Can Geoengineering Combat Climate Change?

By Josh Zepps, energyNow!

Climate change threatens an increasing list of worst-case scenarios: melting ice caps, rising sea levels, longer droughts, and more violent storms. Climate scientists have largely focused on reducing emissions to counter global warming, but a growing number view geoengineering as the Earth’s last, best line of defense.

However, the concept is controversial and unproven, and it’s unclear if it could work. energyNOW! correspondent Josh Zepps explores geoengineering , from simple measures to complex atmospheric efforts, to find out if it can combat climate change.

image via energyNow!

Geoengineering, or climate engineering, is the study of manipulating the planet’s climate to counteract global warming’s effects. The potential solutions range from painting roofs white to absorb less heat, to launching trillions of transparent lenses a million miles into space to diffuse or divert sunlight before it reaches Earth.

The geoengineering technology most often discussed is imitating volcanic eruptions. This method is based on the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption, which spewed a cloud of sulfate particles so large it cooled the Earth by about one degree for a few years. The effect, called solar radiation management, would scatter solar radiation across the atmosphere and back into space.

One of the first real-world geoengineering experiments will test this concept. The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering project (SPICE) is a tethered balloon with a hose more than a dozen miles long to spray reflective particles into the upper atmosphere, and it could begin in Britain as soon as April 2012.

Another way of managing solar radiation is to generate more ocean cloud cover. Some estimates say 1,000-2,000 wind-powered, remote-controlled, seawater-spraying ships could offset global warming, at least for now.

But the concept is not without critics, who say geoengineering could wreak havoc on our climate. These concerns helped the United Nations impose a geoengineering moratorium in 2010.

But for geoengineering advocates, having no backup plan at all is the worst option, given global emissions levels. “We are, in fact, engaged in a vast global geoengineering experiment right now – it’s just one that is entirely unintentional and uncontrolled,” said Samuel Thernstrom, policy advisor at the Clean Air Task Force.

The full segment can be viewed below:

Editor’s Note: This video content comes to us as a cross post courtesy of energyNow! Author credit for the video segment goes to Josh Zepps.

I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.