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Geoengineering is an ambitious set of experiments proposed by scientists to help mitigate the effects of climate change. And one type in particular, called solar geoengineering, has been the subject of debate. This process involves, among other techniques, injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere to reduce the amount of sun and heat that reaches the planet. The goal? To decrease global temperatures. Proponents argue this process would be inexpensive and effective. Plus, they say, it could limit changes in glacier melt and lessen the intensity of tropical storms. But challengers argue these techniques do not address the underlying issues of climate change, and they worry that solar geoengineering could alter weather systems or possibly even cool the planet too much. They also point to governance issues: Any country could engage these strategies, triggering the possibility of unintended consequences that could affect us all. Is solar geoengineering a radical idea? Or is it likely to emerge as an important, supplemental tool in the fight against climate change?View Debate Page
- Professor & Author, “Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering”
"Clive Hamilton was one of 45 leading scholars, authors and activists who convened at The Great Hall of Cooper Union, New York City, on October 25-26, 2014, for the public presentation: 'Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth.'"
An excerpt from Clive Hamilton's book "Earthmasters: The Dawn Of The Age Of Climate Engineering."
"Sometimes known as 'Plan B,' geoengineering covers a variety of technologies aimed at deliberate, large-scale intervention in the climate system to counter global warming."
"In other words, rather than presenting climate engineering, and especially solar radiation management (rebranded “albedo modification”), as an extreme response to be avoided if at all possible, the report normalises climate engineering as one approach among others."
"The history of US nuclear weapons laboratories during the Cold War reveals a belief in humankind’s right to exercise total mastery over nature. With geoengineering, this kind of thinking is staging a powerful comeback in the face of climate crisis."
"Using technofixes to tinker with global climate systems is an excuse to avoid unpopular but necessary measures to reduce carbon emissions."
- Scholar, Oxford
"There are many policy uncertainties in this new draft, especially in the area of renewable energy, and a surprising faith in coal-based thermal power plants."
"Effectively balancing India’s goals of energy access, enhanced energy security, and climate ambition, is not impossible, but definitely difficult. In supporting the domestic manufacturing industry, the government may be backing a horse which may not run for long. Instead, the government could tilt its green manufacturing mix in favour of nascent industries of the future such as energy storage, electric vehicles, and IT solutions for grid integration."
The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) is one of South Asia’s leading not-for-profit policy research institutions. The Council uses data, integrated analysis, and strategic outreach to explain – and change – the use, reuse, and misuse of resources.
- Professor, Harvard & Founder, Carbon Engineering
"Harvard researchers want to see what adding calcium carbonate could do to the stratosphere."
"Solar geoengineering (SG) has the potential to restore average surface temperatures by increasing planetary albedo, but this could reduce precipitation. Thus, although SG might reduce globally aggregated risks, it may increase climate risks for some regions."
"If all goes as planned, the Harvard team will be the first in the world to move solar geoengineering out of the lab and into the stratosphere, with a project called the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx). The first phase — a US$3-million test involving two flights of a steerable balloon 20 kilometres above the southwest United States — could launch as early as the first half of 2019."
"Models suggest solar geoengineering could reduce climate change and our independently assessed studies are vital to understanding its full potential."
"The seriousness of the risks posed by climate change demands that we examine all possible means of response, but how we do so makes all the difference."
"Climate-change experts are researching ways to cool down the planet using geoengineering. How could spraying chemicals into the stratosphere help counteract global warming?"
"There is growing scientific interest in solar geoengineering as a possible means of combating climate change in conjunction with emissions cuts. But by foregoing debate and research on these new technologies now, political leaders may actually increase the risks of their future misuse."
- Professor, UCLA
"There are a number of environmental treaties that are relevant to doing this, but they are all rather narrow in the constraints and obligations they impose," Parson tells Rath. "So none of them would have the effect of the United States or China or any other country from doing this."
"Calls for moratoria are a frequent response to controversial issues in international diplomacy and control of technology, and are now prominent in debates over governance challenges posed by climate engineering (CE) – intentional modification of the global climate to reduce changes caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases."
"This paper was prepared as background for the Forum on U.S. Solar Geoengineering Research, which was held at the Conference Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC on March 24, 2017."
"'Although developing renewable energy and cutting emissions are essential—and need to be done with much greater intensity—it is becoming increasingly clear that that path does not adequately limit climate risks,' Parson said."
"Climate engineering (CE)—the intentional, global-scale modification of the environment to help offset the effects of elevated greenhouse gases—appears able to reduce climate-change risks beyond what’s possible with mitigation and adaptation alone. Furthermore, the large-scale use of CE is probably essential for achieving prudent climate-change limits, including the Paris target of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5–2.0 °C. This conclusion appears unavoidable based on the current level of global greenhouse-gas emissions and the long time-constants of the climate system and the human energy system (e.g., the long atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide and the time required for large-scale deployment of new technologies). CE may also enable integrated climate-response strategies that reduce risks in ways not otherwise achievable."
"But wherever your views fall on this spectrum, the case for serious research on solar geoengineering, and serious examination of its governance challenges, is compelling. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly likely that some form of climate engineering will be necessary to achieve the Paris target of limiting planetary heating to well below 2 C."
"The idea of cooling the climate with stratospheric sunshades that would shield the planet from the sun’s warming rays moved up the international agenda this week, with mixed results."
"How hacking the climate came to be seen as our least worst option for averting a global climate catastrophe."
An interactive map of geoengineering projects around the globe.
For The Motion
"A growing number of people are now considering the once-unthinkable strategy of geoengineering our way out of the climate crisis. Proposed approaches vary widely, but all share a few key features: they are technologically uncertain, environmentally risky, and more likely to accelerate the climate crisis than to reverse it."
"Geoengineering is a risky business. It is so risky, in fact, that it should be banned."
"Dimming the sky won’t save the world’s harvests."
"When most people hear “climate change,” they think of greenhouse gases overheating the planet. But there’s another product of industry changing the climate that has received scant public attention: aerosols. They’re microscopic particles of pollution that, on balance, reflect sunlight back to space and help cool the planet down, providing a crucial counterweight to greenhouse-powered global warming."
"It’s called solar geoengineering, and while it’s not happening yet, it’s a real strategy that scientists are exploring to head off climate disaster. The upside is obvious. But so too are the potential perils—not just for humanity, but for the whole natural world."
"Proponents of geoengineering imagine that technology can operate in a political void. It’s a dangerous illusion."
"Among the key messages of the IPCC Special Report, it is noteworthy that they state that with radical emissions cuts, transformative pathways and protecting and restoring ecosystems, it’s still possible to keep global warming below 1.5º C (or very close to that) without using geoengineering techniques."
"As a rapidly warming world manifests heat waves, floods, droughts and hurricanes, geoengineering – large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s natural systems – is being presented as a strategy to counteract, dilute or delay climate change without disrupting energy- and resourceintensive economies. Alarmingly, current debates about this big techno-fix are limited to a small group of self-proclaimed experts reproducing undemocratic worldviews and technocratic, reductionist perspectives. Developing countries, indigenous peoples, and local communities are excluded and left voiceless."
Against The Motion
"Geo-engineering won’t hurt a bit, at least compared with climate change—and it deserves serious investigation, according to the authors of a recent study."
"We should stop hemming and hawing and try building an emergency backup cooling system for the planet."
"Pumping aerosols into the stratosphere may buy us more time, but it’s no substitute for cutting carbon emissions—and we still don’t know enough to do it responsibly."
"That is where engineering the climate comes in. Last month, scholars from the physical and social sciences who are interested in climate change gathered in Washington to discuss approaches like cooling the planet by shooting aerosols into the stratosphere or whitening clouds to reflect sunlight back into space, which may prove indispensable to prevent the disastrous consequences of warming."
"As climate change accelerates, a handful of scientists are eager to move ahead with experiments testing ways to counteract warming artificially. Their reasoning: we just might get desperate enough to use this technology one day."
"We have this same conversation about intentional, large-scale tinkering with the climate to counteract our ongoing, less-intentional tinkering with the climate because climate change is scary, and it is dangerous, and because we are paralyzed. But the dark not-really-a-secret of solar radiation management, as the primary idea is known, is that it is absurdly cheap."
"Kim Stanley Robinson argues that blanket opposition to intervening in the climate is wrongheaded."
"Yet new research, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, acknowledges these problems but finds a potential fix: only deploying enough reflective specks in the atmosphere to reduce about half of Earth's warming, rather than relying on geoengineering to completely return Earth to the cooler, milder climate of the 19th century. In other words, giving Earth a geoengineering dose that would reverse a significant portion of the warming, but not enough to stoke the problematic side effects."
"Countries will discuss whether to commission a study of technologies to blunt the effects of climate change."
"Setting aside the false promise of geoengineering and focusing on both accelerating the energy transition and truly protecting and restoring our ecosystems so that they can act as carbon sinks, is the safest and surest way to confront the climate crisis."
"The United States joined Saudi Arabia to derail a U.N. resolution that sought to improve the world’s understanding of potential efforts to lace the sky with sunlight-reflecting aerosols or use carbon-catching fans."
"In recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change consideration has been given to two approaches to alleviate the impacts of climate change which are often referred to as ‘geoengineering’. They include mitigation measures such as large-scale Carbon Dioxide Removal and remediative measures known as Solar Radiation Modification. Both approaches face uncertainties around feasibility, acceptability, sustainability and governance. So, what exactly is geoengineering and why does it need governing?"
"New technologies, such as social media and do-it-yourself biotechnology, alter the capacities and incentives of both state and nonstate actors. This can include enabling direct decentralized interventions, in turn altering actors’ power relations. The provision of global public goods, widely regarded as states’ domain, so far has eluded such powerful technological disruptions. We here introduce the idea of highly decentralized solar geoengineering, plausibly done in form of small high-altitude balloons. While solar geoengineering has the potential to greatly reduce climate change, it has generally been conceived as centralized and state deployed. Potential highly decentralized deployment moves the activity from the already contested arena of state action to that of environmentally motivated nongovernmental organizations and individuals, which could disrupt international relations and pose novel challenges for technology and environmental policy. We explore its feasibility, political implications, and governance."
"Geoengineering technologies aim to make large-scale and deliberate interventions in the climate system possible. A typical framing is that researchers are exploring a ‘Plan B’ in case mitigation fails to avert dangerous climate change. Some options are thought to have the potential to alter the politics of climate change dramatically, yet in evaluating whether they might ultimately reduce climate risks, their political and security implications have so far not been given adequate prominence."
"Geoengineering: A national strategic plan for research on the potential effectiveness, feasibility, and consequences of climate remediation technologies."
"For religious communities, geoengineering can bring up the question of playing God, as humans are intentionally interfering with the climate system."