Climate change risks can be addressed by individual action, by community initiatives, and by national and international policies and agreements.  Another weapon in the arsenal to fight climate change is geoengineering that provides large scale technical fixes.

Climate change could be modified if the sun is blocked or heat is sent back out into the stratosphere.  To accomplish this, geoengineering projects  have considered loading the stratosphere with millions of tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) that react with oxygen, water and other substances forming sulfate droplets.  These droplets help to block the sun and reduce warming.  The process mimics the effect of volcanoes that discharge SO2 blocking the sun and cooling the earth.  Such large-scale engineered actions are largely untested and many questions remain about their efficacy — how much SO2 would be necessary, how would it be delivered, at what cost.  Other proposals include spraying seawater into the air to whiten and increase clouds to reflect sun rays away from the earth.

Before you dismiss such ideas as more Star Wars than science, be advised that the US Congressional Committee on Science and Technology scheduled hearings on geoengineering in November 2009, the UK parliament has already held hearings on geoengineering, and research funds are beginning to be directed to testing such proposals.

Some propose considering, and testing, such geoengineering projects as temporary fixes while global agreements are reached and policies and practices can be implemented to reduce greenhouse gases and communities can drastically reduce or eliminate carbon-based energy and fuel systems.  Others fear that such hard-engineering projects will offer the possibly false hope of a quick fix and undermine the very hard policy choices that are blocking international agreements.  The danger exists that a quick engineered solution might offer the seductive choice of continuing profligate consumption.

Some further ideas to explore on Geoengineering:

Identify a geoengineering approach to climate change and determine its realistic possibilities and its enviromental and economic costs and benefits.

How would you convince a political body to adopt this geoengineering approach?

Would you consider carbon sequestration a geoengineering project?  If so, why?  If not, why?

Does the RoI or NI, individually or jointly, have the resources to develop or implement any geoengineering projects?


Robert Kunzig, “Geoengineering: How to Cool Earth–At a Price,” Scientific American (November 2008).

Diana Bronson, “Geoengineering: Plan B for when Copenhagen fails? eek!”  (November 4, 2009)

Bjørnar Egede-Nissen and Henry David Venema, “Desperate Times, Desperate Measures: Advancing the geoengineering debate at the Arctic Council,” International Institute for Sustainable Development (August 2009)

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One comment so far, add your own below

  • 29 Jun 2012 at 10:30 am Travis

    Yogini,”it’s dangerous and isposrenrible.”And yet. When I cut down a tree, I change the landscape. Cut down three trees, and I affect the water table (underground aquifers), the rate of pulling minerals into the surface soil, the reflectivity of a bit of the Earth, and local wind and rain currents and patterns.When Oklahoma lays out — or re-surfaces — a highway, they change the reflectivity of a bit of the Earth, and plant enormous thermal air plumes that stretch across the land.When a developer plows under farm fields, or chops down trees and builds tract homes and those cute, energy-wasting, curving streets, he changes the thermal characteristics of the area, concentrates water diversion and sewage generation, etc. Oh, and the developer institutionalizes another electricity and oil consuming oasis of energy consumption.The high flying airliners that introduce fuel exhaust and stir the air at altitude affect the environment. When Arizona planted mile-long lines of Eucalyptus trees to break up the wind, slow soil erosion, and reduce water evaporation from farm lands — that was geoengineering.The proposed dams on Scandanavian fjords to moderate spring thaws — that have been hampering the Gulf Stream that should have been moderating weather in the British Isles and western Europe — would have been geoengineering, albeit to restore a previous ocean pattern.When Colonial and early American settlers cut down the old-growth forest that once covered the US east of the Mississippi, that was geoengineering.When we let refineries build huge flare towers to burn off inconvenient wastes and products because it was a convenient and cheap way to avoid containing (safely) and dealing with various flammable liquids and gases, we are geoengineering.When we plant a garden we are sacrificing a bit of our yard. When we join a bunch of folk in planting gardens, we are geoengineering.We are geoengineering all the time. There is one theory that the “next” ice age began about 1200 A.D., and only the burning of fossil fuels and wood has staved off the growing chill — and reducing industrial and residential smoke, char, and thermal blooms will embrace the sheets of ice in short order. And, yes, whatever the outcome, deliberately changing our energy use is geoengineering.

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