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We're a little crazy, about science!

Climate Engineering: We can’t Build it Better after all

View from the international space station

View from the international space station

We have the technology: we can rebuild you, better, stronger, faster. Well we may have been able to build the six million dollar man better than before, but as it turns out, we can’t do the same for the environment.

For anyone actually listening to science [and I really hope you all are] it isn’t getting any cooler. Thanks to the rising CO2 levels in the world it’s only going to get hotter and with it, the weather more extreme. Yet some people out there — and unfortunately for us, the people with the power to actually make a change– simply don’t care. To them, even if it gets hotter, we can fix it. After all we have the technology.

Except, as it turns out… we really don’t.

That is, at least according to a new report which was authored by researchers at six different universities who spent over two years reviewing over 100 different studies. By evaluating a range of possible climate-altering approaches to dissipating greenhouse gases and reducing warming, the interdisciplinary team concluded there’s no way around it. We have to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere.

“Some climate engineering strategies look very cheap on paper. But when you consider other criteria, like ecological risk, public perceptions and the abilities of governments to control the technology, some options look very bad,” says Jonn Axsen.

This study represents the first scholarly attempt to rank a wide range of approaches to minimizing climate change in terms of their feasibility, cost-effectiveness, risk, public acceptance, governability and ethics.

It ends strangely familiar however. If you have read any climate change paper the ultimate strategy to solve the problem is for us to stop doing it, this study is no different. But like a child who doesn’t seem to listen to anyone, we keep going at it like tomorrow doesn’t matter.

However, the authors do note that some approaches to climate engineering are more promising than others, and they should be used to augment efforts to reduce the climate-change effects resulting from human activity. For example, strategies such as forest management and geological storage of carbon dioxide may be useful complements.

Other climate engineering strategies are less appealing, some for obvious reasons. Such as fertilizing the ocean with iron to absorb carbon dioxide or reducing global warming by injecting particles into the atmosphere to block sunlight.

“This [putting aerosols into the stratosphere] is a surprisingly cheap way to reduce global temperatures, and we have the technology to do it. But our study asked other important questions. What are the environmental risks? Will global citizens accept this? What country would manage this? Is that fair? Suddenly, this strategy does not look so attractive.”

The message is not just clear, it is getting downright repetitive with study after study telling us the same things. Despite our incredible technology– with all our advancements, achievements and innovation– the war on climate change comes down to you and me.

Hard to believe I know… then again, maybe that’s exactly why we don’t want to listen.

Sources:
Cusack, D., Axsen, J., Shwom, R., Hartzell-Nichols, L., White, S., & Mackey, K. (2014). An interdisciplinary assessment of climate engineering strategies Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 12 (5), 280-287 DOI: 10.1890/130030

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