Geo Engineering to fight Climate Change?

The Economic Times in October 2011 carried a very intriguing article on 'Geo Engineering', which I have been unable to put out of my mind for the past few weeks. After reading the article, I felt the arguments that we all are making to fight Climate Change may very well change their context in face of the various proposed Geo Engineering techniques that can be applied for cooling Mother Earth!

Scientists are currently working on such techniques that will ensure that we keep away the 'heating' solar radiation from reaching the earth. Techniques like installing mirrors in the space to reflect solar radiation or seeding the upper stratosphere with sulphate aerosols or simply salt water to reflect the sun's radiations back into space. Further, other techniques that will ensure more absorption of carbon dioxide by trees and oceans are being proposed and tested for results. Some of these include infusing the oceans with calcium hydroxide so that they can take in more and more CO2, saving us from its Climate Changing effects.

Typically a thought that has shaped the modern humans and our World seems to be at work again when scientists speak of relying on technology to resolve or clean up the 'mess' that we have created. In fact, in words of one of my Professors at Arizona State University, humans are largely arrogant when it comes to understanding the environmental crisis, because we humans have always known and relied on innovating a new technology to resolve all of our crises sooner or later.

Interesting! However, since we humans have started using technology and thus become more and more 'arrogant', we have also essentially understood that technology and its use comes back with its own sets of problems complexities. The crisis at hand appears to have been resolved, paving way for a newer crisis to take its place. Consider for a moment, the invention of lead based fossil fuel to run an automobile engine. It was touted as a great innovation that allowed the automobile to move smoothly, gain popularity and change the world, until we realised that the lead is causing massive deposition and is a carcinogenic substance that we have put out there! And then we began the quest of 'lead free' fuels!

Will the same thing happen with Geo Engineering that is being looked upon to fight Climate Change? Particularly of concern is its impact on the Indian Monsoon, a unique climate phenomenon that we experience and which is vital for the economy and well being of 1.2 billion people in India and 1.3 billion in China, almost a third of global population.

To put it simply, eruption of volcanoes puts large quantities of sulphates in the atmosphere naturally. When such a volcanic eruption had occurred in 1815, the global temperatures had drastically lowered causing massive damage to rice cultivation in China and delayed monsoon phenomena in India, followed by torrential flood causing rains across North India.

Currently, the most favoured solutions by Geo Engineering scientists are spraying of salt water in the clouds or Cloud Whitening that will reflect sun's rays, thereby achieving a cooler Earth. But, geographically Cloud Whitening will mean higher rains for some regions and draughts in the others. Also, dumping of calcium oxide into oceans and seas seems to be the most benign option so far. More CO2 absorption capacity of oceans for a cooler climate! Plus, as a benefit, this will mean higher quality of marine life, so we enjoy more whales and dolphins off our coasts!

However, the significant questions that remain at the heart of Geo Engineering and its use are Who and How will we control these experiments, their locations and their frequency through politics and policy? Will there once again be that divide between 'Developed' and 'Developing' nations? Who will be the benefactors and who will be the losers?

As I have tossed and turned over the issue of Geo engineering, I thought to myself that shouldn't we as humans do a double rethink? Will technology really solve things for us? Or are we paving the way for further, even more complex problems for our children?

In our dreams, wouldn't we all like to return to simpler times when we respected Nature and its laws and had traditionally evolved means to live within its Carrying Capacity? Will our earlier arguments where we implore and hope that we humans will learn to 'reduce consumption', be meaningless in face of newer technology that promises to be our savior against Climate Change? I find, scientific community and media divided on the issue - some favour the human's implicit nature to innovate as a valid means to solve problems, while some question the technology like I am doing.

What are your thoughts? To further shape your opinions, here are some interesting readings:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoengineering

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8631604/Geo-engineering-nuclear-power-and-climate-change-playing-God-is-good-for-the-planet.html

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=geoengineering-too-immatu

http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/40270




Comments

  1. Thanks Anagha for this most interesting blog...for one, doing experiments with our climate and atmosphere seems like genetic engineering....we may hardly be able to predict all the consequences...on the other hand, it is interesting that the world is now positively working to avert this crisis. Lately, I have been reading about articles which talk about global climate change due to the earth entering the Photon Belt and not due to global warming caused by greenhouse gases!! Anyway, I hope you wont mind if I use this article of yours for the next issue of my magazine....Roshni U. Yehuda

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  3. Anagha Madam,

    I agree with what your professor from Arizona had commented. I believe this new school of thoughts may temporarily solve the issue of climate change but as Roshni mentioned above further consequences of this technology are still unknown...we could possible approaching towards 'Frankenstein Technology' to achieve short term goals. We need to have a precautionary approach towards using this new technology as the stakes involved are very high.
    Rohit Bhagwat

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  4. Roshini, please feel free to use the article. Its public domain and free to be circulated. Thanks for the comments, you and Rohit.

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  6. I just happen to read a very interesting book by a Dutch professor, Annemarie Mol, on what she refers to as the 'logic of care'. A couple of quotes: "Technologies always have unexpected effects: they generate forms of pain and pleasure that nobody predicted ... Watch out for the ways in which your 'means' mess up your 'ends' ... What if technologies have unexpected effects? What if they go beyond, and indeed transform, the ends they are supposed to serve? Technologies are unruly. Once introduced into a world where they interfere in unexpected ways with lots of other erratic entities and configurations, they change much more than they were intended to, and are ultimately transformed themselves as well. Instead of being modest means, they are inventive mediators. ... Good care involves a persistent attempt to tame technologies that are just as persistently wild. ... Technologies do not subject themselves to what we wish them to do, but interfere with who we are." We would do well to heed this insight when deploying climate-altering technologies of planetary scope ...

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  7. Very well said, Philippe.Thanks for that note.

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