A “far out” plan to combat global warming could be in the works, according to some scientists, and has them a bit frightened.
You might have heard of “geoengineering.” It’s the highly controversial theory that humans could slow, stop, or even reverse global warming by “hacking” the planet with major technological advances that would alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
There are two well-known categories of geoengineering, and each may have obstacles and benefits. The first category involves pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and burying it underground, which artificially reverses the man-made greenhouse gas pollution that causes global warming. The second kind involves “seeding” the atmosphere with particles that would increase its reflectivity, which what climate scientists call “albedo,” and send more sunlight back into space. However, short and long-term effects of both are not well understood and leave many earth scientists wary.
Atmospheric chemist Lynn Russell, of the University of California, San Diego, was quick to say that this may not be the answer the world has been searching for.
“We definitely don’t think that we’re ready to say this is something worth doing. As a community we’ve been afraid to do the research because we thought it would take attention away from mitigating greenhouse gases. There is an obligation to think about whether, even if climate engineering isn’t a great idea, it might not be as bad as nothing.”
A breakdown of the two basic ways to “genoengineer” the environment seems to be gaining more attention as the earth becomes hotter each year and there has been no progress in stopping the increasing temperature and certainly not in reversing it.
Carbon dioxide removal is expensive to carry out, whereas albedo introduction is relatively inexpensive. While the cost factors will definitely appeal to many, scientists are quick to warn that they aren’t completely sure how albedo could affect the earth and its inhabitants, while they are fairly certain of the effects of taking away carbon dioxide. The other problem with albedo is that it does not encourage people to change their ways as far as the “bio footprint” they leave, and it’s unknown if the injection of albedo would last indefinitely. With the removal of carbon dioxide, there could still be motivation to curtail practices, production, and vehicles that may contribute to global warming.
Russell said the fact alone that there is much controversy among scientists as to the efficacy of these methods means we are fairly far from utilizing them. However, she said, much more research could be done if it suddenly became necessary.
“The stage we’re at now is not even having enough information to make that decision. But if we did put together a serious research program, we would make a lot of advances relatively quickly.”