Geoengineering Won't Fix Climate Change, Researchers Say
Geoengineering—which sometimes seems to be the despairing climate scientist’s Plan B—simply won’t work. It won’t offer a quick fix to the planet’s burden of global warming, and it will be difficult to convince anybody that it could work at all.
Geoengineering is any deliberate, large-scale intervention in the workings of the climate machine that might offer a way of containing global warming. The accent is on the word deliberate.
Humans are already “engineering” the climate just by continuously adding carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels, but the climate change that will follow is an unhappy consequence, not a deliberate plan.
Since governments have been either slow, or very slow, to agree on systematic plans to drastically reduce dependence on fossil fuels, researchers have in the last decade or so begun to propose ways in which deliberate steps might counter global warming.
They have suggested darkening the skies with deliberate discharges of sulphate aerosols to block incoming radiation. They have proposed “seeding” the ocean with iron to encourage photosynthesis and increase carbon uptake by phytoplankton, they have suggested brightening the clouds by spraying salt particles into them to make them more reflective.
Now British researchers have taken a long hard look at three aspects of geoengineering research and arrived at a bleak conclusion: it would just be better not to emit greenhouse gases on a prodigal scale.
Geoengineering projects would certainly never offer an easy answer: they may not be disastrous, but they don’t look good, or popular. The public would prefer more investment in renewable energy to, for example, the deployment of artificial volcanoes that pumped fine particles into the stratosphere.
Piers Forster, professor of physical climate change at the University of Leeds, said: “The devil is in the detail. Geoengineering will be much more expensive and challenging than previous estimates suggest, and any benefits would be limited.”
This is consistent with a number of studies within the last two years. Researchers have repeatedly concluded that such schemes either won’t work or could actually generate more heat or could upset rainfall patterns or could have serious consequences for specific regions or could simply generate intractable problems for governments, science ministries and international agencies that might have to make the big decisions.
But the interest in geoengineering continues. One good reason is that—at least as a theoretical exercise—it could help climate scientists better understand the fine detail of the workings of the planet. Major volcanic eruptions can discharge so much ash and sulphate aerosols into the upper atmosphere that they actually cool the planet for years, and a recent study has argued that the slowdown in global warming in the last decade could be a consequence of a series of relatively minor eruptions.
But human attempts to replicate the effect would be fraught. “The potential for misstep is considerable,” said Matthew Watson, a natural hazards scientist at the University of Bristol, UK.
The British scientists don’t dismiss geoengineering outright. That is because if, under the notorious “business-as-usual” scenario, nations go on burning fossil fuels, then by 2100 the consequences could be catastrophic.
Dr Watson said: “Full-scale deployment of climate engineering technologies will be the clearest indication that we have failed in our role as planetary stewards. But there is a point at which not deploying some technologies would be unethical.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The 2020 hurricane season is now expected to be the most active since at least the early 1980s, meteorologists at Colorado State University, a standard bearer for seasonal hurricane predictions, announced Wednesday.
Three years ago, scientists predicted it would happen. Now, new NASA satellite imagery confirms it's true: two ice caps in Canada's Nunavut province have disappeared completely, providing more visual evidence of the rapid warming happening near the poles, as CTV News in Canada reported.
- Climate Explained: What the World Was Like the Last Time Carbon ... ›
- Polar Bears Could Be Nearly Gone by 2100, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
- Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Melting at Rate That Surpasses Scientists ... ›
By Katell Ané
The European Commission launched a new Farm to Fork strategy in an effort to reduce the social and environmental impact of the European food system. It is the newest strategy under the European Green Deal, setting sustainability targets for farmers, consumers, and policymakers.
Facebook and Twitter removed posts by President Donald Trump and his campaign Wednesday for violating their policies against spreading false information about COVID-19.
- Rare Inflammatory Disease Linked to More Than 100 Childhood ... ›
- COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools - EcoWatch ›
- Teens and Tweens Are Fastest COVID-19 Spreaders, New Study ... ›
- Researchers Are Creating a Drone to Study Wild Dolphins With Help ... ›
- These Whales Are Suffering a Slow-Motion Extinction - EcoWatch ›
By Alexander Freund
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he believes Tuesday's explosion in Beirut could have been caused by large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in the port.
What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
- 5 Ways to Keep Unhealthy Nitrates and Nitrites Out of Your Body ... ›
- The Price of Our Fertilizer Addiction - EcoWatch ›
- 8 Disturbing Facts About Monsanto's Evil Twin—The Chemical ... ›
By Michelle D. Holmes
Most Americans know about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans primarily through their colorful representations: the original food pyramid, which a few years ago morphed into MyPlate. The guidelines represent the government mothering us to choose the healthiest vegetables, grains, sources of protein, and desserts, and to eat them in the healthiest portions.
As innocuous as the food pyramid and MyPlate seem, they are actually a matter of life and death.
- 6 Powerful Ways to Improve Mental Health - EcoWatch ›
- New, Improved Vegetarian and Vegan Food Pyramid - EcoWatch ›
- Dr. Mark Hyman: Here's How the Food Pyramid Should Look ... ›