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Geoengineering: what is it and will it actually work?

For centuries, we have been burning fossil fuels, polluting our oceans and participating in
deforestation without a second thought. We have managed to understand the consequences
this has had on our planet and have started to make movement in the right direction; but is it
too late?


In the past 50 years, we have warmed the planet at a rate of approximately 0.1°C per
decade. It doesn’t sound like much but the effect this has is astronomical; increased drought,
adverse weather conditions and a rising sea level to name a few of the consequences.
People are aware of the damage we have caused, and there is thankfully a switching
attitude towards our environment with the increased usage of renewable energies and
technologies such as electric cars. The problem arises from the rate of this societal switch. It
isn’t fast enough. We haven’t quite understood how to stop our reliance on farming animals,
carbon dioxide emissions and polluting transport.


What if we could disrupt the natural mechanisms of our planet, just as we did to cause this
problem in the first place?

 

Scientists have started to consider some dystopian sounding scenarios that are classed as ‘geoengineering’ techniques. There are two main branches of geoengineering: solar radiation management and greenhouse gas removal. Solar radiation management is the more alien of the two categories, involving sending large mirrors into space that reflect sunlight or enhancing the natural ability of clouds to block radiation, called albedo enhancement. Greenhouse gas removal is more commonly heard of, and involves reducing the proportion of harmful gases, mainly carbon dioxide, in our atmosphere. This can be as simple as planting more trees to do this naturally, or having point source removal of carbon dioxide in factories, which means that the gases never enter the atmosphere. A difficult yet promising idea is the removal of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere using a material that absorbs it directly, which
could not only reduce the amount in the atmosphere, but could return us to anthropogenic atmosphere composition.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The idea is interesting; to disrupt the naturally occurring processes with human intervention,
which buys time for us to develop better renewable energy resources, biodegradable
materials and a better attitude towards saving our planet. Theoretically, it seems reasonable
however the concern is that with these techniques, we may continue to treat the environment
with a lack of respect, since we would be creating a false sense of security. Furthermore, the
technologies are large scale therefore we may not be able to model and test them
sufficiently before implementation. They may not be successful or safe. The ideal scenario is
to not need geoengineering, however we need to act fast to avoid its necessity.

Written by Megan Martin

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