Quantcast
Climate
iStock

Geoengineering Could Create More Problems Than It Could Solve

By Tim Radford

Geoengineering—the untested technofix that would permit the continued use of fossil fuels—could create more problems than it could solve.

By masking sunlight with injections of sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere, nations could perhaps suppress some of the devastating hurricanes and typhoons that in a rapidly warming world threaten northern hemisphere cities. But they could also scorch the Sahel region of Africa, to threaten millions of lives and livelihoods, according to new research.


Geoengineering is sometimes played as humanity's have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too option: humans have already unthinkingly engineered climate change over the last 200 years by profligate combustion of coal, oil and gas that releases ever-growing concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Since ferocious volcanic eruptions have been known to cool the global climate by pumping soot and sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere, some reason that scientists and technologists could play the same card, in a calculated fashion.

But shortly after one research team showed that, in theory at least, geoengineering could be made to work, a second group has demonstrated that there would be a huge price to pay. And they call on policymakers to think carefully before testing any unilateral action.

"Our results confirm that regional solar geoengineering is a highly risky strategy which could simultaneously benefit one region to the detriment of another," said Anthony Jones, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter, UK, who led the study.

"It is vital that policymakers take solar geoengineering seriously and act swiftly to install effective regulation."

This is an argument that has continued for more than a decade: in 2006, the Nobel laureate and chemist Paul Crutzen pointed out that, while burning hydrocarbon fuels, humans also released sulphate aerosols that represented a health hazard, linked to half a million deaths a year.

Multiple Effects

If a proportion of this pollution reached the upper atmosphere, it would not only save lives, it would change the reflectivity of the planet, dim solar radiation and contain global warming.

Since then, researchers the world over have repeatedly looked at the geo-engineering option, and repeatedly conceded that the ideal answer would be to stop burning fossil fuels.

And since greenhouse gas emissions have failed to fall, other groups have repeatedly returned to the study, to find that such solutions may not work, or that they could create more problems than they solve.

Dr. Jones and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications that they tested the sulphate solution in simulation to find what others have suggested: that in addition to damping global temperature rise, a deliberate darkening of the skies would also suppress hurricane activity in the north Atlantic.

Drought Risk

But, as others have argued, it would also heighten the likelihood of sustained drought in the Sahel, a region which extends across 14 nations in Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia.

"It is obvious from first principles that stratospheric aerosol geoengineering deployed in only one hemisphere would lead to huge shifts in tropical climate patterns," said Peter Irvine, a researcher at Harvard University in the U.S., commenting on the study.

"Deploying stratospheric aerosol geoengineering in only one hemisphere is pretty certainly a bad idea, and this work helps reinforce that view."

And John Shepherd, an Earth system scientist at the University of Southampton in the UK, said: "This is not a technique that is ready to use in the near future: reducing CO2 emissions and planning our adaptation must remain top priorities for climate policy."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
In the barrier reef in Belize a cave in formed a great blue hole. Lomingen / iStock / Getty Images Plus

LIVE Interview: Plastic Found in Great Blue Hole in Belize

2018 was the year for plastic pollution awareness. One good aspect of the plastic crisis is the fact that we can solve it. Getting involved with solutions is an easy way to have our voices heard globally.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Southern Resident killer whale mother and her calf swimming. NOAA

Washington Gov. Proposes 'Herculean Effort' to Save 74 Remaining Southern Resident Orcas

With only 74 left in the wild, the Southern Resident orca population in Puget Sound needs help now more than ever. That's why on Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's office announced "an unprecedented investment" to help boost the population as well as the Chinook salmon they eat.

"We are undertaking a herculean effort to save these iconic creatures. It will take action at every level of the environment across our entire state," Inslee said in a news release. "We need to restore the ecosystem to one that sustains orcas, salmon and the quality of life for all Washingtonians."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Amber Lamoreaux / Pexels

Major UK Supermarket to Ban Glitter From Own-Brand Products

British supermarket Waitrose announced Friday that it will ban glitter from its own-brand products by Christmas 2020.

The upscale retailer said its labels, wrap, flowers, plants and other single-use items will either be glitter-free or use an environmentally friendly alternative.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Natural pine trees can liven up Christmas and the environment when they are replanted after. Cavan Images / Getty Images

5 Ways to Have a Green Christmas (and Help the Planet)

It's pretty common this time of year to hear the song White Christmas, but at EcoWatch we want folks to have a green Christmas. With a couple of tips, you can make sure your winter festivities have a smaller carbon footprint. Here are five ways you can have a more environmentally friendly holiday.

1. Give Green Gifts
Share your love of the planet by giving gifts that are good for the environment. Need ideas? The EcoWatch staff rounded up their favorite gifts, and USA Today highlights items such as iTunes gift cards, reusable straws, organic wine and non-toxic cosmetics in their story about purchasing green presents.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Kingborough Council

Tasmania Builds Road From Single-Use Plastics, Glass and Printer Toner

A local government in Tasmania found a clever way to recycle single-use plastics and other landfill-bound waste by building a new road.

The 500-meter (1,640-foot) stretch outside the city of Hobart is made of approximately 173,600 plastic bags and packaging, as well as 82,500 glass bottle equivalents diverted from landfill, the Kingborough council announced Tuesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Alchemy Goods / Bambaw / LuminAID

EcoWatch's Favorite Green Gifts for the Holidays

The holidays are coming and if you're stuck on what to give your eco-conscious friend or relative, we've got you covered. At EcoWatch, we're big fans of homemade presents, products that actually help the planet, and putting our dollars towards a good cause. This year, our staff has rounded up some of the best green gifts we've given and received, as well as the items on our wish list.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Senate Approves Farm Bill

By Dan Nosowitz

The Farm Bill, which is supposed to be passed about every five years but which has for the past few been substantially delayed, finally saw the Senate floor Thursday, where it passed by a vote of 87 to 13.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Mtwrighter / CC BY-SA 4.0

Most Diverse Butterfly Center in the U.S. to be Bulldozed for Trump’s Border Wall

The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas is the most diverse butterfly sanctuary in the U.S. Some 200 species of butterflies find a home there each year, including the Mexican bluewing, the black swallowtail and the increasingly imperiled monarch. And, as soon as February, almost 70 percent of it could be lost to President Donald Trump's border wall, The Guardian reported Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!