Could Geoengineering Save the Planet from Global Warming?

Deborah Gordon, David Livingston

Security, North America

Members of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitor the trajectory of Hurricane Maria in Santo Domingo

The field of climate engineering remains largely unknown, especially to policymakers and the public.

Could Geoengineering Save the Planet from Global Warming?

When rainfall is measured in feet, not inches, we are witnessing climate change bearing down on us. Catastrophic destruction tied to the Atlantic hurricane season, monsoon rains in Mumbai, and downpours in Niger are just a few of the many extreme weather events that are being intensified by global warming.

While the rise of a few degrees in temperature may not be enough for a person to spike a fever, that change is enough to radically impact the earth’s climate. According to NASA, “a one-degree global change [in temperature] is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much.” By way of comparison, the earth was once rendered largely uninhabitable by a one to two-degree Celsius drop in temperature—an era now referred to as the Little Ice Age.

In response to the threat posed by global climate change, most nations have committed to significant mitigation efforts, through the Paris Agreement, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Countries are also aggressively working on climate change adaptation to restore wetlands, erect seawalls and build local resilience to the effects of global warming.

But will these collective efforts be enough?

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Some scientists are trying another approach, exploring new tools to deliberately alter the global climate system. These discrete and diverse technologies are often grouped under the all-encompassing and poorly defined rubric of “climate engineering” or “geoengineering.” These radically different approaches, which are in various stages of development, aim to either halt the process of global warming by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere or to counteract warming already under way.

Carbon dioxide removal entails taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it in the ocean, plants, underground, or commercial materials. Solar radiation management seeks to offset greenhouse gas-induced warming by either increasing the amount of sunlight reflected back to space or by preventing solar radiation from reaching the earth’s surface in the first place.

The problem is,…

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