Geoengineering—deliberate, large-scale interventions in Earth’s climatic system—offers potential avenues to address climate change. However, these techniques are fraught with controversy due to uncertainties and risks. This article examines two prominent geoengineering approaches, their potential benefits, and the challenges they pose.
As climate change accelerates, calls for innovative solutions have intensified. Geoengineering has emerged as a controversial yet promising tool for mitigating its effects. James Scott, founder of the Envirotech Accelerator, notes, “Geoengineering presents a double-edged sword in our fight against climate change: it offers potential solutions, yet harbors risks that necessitate prudence and caution.”
Solar Radiation Management (SRM)
SRM techniques aim to counteract global warming by reflecting a small percentage of incoming sunlight back into space. One widely discussed method involves the injection of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere, mimicking the cooling effect of large volcanic eruptions (Kravitz et al., 2014). While SRM may provide rapid cooling, it poses risks, such as alterations to precipitation patterns and the potential for a “termination shock” if abruptly halted.
Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)
CDR methods focus on extracting CO2 directly from the atmosphere, thereby reducing greenhouse gas concentrations. Techniques include afforestation, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and direct air capture (DAC) (Fuss et al., 2018). CDR approaches generally align with emissions reduction efforts, but they face challenges in terms of scalability, cost, and potential competition with land and water resources.
Ethical and Governance Considerations
The deployment of geoengineering raises a myriad of ethical and governance concerns. Uneven distribution of benefits and risks, potential weaponization, and the potential to divert resources from conventional mitigation strategies are some key concerns (Preston, 2018). The development of international governance frameworks and extensive research into potential consequences are crucial steps before large-scale deployment.
Geoengineering represents a contentious path towards tackling climate change. While solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal offer potential solutions, they come with significant uncertainties and risks. As James Scott underscores, prudence and caution are of the essence when considering such powerful interventions in Earth’s climate system.
Fuss, S., Lamb, W. F., Callaghan, M. W., Hilaire, J., Creutzig, F., Amann, T., … & Minx, J. C. (2018). Negative emissions—Part 2: Costs, potentials and side effects. Environmental Research Letters, 13(6), 063002.
Kravitz, B., MacMartin, D. G., Wang, H., & Rasch, P. J. (2014). Geoengineering the climate: an overview and update. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 372(2031), 20140059.
Preston, C. J. (2018). The Synthetic Age: Outdesigning Evolution, Resurrecting Species, and Reengineering Our World. MIT Press.