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Published June 2, 2014 08:22 AM

Reducing emissions to combat climate change

Climate engineering is unlikely to provide an effective or practical solution to slowing global warming, according to a new study.

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Reducing the release of carbon remains the only likely answer to tackling climate change ahead of fanciful projects such as positioning giant mirrors in space to reduce the amount of sunlight being trapped in the earth's atmosphere or seeding clouds to reduce the amount of light entering earth's atmosphere.

A new report by professors from UCLA and five other universities studied a range of possible approaches to dissipating greenhouse gases and reducing warming.

"We found that climate engineering doesn't offer a perfect option," said Daniela Cusack, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of geography in UCLA's College of Letters and Science. "The perfect option is reducing emissions. We have to cut down the amount of emissions we're putting into the atmosphere if, in the future, we want to have anything like the Earth we have now."

Still, the study concluded, some approaches to climate engineering are more promising than others, and they should be used to augment efforts to reduce the 9 billion tons of carbon dioxide being released each year by human activity.

The first scholarly attempt to rank a wide range of approaches to minimizing climate change in terms of their feasibility, cost-effectiveness, risk, public acceptance, governability and ethics, the study appears in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The authors hope the information will help the public and decision-makers invest in the approaches with the largest payoffs and the fewest disadvantages. At stake, the study emphasizes, are the futures of food production, our climate and water security.

Cusack, an authority on forest and soil ecology, teamed up with experts in oceanography, political science, sociology, economics and ethics. Working under the auspices of the National Science Foundation, the team spent two years evaluating more than 100 studies that addressed the various implications of climate engineering and their anticipated effects on greenhouse gases.

Ultimately, the group focused its investigation on the five strategies that appear to hold the most promise: reducing emissions, sequestering carbon through biological means on land and in the ocean, storing carbon dioxide in a liquefied form in underground geological formations and wells, increasing the Earth's cloud cover and solar reflection.

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