Geo-engineering under debate
The simpler geo-engineering methods of planting artificial trees and getting cool roofs are currently in practice by the general populace, but scientists are engaged in assessing bigger technological fixes for a worldwide environmental disaster. These geo-engineering methods include pumping sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere or seeding clouds to reflect more sunlight, and dumping iron into the oceans to encourage the growth of plankton, that sucks carbon dioxide from the air and converts it to biomass. Geoengineering includes all techniques that aim to deliberately manipulate the Earth’s climate to counteract the effects of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions.
Burying charcoal, painting streets and roofs white on a vast scale, construction of heat-resistant buildings and personal protection are methods which still do not face much opposition. But the plans of spraying sea water into clouds so that they reflect more sunlight away from the earth, blasting sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight towards space; depositing massive quantities of iron filings into the oceans; bioengineering crops to give them a lighter colour to reflect sunlight; and suppressing cirrus clouds, are all receiving much criticism and thus these techniques remain only a theory with an intense debate over the risk factors.
The fear over interference in nature’s procedures can be analyzed by the example that a butterfly flapping its wings in California shoves air currents around the world past a tipping point, to generate a monsoon in Asia. Therefore any attempt to control the climate may impact the entire globe and not just a single region. Supposedly the excellent geo-engineering simulations may produce good results in one part of the world while drought and famine in the other. As such, how can a coherence in policies be achieved? As is evident by the meetings of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change ( IPCC), the major concerns have been over who should decide what kind of geoengineering should take place and which are the most appropriate ways to regulate and monitor them?
The injection of carbon dioxide into the ocean rather than under ground, involves legal concerns related to dumping conventions and Sea Law and also the liability concerns from effect on fisheries. In case of intensive forestry to capture carbon in harvested trees, there are political questions over whose land is used and how to divide costs? Further, by obtaining solar shields, there are concerns of security, equity and liability if the system is used for weather control.
Similarly, the release of sulphate particles in the earth’s stratosphere may become the cause of ozone depletion and also raise concerns of sovereignty as it may have a direct impact on regions. Some projects might, if they work, unintentionally change weather patterns and possibly affect farming and livelihoods in some of the most vulnerable areas in the world. There may be unintended climatic consequences, such as changes to the hydrological cycle including droughts or floods, caused by geoengineering techniques, but possibly not predicted by the models used to plan them. Such effects may be cumulative or chaotic in nature, making prediction and control very difficult.
Experts therefore condemn the cosequences of geoengineering and criticize the continuation to support and subsidize high emissions from industrial agriculture and the failure of the governments to support small-scale sustainable farming. They also lament the failure of the global economies to reach an agreement for the next commitment period of the Kyoto protocol. Subsidization of fossil fuel extraction and authorization of new coal plants as they are all debatable factors between the environmentalists, scientists and governments. The debate continues that why all this fatalism, when environmentalists are providing proven, democratic and no-risk solutions to protect our biodiversity?