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National Academy of Sciences Says Geoengineering Is Not the Answer to Climate Change

Climate

Geoengineering, the deliberate, large-scale technological manipulation of the Earth's systems, has been proposed for years as a panacea to dealing with climate change. However, many of the proposed technologies are only in their infancy and extremely expensive. Researchers have repeatedly concluded that such schemes are not the answer to climate change because they will either be futile or even further disrupt the climate.

The reports look at two geoengineering technologies: Carbon dioxide removal and albedo-modification. Carbon dioxide removal involves enhancing or mimicking the "natural processes that already remove about half of the world's carbon emissions from the atmosphere each year." Unfortunately, all of the technologies—such as ocean iron fertilization and direct air capture of carbon—are far too immature and expensive to solve the current crisis, according to the NAS press release.Yesterday, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) affirmed previous researchers' findings with the release of two reports on climate intervention through geoengineering. Its conclusion: "There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change."

Albedo-modification technologies, "which aim to increase the ability of Earth or clouds to reflect incoming sunlight," are relatively inexpensive "compared with the costs of transitioning to a carbon-free economy" and the technology is readily available. However, albedo modification would only temporarily mask the warming effect of greenhouse gases and "would not address atmospheric concentrations of CO2 or related impacts such as ocean acidification," concludes report.

In order to be effective, the technologies would have to be deployed around the world and "sustained indefinitely" with "severe negative consequences if they were to be terminated." Additionally, albedo modification poses secondary effects on the ozone layer, precipitation patterns, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and human health with many unknown consequences. The committee that produced the report says they "pose considerable risks and should not be deployed at this time."

The committee said "It would be 'irrational and irresponsible' to implement sustained albedo modification without also pursuing emissions mitigation, carbon dioxide removal or both." The NAS committee opposed deployment of these technologies, but recommended further research.

“That scientists are even considering technological interventions should be a wake-up call that we need to do more now to reduce emissions, which is the most effective, least risky way to combat climate change," said committee chair Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science and former director of the U.S. Geological Survey. “But the longer we wait, the more likely it will become that we will need to deploy some forms of carbon dioxide removal to avoid the worst impacts of climate change."

Many environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, support the current geoengineering moratorium agreed upon through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 by 193 countries due to its environmental, social, cultural and economic risks.

"Geoengineering presumes that we can apply a dramatic technological fix to climate disruption," said Ben Schreiber, Friends of the Earth Climate and Energy Program director. "Instead of facing the reality that we need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions, lower our consumption levels and rapidly transition to renewable energy, some hope to simply reengineer the climate, the land and the oceans to theoretically slow down and reverse climate disruption.

"The side effects of geoengineering interventions are unknown and untested. One country's experiments, therefore, could have devastating effects on other countries and the global climate system."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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