(ORDO NEWS) — Human intervention in local or global processes that determine climatic conditions can become the only hope for slowing down or preventing an impending catastrophe. Such methods in science are called geoengineering. Now a number of climate scientists in different countries of the world rely on it.
The benefits and harms of geoengineering have been debated since the 1960s. Since it is now clear that uncontrolled emissions of carbon dioxide are contributing to the melting of the planet’s ice caps, leading to large-scale floods, prolonged periods of heat and drought, monstrous forest fires and devastating hurricanes, scientists increasingly view planetary intervention in the natural systems of the Earth as a way to counter climate change …
Until recently, attempts to interfere with natural processes were considered naive and dangerous. But now that time is running out to contain global warming, proposals to reflect sunlight, shade the Earth’s surface, accelerate carbon sequestration in the oceans, and remove carbon dioxide from the air are being taken more seriously.
Silver Lining, a non-profit organization, donated $ 3 million in October 2020 for climate engineering research. According to Columbia University professor, ecologist and climatologist Michael Gerrard, geoengineering can be compared to chemotherapy.
“If all else fails, you should try that too,” he said.
What people can do
More than half a century ago, American scientists proposed using billions of golf-ball-like objects to reflect sunlight. They were proposed to be scattered in the oceans of the Earth. What technologies are being discussed now?
SilverLining grant recipients are already exploring whether aerosol particles filling the stratosphere can reflect sunlight. They will mimic the cooling effect of volcanic ash clouds. In 1991, the Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines threw a huge ash cloud into the atmosphere. As a result of the eruption over the next two years, the global temperature dropped by 0.6 degrees Celsius.
According to scientists, the amount of solar radiation can be controlled by sending an impressive fleet of aircraft to an altitude of about 20 kilometers, which will spray sulfate aerosols or, perhaps, even diamond dust. According to the forecasts of a group of researchers from Harvard University, if it was possible to send about 60 thousand flights of such “particle sprays” into the upper atmosphere, then by 2035 this would reduce warming by 0.3 degrees Celsius.
Another idea involves “pumping” salt water from the oceans into the air. Man-made “drops” will brighten the sea clouds and therefore increase their reflectivity. Similar studies are already funded by Australia, where it is hoped that the “reinforced” clouds will be able to reduce the water temperature sufficiently to save the already damaged Great Barrier Reef.
Scientists at Cambridge University are evaluating whether ships can pump salt particles into low polar clouds to re-freeze polar ice caps. The question of “seeding” the oceans with iron is also being investigated. This can stimulate the growth of algae, which absorb carbon dioxide from the air. At the moment, the most reliable from a scientific point of view is precisely the control of solar radiation.
“We know with 100% certainty that we can cool the planet. So why not do it now? ” – said Douglas McMartin, Ph.D. and engineer from Cornell University.
The danger of geoengineering
However, meddling with Mother Nature is risky. The Earth’s weather systems are interconnected in an extremely complex way. Climate change is believed to affect everything from how long hurricanes last over land to how fast wildfires spread. Changing one aspect of the weather can have dangerous, unintended consequences.
Geoengineering is considered by some scientists to be “outlandish and disturbing.” Could blocking sunlight, for example, affect the Asian monsoon, which depends on two billion people for food crops? Can scientists intervene in climatic processes to change the acidity of the oceans?
For geoengineering to become politically feasible, scientists need to convince ordinary people that it is worth the calculated risk. Last year, Harvard researchers tried to send a balloon into the stratosphere over Tucson, a desert city in Arizona. They wanted to understand how particles of ordinary chalk – calcium carbonate – block light. However, public outcry forced the experiment to be postponed.
Some climate activists argue that geoengineering will allow carbon-emitting corporations to run their businesses as normal. They argue that no technological breakthrough will eliminate the long-term need to ditch fossil fuels. Nobel laureate, Oxford University professor Raymond Pierumbert compares the use of geoengineering without reducing emissions to “jumping off the Washington monument and hoping that someone will invent antigravity before you hit the ground.”
Which side is the scientific community on
Humanity’s failure to achieve significant global emission reductions is forcing many experts to rethink geoengineering. Compared to the enormous financial implications of global warming, the cost of developing solar control is estimated at just $ 2 billion per year over 15 years.
In March, an Australian team conducted one of the world’s first geoengineering tests. Scientists used 100 jets to “amplify” existing clouds by releasing salt water into the air. To save the Great Barrier Reef from death, theoretically, it will take about one thousand nozzles.
“People are right to fear being overly dependent on technical solutions. But there is another nightmare: in retrospect, we understand that the early use of geoengineering could save millions of lives, interrupted during heat waves, and help preserve part of the world, “- quoted by The Week, the words of Harvard professor David Keith.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says humankind is obligated to cut carbon emissions by one trillion tons by 2100 to have any hope of avoiding global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The solution to the problem takes two forms: removing carbon dioxide directly from emissions from industry and transport, or cleaning the atmosphere.
At least 19 large-scale projects around the world are working to reduce emissions. A promising system, for example, was created in 2017 at a coal-fired power plant in Texas. However, it had to be closed in May this year due to inefficiency. Only 17% of the particles were “captured”, not 33% as the project had suggested.
A more ambitious carbon capture plan involves installing pipes that will suck carbon from the sky and then store it deep underground. Several companies have developed technology for this particular method. However, the process remains very expensive.
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