Geoengineering, this month’s buzzword in environmental news

By Sarah Harvey.

Ah, Geoengineering. The first time I heard this term as an undergrad I had the common reaction of fear and wonder, and for good reason, the definition is vague but grandiose:

The large-scale manipulation of a specific process central to controlling earth’s climate for the purpose of obtaining a specific benefit.’

With the recent release of a new IPCC climate report and summary for policy makers that references geoengineering as a potential option to reduce global temperature, several news outlets have grabbed the story and run with it.

While I am paraphrasing, articles have been published with sensational lines like, ‘scientists have discovered new technology!’ and ‘civilization should allocate resources to support geoengineering research that will save us all!’  (see related articles below)

Firstly, the concept of geoengineering is not new, it was explored by the United States Government as a war tactic during the Cold War.  It was even discussed as a remedy during climate change discussions with President Johnson back in the mid-sixties.

Secondly, geoengineering is far from being the savior that will save civilization from rising sea levels and altered hydrological systems attributed to global climate change.  At this point there is very little scientific support in its favor and the argument for it relies on hypotheticals.  Additionally, with such technology comes great risk, as scientists are still working to understand the complexities of our earth’s climate, any technology used to purposefully alter it may very well have unintended consequences we cannot yet comprehend.

Lastly, glamorizing geoengineering only serves to distract the public away from the fact that policy change adequate to curb our greenhouse gas emissions has stagnated.  Essentially, we are running a business as usual operation against the warnings of respected scientists.  Given the very serious implications of climate change for our species, I suppose for some it is easier to rely on an unproven technology that will allow them to stay comfortable in their routine and, for now, ignore our changing reality.

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