Geo-engineering: a bad idea whose time has come?
The mainstream approach to climate change does not seem to be working so some scientists and policymakers say it may be time to look into something completely different: re-engineering Earth's climate.
Variously called geo-engineering, climate remediation and planet hacking, the idea is to do on purpose what industry and other human activities have done inadvertently, which is to change the amount of climate-warming greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and as a result, cool it down.
The concept has been around for nearly a century, from about the same time scientists and engineers noted the warming effect carbon dioxide emissions had on climate. Until quite recently, the notion has been relegated to the fringes of debate. Global climate talks have focused instead on curbing future emissions of greenhouse gases, known as mitigation.
But in the lead-up to the latest round of U.N. climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, there have been serious examinations of what it might take to start countering the effects of increasing carbon dioxide in the air.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank that takes on the kind of gnarly issues most other organizations will not touch, released a national strategic plan on "the potential effectiveness, feasibility and consequences of climate remediation techniques" in October.
HOW GEO-ENGINEERING MIGHT WORK
Harvard University offered a discussion paper in November on how climate engineering might be governed. Its author, Daniel Bodansky of Arizona State University, started with a question that sums up how some skeptics feel about the United Nations' tactics to curb climate change:
"How much are we willing to bet that countries will succeed in preventing dangerous climate change by cutting their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases?"
The unspoken answer is, not much. So exploring research into geo-engineering may make sense, the author argues.
In research published in October in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, climate experts used computer models to determine what type of tests might work in the future to figure out geo-engineering's risks and effectiveness.
Image credit: Shutterstock, Victor Habbick