More Geoengineering Ideas

Various suggestions for altering Earth’s climate are making their way into the policy dialogue.

After finishing my last blog entry discussing recent research related to geoengineering, I came across a news piece about a Harvard physicist who has suggested another novel way to alter Earth’s climate systems.

Russel Seitz’s proposal entails injecting small bubbles into the world’s oceans to increase the Earth’s albedo, or how much light the Earth reflects back into space.

The bubbles would act as tiny reflective surfaces under Seitz’s plan, and if enough bubbles were generated, and they stuck around long enough, the argument goes, they could potentially help reduce global temperatures.

Of course, actually implementing the plan would require huge amounts of time, energy and money. That isn’t disputed at all. And it isn’t particularly different from any other geoengineering scheme that I’ve heard of on those counts.

All geoengineering proposals I’ve heard require far more inputs to be successful than they are likely to given, in my opinion.

For this particular proposal, we would need a large body or research to support the feasibility of the proposal, a huge fleet of ships, various apparatus to inject the bubbles, and world-class monitoring on a vast scale to ensure we know whether what we’re doing is effective, how effective it is and if our actions are having any unintended consequences.

I believe this kind of solution is just too energy intensive. The same is true of adding iron to the world’s oceans, or trying to shield the Earth from the sun’s rays by putting reflective disks in orbit around the planet.

The geoengineering scheme that seems most feasible (though still very far-fetched) to me is the idea of putting aerosols into our atmosphere. These sulfate aerosols have a reflective effect, and produce a condition called “global dimming.”

The application of this concept, at least in part, is already a reality in that we currently inject large numbers of aerosols into our atmosphere.

Global dimming has likely already been observed, and some argue that we’ve actually been masking the effects of anthropogenic global warming by creating this dimming effect.

So this idea is not especially new, but what geoengineering advocates are calling for is a concerted amplification of this effect.

This sounds like an argument for increasing pollution levels to avoid the negative unintended consequences of increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Actually, some argue that global dimming may actually be reducing rainfall in some areas, but this is still disputed. This could have far-reaching consequences for the hydrological cycle, or the systems whereby water is moved and transformed through various chemical states and locations on the planet.

Other consequences of increasing aerosol content in the atmosphere are unknown at this time. Depending on what is injected into the atmosphere and where it is injected, we could see increased acid rain, problems with human and animal health, various ecological problems both anticipated and unknown, and who knows what else. Ozone depletion may be an issue with this method, too.

We’ve been told pollution is a bad thing, but in this case it might help save the world? Perhaps I’m too skeptical. The problem is, either way we decide to proceed, we’ll never know with certainty the consequences of taking the opposite course of action.

We can guess, but we simply don’t know enough about our planet’s climate systems to know precisely what fruit our actions will bear.

As icing on this cake, consider that the world’s oceans would likely not be well-served if public policy shifts from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigation through geoengineering.

If carbon dioxide levels continue to increase, it is likely we’ll see ocean acidification, meaning that many marine environments will be under pressure. Addressing one problem may simply mask another, and we won’t know where we’ll end up until we get there.

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