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Climate Engineers can't stop Global Worming

Climate Engineers can't stop Global Worming

Tin­ker­ing with cli­mate change through cli­mate “engi­neer­ing” won't help us avoid what we have to do to stop glob­al warm­ing, says a new re­port by re­search­ers at six uni­vers­i­ties.

Af­ter assessing a range of pos­si­ble cli­mate-altering ap­proaches to re­duc­ing warm­ing, the team con­clud­ed there's no way around it: those ap­proaches may en­hance our oth­er ef­forts, but we have to re­duce the types of emis­sions re­spon­si­ble the warm­ing. Emis­sions of car­bon di­ox­ide and oth­er so-called green­house gas­es through hu­man ac­ti­vi­ties are con­sid­ered the cul­prits be­hind the warm­ing.

“Some cli­mate en­gi­neer­ing strate­gies look very cheap on pa­per. But when you con­sid­er oth­er cri­te­ria, like ec­o­log­i­cal risk, pub­lic per­cep­tions and the abil­i­ties of gov­ern­ments to con­trol the tech­nol­o­gy, some op­tions look very bad,” said re­search­er Jonn Axsen of Si­mon Fra­ser Uni­vers­ity in Brit­ish Co­lum­bia.

The as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the uni­vers­ity's School of Re­source and En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment is a co-author of this stu­dy, which ap­pears in the lat­est is­sue of the jour­nal Fron­tiers in Ecol­o­gy and the En­vi­ronment. It de­scribes it­self as 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.

It states that the most ef­fec­tive way of con­fronting cli­mate change is re­duc­ing emis­sions through some com­bina­t­ion of switch­ing away from fos­sil fu­els to low-car­bon en­er­gy sources, im­prov­ing en­er­gy ef­fi­cien­cy, and chang­ing hu­man be­hav­ior. The au­thors added that strate­gies such as for­est man­age­ment and ge­o­log­i­cal stor­age of car­bon di­ox­ide may be use­ful com­ple­ments to emis­sion re­duc­tions.

Oth­er cli­mate en­gi­neer­ing strate­gies are less ap­peal­ing, the au­thors said, such as fer­ti­liz­ing the ocean with iron to ab­sorb car­bon di­ox­ide or re­duc­ing glob­al warm­ing by in­ject­ing par­t­i­cles in­to the at­mos­phere to block sun­light. “Take the ex­am­ple of so­lar radia­t­ion man­age­ment, which is the idea of put­ting aerosols in­to the strat­o­sphere, kind of like what hap­pens when a large vol­ca­no erupts,” Axsen ex­plained. “This is a sur­pris­ingly cheap way to re­duce glob­al tem­per­a­tures, and we have the tech­nol­o­gy to do it. But our study asked oth­er im­por­tant ques­tions. What are the envi­ron­men­tal risks? Will glob­al cit­i­zens ac­cept this? What coun­try would man­age this? Is that fair? Sud­den­ly, this strat­e­gy does not look so attrac­tive.”

Work­ing un­der the aus­pic­es of the Na­t­ional Sci­ence Founda­t­ion, the au­thors spent two years eval­u­at­ing more than 100 stud­ies that ad­dressed the var­i­ous im­plica­t­ions of cli­mate en­gi­neer­ing and their an­ti­cipated ef­fects on green­house gas­es.




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