertainty, would the money be better spent elsewhere?

As an illustration, a study published last week by researchers from the University of Reading, UK, suggests that large geoengineering efforts could have side effects that would disproportionately harm the globe’s poorest people. [1] It argues that a massive injection of sulfate particles into the upper atmosphere may well lower average global temperatures by reflecting sunlight, but this could also cause huge changes to rainfall patterns around the equator — with potentially devastating impacts for poor people.

Andrew Charlton-Perez, the lead author of the study, said in a statement: “We have shown that one of the leading candidates for geoengineering could cause a new, unintended side effect over a large part of the planet. A reduction in tropical rainfall of 30 per cent would, for example, quickly dry out Indonesia so much that even the wettest years after a man-made intervention would be equal to drought conditions now.”

Here is an example of where society should employ the precautionary principle, the basis of European legislation regarding environmental protection...

The sorcerer's hat, worn by Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, shot by Fabi1994, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license 

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