Just what you wanted to hear on a holiday: Thanks to a lack of political action, the controversial practice of geoengineering, or intentionally modifying the global environment, may be the only way to combat climate change in a necessary time frame, according to a group of scientists.
Researchers Brian Launder of the University of Manchester and Michael Thompson of the University of Cambridge have published a series of papers in the UK’s Royal Society that call for a serious look at a variety of extreme measures to stabilize global warming, like seeding the oceans with iron, injecting sulphur into the upper atmosphere and creating fake clouds over the sea.
The researchers say there have been very few measures put in place to meet carbon emission reductions, and the targets that have been put in place could fall far short. On top of that the researchers say there is new evidence that the Earth’s climate is even more sensitive to carbon emissions than previously thought. This all leads the scientists to conclude that geoengineering techniques — which have long been considered extreme, last resort measures — should be studied and reviewed as possible options to combat climate change.
These geo–scale interventions are undoubtedly risky: but the time may come when they are universally perceived to be less risky than doing nothing.
One of the papers in the group concludes that the practice of fertilizing oceans with iron to boost plankton blooms and sequester carbon through the plankton lifecycle has the “potential to enhance sequestration,” but that much is not known. Researchers need to do more fieldwork and create better mathematical models before scientists can evaluate the practice further, the paper says. We’ve previously covered startups Climos and Planktos, which are trying to create business models off of ocean fertilization.
Geoengineering techniques will undoubtedly have unknown consequences, which could possibly have negative effects on the Earth’s atmosphere. But we agree that more controversial strategies should be evaluated and researched. Here’s our Top 10 List Of Most Controversial Ways to Save the Planet, which we published last November:
- Ocean seeding: More iron causes more plankton blooms; plankton eat carbon and when they die sink to the bottom of the ocean, thereby sequestering it.
- Re-ice the Arctic: A University of Alberta scientist proposes a fleet of 8,000 barges to re-ice the Arctic with salty ice, thereby cooling the water and keeping the conveyor belt moving.
- Sulfur solar shield: Inject sulfur into the upper atmosphere, thereby creating a reflective shield that would keep the Earth cool.
- Ocean-cooling pipes: An ocean-cooling pipe that would cool the ocean in front of approaching hurricanes, as well as causing plankton blooms that could act as a CO2 sink.
- Cloud seeding: Shooting various things into the clouds to stimulate them into action to create a reflective, cooling cover.
- Genetically Modified CO2-Eating Trees: While all trees scrub CO2 from the air and produce the oxygen that we breathe, scientists are looking into genetically modifying trees’ ability to “eat” carbon dioxide.
- Fake Plastic CO2-Eating Trees: Modeled on trees’ ability to suck in CO2, these machines would pump air “through a chamber containing sodium hydroxide, which reacts with the CO2 to form sodium carbonate.” After a few more reactions, there’d be pure CO2, which could be injected into the ground like a regular old carbon storage system.
- Space mirrors: Using mirrors to reflect sun rays back into space. The problem is that they’d have to be huge and there would have to be a lot of them, and launch costs could be in the thousands of dollars per pound.
- Reflective space mesh: Proposed by Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, this reflective mesh would be placed out in space, about a million miles between the sun and the Earth.
- Glacier Blankets: Blanket glaciers with a special material designed to protect high-value Alps skiing territory.