Most people believe that the best way to safeguard our planet for future generations is to reduce the amount of energy we are using so that we limit the amount of damage we are doing to our climate.
This involves things such as adopting green living initiatives, developing renewable fuels and making sure our homes and businesses are as energy efficient as possible. However, there is another school of thought. One that believes we can carry on living how we are and still give our planet a future.
The ideas in this school of thought are collectively referred to as geo-engineering and scientists have come up with various ways in which we can protect our environment. Some of these are more viable than others but all have seriously been considered. But, first, the nuts and bolts of engineering our weather.
What is Geo-Engineering?
Geoengineering 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 geoengineering.
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 geoengineering is that it is not a permanent solution to climate change – once we stop using geoengineering techniques, the Earth will warm up again very quickly.
There is also a risk that geoengineering could be used as a weapon, for example if one country decided to cool down its own region while deliberately making other regions hotter.
Geoengineering is a complex topic with many pros and cons. It is important to continue research in this area so that we can better understand the risks and benefits involved.
Mirror, Mirror Up In Space
This idea is 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.
The use of mirrors in space is actually one of the best and most feasible SRM options and would mean that a small amount of the sun rays would be reflected away from the earth before they penetrate the atmosphere; resulting in stable temperatures regardless of global warming.
The problem being that these mirrors could cause disruption to satellites and space craft and should they ever cease to be effective or fall to earth then we would be left with many years’ worth of repercussions in terms of global warming.
Cloud whitening is aimed at making the clouds in our skies brighter so that they reflect more of the sun’s rays and thus keep the earth’s temperature cooler. All that would be needed to do this is the addition of salt to these clouds which could be done by stationary ships with large funnels that would spray the salt into the clouds.
A version of cloud whitening already happens naturally when exhaust fumes from ships meet the clouds, so we know this method would work in theory and could negate the effects of climate change for around fifty years.
There are quite a few downsides to this geo-engineering idea though. The main one being that this has yet to be tested in practice so we are still unsure about how effective it would be.
There is also a danger that it could create variable microclimates in coastal areas which could lead to increases in wind strengths and higher levels of precipitation; not to mention the fact that the moment the salt spraying stops we will be left with the almost catastrophic effects of climate change.
This geo-engineering idea involves erecting thousands of tree-like structures all over the world that would effectively filter out large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and then store it underground.
These fake trees would be around the same size as natural ones but would be able to absorb much more CO2 than their leafy counterparts.
Although this is one of the most viable geo-engineering options as it involves technology that we already have available; there is no telling just how many of these ‘trees’ would be needed, and the initiative is likely to be met with rejection from people saying they are eyesores.
Feeding The Seas
This form of SRM is also referred to as iron fertilisation and involves putting large amounts of iron into deficient parts of the ocean in order to stimulate the growth of algae and plankton on the surface.
These organisms would help to take certain levels of CO2 out of the atmosphere whilst also benefitting other living creatures in our seas which could be affected by global warming.
Debate rages however over the fact that doing this to our seas could be highly dangerous. As yet we aren’t clear of the side effects that would occur from dumping iron into the seas and we could end up causing large amount of damage to our ocean ecosystems.
Controlling the Weather
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.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for freshness and consistency.