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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

Additional Geoengineering Is NOT The Solution To Global Warming

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Too much attention is being paid to identifying a geoengineering “solution” to the developing global warming crisis we face.  Human forcing of the Earth’s climate system has become the dominant mechanism affecting that system.  Anthropogenic forces have overtaken the solar cycle and short- and medium-term natural oscillations in generating climate effects.  This simple fact is largely left out of geoengineering discussions: we are already conducting the largest geoengineering project in the history of our species.  That project is having measurable, real-world effects.  The best way to slow down and stop those effects from taking place is to stop the geoengineering project.  Quite simply, we must stop polluting the climate system with man-made greenhouse gases.

Charles Hanley of the AP has an article posted at the HuffingtonPost regarding a recent meeting of scientists and scholars discussing additional geoengineering proposals, including their potential benefits and pitfalls.  He provides an accurate, unbiased assessment of the problem we face (emphasis mine):

The question’s urgency has grown as nations have failed, in years of talks, to agree on a binding long-term deal to rein in their carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions blamed for global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N.-sponsored science network, foresees temperatures rising as much as 6.4 degrees Celsius (11.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, swelling the seas and disrupting the climate patterns that nurtured human civilization.

Unfortunately, that assessment doesn’t acknowledge the unrealistic assumptions that were made as part of the latest IPCC report, including a lack of the most meaningful positive process feedbacks (including ice cap melting and high-latitude methane outgassing) as well as generally ignoring the fact that some of their projections were already occurring decades early.

One of the geoengineering projects discussed in the article is reflecting enough sunlight to eventually reduce the solar input to the climate system.  That proposal should be considered weak for several reasons.  First, it ignores CO2 emissions and concentrations, which will be increasingly important to projecting the state of future climate moving forward.  Second, it ignores the carbon uptake by the oceans, which has already made conditions more acidic to ocean lifeforms.  Additional CO2 being absorbed by the oceans will increase the volume of ocean water affected as well as the magnitude of the problem.  If the bottom of the oceanic food-chain collapses, the top won’t be far behind.  All the sunlight reflected back into space won’t change that.  Third, how big of a system of reflectors would have to be manufactured and put into place (presumably orbit)?  To make a meaningful difference, the system would have to be huge.  Decreasing our greenhouse gas pollution, while a daunting task, will be much cheaper and easily attained than such a project.

Emissions are the primary cause of the problem we now face.  Anything that doesn’t directly address that problem is likely to only chase after the problem’s effects.

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