By: Adriana Silva
Summary: Geo-engineering was viewed as a risky and foolish way to slow climate change in the past. But now carbon emissions are climbing and geo-engineering technologies are becoming more well known as a possible last resort. There are two types of geo-engineering, carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar geo-engineering also known as solar radiation management (SRM). Carbon geo-engineering seeks to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which addresses the main factor of climate change. This process breaks the emission to concentration, to temperatures to impacts chain by decreasing the amount of CO2 in the air that keeps the chain going. CO2 can be extracted from the air through man made devices, or more natural ways such as carbon-absorbing plants like trees. The harvested CO2 can be used as fuel, and the emissions caused by that can be absorbed again by new plants. Net emissions could be zero. This process can also be used in the ocean through algae blooms. The goal of solar geo-engineering is to reflect fractions of sunlight back into space or to increase the amount of solar radiation that slips back into to space to keep the planet cooled. The process of solar geo-engineering would consist of planes loaded with sulfate particles ascending 65,000 feet into the air and spraying their loads into the stratosphere all over the world. This process would start at about 4,000 flights a year and double each following year to keep the process from losing effectiveness. The thickening sheet of particles would challenge climate change by acting as a volcanic eruption does, deflecting solar radiation from flooding into the atmosphere. This spraying is thought to be “remarkably inexpensive” at a little over $2 billion a year. This may seem like an easy fix but this process does have drawbacks. The sulfate pumped into the air may not stay in the sky for more than a couple of years, so planes would have to keep spraying practically forever or else the earth will begin to warm at a rate two times faster than before. Another issue with this process is our weather system could undermine changes due to the altered amount of solar radiation, which could disrupt rain fall and crop growth. Solar radiation is the quickest, most effective, and cheapest. Carbon dioxide removal is said to remove more CO2 that the atmosphere holds creating “negative emissions”. Both processes are expected to be substantial but still need to be explored more deeply.
Why we should care? Carbon emissions are reaching an all time high and if we do not do anything to try to slow the process soon, it could be too late when a solution is finally implemented.
Example News Article:
This article grabbed my attention due to the title “ The very Optimistic New Argument for Dimming the Sky.” It starts off by putting the reader in the year 2055 when climate change has fully set in. Month-long heat waves are killing infants and elderly, food shortages are happening on every state. The world is finally cutting back on carbon emissions, but not fast enough the earth is still warming rapidly. The article starts off making you feel as if you have to do something about climate change, or else that fake scenario could become real. The article then begins to explain what solar geo-engineering is and how it would work. The article then talks about a paper written by David Keith, he believes that the optimism on geo-engineering should be enough for the establishment of a new international research program. When Keith’s paper was published, it received criticism that researchers are moving to fast and “overselling” this concept. It was also a concern that talking optimistically about geo-engineering discourage the public from actually making emission cuts. Just this bit of information from the article interested me because it put you in that situation right off of the bat, which then allowed you to think about the concept of solar geo-engineering as a possible solution for our future while reading this article.
Science in Action.
Dr. Frank Keutsch is Stonington Professor of Engineering and Atmospheric Science and Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University.
Dr. Keutsch’s research focuses on finding a material that is more suitable for stratospheric SRM (solar radiation management.) More in depth, his project proposes studies that address risks and effects on the stratospheric ozone and temperature, impacts on tropospheric chemistry, composition and radiation. Those are only a few of the risks he bases his studies off of. His goal is to discover all of the risks associated with SRM so he is able to evaluate the effectiveness and risks of different SRM strategies. He then rules out materials that have unsuitable properties, any materials that pass the laboratory stage must then go through a field test where the risks the material causes on the environment are evaluated. Overall Keutsch’s research is in favor of one day implementing SRM once a proper material to do so is discovered. I believe this ties in with solar geo-engineering perfectly; this scientists goal is to improve stratospheric SRM so we are able to safely use it one day.