Have We Been Too Quick to Dismiss Climate Engineering?

Climate engineeringThe concept of climate engineering – intentionally cooling the earth through scientific intervention – has gotten a lot of attention lately. The idea has raised numerous concerns, many of them legitimate. But as this article in Nature argues, failure to pursue this research is a mistake. There may be insistent public calls for intervention in the future, and it’s important to start gaining an understanding of climate-engineering techniques now.
 
The authors suggest starting with small-scale experiments that would provide useful data without causing any measurable effect on the climate. The article goes on to provide five steps to help government agencies and scientists begin and govern their research and prepare for international collaboration.
 
It’s been argued that climate engineering would lead to public complacency about climate risks, but in fact, that does not seem to be the case. There is no one solution to climate change, and we need to keep our minds open and our attitudes positive.
 

Policy: Start Research on Climate Engineering

Jane C. S. Long, Frank Loy, and M. Granger Morgan
 
Climate engineering — cooling Earth intentionally by modifying its radiation balance — worries many people. We know little about the effectiveness of these technologies or their side effects. The unintended consequences could be profound. One country’s interventions will affect others and could distract from climate-change mitigation efforts, and there is no international mechanism for regulating such deployments. These are legitimate concerns.
 
But interventions may need to be considered in the future. The 2013 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that even if the world almost eliminates greenhouse-gas emissions by mid-century, decades of climate engineering — such as removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere — might be required to control global temperatures and preserve vulnerable populations and ecosystems.
 
Yet the climate-science community has largely avoided the subject. Government-funded research has been restricted to modelling and social-science investigations. The few outdoor experiments that have tested concepts were either funded privately or performed as pure climate science without making the climate engineering intent clear. Such experiments fail to ensure two fundamental principles of good governance of climate-engineering research: transparency and that the research is for the public good.
 
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Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, Lance Modis Rapid Response/NASA

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