As the threats of climate change grow, we’re all likely to hear more and more about the possibilities, and dangers, of geo-engineering.
It’s becoming clear that we won’t cut carbon emissions soon enough to prevent catastrophic climate change. But there may be ways to cool the planet more quickly and buy us a little more time to shift away from fossil fuel.
So, whats is Geo-engineering?
Geo-engineering is the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change. Solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) are the two main types of geo-engineering.
SRM involves reflecting sunlight back into space to cool the planet, while CDR involves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
There are various ways to achieve SRM and CDR, but all come with challenges. For example, one way to reflect sunlight back into space is by injecting sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, which would create a reflective ‘shield’.
However, this would also have negative impacts on the ozone layer and human health. Another challenge with geo-engineering is that it is not a permanent solution to climate change – once we stop using geo-engineering techniques, the Earth will warm up again very quickly.
Ideas as a form of Solar Radiation Management or SRM and instead of looking at ways to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere SRM attempts to find ways of keeping the planet cool without addressing climate change:
- Afforestation: Engaging in a global-scale tree planting effort.
- Biochar: ‘Charring’ biomass and burying it so that its carbon is locked up in the soil.
- Bio-energy with carbon capture and sequestration: Growing biomass, burning it to create energy and capturing and sequestering the carbon dioxide created in the process.
- Ambient Air Capture: Building large machines that can remove carbon dioxide directly from ambient air and store it elsewhere
- Ocean Fertilization: Adding nutrients to the ocean in selected locations to increase primary production which draws down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
- Enhanced Weathering: Exposing large quantities of minerals that will react with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and storing the resulting compound in the ocean or soil.
- Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement: Grinding up, dispersing, and dissolving rocks such as limestone, silicates, or calcium hydroxide in the ocean to increase its ability to store carbon and directly ameliorate ocean acidification.
All of these ideas are still being developed at the moment and it is sure to be a long time before anything will be put in place.
For now the best chance we have to safeguard our planet’s future is by living in a responsible manner and reducing our domestic energy consumption.
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