Should we use geo-engineering to escape global warming?

Geo-engineering is the practice of using technology to alter the properties (in this case climate) of the planet. We have actually been doing it inadvertently for centuries – global warming itself is an example of geo-engineering. When plants first populated the earth they geo-engineered the planet by increasing oxygen levels (albeit over millions of years).

As a response to global warming, quite a bit of interest is being generated into intentional geo-engineering. There are two options for dealing with global warming:

  1. Prevention – stop/slow the emission of greenhouse gasses like carbon-dioxide;
  2. Amelioration – use geo-engineering to counteract the effects of global warming.

Some of the ideas (most of which sound crazy to me) are:

  • Pump particles into the upper atmosphere to block out some of the sun’s rays.
  • Building a shield out of thousands of mirrors in space – again to block out some of the sun’s rays
  • Build autonomous, wind-powered ships which would create reflective marine clouds by blasting droplets of sea water into the air (see image).

Autonomous ship designed to create reflective marine clouds

I believe that some of these ideas could actually work (I think the one about cloud forming ships is cool). In some cases these ideas might even be cheaper than reducing emissions sufficiently.

However, I also feel that geo-engineering solutions have some very serious weaknesses:

  • Most plans have known and, more dangerously, unknown side effects.
  • If greenhouse gas levels were to continue increasing, we would have to continue ramping up the geo-engineering -> more side effects.
  • In almost all cases, the geo-engineering does not solve the other problems associated with high greenhouse gas levels.

Geo-engineering is a cool concept, but I really don’t think we should be experimenting on the planet.  Lets try to make Mars habitable instead!

  • Jacqui Pott

    I’m not so sure about all this. When I read it I gave me the feeling of some kind of crazy sci-fi movie… While it sounds interesting and may well work (the only one I’d even vaguely support would be those ships though) I’m far to risk averse to want to try experimenting on our planet! I think those unknown side-effects are way to unnerving! And like you say if they want to spend so much money trying to create a future environment for us to live in, lets take a look at Mars!

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