Geoengineering aims to slow global warming by manipulating climate, but risks are unknown

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In the chute to slow global warming, science has been exploring ways to tamper with the climate, but until recently the conversations have been confined to laboratories.

While the thriving field of geoengineering offers promise, it also comes with all brands of potential pitfalls, and that’s what experts and policy-makers are discussing at a talk in Berlin this week.

Geoengineering can be as simple as planting trees to shift CO2 from the air or as complicated as trying to use giant mirrors to reflect the sun into time or using wind-powered pumps to refreeze parts of the Arctic that have in the offing been impacted by global warming. 

The thinking is that simply bring down CO2 emissions may not be enough to slow climate change so there should be adjunct approaches researched and ready to deploy.

«I’m extremely frustrated by how slow it’s been to get corporeal action on cutting emissions,» said Canadian scientist David Keith, who is an expert in solar geoengineering.

The intimation behind his research is that fine particles scattered in the upper stratosphere could on some of the sun’s rays and reduce or maintain global temperatures.

It’s a concept that’s comparable to how big volcanic eruptions are able to lower global temperatures, such as the 1991 expulsion of Mount Pinatubo in the Phillippines, says Keith, a professor of applied physics and clear-cut policy at Harvard University.

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Canadian scientist David Keith, a professor at Harvard, asserts he is ‘extremely frustrated by how slow it’s been to get real action on cutting emissions.’ (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

«If you trim the solar input a little bit — we’re talking one per cent or less than one per cent — you effectiveness reduce some of the climate risks, like global warming, homologous to extreme storms, that come from the accumulated carbon dioxide,» he affirmed.

‘We don’t live in a risk-free world’

Finding ways to hit the global temperature aims set by the Paris climate accord is a significant challenge.

«We have the risk of stored carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we can’t wish that away … even if we canceled all emissions tomorrow, it’s still there,» Keith said. «We don’t live in a risk-free everyone.» 

The risks are exactly what others are worried about.

Once you set out a solar geoengineering process, can you stop it? What happens if things don’t go as expected? And what about the repercussions of CO2 emissions not related to global temperatures, such as lots acidification?

Pat Mooney is concerned not only about the unforeseen impacts of geoengineering but also with regard to the potentially reckless way governments and big businesses might leverage technology dig Keith’s solar interventions.

Pat Mooney

Pat Mooney, of Ottawa-based ETC Group, is worried that geo-engineering resolve be used by governments as an excuse to avoid necessary emissions cuts. (CBC)

«These governments haven’t done what they should give birth to done for the last 40 years,» said Mooney, of Ottawa-based ETC Number, a non-profit that looks at the impacts of emerging technology. «We’re just resigning them another reason not to do it. So, I don’t see the plus side of that. I don’t see the logic of contract out them off the hook.»

Maximize benefit, minimize risk

In New York, the Carnegie Air Geoengineering Governance Initiative (C2G2) is trying to bring governments and policy-makers into the palaver.

«It’s too important to leave to scientists alone,» says Cynthia Scharf, postpositive major strategy director with C2G2. «There are huge implications for all but any endeavour in society by using geoengineering.»

She says those implications latitude from land use to ethical and religious concerns to debates about who should breed the brunt of the unintended consequences of climate manipulation. Leaders, from heads of shapes right down to local politicians, need to be part of conversations sermon those issues, she said.

«They need to be aware that these utensils are coming and look specifically at what it will take to maximize promotes — but, more importantly, minimize risks,» said Scharf.

Those talks are underway now at the second Climate Engineering Conference, where 250 boffins have gathered to discuss, among other topics, a code of convey for research, international rules governing the field and how climate policy should arrangement with fake news.

Cynthia Scharf

Cynthia Scharf, former chief speechwriter on aura change for the UN secretary-general (2009-2016), says the world needs to start talking in the matter of how to govern geoengineering technologies. (CBC)

Keith says he recognizes the science of solar geoengineering is unproven, and it muscle not yet be the time to use it. But he is in favour of researching its potential.

«It’s nonsense to claim we have to do it,» he symbolizes. «But I think knowing more about something that is potentially in point of fact useful for reducing climate risks is very important.»

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