Two years ago, most nations across the world were being hailed by their people for signing the Paris accord. It had taken nearly 20 years for countries to agree on a common framework on tackling climate change.
Two years ago, most nations across the world were being hailed by their people for signing the Paris accord. It had taken nearly 20 years for countries to agree on a common framework on tackling climate change. Although the US pulled out of it last year, a new report by the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms fears even at the time the Paris acccord came, it was already too late. The report states that recent actions by nations has had little impact in curbing the rise in global temperatures. More important, another study the results of which were published by The Guardian last year states that even if countries were to follow their plans aggressively, there would only be a 5% chance of reaching their goal. Moreover, if they were able to do it, it would not reverse the ice-melt cycle. Thus, it is not surprising that some scientists are now backing geoengineering as a tool to tackle climate change.
Geoengineering may seem like something out of a sci-fi movie, but is not a new concept; neither is it a lost science. While scientists have been experimenting with it for over a decade now, there hasn’t been any large-scale experiment with the technology. The concept broadly involves using, in most cases, biomatter to reverse the impact of climate change or prevent further deterioration. Though there are many ways and forms to do it, primarily, it involves two kinds of processes. One is solar radiation management—in simple terms, deflecting the sun’s rays—and the other is carbon reduction, or using up the excess CO2.
We have been practising some form of the latter for decades (afforestation is part of this process); the former, however, is entirely new territory as it involves using some bioengineered solutions like spraying aerosols to deflect sun’s rays or lining the clouds with reflective surfaces. And, this is where the question of ethics and accountability comes in. If it were that easy, we all would agree to it, but the problem is we are acutely aware of the dangers it poses to the environment. This can be best illustrated by the algal bloom problem of a few years ago. In the early part of this decade, studies confirmed that algal bloom was responsible for the ice age because of the ability of algae to absorb carbon dioxide, suggesting that we could replicate the effects to slow down rising temperatures. But two years ago, a study published in Phys shows that even though algal blooms were a plausible carbon sink in an earlier ice age, they can do little to stem the problem now. The same is the issue with solar radiation management. While we know, through limited experiments, that the theory is bound to work and provide a reprieve, we are not fully aware of what the harmful effects of such tinkering may be. And, it may take years before we discover what such results can be. With the climate change phenomenon impacting us today, many say that it would be wise to take a leap of faith now and bear the consequences of what may be, i.e., if we are up to taking a calculated risk. Such decision would have to be made by all, weighing in the opinions of those directly impacted by it. What’s clear this time around is that we do not have 20 years to take that leap of faith.
The author is a former journalist