Friday, June 19, 2009

Geo-Engineering: Worst Case Options

Recently, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal published two Op-eds advocating for funding and research into geo-engineering or intentionally cooling down the Earth to combat climate change. Proposals range from spraying mist into clouds over the oceans which makes them more reflective, to putting iron into oceans so plankton can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and carry it to the bottom of the ocean. All of these proposals are not scientifically proven to cut temperatures on a large scale and the unintended consequences of tinkering with the climate have not been thoroughly examined. While controversial, geo-engineering has been looked at as a policy option, according to John Holdren, the Obama administration’s science advisor.

Doubts remain over if and how much governments should invest in geo-engineering for fear that doing so would prevent any action to actually cut carbon emissions and even seemingly benign geo-engineering options, such as spraying sulfur dioxide particles into the air (in the same way volcanic eruptions do) to reflect solar radiation, could lead to widespread acid rain. More drastic and technologically speculative options like putting large mirrors into space to reflect sunlight could cause famine for example in Africa. Geo-engineering options that merely reflect sunlight but don’t actually lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere face a significant drawback: the projects have to be continued in definitely. Emitting sulfur to reflect solar radiation would have to be done annually for example.

Ultimately, geo-engineering is a worst case policy option that may arise if the international community could not cut carbon emissions fast enough before extreme climate change occurs. Next, why geo-engineering research and possible usage needs to be strictly internationally regulated.


  1. Great post! Our new Natural Security Blog follows some of the same topics. Feel free to check it out.

  2. This is a truly frightening possibility because it does nothing to stop acidification of the oceans which is going to kill just about every species if it isn't stopped (and possibly reversed). Where are people going to get their oxygen if the oceans are lifeless?

  3. I believe construction of such projects requires knowledge of engineering and management principles and business procedures, economics, and human behavior.