Monday, July 25, 2011

Sceptics told they'd be 'foolish' to ignore potential of geoengineering

Eifion Rees in the Ecologist writes about a dubious semi-endorsement of geoengineering. Color me skeptical: As global climate talks stall, calls for more trials of ideas to alter the world's climate known as 'geoengineering' are likely to grow. Green groups reacted with astonished anger earlier this month to news that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had convened a geoengineering expert group meeting in Lima to propose radical solutions to the climate crisis.

More than 160 environmental groups wrote an open letter to the IPCC decrying what appeared to be a tacit acceptance that manipulation of the natural environment had some part to play in dealing with runaway climate change. Geoengineering schemes include dumping iron filings into oceans to foster growth of carbon-sequestering algae, blasting mirrors or sulphur dioxide particles into space to deflect sunlight and genetically modifying crops to be whiter and so reflect more heat.

And yet with global carbon emissions increasing, political consensus on mitigation more intractable an issue than ever and unregulated forays into climate manipulation already underway (Richard Branson has endorsed atmospheric carbon-stripping, Bill Gates cloud-whitening), many now concede that environmentalists too will have to come to some accommodation with geoengineering.

Critics counter that no quick-fix solution to climate change exists and may never exist. Meddling further with the environment, they say, will have manifold unforeseen, far-reaching and possibly catastrophic effects. The geoengineering cure, in short, may end up killing the patient. The most authoritative paper on the subject, a 2009 report by the Royal Society, concluded that emissions reduction should be the priority of government. Geoengineering was still plan b...

Terraforming on Mars, by D Mitriy, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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